by Mark Wignall
Sunday, September 25, 2005
“You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind.
The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings.
This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race–that they should be the “servant of servants;” and they will be, until that curse is removed.”
Brigham Young-President and second ‘Prophet’ of the Mormon Church, 1844-1877- Extract from Journal of Discourses.
My telephone call two weeks ago to the local arm of the church was quite specific in its request. Backed up by an e-mail to the organisation, I wanted to know the date of arrival in Jamaica, the membership and details of any outreach programme in force. Most importantly, I wanted to know why an organisation grounded in white supremacy would want Jamaica as one of its permanent postings considering that 95 per cent of Jamaicans are black-skinned.
Well, the alarm bells went off immediately. District president Kevin Brown, (a young black Jamaican) adopted a defensive stance on the telephone. After informing me that the president of the Jamaica branch, Leroy Turner (a white American), was off the island, he followed up with, “You people are always writing about us, saying we are racist and practise polygamy. Ian Boyne and you have written all sorts of things about us which are untrue.” I stopped him.
The Mormon’s major church in Jamaica.
“Mr Brown, I have never written anything about the Mormons,” I said. He apologised. The next day I met with president Turner and district president Mr Brown at the church’s headquarters. Our meeting lasted only 30 minutes. My main focus in the short interview was the church’s stance on racism.
At the end of it, I left with a copy of the Book of Mormon and nothing to convince me that the anti-racist positions of Turner and Brown, men who I believe are fairly decent human beings, if not the sharpest tools in the box, could counter the very racist words written in the very book they had presented to me.
Here are just two examples from their ‘bible’, the Book of Mormon.
Example 1: 2 Nephi 5: 21- ‘And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people, the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.’
Example 2: Alma 3: 6- ‘And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and their rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.’
According to the Mormons, Lamanites are the native American Indians who they erroneously claim, are descendants of Hebrews (who ‘strayed’ and became ‘cursed’ with dark skin) even though it has been established by DNA evidence that the native American Indian is related to tribes in Asia which crossed a land-bridge tens of thousands of years ago.
What amazed me, but probably shouldn’t, was the energy which District President Mr Kevin Brown brought to bear on defending the church against the attacks of those like me who claim it is racist. He, a black Jamaican, was even more strident in defense than the country president, a white American. Was it self-denial or just plain embarrassment?
Unencumbered by religion since age 15, I believe that I am more suited to discuss the Mormon church than others not so free, like Ian Boyne. I state this because the constant problems facing those religionists who quite rightly attack Mormon doctrine and its cultic relationship with its adherents is their need to compare it with some other cult, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the other mainstream Christian sects.
Inherent in this criticism is the definition of ‘the true church,’ a futile search always on the main agenda of items facing religionists. Like Thomas Paine, I believe in no church, no religion and instead see in the unfolding of the universe/nature, the manifestation of a god, or God – still unknown, unnamed and undefined.
Presently claiming 4,500 members in 22 congregations in Jamaica, the Mormons, who prefer to be referred to as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is easily the least successful church in Jamaica. They believe they are the true church and their leaders are the elect of God. All others are apostates.
The church arrived in Jamaica in 1968 at a time when the civil rights movement, Black Power and the Black Panther Party were the pressure groups leading the charge against ‘apartheid’ America.
It seems to be that it is no accident that the Mormons came to Jamaica in 1968. At that time, a very dunce, racially backward and politically infantile JLP government, four years before it was rejected by the people, was in the process of nullifying the teachings of, and expelling, black Guyanese UWI lecturer Dr Walter Rodney (a PhD at age 24!), declaring that he was ‘a most dangerous’ man, presumably for expounding too much on blackness, Garveyism and the stark class/colour arrangements in Jamaica at that time. The irony is, we were doing that even as we were heaping condemnation on racist South Africa and Ian Smith’s Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
Into this conundrum entered the Mormons, who at that time made no pretence at their white supremacist doctrine. Fourteen years before-on August 27, 1954 in an address at Brigham Young University (BYU), Mormon Elder, Mark E Peterson, in speaking to a convention of teachers of religion at the college level, said:
“The discussion on civil rights, especially over the last 20 years, has drawn some very sharp lines. It has blinded the thinking of some of our own people, I believe. They have allowed their political affiliations to color their thinking to some extent.I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the Negro is after.”
“He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat. He isn’t just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. It isn’t that he just desires to go to the same theater as the white people. From this, and other interviews I have read, it appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage.”
“That is his objective and we must face it. We must not allow our feelings to carry us away, nor must we feel so sorry for Negroes that we will open our arms and embrace them with everything we have. Remember the little statement that we used to say about sin, ‘First we pity, then endure, then embrace’….”
Rosa Parks would have probably told Petersen under which wheel of the bus he should go sit.
Then in 1967, (then) Mormon President Ezra Taft Benson, blinded by his acutely myopic view of African Americans and caught up in the communist hysteria of the times, saw the civil rights movement as nothing more than weak, useless blacks being used for a sinister purpose.
He said, “The Communist program for revolution in America has been in progress for many years and is far advanced. First of all, we must not place the blame upon Negroes. They are merely the unfortunate group that has been selected by professional Communist agitators to be used as the primary source of cannon fodder.”
We can therefore see that when the Mormons came here to ‘set up shop’ in 1968, black skinned people could join the church but the ‘priesthood’ was denied to them because they were ‘cursed.’
Their president saw American black people as childlike and mindless and therefore easily manipulated and, last but by no means least, the Jamaican government was proving to us either that, one, religious tolerance was very high on its agenda, or, two, it the JLP was so stupid to allow in a bunch of racists who were ‘waving around the banner of God’ and calling itself a church.
Now, I have no problems with white supremacist groups just as long as they remain in the jurisdictions which find their doctrinal crud to be palatable and socially acceptable. When groups like the Mormons set foot in Jamaica, not only do I find their presence to be an insult to me and all people of ‘cursed’ colour but I resent them finding offence and lying to me when I point out the obvious bigoted creeds inherent in their teachings and texts.
At one stage of the interview, the American Leroy Turner became visibly upset by my questions. As the blood rushed to his face and reddened his skin, he leaned forward in his swivel chair and said, ‘I don’t like the, the direction. which this is going. I am not going along with this. I am going to terminate the interview.’
Flustered, he eased back in his chair, removed his fixed stare at me, then silently sucked in a gulp of air as the interview continued.
We are told that on June 8, 1978, it was ‘revealed’ to the then president, Spencer Kimball, that people of colour could now gain entry into the priesthood. According to the church, Kimball spent many long hours petitioning God, begging him to give worthy black people the priesthood. God finally relented.
Even in this ‘revelation’, God is not given the glory- instead it is the wisdom and the prayers of Kimball which tipped the balance. But what was the true story behind this?
In 1978 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was under increasing pressure by the US government to end its racist doctrine and teachings or lose its tax-free status. Additionally, the church leadership saw the expansion in countries such as Brazil to be one big embarrassment to them.
Add to that the fact that not only black athletic teams were refusing to compete with teams from the racist Brigham Young University and the die was cast. Assuming that poor and ignorant black people in large populations like Brazil were joining the church, what would it do when some of the smarter ones decided to ask the unspeakable?
An extract from a 1978 interview sheds more light on the ‘revelation,’ which was nothing more than a socio-political sleight-of-hand brought on by the realities of the times, including especially the church’s need to justify black populations tithing (10% of income) to the church as requirement for membership in good standing.
The interview was conducted on August 16, 1978 at the Church Office Building. The interviewer was one Wesley Walters and the person interviewed was Mormon ‘Apostle’ LeGrand Richards.
‘WALTERS: On this revelation, of the priesthood to the Negro, I’ve heard all kinds of stories: I’ve heard that Joseph Smith appeared; and then I heard another story that Spencer Kimball had had a concern about this for some time, and simply shared it with the apostles, and they decided that this was the right time to move in that direction. Are any of those stories true, or are they all?
RICHARDS: Well, the last one is pretty true, and I might tell you what provoked it in a way. Down in Brazil, there is so much Negro blood in the population there that it’s hard to get leaders that don’t have Negro blood in them. We just built a temple down there. It’s going to be dedicated in October.
All those people with Negro blood in them have been raising the money to build that temple. If we don’t change, then they can’t even use it. Well, Brother Kimball worried about it, and he prayed a lot about it. ‘
So much for that ‘revelation.’
The origins of the church is not so much my concern as is its presence in my country, and so much racist baggage in its ‘Bible.’ In hindsight, if all the church can muster is a membership of 4,500 in 37 years (121.6 persons on average per year) then maybe this article is overkill.
The fact is, although the last time I checked, people in Jamaica were free to join any church they fancied, the reality is, the Mormon Church is a billion dollar business in Utah where Salt Lake City is literally owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) through the resourcefulness and business enterprise of its leadership. The Mormons in Jamaica are here to stay, so they tell me.
The missionary nature of the Americans has long been established through the export of its ‘democracy’ to the LDC’s, its easily portable war machinery (where next boys!), the export of its Harvard, led MBA business theology (no new start-ups, only takeovers) and its bible-thumping televangelists.
Many scholars, especially ex Mormons, have shown that the ‘revelations’ of Joseph Smith, the cult’s founder were concoctions. Smith was a man who dabbled in ‘seer stones,’ tall tales, many women, gunfights and money digging. Scholars have also totally debunked the Book of Abraham by showing that Smith’s ‘translation’ of hieroglyphics from ancient papyri was a grand hoax. That aside, if that was his hustle, all power to him but please, keep it among his homegrown ignorant.
Like its followers worldwide, Jamaican Mormons are taught that dissent within and that coming from outside the church is the work of Lucifer. Like most cults, scholarly enquiry is discouraged and blind acceptance is the norm among the local population.
And as with organisations of this kind, the ill wind which blows some good takes in supplies through Food for the Poor, medical supplies for the Ministry of Health and, I am told that an effort is now on to assist in the social and structural reorganisation of refuges in Katrina’s wake.
Sometime before the ‘revelation’ came to chief ‘Prophet’ Spencer Kimball in June 1978, General Authority, Bruce R McConkie had said:
“The Blacks are denied the Priesthood; under no circumstances can they hold this delegation of authority from the Almighty.
The Negroes are not equal with other races where the receipt of certain blessings are concerned, particularly the priesthood and the temple blessings that flow there from, but this inequality is not of man’s origin, it is the Lord’s doings.” (Mormon Doctrine, pp. 526-527).
On June 13, 1978 The Salt Lake Tribune reported the following: “President Kimball refused to discuss the revelation that changed the Church’s 148 year-old policy against ordination of Blacks, saying it was a personal thing. Kimball said the revelation came at this time because conditions and people have changed. It’s a different world than it was 20 or 25 years ago. The world is ready for it, he said.”
Black self denigration seems to me to be a science. A lot of its genesis is rooted in religion and, as we all know, some of the scriptures in the Bible were used to justify the world’s biggest crime, the Atlantic Slave Trade. While the 1978 ‘revelation’ has opened up the priesthood to blacks who are ‘worthy’, it hasn’t changed the fundamental doctrine of the Mormon church that a black skin is a curse.
My sympathies go out to Jamaicans who are a part of this church. Religious freedom allows them this right, but self denigration in the extreme and an excess of ignorance (and probably economic need) seem to be the only logical explanations for black-skinned persons’ membership in such an organisation.
When Mormon ‘Apostle’ Mark E Petersen spoke on ‘Race Problems- As they affect the Church at the BYU campus’ in 1954, the following was also said: ‘.if the negro accepts the gospel with real, sincere faith, and is really converted, to give him the blessings of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost. he can and will enter the celestial kingdom. He will go there as a servant, but he will get celestial glory.’
When Mormon ‘Prophet’ and second President of the Church, Brigham Young, spoke in 1863 (Journal of Discourses, Vo. 10, p. 110), the following was also said:
“Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God is death on the spot. This will always be so.”
When the church received the priesthood ‘revelation’ in 1978, were the past statements of these important ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’ made redundant? Was there ever a wholesale condemnation by the church of these virulently racist attacks on black people? No, there was not, and the only conclusion that can be drawn is that the doctrine of the curse of a black skin is still very much a part of the church’s position in the 21st century.
It seems to me that not only was the church forged in infamy, but in a world far removed from the racism of 19th century America, the Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has made only patronising concessions on the issue of skin colour.
Too much of the origins of the church and the doctrines in the Book of Mormon are steeped in ‘the curse.’ It cannot be reversed as that would make Joseph Smith’s 1830 ‘revelations’ a bigger curse to the present church leaders. And that would negate everything else that the church stands for.
Some of those in the leadership of the Jamaica district of the Mormons had the gall to suggest to me that I write my column, but give them a chance to read it before publication. Well, now that they have read my piece, they are free to have their responses published.