Black and White According to a Mormon Leader

Where did they come up with this stuff?

“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” (Joseph Fielding Smith in Mormonism 101: Examining the Religion of the Latter-day Saints eds. Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 237).

9 thoughts on “Black and White According to a Mormon Leader

  1. To be fair to the Mormons, they have since JFS’s time rejected the assumption that black is inferior to white. However, since they do still believe in the pre-existence of souls, it’s not inconsistent to believe that our circumstances are affected by our conduct before birth.

    I also don’t know if this statement from JFS has ex-cathedra-like infallibility to it. The only references I can find to it are on anti-Mormon sites, which lends little to its credibility.

  2. Joel,

    Thanks for your point. Yes, in 1978, the LDS officially stated that ALL people could become part of the priesthood, including African Americans. However, for many years before that time, a number of LDS presidents and elders held to the belief that those people with dark skin were somehow inferior due to their behavior in the pre-existant state. I hope the post prompts people to question the sources of authority for the LDS in its history.

  3. You ask: “Where did they come up with this stuff?”

    They get it from Latter-day Saint scripture. The Book of Mormon declares dark skin is a curse:

    2 Nephi 5:21

    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.

    3 Nephi 2:14-15

    14 And it came to pass that those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites;

    15 And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites;

    In the Pearl of Great Price:

    Moses 7:8

    8 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.

    Moses 7:22

    22 And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people which were the sons of Adam; and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.

  4. Joel, I submit the LDS church has not repudiated the idea that blacks are inferior. See the quotes from Mormon scriptures posted previously.

    The Joseph Fielding Smith quote is taken from his book, Doctrines of Salvation, volume 1. At the time it was published Smith was one of the Council of the Twelve apostles. He later became the tenth president of the LDS church. The book in question is still in print, and is commonly sold in Mormon bookstores. However, the book was not authorized by an LDS general conference, and is not considered scripture.

    Latter-day Saints do assert “continuing revelation,” and maintain new revelation supersedes the older. (See “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet” by Ezra Taft Benson. A portion of this is currently available in the LDS textbook “Teachings of the Living Prophets,” Student Manual Religion 333, p.15-16, published by the LDS church. The full text is to be found at

  5. Webcritter,

    Are you familiar with the 1978 statement of President Kimball of the LDS that officially took away the restrictions barring those individuals with dark skin from the blessings of the priesthood? You do say that Latter-day Saints believe in “continuing revelation.” This statement seems to be a clear example of that.

    You also provide a list of Latter-day Saint scripture refrences that pertain to this issue. Yet, President David O. McKay of the LDS wrote a letter in 1947 in which he said, “I know of no scriptural basis for denying the Priesthood to Negroes other than one verse in the Book of Abraham (1:26).” Was he just an ignorant president or is this another example of the LDS leaders changing their doctrine and practice in order to become more attractive to the common man?

  6. I am sorry. I failed to include the source for that 1978 statement regarding inclusion of dark-skinned people into the priesthood. It is Declaration 2, found at the end of “Doctrine and Covenants.”

  7. I can’t think of a source off the top of my head, but I also know that there’s some question whether the no-blacks-in-the-priesthood was binding to begin with, as Joseph Smith is said by some to have ordained a black man himself. Although that doesn’t rule out a more recent revelation, as others here have pointed out.

  8. Michael:

    Yes, but D&C Official Declaration 2 does not repudiate all the underlying doctrines, nor does it revoke the passages in LDS
    scripture which refer to dark skin as a curse. It allowed the Mormon church to get out from under extreme societal pressures.
    Excluding persons of mixed racial heritage was highly burdensome in Brazil, where enforcing the policy would involve denying large numbers of Latter-day Saints the priesthood. BYU sports teams and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir were boycott targets. That’s why Official Declaration 2 has been called a “revelation of convenience.”

    The Book of Mormon passages cited remain in that book, though the Church redacted one instance of “white and delightsome.” It now reads “pure and delightsome.” (2 Nephi 30:6)

    The David O. McKay passage you quoted was chopped short. It ends: “however, I believe, as you suggest that the real reason dates back to our pre-existant life” It is not unknown for a president of the LDS church to try to present his religion in a light thought likely to produce a sympathetic response.


    You’re most likely thinking of Elijah Able. He was an anomaly, not evidence of an earlier solid policy.

    – Webcritter

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