The new lesson manual states:
“The Book of Mormon also states that a mark of dark skin came upon the Lamanites after the Nephites separated from them. The nature and appearance of this mark are not fully understood. The mark initially distinguished the Lamanite from the Nephites. Later, as both the Nephites and Lamanties each went through periods of wickedness and righteousness, the mark became irrelevant as an indicator of the Lamanites’ standing before God.
Prophets affirm in our day that the dark skin is not a sign of divine disfavor or cursing. The Church embraces Nephi’s teaching that the Lord “denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female”. President Russell M. Nelson declared: “The Lord has stressed His essential doctrine of equal opportunity for His children. Differences in culture, language, gender, race, and nationality fade into insignificance as the faithful enter the covenant path and come unto our beloved Redeemer.”
This is at least a good direction to be going in, however it falls short on many issues.
They do not disavow theories towards the “dark skin” of the Lamanites (American Indians). Those teachings are still in place. All this says it that the mark of dark skin is suddenly “not fully understood” and “the mark became irrelevant.” Basically, the mark has become irrelevant in the year 2020, but was not irrelevant in the Book of Mormon or during the first 189 years of the church.
The “nature and appearance of this mark” has been 100% understood since the founding of the church. It is in the current teachers seminary lesson manual in 2019 as being 100% understood. It is in all past manuals, including those which had been made specifically for Native American children in the Indian Placement Program, as being 100% fully understood.
It is in all past Native American missionary work, handouts, pamphlets, and manuals, as being 100% understood. American Indian ancestors turned away from God, who cursed them by completely withdrawing His spirit from them, and turned their skin dark as a sign so that the righteous white skinned people would not intermarry with the bad brown skin people. American Indians need redemption, the Mormon church is the only one who can provide it for them in order to lift the curse.
Saying it is “not fully understood” is offensive and denies a long history of teaching it as 100% understood. It dismisses those who had to live with the racism due to their brown indigenous skin, and cultural heritage. It denies the experience of those who STILL live with that racism as faithful believers. It denies the lived experience of the children raised with those teachings. heritage. It denies the experience of those who ‘still’ live with that racism as faithful believers. It denies the lived experience of the children raised with those teachings. It is insulting to deny the internalized feelings about my own American Indian body from the time I was in primary and throughout the young women program. It denies the very real ancestral appropriation American Indians experience. Church leaders cannot truthfully claim that it is not fully understood when it has been taught as fully understood since the founding of the church in 1830. They cannot claim that after 189 years of being ‘fully understood’, that it can suddenly be swept under the rug and ignored in the 190th year.
Why does the lesson manual states that ‘the mark’ and ‘the curse’ has suddenly become irrelevant? It wasn’t irrelevant in the 1960’s when my mom joined the church. She was taught her heritage of dark skin was a result of her ancestors turning away from the gospel and becoming wicked. It was not irrelevant when she was taught to believe her skin was lightening as a sign of embracing the gospel. It was not irrelevant when we were taught we would be resurrected ‘white’ because we embraced the gospel. It is not irrelevant that she STILL believes those things. It was not irrelevant when I sat in primary and had teachers refer to me as Lamanite. It was not irrelevant when I would be asked “what are you?” by parents of those I dated and was then referred to as Lamanite. It was not irrelevant when I worried about having children someday and how their ancestry might affect their lives. It was not irrelevant every time I experienced racism at church. It was not irrelevant in 2018 when a missionary taught me about the skin of my ancestors being darkened and added, “Not all the people of the world, we only know of the Lamanites. We need to recognize that this was one situation, under these circumstances 2000 years ago. It is not saying all black people are wicked or cursed at all.”
Not all people, just my people… ‘irrelevant’.
It is not irrelevant today that American Indians and Indigenous people are still being told that they are Lamanite and the Book of Mormon is a history of their ancestors by missionaries, church leadership, lesson manuals, talks, and other publications.
The skin of my ancestors is still being presented as darkened by God as the sign of a curse. It has not been disavowed from past teachings; it has only suddenly ‘irrelevant’ in 2020. The teachings stand as they always have.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has not disavowed racist teachings about American Indians or their ancestors. They are still taught that the Book of Mormon is a factual history of their people. The Book of Mormon still says “American Indians” in it’s introduction, ancestral appropriation and racism canonized. By trying to sweep this under the rug with the word “irrelevant” is an act of racism. It is only irrelevant to those who don’t have to accept and live with the racism and ancestral appropriation. This is the white privilege of the leadership of the church. This manual is like a smack in the face from the prophet himself.
If the church wants to change a harmful teaching – that change must be as loud as the harmful teaching originally was. I do not envy current leadership. The past mistakes of many have been laid at their feet. I believe that the current leadership does not fully grasp the size of this issue and can do so much better than this. Do they understand this manual does not stand against racism, but in effect – excuses it?
To correct this enormous problem the do this correctly the following must be done:
- Officially state that Native Americans/ American Indians are not Lamanites – that Indigenous people in the Americas and Pacific Islands are not, and never were, Lamanites. That in fact, the church does not know who the Lamanites are.
- Remove “American Indian” from the introduction of the Book of Mormon. Ancestral appropriation was and is wrong.
- That darkened skin theology about our ancestors should not have been attributed to any real living group of people. This should be said publicly and officially. That American Indian and Indigenous ancestors skins were not darkened as a sign of a curse.
- All “dark skin” curses and signs of curses must be removed from canonized material. Until those things are done, it is still relevant.
Lastly, this from Nelson’s statement, “Differences in culture… fade into insignificance as the faithful enter the covenant path and come unto our beloved Redeemer.” It merely fades into insignificance for those whose cultural identity has not been stolen under the guise of giving up the false traditions of their fathers. Church leaders asked that of every child who entered the Indian Placement Program. Many of the children were instructed to avoid participation in their cultural traditions during the summers when they returned to their families, or risk being cut from this ‘educational program’. Beautiful, long hair was cut short and spiritual traditions classed as incorrect. Baptism was administered without one single lesson from missionaries. Children were then taught that the Book of Mormon was their history and that they were in fact – Lamanite. Specific lesson manuals were made for Indigenous children – yet, it’s all irrelevant in 2020 – forgotten – swept under the rug. Those children are adults now, they still live – they remember.
What is swept under the rug is still under the rug. The pile is now so huge that the rug cannot lay flat, but has large rolls and bumps which lift the edges as ugly beliefs slide out. The past leaders of the church created this issue – “products of their time”. Will the current leadership correct it?
Repentance requires restitution.