Every Mormon knows that the LDS church isn’t racist. How could it be racist AND have a black person in the Tabernacle Choir?!

The contemporary racism of the LDS church is more subtle than supporting slavery, restricting blacks from priesthood and temple, opposing the civil rights movement, or forcing Native American children into adoption by white families (though the church did all those things).

Contemporary LDS racism self-manifests in the false narratives it tells about race.

For instance, the Book of Mormon tells the story of a Hebrew family that traveled by boat from Jerusalem to the Americas and thereafter divided into two factions, the righteous Nephites and the wicked Lamanites.

Because of the rebellion of the Lamanites, “the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.” This was done so that, “as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, they might not be enticing unto [the Nephites],” (2 Nephi 5:21).

If you’re thinking, “That’s not how skin pigmentation works,” or “Wow, that’s racist af,” then you’re absolutely right! But wait, there’s more!

For 176 years, the introduction to The Book of Mormon claimed that these Lamanites were “the principal ancestors of the American Indians.”

This claim doesn’t JUST contradict all the available genetic, linguistic, and archaeological evidence about Native American origins, it completely disregards all the indigenous people’s own oral histories, supplanting them with a 19th-century WASP fantasy where God cursed them with dark skin to make them too ugly for white people.

This is literal cultural identity erasure.

To add salt to the wound, The Book of Mormon also praises the tyrant, Christopher Columbus: “And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land,” (1 Nephi 13:12).

Church leaders have always cited this verse to glorify the bloodthirsty Columbus as the proto-saint of imperial Christianity. Yet they have never once mentioned the torture, rape, enslavement, and murder that Christopher Columbus brought to the natives who welcomed him with open arms because their imaginary narrative takes precedence over historical accuracy and moral sensitivity.

This is also the case with the church’s treatment of black people. The Pearl of Great Price teaches that God cursed Cain and his descendents. “For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the bareness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people” (Book of Moses 7:8)

Church president Brigham Young added his insight, saying:

“Cain slew his brother…. 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; and the Abolitionists cannot help it, nor in the least alter that decree,” (Journal of Discourses, v. 7, pp. 290-291).

The LDS church may disavow 160 years of racist teachings and restrictions, but it retains in its canon a racist fiction — that is, that blackness came after whiteness as a result of sin.

The reality is that homo sapiens started out with dark pigmentation. Whiteness is a genetic mutation that occurred later as people migrated farther away from the equator.

Black was first. White came later. Yet this historical truth is turned on its head by scripture in favor of a false, white-centric narrative.

This is literal white supremacy. And it led to the maltreatment of black members for 160 years, something for which the church has never apologized.

For far too long, members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have turned a blind eye to racial injustice (or have even inflicted it themselves) due to the false narratives they believed about race. 

These are the foolish traditions of our fathers that must go. The church has changed scripture before and it can change it again. And until it does, it should be branded for what it is: racist. 

Tanner Gilliland is a writer, artist, and jazz hands enthusiast based in Salt Lake City, UT. Check out his art on Instagram: @tanner_gilliland, his jokes on Twitter: @tgilliland789, and his poverty on Venmo: Tanner-Gilliland

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