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 taught since the founding of the church as being 100% understood. It is in the current teachers seminary lesson manual in 2019 as being 100% understood. It is in all past manuals, including especially those made for Native American children, as being 100% fully understood. It is in all past Native American missionary work, handouts, pamphlets, and manuals, as being 100% understood. Lamanites (ancestors of American Indians) turned away from God, God cursed them by completely withdrawing His spirit from them, and turned their skin dark so that the good white skinned Nephites wouldn’t intermarry with the bad brown skin Lamanites. Lamanites need redemption, the Mormon church is the only one who can provide it for them.
Saying it is “not fully understood” is offensive and denies a long history of teaching it as 100% understood. It denies those who had to live with the racism due to their brown indigenous skin and heritage. It denies the experience of those who STILL live with that racism as a faithful believer. It denies the experience of the children raised in it. Do not deny the experience of what I was taught as fact about my own body from the time I was in primary and throughout young women. Do not deny the very real ancestral appropriation I experienced. Do not say it is not fully understood when it has been taught as fully understood since the founding of the church in 1830. Do not think that after 189 years of being taught as fully understood, that suddenly it can be swept under the rug and ignored in the 190th year.
The lesson manual states that the mark has suddenly become irrelevant? It wasn’t irrelevant in the 1960’s when my mom joined the church and she was taught her heritage had dark skin because her ancestors turned away from the gospel and became evil. 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 them. It was not irrelevant every time I experienced racism at church. It was not irrelevant in 2018 when a missionary who knew I was Native American taught me about the skin of my ancestors being darkened and the missionary said, “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 when people are still being taught that they are Lamanite by missionaries and leadership of the church, and taught the same things about their ancestry.
The skin of my ancestors is still being taught as darkened as a sign of a curse by God. It has not been disavowed from past teachings, 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. Native Americans are still taught that the Book of Mormon is a factual history of their people. The Book of Mormon still says “American Indians” in the introduction, and still has the darkened skin as a sign of a curse in it’s canonized pages. By trying to sweep this under the rug and say it is “irrelevant” is an act of racism. It is only irrelevant to those who don’t have to 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. But I also think 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 excuses it and embraces it?
To do this correctly the following must be done: 1st – Officially state that Native Americans are not Lamanites. That Indigenous people in the Americas and Pacific Islands are not Lamanites. That you do not know who the Lamanites are. Remove “American Indian” from the introduction of the Book of Mormon. 2nd – That this skin curse theology about our ancestors should not have been attributed to any real living group of people. This should be said publicly and officially. Ancestral appropriation was and is wrong and a mistake. That American Indian and Indigenous ancestors skins were not darkened as a sign of a curse. 3- All “dark skin” curses and signs of curses must be removed from canonized material. Until those things are done, it is still relevant.
Last is this, “Differences in culture… fade into insignificance as the faithful enter the covenant path and come unto our beloved Redeemer.” It only fades into insignificance for those who are not giving up their culture. The leadership only asks that of others who join the church. They asked that of every child that entered the Indian Placement Program. Many of the children were told not to participate in their cultural traditions during the summers when they returned to their families or they risked being cut from the educational program. Hair was cut, spiritual way of life incorrect, baptism into the Mormon church required to get an education. Baptism without even a single lesson from missionaries. Then those children were taught the Book of Mormon was their history and that they were Lamanite. Specific lesson manuals were made for only Indigenous children. Irrelevant in 2020… forgotten and swept under the rug. Those children are adults now, they still live.
What is swept under the rug is still under the rug. The pile 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.