The Mormon Faith & Black Folks
Question #8

Q. Perhaps the Curse of Cain teaching was a mistake, a misinterpretation, or perhaps not a doctrine but rather merely the personal opinions of some early Mormon leaders?

A. None of the above. The Curse of Cain doctrine was always presented as “a doctrine of the Church”; never as personal opinion or speculation. Some Mormons today call it a “mistake” or a “misinterpretation” or “personal opinion”, but they do so out of ignorance of the history of the doctrine or because they feel embarrassed by it and want to distance themselves from it.

One of the fundamental beliefs of the Latter-day Saints is that the President of the Church is the “Living Prophet” on the earth today. While he is not considered ‘infallible’, he is considered ‘inspired’ of God; just as any Prophet mentioned in the Bible. The personal opinions and interpretations of LDS Presidents sometimes differ, sometimes they differ widely, but what is called “doctrine”; especially in official statements of The First Presidency (the President of the Church and his two Counselors) is official LDS Church Doctrine, and not mere ‘opinion’, ‘speculation’ or  ‘supposition’.

On October 8, 1947, Dr. Lowry Nelson, a Mormon professor at the University of Utah, wrote to The First Presidency and said:

“The attitude of the Church in regard to the Negro makes me very sad¼.I do not believe God is a racist.” (Mormons and Negroes, p.28)

The First Presidency wrote back and said:

“We feel very sure that you are aware of the doctrines of the Church. They are either true or not true. Our testimony is that they are true. Under these circumstances we may not permit ourselves to be too much impressed by the reasonings of men, however well founded they may seem to be. We should like to say this to you in all sincerity, that you are too fine a man to permit yourself to be led off from the principles of the Gospel by worldly learning. You have too much of a potentiality for doing good and we therefore prayerfully hope that you can reorient your thinking and bring it in line with the revealed Word of God.” (Mormons and Negroes, p.28 emphases added)

The First Presidency identified the Curse of Cain/Priesthood ban as:

1. “the doctrines of the Church”

2. “the principles of the Gospel”

3. “the revealed Word of God”

The First Presidency issued this statement on July 17th, 1947:

“From the days of the Prophet Joseph even until now, it has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel [i.e. the Priesthood].” (Mormonism and the Negro, p.47 emphases added)

On August 17th, 1951, the First Presidency issued it’s Statement by The First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on the Negro Question:

“The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become Members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the Priesthood at the present time.

***

President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: ‘The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.’

***

Sometime in God’s eternal plan, the Negro will be given the right to hold the Priesthood. In the meantime, those of that race who receive the testimony of the Restored Gospel may have their family ties protected and other blessings made secure, for in the justice of the Lord they will possess all the blessings to which they are entitled in the eternal plan of Salvation and Exaltation.” (Mormonism and the Negro, pp.16-23 emphases added)

In 1963 William B. Arthur, the editor of LOOK magazine, in an interview with Joseph Fielding Smith (10th President of the Church at that time) asked if the Church would change its doctrine on the Negro. President Smith replied:

“The Negro cannot achieve priesthood in the Mormon Church. No consideration is being given now to changing the doctrine of the Church to permit him to attain that status. Such a change can come about only through divine revelation, and no one can predict when a divine revelation will occur.” (LOOK magazine, Oct. 22, 1963, p.79 emphases added)

In 1967 a reporter for Seattle magazine asked N. Eldon Tanner (then 2nd Counselor in The First Presidency) if the Church would change its policy of not ordaining Negroes to the Priesthood. President Tanner responded:

“The Church has no intention of changing its doctrine on the Negro. Throughout the history of the original Christian church, the Negro never held the Priesthood. There’s really nothing we can do to change this. It’s a law of God.” (Seattle magazine, Dec. 1967, p.60 emphases added)

In 1972 President Spencer W. Kimball declared:

“A special problem exists with respect to blacks because they may not now receive the Priesthood. Some Members of the Church would justify their own un-Christian discrimination against blacks because of that rule with respect to the Priesthood, but while this restriction has been imposed by the Lord, it is not for us to add burdens upon the shoulders of our black brethren. They who have received Christ in faith though authoritative baptism are heirs to the Celestial Kingdom along with men of other races.” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.237 emphases added)

In 1973 a journalist asked President Spencer W. Kimball if there would be a change of the policy of not allowing black males of African descent into the Priesthood. President Kimball responded:

“Blacks and the Priesthood: I am not sure that there will be a change, although there could be. We are under the dictates of our Heavenly Father, and this is not my policy or the Church’s policy. It is the policy of the Lord who has established it, and I know of no change, although we are subject to revelations of the Lord in case he should ever wish to make a change.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p.449 emphases added)

There are both white and black Members of the Church who will tell you that this was ‘never a doctrine of the Church’. The whites do so because of ‘white-guilt’. They don’t want to be viewed as ‘racists’; so they refuse to believe it was ever a doctrine; even though it was always presented as such. Others are simply sincere but misinformed, and rely on inaccurate information.

Some Members of the Church say it was ‘never a doctrine’ simply because they don’t want to believe it ever was. But, in truth, it was and still is a doctrine of the LDS Church. It was never repudiated. The Revelation in 1978 that removed the curse did not repudiate the doctrine that black Africans are the descendants of Cain through Egyptus; the wife of Ham. The removal of the curse was long expected by those Prophets and Apostles who taught it and believed it; although they differed as to when it would be removed.

Some Members of the Church don’t wish to discuss it, and will only say: “That’s in the past, let’s move on!” Of course, now that people of Hamitic lineage have the Priesthood, the Curse of Cain doctrine is no longer relevant. But that doesn’t mean it should be denied or explained away. The doctrine remains a doctrine; although it is no longer relevant for our day. Refusing to deal with it and saying “That’s in the past, let’s move on!” is a way to try to avoid history, but history won’t be forgotten. The Curse of Cain legacy will not simply fade away.

Many of the younger Members of the Church, especially the Missionaries, have never heard of the Curse of Cain! Most of them are vaguely aware that blacks couldn’t have the Priesthood until 1978, but many or most don’t know why. This is because the Church has not taught the doctrine since 1978, and, unless specifically asked, most white Members don’t discuss it. Yet, it still remains a doctrine of the Church.

In 1963 Spencer W. Kimball, then an Apostle, replied to those Members who sought to explain-it-away as a mistake or a misinterpretation or an ‘error’. He said:

“The things of God cannot be understood by the spirit of men. It is impossible to always measure and weigh all spiritual things by man’s yardstick or scales. Admittedly, our direct and positive information is limited. I have wished the Lord had given us a little more clarity in the matter. But for me, it is enough. The prophets for 133 years of the existence of the Church have maintained the position of the prophet of the Restoration that the Negro could not hold the priesthood nor have the temple ordinances which are preparatory for exaltation.

***

I know the Lord could change his policy and release the ban and forgive the possible ‘error’ which brought about the deprivation. If the time comes, that He will do, I am sure. These ‘smart’ Members who would force the issue, and there are many of them, cheapen the issue and certainly bring into contempt the sacred principle of revelation and divine authority.” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp.448-9)

If any Member of the Church says to you “Well, that was never taught!” or “Well, that was just their opinion!” or “The Church has repudiated that doctrine!” know for a  certainty that they are either speaking out of ignorance of the facts, or they are lying to you. Probably they are speaking without knowing. It has always been a doctrine of the Church and always will be unless officially repudiated by The First Presidency of the Church.  There have been attempts by a few Members of the Church (Sunstone Mormons) to have this done. Such attempts have been rebuffed.

*Curse of Cain: Official LDS Doctrine

The Curse of Cain Doctrine is an official doctrine of the LDS Church, and remains so today; although it is considered irrelevant by most Mormons because of the lifting of the ban in 1978, and because of the fact that it is no longer taught. But it remains on the books.

On the other hand, the Less Valiant Theory was never an official doctrine of the Church; but a theory, a speculation, and a supposition only.

The attitude of most Mormons regarding the Curse of Cain and the Priesthood ban is summed up by Elder Bruce R. McConkie when he wrote:

“The ancient curse is no more. The seed of Cain and Ham and Canaan and Egyptus and Pharoah (Abr. 1:20-27; Moses 5:16-41; 7:8, 22)—all these now have power to rise up and bless Abraham as their father. All these, Gentile in lineage, may now come and inherit by adoption all the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Rom. 8:14-24; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5; Teachings, pp.149-50). All these may now be numbered with those in the one fold of the One Shepherd who is Lord of all.” (Revelation on Priesthood, p.2 online)


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