In a recent conversation with a friend – I was asked to clarify a few things I had told him in a prior conversation. He wanted to know why I was so hurt by the real Lamanite narrative.
I had originally expressed that I was now more upset knowing the church didn’t think of “Lamanites” as literal descendants anymore. As a fully active member for 39 years, and a 7th generation Mormon, I had always believed the church viewed “Lamanites” as literal descendants.
When my mom joined the church in the 60’s she was told she was a literal descendant. She was told the Book of Mormon was the history of her people. This isn’t something some naive mistaken missionaries taught, it was taught from church manuals, missionary pamphlets and handouts, up to prophets from the pulpit. Naturally I was taught that the Book of Mormon was my literal Native American history, which was placed ahead of the actual history my tribe taught.
My friend wanted to know why I was more offended by the church not believing in literal descendants of Lehi. How was it more offensive?
If the church believed the people they have labeled as “Children of Lehi” or “Lamanites” were literal descendants, then it was done in ignorance. It was a mistake, passed from one generation to the next. The very people teaching this were people who were taught it as little children. How could they know any better if they truly believed it? They would only be passing on a belief that had been taught as fact to them. Even if it was wrong, they would not know that they were teaching something wrong.
However the church admits there is no current evidence of literal descendants. Still, they believe they are justified in labeling people as “Lamanites.” They feel justified telling people that the Book of Mormon is the real history of the “Lamanites.”
Here is a quote from a Deseret News article titled Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: The double meaning of the word ‘Lamanite’: “So although there is no evidence for a genetic link between modern Native Americans and Lamanites, LDS scriptures and prophets are justified in referring to them as “Lamanites” due to the likelihood of cultural and genealogical affiliations.
“At times the name (Lamanite) refers to ‘the people of Laman’; at other times it can identify unbelievers and ignore ancestral lines, depending on contextual specifics regarding peoples, time, and place.”
So the reason I gave my friend for being more offended is because they do not do this ignorantly. This is not a belief they simply were taught as children and pass on as adults. This is an understood purposeful choice. A church I once respected and loved as being upright, is deceitful. It labels people as “Lamanite” because they have a heritage of being “unbelievers” – as in non-Christian religions. The religions that Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and South Americas had were all considered evil or ignorant. They were considered “Lamanite” religions. The Book of Mormon is not kind about the “Lamanites” not worshiping correctly. The church I once loved as being honorable and being accepting of all God’s children labels “Lamanites” due to their skin color, and due to their nationality. Hands down this is more offensive than if they actually believed in literal descendants.
They have stolen many peoples heritage, broken traditions, and renamed original cultures under the term “Lamanite” without believing these people were literal descendants. They have not taken the time to explain this label to those that they give it to either. They simply say the Book of Mormon is their history. This is worse than ignorant, this is abuse of power.
Yet I hope as people read this that they understand that the vast majority of average Mormons are amazing, kind, and honest people. They have been kept from the majority of truth and have been told the real history is just lies from outsiders attacking the church. The information has to be searched for, as it is not taught in any Sunday school classes or at General Conference. So if you know any Mormons, please, be kind. I was one and until a few months ago knew none of this. I had believed, until a year ago, that I too was a “Lamanite.”
In my opinion the church really only has one major problem on it’s hands. It has taught honesty and integrity with such determination that as members learn of issues they cannot ignore their own conscience. It is just a matter of time.
- Deseret News, Challenging Issues, Keeping the Faith: The double meaning of the word ‘Lamanite’, Ash, Michael R., 3 May 2010, Web. 16 October 2017.
- BYU Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Lamanites, Web. 20 September 2017.