Come Follow me was a curriculum introduced for the youth in the Mormon church, launched in 2013. Over time it expanded to include a Come Follow me manual for Primary age children, individuals, family home study, and Sunday school.
As with the Watchtower organisation, the Mormon Church falls frequently into the trap set by the simple act of publishing manuals and periodicals. Their ‘Scriptures,’ their historical publications, such as the Journal of Discourses to the latest teaching materials and house magazines, are an invaluable resource to their critics as much as to their members, containing as they do doctrinal tripwires ready to blow up in the face of Mormonism.
When, for example, they launched their Teachings of the Presidents of the Church series in 1998 with the teachings of Brigham Young, the church was accused of sanitising its history. Then there are the significant changes over the years to the Gospel Principles Manual, a manual I taught from when it was first published in 1978.
The Mormon Church has, by a process narratological legerdemain, expunged any obvious evidence of their past mistakes.
Come Follow Me
The latest controversy revolves around the difference between the print and online versions of the 2020 Come Follow Me manual, which covers the Book of Mormon. Local leaders will have, some time in August 2019, ordered the print copy to distribute to their congregation, the order being filled before January 2020.
There was a distinct change however from the original print version of Come Follow me to the online version concerning the infamous ‘curse’ of a black skin pronounced upon the unfaithful Lamanites. We know, of course, that Mormons have in the past held beliefs every bit as racist as any other church’s beliefs. Other churches have publicly repented. You can read more about this troubled past here.
The Mormon Church has, by a process of careful rewriting, editing, and narratological legerdemain, expunged any obvious evidence of their past mistakes in this regard. The trouble with manuals and teaching aids is they remain in circulation and even new editions may bring back your past to bite you. Such has happened in this instance.
The print version of Come Follow Me addresses the dark skin teaching with more candour than church authorities intended.
The Book of Mormon, of course, is the root of historical Mormon attitudes to race:
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.22 And thus saith the Lord God: I will cause that they shall be loathsome unto thy people, save they shall repent of their iniquities.23 And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.(2 Nephi 5:21-23 – 21)
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. (Alma 3:6)
“Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our father—that they should have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them….O my brethren, I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their [the Lamanites] skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.” (Jacob 3:5/8)
Much historical Mormon racism is attributed to Brigham Young who said:
“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…and the Lord has put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and the black skin.” (Journal of Discourses, vol.7pp.290-91)
It is well to remember, however, who it was brought the Book of Mormon to the world, complete with racist teaching that, frankly, was commonplace in the 19th century, being used to justify slavery for instance. Any future teaching of this sort is built on the foundation laid by Joseph Smith. This raises the question of which spirit has been leading that church, the Spirit of prophecy or the spirit of the world?
Anyone who has studied Mormonism will know of the Plan of Salvation. In this plan Mormons see a panoramic view of man’s “progress” from a pre-mortal existence with God, through a mortal probation, to an eternity determined by the individual’s obedience to the Mormon gospel. This narrative forms ther substance of the secret Mormon temple ceremony.
According to this account men and women fought in a great battle in this pre-mortal world. Lucifer rebelled against God and persuaded many of these pre-mortals to follow him. When the revolt was defeated, Lucifer became Satan, and he and his followers were cast out of heaven into the earth as demons.
Those who remained were promised physical bodies and the opportunity to prove themselves worthy in their earth life of future blessings in eternity. Some, however, had not been so valiant in the battle, waiting to see who would win, and they would not be allowed such great blessings on earth.
They were marked by being born with a dark skin – which is the Mormon explanation for black people. Until 1978 anyone with Negro blood was not allowed to hold the Mormon priesthood. Indeed, Mormon missionaries were instructed to avoid proselytising black people.
A Prophet ‘Explains.’
The Mormon prophet Joseph Fielding Smith explains:
“There is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less.” (Doctrines of Salvation, vol.1, p.61)
There is no room for interpretation in their Scriptures and teaching.
The problem here is that, while other religious leaders may repent of holding such views, confessing to have misinterpreted Scripture according to their own prejudices, Mormons have no such route available to them.
While Christians may confess to having misunderstood the early chapters of Genesis and the meaning of the story of Cain, this is not possible for the Mormons, for the simple reason that there is no room for interpretation in their Scriptures and teaching.
In Mormon Scripture the position is very clearly unpacked and explained. Far from there being a few misunderstood verses, Mormon Scripture is shot through with the racist attitudes typical of the 19th century, for example, in the Pearl of Great Price we find:
‘Behold, Potiphar’s Hill was in the land of Ur, of Chaldea. And the Lord broke down the altar of Elkenah, and of the gods of the land, and utterly destroyed them, and smote the priest that he died; and there was great mourning in Chaldea, and also in the court of Pharaoh; which Pharaoh signifies king by royal blood.
Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from
the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites
From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land.
The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden;
When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.
Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal.
Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.
Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry’ (Book of Abraham, vv.21-27)
The ‘Mark of Cain’ is thus clearly identified as an obvious barrier for the Canaanites to full participation in the blessings God has for His children. In other churches such thinking may be dismissed as mere speculation, in Mormonism it is ‘Scripture.’ In other Mormon Scripture we read the following:
‘And the Lord said unto me: Prophesy; and I prophesied, saying: Behold the people of Canaan, which are numerous, shall go forth in battle array against the people of Shum, and shall slay them that they shall utterly be destroyed; and the people of Canaan shall divide themselves in the land, and the land shall be barren and unfruitful, and none other people shall dwell there but the people of Canaan;
For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people And it came to pass that Enoch continued to call upon all the people, save it were the people of Canaan, to repent.’ (Moses, 7:7-8,12)
In the Book of Mormon the Nephites are faithful in following God’s plan while their brothers, the Lamanites, rebel. The two groups separate and, in order to distinguish the faithful from the rebellious, the latter are marked with a dark skin. Much later in the book many Lamanites repent and join with the Nephites with astonishing results:
And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites; And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites; And their young men and their daughters became exceedingly fair, and they were numbered among the Nephites, and were called Nephites. (3 Nephi 2:14-16)
Putting it Right?
How has the church responded to this ‘printing error’? They issued the following statement:
“During the publication of the ‘Come, Follow Me’ manual for 2020, there was an error that resulted in the printing of material that doesn’t reflect the church’s current views on the topic, To correct this, a decision was made to modify the content in the digital version of the lesson.” [the church] “disavows the theories advanced in the past hat black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”
The question this statement raises is, since this teaching is not found only in statements by church leaders but in LDS Scripture, both the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price, how can they be regarded as ‘theory.’ How so easily disavowed, when they are believed to be the word of God? Did God make a mistake? Have those volumes been demoted, just as the Journal of Discourses has been?
Where does Mormon loyalty lay, church or prophet?
But we can take the question further. Mormons believe themselves to be led by ‘living prophets,’ and members of ‘the only true church.’ They are tested on their faithfulness to the church and its prophets in order to obtain a temple recommend, so to whom are they to prove loyal?
To the prophets who declared people with dark skin as, ‘cursed, loathsome, unclean, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits?’ or to an official statement from the church that disavows this teaching? Where does Mormon loyalty lay, church or prophet?
There is the added complication of whether to be loyal to the prophet, or to the prophet as misquoted in the ‘corrected’ manual, a brazen act of gaslighting. Here is how Joseph Fielding Smith is quoted in Come Follow Me:
“The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing [see 2 Nephi 5:21-23; Alma 3:6-10]. The dark skin was the sign of the curse. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord.”
This is what the unredacted Joseph Fielding Smith actually said:
‘The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing. The dark skin was the sign of the curse. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord and the Lamanites becoming a “loathsome and filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.” (I Nephi 12:23.) The Lord commanded the Nephites not to intermarry with them, for if they did they would partake of the curse.’
While other churches and individuals have repented of their racist opinions, the Mormon Church has simply had a convenient revelation, made politically correct statements. This gives the impression of leaving racism behind while leaving it enshrined in their Scriptures and in their most fundamental doctrines of God and man.
Despite the rewriting of manuals, the curse remains as a matter of fundamental doctrine
Black skin is still explained in Mormon Scripture as a mark of rebellion and unfaithfulness. Those who have black skin are still, in Mormon Scripture, those that were less valiant, therefore proving themselves less worthy, in a pre-mortal life.
According to the Book of Abraham the mark and the curse singles out the idolatrous. According to the Book of Moses the mark and the curse single out those who are violent and despised, to be denied the gospel. According to the Book of Mormon they single out the rebellious, the unlovely, the iniquitous, the loathsome and the mischievous.
To properly reject such views the Mormon Church would have to reject something that is fundamental to their faith, enshrined in their Scripture, part of the very pattern laid out by their god from the beginning, and widely taught and practised by generations of Mormons and Mormon leaders. Despite statements to the contrary and the rewriting of manuals, the curse remains as a matter of fundamental doctrine in the founding document of the faith.
In the official Institute (religious studies) manual on the Books of Abraham and Moses these issues are skirted around. For the Book of Moses in particular, where it speaks of Canaanites turning black, the relevant verses are ignored altogether as the manual covers Moses 7:3-4; Moses 7:13; Moses 7:19 and then on to the later verses. Thus by subtle means this becomes one of the greatest secret of Mormonism today…until the 2020 Come Follow Me manual inadvertently points out the problem.