The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Question #11

Q. What is the origin of the Curse of Cain doctrine?

A. In 1835 an Englishman named Michael Chandler had inherited some Egyptian mummies and papyrus scrolls that had been found years before in Thebes, Egypt, by a certain Antonio Lebolo; an Italian trader in ancient Egyptian relics. He traveled to New York City to sell them. He wanted to get them translated, but nobody could. He heard about Joseph Smith, who claimed to be a Prophet and have the divine gift of translating ancient scriptures. He took the mummies and papyrus scrolls to the Prophet, who claimed to translate a portion of one of the scrolls. From this translation came The Book of Abraham; a book of LDS Scripture in a volume of scripture called The Pearl of Great Price.  The first chapter of The Book of Abraham discusses the Pharaoh that entertained Abraham while he was in Egypt. It says that Pharaoh was a “righteous man”, and a descendant of Ham; that he had no right to the Priesthood because he was of that lineage (bloodline) that was “cursed as pertaining to the Priesthood” but “blessed according to wisdom” (Abraham 1:26).

Since Pharaoh could not have the Holy Priesthood, because he was a “Canaanite by birth”,  he established his own; patterned after the Holy Priesthood of the Hebrews. This was an imitation priesthood; one patterned after the Holy Priesthood, but being devoid of real divine power and authority. Some think that the Egyptian Priesthood of Amon-Ra was this imitation priesthood established by the first Pharaoh of Egypt.

Although Joseph Smith Jr. personally was very Pro-Black, he was a Prophet of God. When he received this revelation, it said that Hamites were not entitled to the Priesthood. With regret, Joseph Smith told others to no longer ordain black men to the Priesthood.

*Elijah Abel and Walker Lewis: God’s Exceptions To His Own Rule

There was only two exceptions to this rule: The first was Elijah Abel, who was a Seventy (an office below an Apostle), and his descendants. The second was Walker Lewis; a black man who lived in Lowell, Massachusetts. Elijah Abel was ordained an Elder on March 3, 1836, and he was ordained a Seventy on April 4, 1841. His son Enoch Abel was ordained an Elder on November 10th, 1900, and his son Elijah Abel II was ordained an Elder on Sept. 29th, 1935. The sons and daughters of Elijah Abel, Enoch Abel, and Elijah Abel II married white Mormon men and women. Intermarriage between Mormons and Hamitic people were forbidden (except for Elijah Abel and his descendants) until 1978; when the Curse of Cain was removed. Mormon historian Andew Jensen wrote:

“Elijah Abel, the only colored man who is known to have been ordained to the Priesthood, was born July 25, 1810, in Maryland. Becoming a convert to ‘Mormonism’ he was baptized in September 1832, by Ezekiel Roberts, and as appears from certificates, he was ordained an Elder March 3, 1836, and a Seventy April 4, 1841, an exception having been made in his case with regard to the general rule of the Church in relation to colored people. At Nauvoo, Illinois, where he resided, he followed the avocation of an undertaker. After his arrival in Salt Lake City he became a resident of the Tenth Ward, and together with his wife, he managed the Farnham Hotel in Salt Lake City. In Nauvoo he was intimately acquainted with the Prophet Joseph Smith and later in life was the special friend of the late Levi W. Hancock. In 1883, as a member of the Third Quorum of Seventy, he left Salt Lake City on a mission to Canada, during which he also performed missionary labors in the United States. Two weeks after his return he died, Dec. 25, 1884, of debility, consequent upon exposure while laboring in the ministry in Ohio. He died in full faith of the Gospel.” (Historical Record 3:577)

Brother Jensen of course was mistaken about Elijah Abel being “the only colored man” ordained to the Priesthood. Enoch Abel (son of Elijah) was ordained to the office of an Elder on the 10th of November 1900 by John Q. Adams of the Logan 5th Ward. Elijah Abel (son of Enoch) was ordained a Priest on 5 July 1934 by J.C. Hogenson and to the office of Elder on 29 September 1935 by Ruben S. Hill of the Logan Utah 10th Ward. Also, we know that Walker Lewis was an black Elder in the Church, and William McCary (a black man who later started a black Christian  church) may also have been ordained an Elder in the Church.

LDS historians and scholars have wondered why Elijah Abel and his male descendants (as well as a few others) were exempted from the Priesthood ban. The only answer that can be given that makes any sense is that the LORD sometimes makes exceptions to His own rules. The LORD said to Moses:

“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter forever. Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt: and because they haired against thee Balaam, the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee.” (Deut. 23:4-5)          

When the Israelites left Egypt, the Ammonites had opposed them, and the Moabites had refused to give them food and water. Not only that, they actually hired a ‘prophet’ named Balaam to curse them. Because of this the LORD cursed them; saying that an Ammonite nor a Moabite could not marry or become Israelites for at least 10 generations (about 400 years–the time-span that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt). The Ammonites and Moabites were a white-skinned people; the Moabites being the descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. But God cursed them; because of how they mistreated Israel. He said that a Moabite could not enter the congregation of the LORD.

Yet, Ruth, the widow of an Israelite who lived in Moab, was a Moabite, and she entered the congregation of Israel, and she was an ancestor of Jesus Christ. The Book of Ruth, in the Old Testament, tells her story. It is clear that in exceptional cases, when the person is especially chosen, God makes exceptions to His own rules.

The male descendants of Elijah Abel were also ordained to the Priesthood. Church records indicated that both Elijah Abel’s son (Enoch Abel) and his grandson (Elijah Abel) were ordained as Elders.

Although we know that Walker Lewis was ordained an Elder, he did not follow the majority of the Saints to Utah in the 1840s. Indeed, nothing is known as to his fate. But we know that in 1847, in Salt Lake City, Brigham Young said to the Saints gathered there:

“We have one of the best Elders an African in Lowell.” (Neither White nor Black, p.197)

An Elder William Appleby was traveling in Batavia, New York, and wrote in 1847:

“At this place I found a colored brother by the name of Lewis, a barber and an Elder in the Church, ordained by William Smith. This Lewis I am also informed has a son who is married to a white girl, and both are member of the Church there. Now, dear Brother, I wish to know if this is the order of God or tolerated, to ordain Negroes to the Priesthood and allow amalgamation. If it is, I desire to know it, as I have yet to learn it.” (Journal History, June 2, 1847)

It was the rule and policy of the Church not to ordain men of black African ancestry, and it not lawful in the Church for anyone of any color or race who was not a Hamite to marry black Africans (Hamites); since this would continue the Curse of Cain lineage. Yet, again, God makes exceptions to His own rules based upon the exceeding faith of individuals.

Please feel free to e-mail Darrick Evenson

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