Playing F.A.I.R. “The Curse of Cain”

INTRODUCTION

Ok, they did it again. On the F.A.I.R. Blog for February 28, 2012 they write,

“In connection with Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, the priesthood ban is getting a lot of attention from the media again.”[1]

F.A.I.R. then quotes a B.Y.U. Professor (Randy L. Bott) who was quoted in an article that appeared in the Washington Post entitled, The Genesis of a Church’s Stand on Race,

“According to Mormon scriptures, the descendants of Cain, who killed his brother, Abel, “were black.” One of Cain’s descendants was Egyptus, a woman Mormons believe was the namesake of Egypt. She married Ham, whose descendants were themselves cursed and, in the view of many Mormons, barred from the priesthood by his father, Noah. Bott points to the Mormon holy text the Book of Abraham as suggesting that all of the descendants of Ham and Egyptus were thus black and barred from the priesthood.”[2]

F.A.I.R. then comments that what Bott told the Post “is an example of how doctrinal folklore continues to be taught by well-meaning members of the Church,” and that it was “created” to “explain a Church policy that was “reversed” decades before. F.A.I.R. calls Bott’s explanation “dubious folklore” that is “no longer relevant”.

Here we see yet another example of  F.A.I.R.’s typical dishonest “apologetic information”.  In case you didn’t know, the term apologetics etymologically derives from the Classical Greek word apologia (ἀπολογία, “speaking in defense”). In the Classical Greek legal system two key technical terms were employed: the prosecution delivered the kategoria (κατηγορία), and the defendant replied with an apologia. To deliver an apologia meant making a formal speech or giving an explanation to reply and rebut the charges, as in the case of Socrates’ defense.[3]

Ironically, this defense is given by Mormons against their own fellow Mormon  F.A.I.R. then continues by giving a synopsis of the actual official doctrine taught by the church (which they claim is folklore),

“In the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and marked, first by Cain’s murder of his brother and covenant with Satan, and then again later by Ham’s offense against his father Noah. The reasons why this lineage was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they were somehow less valiant than their premortal brethren during the war in heaven. In this life, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from all who had had any trace of that lineage.”[4]

F.A.I.R. then claims that any scriptures cited to support the curse of Cain doctrine “cannot logically be interpreted this way unless one starts with the priesthood ban and then works backward” to find scriptures that support a “predetermined belief”.  In their conclusion they claim “the ‘curse of Cain’ folk doctrine” may have been understood by “LDS ancestors”, but that today it’s “neither understandable nor necessary”, that it is “unsupported from the scriptures”, and that “in reality we do not know why God allowed the denial of the priesthood for a time in this dispensation.” They repeatedly use the word “policy” in connection with this official church doctrine.

I. BOTT GOES VIRAL

There may be more than one reason why F.A.I.R. cited that Washington Post article on the Curse of Cain. In addition to the comments of Professor Bott that F.A.I.R. cited in their article, the Post also reports him as saying,

“God has always been discriminatory” when it comes to whom he grants the authority of the priesthood, says Bott, the BYU theologian. He quotes Mormon scripture that states that the Lord gives to people “all that he seeth fit.” Bott compares blacks with a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car, and explains that similarly until 1978, the Lord determined that blacks were not yet ready for the priesthood.

“What is discrimination?” Bott asks. “I think that is keeping something from somebody that would be a benefit for them, right? But what if it wouldn’t have been a benefit to them?” Bott says that the denial of the priesthood to blacks on Earth — although not in the afterlife — protected them from the lowest rungs of hell reserved for people who abuse their priesthood powers. “You couldn’t fall off the top of the ladder, because you weren’t on the top of the ladder. So, in reality the blacks not having the priesthood was the greatest blessing God could give them.”[5]

Randy L. Bott B.Y.U. Professor

According to one B.Y.U. blogger,

“The comments shocked many BYU students when the story began to be shared on Facebook and Twitter, with many claiming in disbelief that Bott must have been misquoted. Other students, however, claim that Bott has taught similar ideas in his religion classes. Bott is one of BYU’s most popular professors and is the top-rated professor of any university on RateMyProfessor.com.”[6]

Professor Bott’s bio on wiki describes him as “an American professor of religion at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, USA. He teaches classes on missionary preparation and the Doctrine and Covenants, and is a prolific author of LDS doctrinal and motivational literature. In 2008, he was also listed as the highest-ranked professor on Ratemyprofessors.com.”

Given Bott’s credentials, it’s hard to believe that he would be reciting “folklore” to the Washington Post in response to serious questions about the Church’s priesthood ban.  It’s also hard to believe that F.A.I.R. found it necessary to defend the church against one of its own B.Y.U. professors. So who is giving us the facts, Professor Bott, or the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research?

II.  FOLKLORE OR COMMANDMENT FROM GOD?

It seems that Mormon apologists will say anything to make their church’s past racism more palatable. One way of doing so is to label the priesthood ban a “policy”.  According to Lester E. Bush,

“Normally a “doctrine” is a fundamental belief, tenet, or teaching, generally considered within the Church to be inspired or revealed. A “policy” is a specific program or “practice” implemented within the framework of the doctrine. Some policies or practices are so loosely tied to their doctrinal base that they may be changed administratively; other policies or practices are so closely tied to a doctrine as to require a revision of the doctrine before they can be changed.”[7]

Unfortunately for those like F.A.I.R., the Mormon First Presidency in 1949 gave an official statement which declared,

“The attitude of the Church with reference to Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization, to the effect that Negroes may become members of the Church but that they are not entitled to the priesthood at the present time. The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle.

President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”

President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.”

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of the spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.”

George Albert Smith

J. Reuben Clark

David. O. McKay

August 17, 1949[8]

Does this official statement sound like “folklore”? The Mormon First Presidency here quotes Brigham Young, who elaborated more on this doctrine in 1852 before the Territorial Legislature,

The Lord said I will not kill Cane But I will put a mark upon him and it is seen in the face of every Negro on the Earth And it is the decree of God that that mark shall remain upon the seed of Cane & the Curse untill all the seed of Abel should be re[deem]ed and Cane will not receive the priesthood untill or salvation untill all the seed of Abel are Redeemed. Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him Cannot hold the priesthood & if no other Prophet ever spake it Before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ. I know it is true & they know it. The Negro cannot hold one particle of Government But the day will Come when all the seed of Cane will be Redeemed & have all the Blessings we have now & a great deal more. But the seed of Abel will be ahead of the seed of Cane to all Eternity.

Let me consent to day to mingle my seed with the seed of Cane. It would Bring the same curse upon me And it would upon any man. And if any man mingles his seed with the seed of Cane the ownly way he Could get rid of it or have salvation would be to Come forward & have his head Cut off & spill his Blood upon the ground. It would also take the life of his Children…

Their is not one of the seed of old Cane that is permitted to rule & reign over the seed of Abel And you nor I cannot Help it.

Those that do bear rule should do it in righteousness. I am opposed to the present system of slavery. The Negro Should serve the seed of Abram but it should be done right. Dont abuse the Negro & treat him Cruel.

It has been argued here that many of the Jews were Black. Whenever the seed of Judah mingled with the seed of Cane they lost their priesthood & all Blessings.

As an Ensample let the Presidency, Twelve Seventies High Priest Bishops & all the Authorities say now we will all go & mingle with the seed of Cane and they may have all the privileges they want. We lift our hands to heaven in support of this. [At] That moment we loose the priesthood & all Blessings & we would not be redeemed untill Cane was. I will never admit of it for a moment.

Some may think I dont know as much as they do But I know that I know more than they do. The Lord will watch us all the time. The Devil would like to rule part of the time But I am determin He shall not rule at all and Negros shall not rule us. I will not admit of the Devil ruling at all. I will not Consent for the seed of Cane to vote for me or my Brethren. If you want to know why we did not speak of it in the Constitution it was because it was none of their Business. Any man is a Citizens Black white or red and if the Jews Come here with a part of the [p.99] Canaanite Blood in them they are Citizens & shall have their rights but not to rule for me or my Brother. Those persons from the Islands & foreign Countries know nothing about Governing the people. THE CANAANITE CANNOT HAVE THE WISDOM TO DO THINGS AS THE WHITE MAN HAS. We must guard against all Evil. I am not going to let this people damn themselves as long as I can help it.”[9]

"Folklore" taught to Mormon youth? (19th Century Publication)

F.A.I.R. would have us believe that this is a “theory adopted” by early Mormons from “similar beliefs in early American Protestantism”, and that the Mormons then used this to “explain” the “policy” of their racism against blacks.  They also state that this is a “policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever given.”

Of course we just saw some of those “explanations”, but there were plenty more.  Notice how Mormon authorities officially call this a “commandment from the Lord”, and a “doctrine”, while F.A.I.R. continues to repeat the word “policy” over and over as if this wishful thinking might somehow make it true. Brigham Young emphatically declares that ,

“Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him Cannot hold the priesthood & if no other Prophet ever spake it Before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ. I know it is true & they know it.”

Was Brigham Young not a Mormon “prophet”? Was this then not a “prophetic explanation”? Does saying something “in the name of Jesus Christ” mean anything to Mormons? According to Mormon authorities it does, for on July 17, 1947 the First Presidency wrote a letter to one Lowry Nelson and explained,

“Dear Brother Nelson:

“We might make this initial remark: The social side of the Restored Gospel is only an incident of it; it is not the end thereof.

The basic element of your ideas and concepts seems to be that all God’s children stand in equal positions before Him in all things. Your knowledge of the Gospel will indicate to you that this is contrary to the very fundamentals of God’s dealings with Israel dating from the time of His promise to Abraham regarding Abraham’s seed and their position vis-a-vis God Himself. Indeed, some of God’s children were assinged to superior positions before the world was formed.

“We are aware that some Higher Critics do not accept this, but the Church does. Your position seems to lose sight of the revelations of the Lord touching the pre-existence of our spirits, the rebellion in heaven, and the doctrines that our birth into this life and the advantages under which we may be born, have a religionship in the life heretofore. From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it is has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Negroes are not entitled to the full blessings of the Gospel.

“Furthermore, your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Negro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient partiarchs till now. God’s rule for Israel, His Chosen People, has been endogamous [meaning ‘marriage within a specific tribe or similar social unit’]. Modern Israel has been similarly directed. We are not unmindful of the fact that there is a growing tendency, particularly among some educators, as it manifests itself in this are, toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.

“Faithfully yours,

George Albert Smith

J. Reuben Clark, Jr.

David O. McKay”[10]

Lowry understood perfectly what “the brethren” were saying, and responded on 8 October:

“The attitude of the Church in regard to the Negro makes me very sad. I do not believe God is a racist.

The First Presidency answered:

“We feel very sure that you are aware of the doctrines of the Church. They are either true or not true. Our testimony is that they are true. Under these circumstances we may not permit ourselves to be too much impressed by the reasonings of men, however well founded they may seem to be. We should like to say this to you in all sincerity, that you are too fine a man to permit yourself to be led off from the principles of the Gospel by worldly learning.

“You have too much of a potentiality for doing good and we therefore prayerfully hope that you can re-orient your thinking and bring it in line with the revealed Word of God.”

This was not folklore from the Mormon past, this was absolutely Mormon doctrine, and officially declared by a Mormon First Presidency to be “a commandment from God”.

III. FALLOUT

The recent Washington Post article has made a big impact on the Church. Yesterday, they felt it necessary to issue this statement,

“The positions attributed to BYU professor Randy Bott in a recent Washington Post article absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU faculty members do not speak for the Church. It is unfortunate that the Church was not given a chance to respond to what others said.

The Church’s position is clear—we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form.

For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent.  It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding.

We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church.” [11]

The Deseret News, a paper owned by the Church, also published an article titled,  Race, Folklore and Mormon Doctrine, where they claimed,

“Elder Jeffery R. Holland, a current member of the Council of the Twelve, recently said in a public interview “One clear-cut position is that the folklore must never be perpetuated…I think almost all of (these teachings) were inadequate and/or wrong.”[12]

Though it is unclear if Holland is aware of the First Presidency Statement of 1949, what is clear is that he is lying about this doctrine being folklore.  In Randy Bott’s Blog called “Knowing Your Religion”, this doctrine was well explained in an article called Blacks and the Priesthood.  After the Washington Post article came out and the Mormon Church was in damage control, the Blog was taken down.  In the Deseret News article yesterday, they write,

“Professor Bott went on at great length to explain the pre-1978 ban. He cited the Bible, claiming that the descendants of Cain, who killed his brother, Abel, were black. He stated that “God has always been discriminatory” and compared blacks to a young child prematurely asking for the keys to her father’s car. Likewise, some Latter-day Saints continue to repeat the idea that blacks were fence sitters in a pre-mortal war between God and Satan.

Unquestionably, many leaders and rank and file Mormons justified the ban before 1978 in these terms. Some of these ideas, like the Biblical mark of Cain, were an inheritance from the racist theologies of nineteenth-century American Protestantism. Others, like the claim that the spirits of blacks were lukewarm supporters of God before coming to earth, are unique to Mormon thought, although they lack support in Mormon scripture.

As a Latter-day Saint, I find such claims infuriating. It is one thing to explain as a matter of history what some Mormons may have thought in the past. It is a very different thing to offer the same ideas as good Mormon theology in the present. They aren’t.”[13]

But the Post article did not claim that these points of doctrine were “Mormon theology in the present”. Remember, the title of the article was The Genesis of a Church’s Stand on Race. In the article they quote Don Harwell, an African American Member of the Church who states, “he does not appreciate any attempt to connect the historic plight of blacks in the church to Romney, whom he strongly supports.”

They also quote part of the official statement of the First Presidency from 1949,

“As recently as 1949, church leaders suggested that the ban on blacks resulted from the consequences of the “conduct of spirits in the pre-mortal existence.” As a result, many Mormons believed that blacks were less valiant in the pre-Earth life, or fence sitters in the war between God and Satan. That view has fallen out of favor in recent decades.”[14]

Nowhere does the Washington Post article suggest that this is Mormon theology in the present, but it does do exactly what the Deseret News article claims they have no problem with, “explains as a matter of history” what Mormons taught in the past.

CONCLUSION

The doctrine of the Curse of Cain was not “folklore” of the Mormon Church, it was stated by Brigham Young to be true, and “Any man having one drop of the seed of Cane in him Cannot hold the priesthood & if no other Prophet ever spake it Before I will say it now in the name of Jesus Christ. I know it is true & they know it.”

Why would a current member of the Mormon Quroum of the Twelve, F.A.I.R, and the First Presidency all lie that this is “folklore”, when former “prophets” emphatically declared that it was a doctrine of the church and a “commandment of God”? Why would they lie and say that they “do not know why, how or when this restriction began in the Church,” when former “prophets” issued official statements explaining it in detail?

Though there is no restriction on blacks being ordained in the Mormon Church today, this doctrine was founded in racism, perpetuated by Mormon “prophets” as a “commandment from God”, and was an integral part of the church for over a hundred years.  Professor Bott was being honest and forthright about the history of the church concerning this doctrine, someone that the church hierarchy, and the apologetic arms of the church could learn a thing or two from.

NOTES

[1] http://www.fairblog.org/2012/02/28/dispelling-the-myth-of-the-curse-of-cain/

[2] ibid.

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apologetics

[4]  http://www.fairblog.org/2012/02/28/dispelling-the-myth-of-the-curse-of-cain/

[5] http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-genesis-of-a-churchs-stand-on-race/2012/02/22/gIQAQZXyfR_story_1.html

[6] http://trevorantley.com/2012/02/28/byu-professor-randy-botts-allegedly-racist-statements-students-plan-protest/

[7] Neither Black Nor White, page 94. Online here.

[8] ibid, Appendix. Online here.

[9] Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, Vol. 4, p.98, Sunday, January 4, 1852.

[10] John J. Stewart and William E. Bennett, Mormonism and the Negro,” [Orem, Utah: Community Press, 1960], pp. 46-47

[11] http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/racial-remarks-in-washington-post-article

[12] http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765555343/Race-folklore-and-Mormon-doctrine.html?pg=2

[13] http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765555343/Race-folklore-and-Mormon-doctrine.html?pg=1

[14] http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/the-genesis-of-a-churchs-stand-on-race/2012/02/22/gIQAQZXyfR_story_3.html