Question: What do Mormons think about skin color?

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Question: What do Mormons think about skin color?

There is no official view on such matters and so one could likely find any view if enough historical and modern-day members were asked

Modern science sees skin color as the product of evolutionary change due to a sunlight gradient from the equator to the polar areas. What do Latter-day Saints think about skin color? In short, how an LDS member would answer your question depends on a complex intermingling of various other preconceptions and ideas. There is no official view on such matters and so one could likely find any view if enough historical and modern-day members were asked. Like most other people, many have probably not given the matter much thought from the scientific perspective unless they've had biology studies.

This question would meet with a variety of responses from believing Latter-day Saints. This is something of a complex issue, which requires a fair amount of background in 19th-century LDS history.

Outsiders do not seem to have regarded members of the Church in the 1830s as sharing typical American ideas about race

Outsiders do not seem to have regarded members of the Church in the 1830s as sharing typical American ideas about race. In 1835, a skeptical account of their doctrines and beliefs noted:

As the promulgators of this extraordinary legend maintain the natural equality of mankind, without excepting the native Indians or the African race, there is little reason to be surprised at the cruel persecution by which they have suffered, and still less at the continued accession of converts among those who sympathize with the wrongs of others or seek an asylum for their own.

The preachers and believers of the following doctrines were not likely to remain, unmolested, in the State of Missouri.

“The Lord God hath commanded that men should not murder; that they should not lie; that they should not steal, &c. He 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.” Again: “Behold! the Lamanites, your brethren, whom ye hate, because of their filthiness and the cursings 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, &c. Wherefore the Lord God will not destroy them; but will be merciful to them; and one day they shall become [58] a blessed people.” “O my brethren, I fear, that, unless ye shall repent of your sins, that their skins shall be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God*. Wherefore a commandment I give unto you, which is the word of God, that ye revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins,” &c. “The king saith unto him, yea! if the Lord saith unto us, go! we will go down unto our brethren, and we will be their slaves, until we repair unto them the many murders and sins, which we have committed against them. But Ammon saith unto him, it is against the law of our brethren, which was established by my father, that there should any slaves among them. Therefore let us go down and rely upon the mercies of our brethren.”[1]


Traditionally, many LDS leaders and members followed the standard US Protestant understanding of race

Traditionally, many LDS leaders and members followed the standard US Protestant understanding of race, which included blacks as descendants of Cain and/or Canaan. For the background of this idea in its broader American and western Christian context, see:

  • Stephen R. Hayes, Noah's Curse: The Biblical Justification of American Slavery (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). ISBN 0195313070.

The situation was complicated by the fact that Brigham Young (second leader of the Church) seems to have solidified policy against ordaining men of African descent to the Church's lay priesthood. This became a fixed, almost doctrinal exclusion, though its origins are remarkably unclear (this exclusion was removed by revelation to the Church president in 1978). For an intro and lots of discussion, see: Blacks and the LDS priesthood

Efforts to defend the priesthood ban prior to 1978 led some to advance reasons or rationalizations which have since been repudiated

Efforts to defend the priesthood ban prior to 1978 led some to advance reasons or rationalizations which have since been repudiated by more recent leaders of the church: Repudiated ideas

Some LDS scriptures have been read through the same interpretive lens as 19th century protestantism, though that has changed somewhat in the latter half of the 20th century. For a discussion, see: LDS scripture and the priesthood ban

The answer to this question also involves the issue of how an individual member would see such matters as evolution

The answer to this question also involves the issue of how an individual member would see such matters as evolution. Some LDS members have views analogous to young earth creationism, and so would have lots of a priori problems with the scenario proposed by modern science, simply because it involves evolutionary mechanisms and long stretches of times. Other members who do not adopt that point of view would probably not find anything that they wouldn't provisionally accept in the current scientific model. A range of views between both extremes exists.

There is no official LDS position on evolution, save as it refers to the unique nature of humans. For official statements see here: Evolution (official statements).


Notes

  1. E.S. Abdy, Journal of a Residence and Tour in the United States of North America, from April, 1833, to October, 1834, 3 Vols., (London: John Murray, 1835), 3:57-58 (emphasis added). off-site