As mentioned in Monday’s post, the Church News published a column in 1948 inviting members to send in their questions about anything to do with the Church, its history, doctrine, and practices. By November, 1948, the column was headed each week by a notice that the Church News had such a backlog of queries to answer that no more should be sent. Despite that backlog and the popularity of the feature, the column was not continued into the new year.
During the few months that queries were accepted and answered, multiple questions were asked about Church teachings concerning blacks, or about issues that may not mention blacks explicitly but do relate to past teachings concerning race. This surprises me, in a way, because most Mormons of that generation, living in the Mormon Corridor of the west, would have had limited-to-no contact with African Americans; the questions could hardly have been prompted by interest in a person or issue that was of immediate concern to many members. To me, it seems like the endless curiosity and discussion about the ultimate fate of the sons of perdition: of little practical value, and based on precious little scriptural information. Yet obviously the interest was genuine.
I look forward to a day when this disclaimer is unnecessary because it is known and understood by everyone, inside and out of the Church: The answers given here — the doctrinal explanations, the scriptural interpretations — are no longer taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some, including the supposed neutrality of spirits in the War in Heaven, have been specifically repudiated, time and time again; they are mildly refuted here in 1948, yet the mere fact that someone asked the question indicates that it was a current underground belief. Other faulty answers have been replaced by the teaching that God is no respecter of persons, that all worthy men may hold the priesthood irrespective of race, that the whole “curse of Cain” idea was a false notion imported into Mormonism from the wider Christian culture from which its members came, and that isolated verses from the Book of Moses or the Book of Abraham used in the past to justify the so-called “curse of Cain” and the priesthood restriction are misreadings of scripture, imposing a twisted set of assumptions that are not present in the actual text of the scripture.
Regular readers will understand that I post these questions and answers not to perpetuate false teachings nor to sneer at the people who once held these wrong ideas. Rather, I post them to give a clearer picture of what was actually once taught and believed and to help us understand how the pervasiveness of such teachings and the interest focused on them once upon a time contribute to the unfortunate and nagging persistence of such beliefs among older or less-informed members of the Church.
Q. Was the wife of Joseph of Egypt, Negro? – H.B., Heber City.
A. No. Otherwise we would all be cursed according to the priesthood because the descendants of Cain were not allowed to hold the priesthood. If Joseph’s wife had been a Negress, her sons would have had the blood of Cain in their veins and would have been cursed according to the priesthood as would we all for most of us in the Church are descendants of Ephraim. Joseph’s wife was of the same race that he was. See “Joseph and The Land of Egypt” by Prof. A.H. Sayce, pg. 63.
Q. Does the Church teach that in the war in heaven there were three groups, one which followed Christ, one which followed Satan, and the other neutral?
A. We suggest that you read Chapter 5 of the book called “The Way to Perfection” by Elder Joseph Fielding Smith. This chapter entitled “The Way of Life” deals with the pre-existence and refers to the war in heaven. There is no scripture to indicate that one third of the host of heaven was neutral.
Q. The Church has information as to the origin of the black race and the red race or Lamanites. Does it have similar information about the yellow race? – C.H.M., Salt Lake City.
A. The origin of the black and Indian races are made known in scripture as you know. The scripture is silent with regard to the origin of the yellow skin.
Q. How many generations of intermarriage with whites must pass before a descendant of Cain will be permitted to hold the priesthood? – C.R.A., Salt Lake.
A. No person known to have any of the blood of Cain in his veins is ordained to the priesthood.
Q. Why was the mark placed upon Cain? – W.W.J., Salt Lake.
A. The fifth chapter of Moses, in the Pearl of Great Price, gives you the official explanation of the reason for the mark being placed upon Cain. We suggest you read it there.
Q. When and to whom was information received in this dispensation as to the sons of Cain and the Priesthood? – A.R.W., Creston, Mont.
A. The Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1830. That book includes the visions and the writings of Moses as they were made known to the Prophet. If you will read chapter five of the Book of Moses you will see the story of Cain’s downfall and the manner in which he was cursed pertaining to the Priesthood. Then if you examine Moses seventh chapter, twenty-second verse, you will see there the record of the fact that the seed of Cain were black.