The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Question #56

Q. I’ve heard that the Church contemplated disavowing the Curse of Cain doctrine in 1998. Is this true?

A. We have no direct evidence that the Church planned to disavow, or repudiate, the Curse of Cain doctrine in 1998 or at any other time. Here is the story that was told this author back in 1998.

David Jackson joined the Church in Southern California. Soon afterwards his wife and son were also baptized. Soon afterwards his Stake President asked him to give a talk at Church Firesides on the history of blacks in the Church. Jackson never knew about the Curse of Cain doctrine nor the Priesthood ban. Asking his bishop he received the answer, “Don’t worry about it! Let’s just forget the past!” This was a difficult thing for Br. Jackson to do; since the Stake President had told him to dig up the past. Eventually, he was given a copy of Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie. He read the sections under “Negroes” and “Cain” and came away angry and shocked. He went to the missionaries, his bishop, and white Elders for explanations by they didn’t have any. Most just shrugged their shoulders or avoided him. Several told him that the Church “never did” teach that blacks were cursed or the descendants of Cain. Another told him that the Curse of Cain was just “personal opinions of some of the early Brethren” and never Church doctrine. If that was true, he wanted to know why a Church Apostle (Bruce R. McConkie) said it was Church doctrine. By this time David Jackson’s wife and son were out of the Church, but David Jackson wished to remain in the Church at least long enough for some answers.

Eventually, he contacted Church Offices in Salt Lake City and asked them to explain the Curse of Cain; if it was a doctrine, a mistake, or only the personal opinions of some the early Brethren like Brigham Young. He was told to ask his bishop. He replied he had. He was told to ask his Stake President. He replied it was his Stake President who asked him to research it. He was told to see his bishop. His bishop was soon sent a letter from the Office of The First Presidency; with the instructions to read a statement to Br. Jackson while holding the paper in both hands; not making copies of the letter, and not allowing anyone (including Brother Jackson) to read the letter himself. Brother Jackson demanded that he read the letter himself. His bishop replied he was not allowed to. Br. Jackson then left and contacted Church Offices and said he wanted to read the letter himself. He was told that he would not be allowed a copy of the letter, but that his bishop would read it to him. Brother Jackson then said he would go to the Press if he was not given a copy of the letter.

Over the next few months Brother Jackson said he was in negotiations with the Office of The First Presidency about getting a copy of the letter. He claims that he was once threatened with excommunication because he demanded a copy of the letter, and the Office of The First Presidency insisted that he go to his bishop and his bishop would read him the letter but not let him handle it or copy it. Eventually, a compromise was made. Brother Jackson says that the Office of The First Presidency finally agreed to send him a copy of the letter if he agreed (and gave his word) that he would show the letter to nobody, read the letter to nobody, make no copies of the letter, and keep the letter locked away in his home after he read it. After some thought, Brother Jackson agreed to the compromise.

In 1998 this author (Darrick Evenson) contacted David Jackson; because this author was working on a book titled The Mormon Faith & Black Folks, and he had heard from a third party that Brother Jackson had had some correspondence with the Office of The First Presidency on this issue. Brother Jackson told this author the above story. This author asked Brother Jackson about the contents of the letter from the Office of The First Presidency. Brother Jackson replied he had given his word that he could not discuss the contents, but this author was eventually told that the letter said that the Curse of Cain “may” have been a “misinterpretation”. When this author contacted the Office of The First Presidency about the alleged letter he was told “See your bishop”. The bishop had no information whatever, but said, “Look! Don’t worry about it! Let’s just forget the past and move on!”

Months latter this author asked a non-Member to call the Office of The First Presidency and ask about the Curse of Cain doctrine. He was allowed to speak with Brook Hales of the Office of The First Presidency. The following is from notes taken during that conversation:

Caller: “Yes, I would like to know if the Mormon Church ever taught that blacks were cursed or the descendants of Cain?”

Hales: “No! The Church has never taught that black people were cursed or the descendants of

Cain!”

Caller: “Then why are there these websites with quotes from Brigham Young and other Church leaders to the effect that blacks are the descendants of Cain and cursed as pertaining to the Priesthood?”

Hales: “Really? I’ve never seen them! You know, people say lots of things about the Church that isn’t true; especially on the Internet!”

Caller: “But I’ve read books about it, and the Church did in fact teach that blacks couldn’t hold the Priesthood until 1978. Wasn’t that based on the Curse of Cain?”

Hales: “Well...we...they..LOOK! The Church has NEVER taught that black people were cursed! Never that they were the descendants of Cain! I can’t help with other people say!”

Caller: “Can I send you some information quoting early Church leaders?”

Hales: “Sure!”

A large packet of materials was sent to Brook Hales at the Office of The First Presidency; including quotes from all Church Presidents and Apostles concerning the Curse of Cain as well as photocopies of official Statements of The First Presidency that the Priesthood ban was based upon the Curse of Cain and that it was “a doctrine of the Church”. Eight month later this author and the non-Member called the Office of The First Presidency again and again the non-Member was transferred to Brook Hales of that office. Here is a report of that second conversation:

Caller: “Did the LDS Church teach that black people were the cursed descendants of Cain?”

Hales: “Not at all! The Church teaches that we are ALL the sons and daughters of God. All equal in every respect.”

Caller: “But how can you explain all the quotes of early Church leaders that Negroes are the cursed descendants of Cain, and that Cain was cursed with a black skin?”

Hales: “Well, you know, some of the early Church leaders used to speculate on a lot of things, bu thtis was something never approved by the Brethren-the leaders of the Church!”

Caller: “So, you’re saying that the Church never taught that blacks are the descendants of Cain?”

Hales: “Not that I’m aware of.”

The following is from a telephone conversation between a non-Member caller and Don LeFevre (for many years-including many years before 1978-the official Church Spokesman). This conversation took place after Brother LeFevre retired as Church Spokesman:

Caller: “I’d like to know if the Mormon Church taught or not that black people were the descendants of Cain, and inherited his curse; which was a denial of the Priesthood and a black skin?”

LeFevre: (very confidently) “No! That has never been a teaching of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!”

Caller: “But why then couldn’t blacks have the Priesthood before 1978?”

LeFevre: “Now that’s a difficult question! There’s been much speculation on that. We really don’t know why.”

Caller: “Did it have anything to do with the Curse of Cain?”

LeFevre: “No”

Caller: “Look, Mr. LeFevre, I have Mormon friends who’ve shown me hundreds of pages of documents proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that your Church taught that Negroes were the descendants of Cain and that because of this they couldn’t have the Priesthood and that your own Prohets taught this as doctrine! What have you to say?”

LeFevre: (humorously) “Well, ha..if they did teach that, I don’t believe it!”

Caller: “You don’t believe they ever taught it?”

LeFevre: “I just don’t believe it, PERIOD! I never believed it! Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Caller: “Yes, you can start telling me the truth!”

LeFevre: laughs and hangs-up the phone

Is The First Presidency aware of what the Office of The First Presidency is doing?

Why is the Office of The First Presidency denying that the Church ever taught the Curse of Cain doctrine?

The answer is simple!

Many white Members of the Church (including Church employees at the Church Offices) are embarrassed by the Curse of Cain Doctrine; so embarrassed that they lie about it. They are afraid of being called “racists”. They wish the praise of the World, and not it’s condemnation!

After repeated attempts by writing and contacting the Public Affairs Office and the Office of The First Presidency, and getting no reply, this author, in desperation, finally contacted various newspapers and magazines in order to see if journalists could get a copy of the “letter” or could find out if the “letter” was official or not. The religion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune was a liberal Mormon (and Sunstone magazine co-founder) and a friend of Armand Mauss, and didn’t want to write an article because “the Church is going to repudiate the Curse of Cain teachings and we don’t want to mess that up”. Only Larry Stammer, the religion editor for the Los Angeles Times, agreed to investigate. I put him into contact with David Jackson; a resident of Orange County; just south of Los Angeles in California. I specifically told Mr. Stammer to “lay on the story” until after June 8th 1998; when the expected “disavowal” statement from The First

Presidency was supposed to be released; on the 20th anniversary of granting the Priesthood to “all worthy males” in the Church disregarding lineage. Mr. Stammer agreed.

On May 18th 1998 Larry Stammer published an article titled CALL FOR CHANGE: LDS Church Mulls Revoking Doctrine On Black ‘Curse’. The article hit front page in The Salt Lake Tribune (right next to a photo of a black Utah Jazz basketball player and his smiling family). Stammer wrote:

“Twenty years after the Mormon church dropped its ban against blacks in the priesthood, key leaders are debating a proposal to repudiate historic church doctrines that were used to bolster claims of black inferiority. The proposal to disavow the teachings, which purposrt to kink black kskin color to curses from God recounted in Hebrew and Mormon scriptures, is under review by the church’s Committee on Public Affairs, made up of members of the church’s highest governing circles, known as general authorities.

Sources close to the sensitive and still-secret deliberations hope that a statement will be issued as early as next month, the 20th anniversary of the landmark 1978 decision by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to admit all worthy men to the priesthood, regardless of race or color.” (Call for Change: LDS Church Mulls Revolking Doctrine On Black ‘Curse’, The Salt Lake Tribune, May 18, 1998)

Stammer quoted David Jackson, who said that repudiating the Curse of Cain doctrine would be “difficult” for Church leaders because “they feel like a lot of people may not believe the Church is true because a lot of these things were said by previous prophets, and a true prophet of God shouldn’t make mistakes.” He quoted Armand Mauss, President of the Mormon History Association (and who secretly was working with the Public Affairs Committee on the “statemetn”)that in “the absence of any official corrections, these speculative and rejorative ideas [i.e. that blacks are the descendants of Cain and less valiant in the War in Heaven] will continue to be perpetuated in the church indefinitely.”

The Church had an immediate reaction to the Stammer article. The following is from an ABC News report that was posted on the Internet the afternoon of the 18th of May:

“(Salt Lake City)- Mormons say a news report that they’ll disavow teachings linked to blacks is ‘in error’. The Lost Angeles Times reports Mormons leaders are considering a plan to disavow church doctrines once used to support claims that blacks are inferior.***Mormon church spokesman Don LeFevre says the ‘Times article is in error’. He says no statement is planned. LeFrere declines to elaborate, but says additional details will be available later.” (Disavowing the Disavowal, p.1 online)

David Jackson also told this author that Armand Mauss (then President of the Mormon History Association and a frequent speaker at the liberal Mormon Sunstone Symposium) was “working with people in Public Affairs” to draft a statement that the First Presidency would then sign; a statement calling the Curse of Cain and Priesthood ban a “mistake”.

This author spoke to Armand Mauss at a Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1998, a few months after the Stammer article, and Mauss told him that the Stammer article had “messed things up” and that The Brethren were “very upset the article came out” and that they decided against the “statement” repudiating the Curse of Cain doctrine “for now” because “they don’t want to appear to have been pressured” to make it. . Mauss told this author that he felt the L.A. Times article “ruined our chances” because “The Brethren don’t like to be seen as bowing to outside pressure”.

Larry Stammer then came out with another article on May 24th, 1998, titled “Mormon Plan to Disavow Racist Teachings Jeopardized by Publicity”:

“The president of the Mormon History Association said Saturday that it is less likely that the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will disavow 19th century teachings that linked African American skin color to Biblical curses because of publicity about that possibility. Armand L. Mauss said he believe the top leadership of the 10-million church may worry that they would be seen as bowing to public pressure if they made such a disavowel in the wake of news stories about secret deliberations on the issue. Mauss, who is among thsoe who for several years have been privately seeking such a disavowal, siad an article in The Times last week that reported on the efforts may thwart them.

Keith Atkinson, a spokesman for the church in Los Angeles, said Saturday he could not comment on what the church may or may not do. But he said he believed the church had already disavowed the teachings when it admitted men with black African ancestry to the priesthood in 1978.” (Los Angeles Times, Sunday, May 14, 1998)

Of course, Larry Stammer was incorrect when he wrote that the Curse of Cain doctrine “justified teachings of black inferiority”. Back in the 19th century all Christian churches taught that blacks were “inferior”; but only the LDS Church had a Curse of Cain doctrine. Besides, LDS scripture does not portray the Cainites as “inferior”; but rather “blessed with wisdom” and the invetors of civilization.

The 20th anniversary of the 1978 Revelation came and went with no “disavowal” of the Curse of Cain legacy; to the great disappointment of David Jackson and many other liberal Members of the Church.

What are we to make of all this? It appears that the Office of The First Presidency was sending out a “letter” that was stating or “hinting” that the Curse of Cain doctrine and Priesthood ban “may” have been a “mistake”, but exceptional means were taken not to have this “letter” fall into the hands of journalists or others who may make it public, and then ask embarrassing questions such as--

“If the Living Prophets were wrong about blacks and the Priesthood then how do we know the Living Prophets aren’t wrong about such-and-such things today?”

Homosexual Members of the Church were especially waiting for a disavowal of the Curse of Cain legacy; so they could say to more conservative Members: “You see! The Church admits it made mistakes about blacks! Eventually they’ll admit they made mistakes about us too; saying that homosexuality was wrong! You just wait!”

Why would the Office of The First Presidency draft a statement such as that but not want the Church in general or the Press to know about it? The only answer is that they wanted to placate some Members of the Church (for example black Members like David Jackson) while at the same time “officially” keeping the status quo. This is sometimes called ‘Having your cake and eating it too’. If such a statement “got out” to the Press then tens of thousands of faithful Church Members would be asking themselves (and their bishops): “If The Brethren believe the Priesthood ban was a mistake then how can we trust anything they tell us today?”

Why did the former Church Spokesman lie? Why did the Office of The First Presidency spokeman Brook Hales deny? Why the secret meetings, secret letters, winks, whispers, denials, threats, compromises, disavowals, and disavowing of disavowals? The Scriptures tell us why.

“Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the praise of the men more than the praise of God.” (John 12:43)

“And also for the praise of the world do they destroy the Saints of God, and bring them down into captivity.” (1 Nephi 13:9)

“And let him repent of his sins, for he seeketh the praise of the world.” (D&C 58:39)

David Jackson apparently believed it was his “mission” in life was to get The First Presidency to publicly admit that the Curse of Cain doctrine and Priesthood ban were “racist” and not of God. But Brother Jackson (and his white Mormon associates in this quest) did not get their wish. The First Presidency did not issue a “disavowal” on June 8th 1998 as they had hoped. David Jackson eventually concluded that “Mormonism” was not of God, and left the Church and became involved in the Religious Science church.

This author has struggled for many years to get a copy of the “letter” sent out by the Office of The First Presidency, but all efforts have failed. Was this “letter” approved by The First Presidency, or was it sent out unauthorized; by Church employees who “wanted” to distance the Church from the Curse of Cain legacy? To the date of the publication of this book, we don’t know the answers to those questions. But what is certain is this: until such a statement comes out publicly~signed by The First Presidency~the Curse of Cain Doctrine remains an official doctrine of the Church.


Please feel free to e-mail Darrick Evenson

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