(Names of Missionaries withheld to protect identity.)
The Book of Mormon is cherished as the word of God among those who believe and follow the teachings. It is taught as something historical. It is called the most correct book in the introduction pages. Yet to embrace it is to embrace racism, though the vast majority of Mormons likely do not realize this. I didn’t acknowledge this myself for 38 years of my membership. I simply accepted it as truth.
Today I spent my morning doubting myself. At times I simply cannot believe or accept that friends and family I hold so dear would teach me racist doctrine as a child. I could not accept that they would teach me racism towards myself.
On January 16 this year I watched the Mormon News Conference with the new presidency. President Russell M. Nelson said, “Every member needs to know the difference between what’s doctrine and what’s human. We have both elements that we have to work with.” I wondered to myself if that is what I had done, confused doctrine and human.
Perhaps it was not what God within Mormonism taught, but the mistakes of men. I considered the fact that the LDS church did publicly disavow theories surrounding why black people couldn’t hold the priesthood and the racism surrounding Cain. (“Race and the Priesthood” essay on the church website.) Perhaps they also corrected issues surrounding Native Americans. President Nelson continued and said, “Do not be offended by what may have been said, or what may have transpired.” Is that what I was? Was I offended by what was said and what had transpired? Was I offended by human error which I had thought was doctrine?
Perhaps I was viewing my interpretation of Mormonism through when it first began in the 1830’s, or even the 1970’s when I was born. Racism during the times was leaking into God’s church, human, not doctrine. Perhaps the church in 2018 was different, more enlightened.
Did God (within Mormonism) view Native Americans as the Lamanites? Did He punish them because He thought they were evil by withdrawing His spirit from them, and curse them with darkened skin? Was this curse passed on to their children? Did God lead Columbus and sweep the Native Americans from the land because of their unrighteousness? Perhaps it was all human, and not doctrine. Perhaps I misunderstood years of teachings.
For a moment I hoped I misunderstood, because there are many Mormons I know and love. I can’t imagine they believe the Native American’s were unrighteous. I can’t imagine that they would believe the reasons for darker skin. Beyond all of it I can’t imagine they believe Native Americans were meant to be “swept from the land”. That any of my friends and family could believe, as I was taught to believe, that God meant for the Native Americans to be killed and have their land taken away. That could not be God.
So, I did what anyone curious about Mormonism should do, I contacted the source directly, the Mormon Missionaries on Mormon Chat.
Sarah: “What is the Book of Mormon about?”
Missionary: “The Book of Mormon was written at the same time as the Bible by prophets of God. It was just written on a different continent. It testifies of Christ and His doctrine because it is His word.”
Sarah: “So Christ went to a different continent? Which one? Why?”
Missionary: “Yes, Christ visited the ancient Americas! He visited the Americas to teach all people His doctrine. He established His church as well. In the Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi chapter 8-29 is Christ Himself talking and visiting the people of the ancient Americas. He did all this to fulfill His words. John 10:16 And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
Sarah: “Wow, that is really interesting. So… just to make sure I understand, this happened after His death?”
Missionarie: “Yes. Christ visited the Americas as the resurrected Christ. In 3 Nephi 15:21-24, Christ also tells the Nephites the meaning behind what He said regarding the other sheep.” (The sister went on to include the scriptures she referred to.)
Sarah: “Was it North America or South America? Who are the Nephites? Did He visit other places too? Aside from the Americas?”
Missionary: “We aren’t sure which America it was, but we do know that it was the ancient Americas. The Nephites were one of the civilizations of people who occupied the area. They came over from Jerusalem by commandment of the Lord and by way of boat around 600 B.C.”
Sarah: “Are the Nephites still alive? Who are they now?”
Missionary: “The Nephites, who were generally the more righteous people, were killed off at the end of the Book of Mormons because of their wickedness and lack of turning to Jesus Christ. There was another civilization of people called the Lamanites, who more often than not denied Christ and His existence, and they were always at war with the Nephites. The Lamanites became the Native Americans who were in the Americas when Columbus came and settled the land. That’s why there was no religion established in the land when Columbus came, because the Lamanites didn’t believe in Christ. This happened around 421 A.D., so from that time to when Columbus came the Lamanites (Native Americans) had been softened by the Lord.”
Sarah: “So God visited the Americas to teach the people. They were from Jerusalem, and they were the Nephites. The Nephites were killed, leaving the Lamanites who are the Native Americans. There was no religion in the land. And then… Columbus?”
Missionary: “I’m sorry, I’m not good at explaining things.” (She then offered to send videos, sent me their phone number to text etc.)
At one point I was ready to fully disclose how wrong she was about Native Americans. I cannot explain how upset I was to read her response that Native Americans had no religion. I wanted to scream for my Native heritage. For a few minutes I didn’t type a response. Realistically I was reactive, and that is never good. She is someone’s kid. She is young and has no idea what she has been taught is wrong on so many levels. She could have been me 20 years ago. I did not contact missionaries to hurt the church or them, so I hope when people read this they still have kindness towards those who do not understand what they do. I only contacted to test my own views. Was I wrong? Nope. I thanked them for their patience and ended the chat.
The missionaries are only passing on what had been taught to them as doctrine from God. These were not their human ideas, they are still so very young. This was what the church taught them. The Book of Mormon is what Nelson calls doctrine. I am not offended, I am disgusted. Disgusted that as a child I was taught this narrative, and even more disgusted that children are still being taught this narrative. Disgusted Mormon missionaries are sent out with this narrative to bring the Book of Mormon to the world. I am ashamed I ever viewed my people through the doctrine of the Book of Mormon. Nothing has changed. Embracing the Book of Mormon in any way is embracing racism.