Mormonism: a “Native American” faith?

With Mitt Romney’s nomination closer and closer, there’s a lot of talk about whether Mormonism has made it…whether it’s succeeded, been accepted by American society…

I was watching a Morning Joe episode that featured Matthew Bowman, author of a new book The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith, who’s also the associate editor ofDialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Bowman does a good job on the show, in my opinion.

However, one of the commentators says:

An impetus behind [writing the book] — and we’d love to hear you talk more about this — is that it is a native American faith (these words were emphasized by the commentator). What does Mormonism tell us about the country? […] What is particularly American about Mormonism?

I think it’s wrong to refer to Mormonism as a “native American” faith.

Thankfully, Random House does not use precisely the same phrasing in their description of Bowman’s book:

[Bowman] explores the history and reflects on the future of this native-born American faith and its connection to the life of the nation.

Since the subject of ongoing racism in the Church has been a subject of controversy recently, I’d like to speak to what comes to my mind in terms of Mormonism (specifically, the Book of Mormon) in the context of the history of this nation.

Though the Church has made a point to “condemn racism, including any and all past racism,” still, according to Mormon belief, a fair-skinned angel named Moroni brought a divine text to a white man named Joseph Smith after the deaths of hundreds of thousands of darker-skinned native peoples after European colonization. Apparently, in this text, God is happy with the American Constitution, finding the new nation exceptional, which leads one to wonder whether God in Mormonism finds it acceptable that native populations were wiped out to make room for America to fulfill its unique destiny.

In this text, an alternative history of the Americas is described, one that indigenous peoples today find preposterous. The story also includes darker skin as a “curse.” As we know, this curse was thought to still be in effect for those of African descent particularly, an interpretation that was officially deemed wrong after 1978.

The “dark skin as a curse” passages of the Book of Mormon are now considered more figurative by the Church, as proven by official changes in chapter summaries in 2010. Still, it took until 2006 for the official introduction of the Book of Mormon to change from Lamanites being the “principle” ancestors of the indigenous peoples of this continent to instead being “among” their ancestors.

I just can’t get over the fact that the Book of Mormon, as it’s moved through American history, has basically been a case in which descendents of colonizers have mythologized a land and its original inhabitants without the input of those inhabitants or their descendants. That seems racist to me, and is one of the fundamental issues I have with the American-born (there, that seems better) faith.

4 thoughts on “Mormonism: a “Native American” faith?

  1. The church can reword the introductions and summaries all they want, but there’s no way to back out of the racism charges altogether without making major overhauls to the Book of Mormon–the kind of overhauls that even loyal members would notice and question.

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