With all the stuff about race and the Book of Mormon being posted online, I thought I’d share some personal random thoughts, since I’m half Navajo Indian and this stuff seems to strike a chord with me now and then. That said, I pretty much grew up in Utah, and feel more “white” than I do “Native”. I consider myself a Lamanite, but mostly by either adoption or mixing. This is because I think the Nephites and Lamanites lived in a very small area, and that there were many Native Americans already in the Americas long before Lehi or the Jaredites came here. Also, clear archaeology shows the Navajo coming from Alaska, with some of them splitting off to become the Apache. I’ve pondered over the mentions of white and black in the Book of Mormon, and read through lots of material from Book of Mormon Central, FairMormon, Interpreter Foundation, and the Church. I’ve concluded that much of the mentioning of white and black, more than I previously though, could be symbolic. Nephi said Mary was pure and “white” yet we know she was Hebrew and likely darker colored. We do have documentation that Joseph changed the wording in the Book of Mormon in one instance of “white” to “pure”, seemingly making a point that it was about purity, not race. Even while reading last weeks Come, Follow Me lesson about those who sailed over the ocean to the Americas following Columbus seemed symbolic “white”, to me at least.
Sure, some instances may be directly about skin color, but racism was understood very differently back then. Even a hundred years ago it was thought of differently. We are very much products of our culture, and we can’t really blame past people too much.
But there are other instances where “skin of darkness” could be their clothing or body paint. For example, “skin girdled about their loins”, or the dying of their “skins” blood red. The “skin” there is clothing. Or, for example, the documented practice in Mesoamerica of painting your body black, or the Amlicites painting a “mark” on their foreheads. The header image of this article is from an ancient Mesoamerican mural of painted people in black.
I think my point is we don’t know for certain, we should avoid an all-or-nothing mentality, and there’s more than enough reasons to believe it’s not all directly racist and about skin color. No one is truly black or white, even when the scriptures say that, it’s not necessarily literal for obvious reasons. Because we are all simply different shades of brown. And maybe we should expect an ancient record, and even the early Latter-day Saints, to reflect their culture. Heck, have you seen how crazy politics are today, and some people think their side is “normal”.
One of the most powerful things I’ve read that has stuck out to me is this by President Dallin H. Oaks,
“If you read the scriptures with this question in mind, ‘Why did the Lord command this or why did he command that,’ you find that in less than one in a hundred commands was any reason given. It’s not the pattern of the Lord to give reasons. We [mortals] can put reasons to revelation. We can put reasons to commandments. When we do, we’re on our own. Some people put reasons to the one we’re talking about here [race and the priesthood], and they turned out to be spectacularly wrong. …
“… Let’s don’t make the mistake that’s been made in the past, here and in other areas, trying to put reasons to revelation. The reasons turn out to be man-made to a great extent”
Sure, it’s okay to ask why…as long as you know part of the test of life is not knowing why. But there is one thing we know though:
“God inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” 2 Nephi 26:33
Recommended short reading: