Missionary Chat: Native Americans cursed?

I had another question I wanted to run by “Mormons on the street”: Are Native Americans cursed?

Emily: Hello!

Sam (me): Hello!

Emily: What brings you to mormon.org chat today?

Sam: I have a question about Mormon teachings.

Emily: Okay… we will do our best to help you

Sam: A friend of mine is LDS and he mentioned something that I thought was odd. I’m Native American, part of the Cherokee Nation. He said that the history of my ancestors is described in the Book of Mormon. That seemed interesting.

Emily: Oh wow! Well the Book of Mormon The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains the fulness of the everlasting gospel. oops said the book of mormon twice.. sorry! (She then posted this link.)

Sam: Well, I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon and found a passage disturbing: 2 Nephi 5:21: 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. Does that mean I’m cursed?

Martha: so the blackness of the skin was not the curse.. the curse was that the lamanites didn’t want to hear the words of God so they were cursed to be not of God meaning they can no longer feel his presence in their lives because they chose to live in their sin.. the color of their skin was just a sign, so that nephites could recognize them.. so the skin color at that time served as a reminder for them that they have chosen not to follow God

Sam: So, dark skin is just a symbol of a curse?

Martha: There is a difference between the mark and the curse. The mark placed upon the Lamanites was a dark skin (see Alma 3:6). The curse was not the dark skin but being “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (2 Nephi 5:20). Notice that in both Alma 3:7 and Alma 3:14 the conjunction and is used between the curse and the mark. This implies that they are not the same thing. The people brought the curse upon themselves: “And even so doth every man that is cursed bring upon himself his own condemnation” (Alma 3:19). Through righteousness the curse may be removed, but the mark may remain as it has with the Lamanites (see commentary for 2 Nephi 5:20–25 on page 62).

Martha: so we don’t believe that you are cursed.. unless you choose to disobey the Father willingly now.. and the same curse would come upon me if I would choose that.. but the mark was something that they needed to have in that time recognize the people.. that will not happen again.. the mark has remained in their ancestors.. but that shouldn’t affect you today if you choose to follow God.. does that make sense?

Sam: Yeah, sort of. But it seems kind of racist for god to mark people with dark skin to symbolize a curse, don’t you think?

Martha: well at that time those people were very wicked.. and God did that for various reasons.. one of them being to protect the people who followed God, so that they wouldn’t mix their blood with the wicked at that time.. but as you read in the book of mormon a lot of Lamanites changed but in several hundred years.. and accepted God.. but we don’t know all of the reasons why God needed to do that…

Martha: I don’t know the meaning of all things, but I do know that God loves His children and He wants them to be happy and His ways are higher.. and we with our minds cannot understand it all, but if you know that God loves you and you want to follow Him nothing can stand in your way

Sam: Okay. Thanks.

Martha: did this help you at all?

Sam: Yep.

Martha: so are you interested to learn more about the Church?  do you have other questions?

Sam: That was my only question for today. I may have others in the future, but that’s good for now. Thanks.

Martha: maybe you would like to keep in touch with us?  and we could help you in the future?

Sam: If I have more questions, I can always come back here, right?

Martha: but what makes you interested in our church?

Sam: I just thought what my friend said was interesting and what the Book of Mormon said was interesting. I might think differently about my friend if he really believes skin color is a curse from god.  But you said it wasn’t.

Martha: so have you been reading the Book of Mormon?

Sam: Parts of it, yes.

Emily: Well we hope we have been able to help you today. But as missionaries and members of the church we would love to invite you to pray and ask God if the Book of Mormon is true, we know that he can give you a personal witness that it truly is the word of God. We haven’t learned that this church is true and that the Book of Mormon is true from others telling us but from searching ourselves and asking God.

Martha: that is cool! we know that only through reading and praying about the Book you can find out if this is the truth

Martha: maybe you could read one chapter today ? it is in Moroni 10 it is in page 500 something.. 529  it talks about the promise that God has given to everyone who want to know if it is true

Sam: That seems like an odd way to determine whether or not a book is true. Why not study it from a scientific perspective to see if the factual claims the book makes are accurate?

Martha: well ,… we cannot convince you about the truthfulness of this word but we can invite you to ask God.. because there will be many opinions and “evidence” of different things.. but if you truly receive a witness from God you cannot deny it

Martha: do you believe in God?

Sam: Well, it depends on what you mean by God.

Martha: I just want to ask you Sam, what if you find out at the last day when you pass away from this life that everything we tell you was true.. and you never tried to find it out for yourself when you were here on earth?

Sam: That seems kind of like a manipulative tactic. You’re trying to induce me to feel fear to manipulate me into believing. That seems kind of disingenuous to me. Doesn’t it to you?

Martha: well , I don’t know.. I am just saying these things because I have received a witness from God.. and my life has been so blessed because of this Gospel.. my purpose is not to persuade you to believe in it but to invite you to try it for yourself.. I think me trying to persuade you with facts .. if I would pour different facts over you and tell you everything I know and would ask you to believe because I believe I think that would be manipulative.. but I am just inviting you to try it for yourself.. and then it is all up to you – your desire to know and your communication with God

Martha: but how can you know that these “facts ” are true or not?

Sam: Providing people with facts isn’t manipulative. It’s persuasive. It’s using evidence and logic and critical thinking. Praying relies on emotions. Emotions are manipulative. Well, I’m pretty sure the earth revolves around the sun, even though it doesn’t seem like it.  I think we know that is true.  Or are you saying the only way we can know that is by asking God?

(FYI: AT THIS POINT I STARTED READING THE NEWS WHILE “MARTHA SPOKE”)

Martha: I know that praying is more then emotions.. answers from God are not only emotion based..

Martha: well but people believed hundreds of years ago that the earth was flat.. and it was a fact to them

Martha: God knows everything

Martha: He created the universe

Martha: He has all of the answers even about science, because He is Father of that all

Martha: and again this is what I believe is a fact

Martha: but to you it is only my theory ..

Martha: so that is why we invite everyone to pray and to find out for themselves

Martha: if there is God .. if He loves you , you should be able to receive answers.. something that is hard to explain .. but it is up to you to try it or not

Sam: But how could you know the answer is from God?

Martha: that is a good question and it takes time and practice to really recognize, but something that helps you too recognize these answers and receive them is Faith.. faith – trust in something you don’t see but believe is there. and hope that God will answer

Martha: and this is again.. up to you.. if you have at least a little degree of faith .. or a desire to believe you can receive an answer

Sam: So, you don’t actually know if God is answering your prayers? Could it be aliens? Or evil gods? Or just emotional manipulation?

Martha: well I know it is God.. because of the scriptures, and because of the feelings I have felt .. and because of everything that has happend in my life.. and all of the experiences when I have received an answer from Him … that is why it is so important to get to know Him through scriptures.. .. yes it is scary to think all of what you are saying.. it could be but if you don’t ask you will never know.. and you can say that those are theories.. or facts based on something someone has said to you.. but do you really want to know for yourself?

Martha: do you want the answer to this question?

Martha: if you will study the book of mormon with real intent and will pray God humbly in the name of Jesus Christ you will receive a witness from the Holy Ghost

Martha: and Holy Ghost will manifest unto you the truthfulness of these things..

Martha: and it is not an emotion it is something greater.. and it is hard to explain it.. but it is something you have to experience to know

Sam: You seem really determined to convince me that praying to get an emotional response will actually work. Are you trying to convince me or you?

Martha: you keep talking about emotions.. I know that this witness is not based on your emotions.. yes they are there too but it is something grater as I said.. and I am not here to convince but to testify of something I have witnessed in my life.. I wouldn’t be here on my mission if I hadn’t felt an answer from God.. if I hadn’t got to know my Father and most of all if I hadn;t received my own testimony of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.. His Sacrifice and His love for me

Martha: and if you want to believe and know it for yourself you have to decide.. but I can’t deny what I have experienced and what I know.

Martha: because I have tried to do it before.. I wasn’t always so sure of what I belie in.. I tried deny these things and I was so unhappy.. I was lost.. I have never been happier ion my life , because I finally understand the truth

Sam: Is the response “something you feel”?

Martha: well it is hard to explain and describe it it is something you have to witness for yourself.. until then you will think that I am deceived or confused with my own emotions or something else .. of course it is easier to think that way

Martha: and I don’t blame you for it

Martha: all I can do is to invite you to try it for yourself

Sam: Well, I think you could do more. Like provide scientific evidence that the Book of Mormon holds up under critical inquiry. That would be pretty compelling.

Martha: so I was saying.. there are so many things I have studiesthat I could tell you and provide evidence.. but do you need them because you want to know that the book is true just because you are curious or because you would want to know if there is God and that the Christ lives? .. there were many people who saw the Golden plates in real life when they were here on the earth .. they wrote down their witness but then changed their minds and decided not to follow the teachings.. this proof really didn’t change their lives.. they never denied that they saw the plates

Martha: so the question is why do you want evidence? do you think you will follow God if you will have it?

Sam: So, where are the plates?

Sam: If there was overwhelming empirical evidence that God existed, I would follow that God.

Martha: well if everyone knew with perfect knowledge that there is God they wouldn’t want to sin , they would only make the choices they think God wants them to and that would take away their agency.. of you have faith and you want to believe and want to change your life and become better and you truly search for Him you become greater than the person who has full knowledge of that.. I don’t know how ot explain it

Martha: for example- if you knew there was a test in school on a certain date you would only prepare couple days before and wouldn’t really learn.. but if you would know that it will come sometime you would actually study and learn more and would gain more from that

Martha: so God is wise .. He knows why it was so important for us to come here on this Earth to grow and He knows what is the best way for us to grow

Martha: but we need this experience … we need tomake mistakes on our own and fix them and learn from them .. we need to feel sorrow and pain here so that we would know the difference..

Martha: but God can give you a witness that you are moving in the right direction He can send you a witness from Holy Gost so that you would know which book to read which Church to join to know what is the truth and what to follow in this Earth to return back to Him,..

Martha: one day everyone will know that God is real with perfect knowledge.. and they will look back on this life and will say – I wish I had done this and that.. I wish I had tried to known this before..

Martha: because I would have made other decisions

Martha: and the truth comes from the scriptures.. from the prophet.. and you have every right to ask God if this book is true.. if this is a direction that He wants you to go

Martha: because there are many ways to go in this life many opportunities to follow different teachings..so if you want to know if there is one way.. if there is the surest way to happiness.. in this life and life to come God will bear a witness to you if you will ask Him.. but it depends on that if you really are searching for that.. so… it is up to you..

Sam (Martha paused for about a minute here, so I interjected): Okay. Thanks. Got to go now.

Martha: well I hope you will at least think about it and if you ever have questions.. you know that you can always turn to your friend..or here I guess.. it was nice talking to you!

Martha: if you ever want to talk to us again.. you can leave your e-mail or something

Sam: Bye.

 

Commentary: These missionaries were better prepared than the last ones.  I’ve never found the distinction between the “curse” and the skin color all that compelling, but at least they knew what apologetic argument to use.  Of more interest to me, however, was their clear belief that the Book of Mormon is a literal history of Native Americans.  I guess they missed the memo about it being about a book about some people “among” the ancestors of Native Americans.

And, I apologize for the length of this one.  Martha was really determined.  I wasn’t even trying to lead her on, but she wouldn’t let it go.

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profxm

I'm a college professor and, well, a professional X-Mormon. Thus, ProfXM. I love my Mormon family, but have issues with LDS Inc. And I'm not afraid to tell LDS Inc. what I really think... anonymously, of course!

9 thoughts on “Missionary Chat: Native Americans cursed?

  1. Wow, that was interesting!

    I hadn’t heard the argument for the distinction between the curse and the mark before. She did a pretty good job of softening the racist aspect of it, but she couldn’t really shake that completely.

    And then, of course, the part about “it’s not about emotions” and “I know this because of the feelings I felt” was tricky for her. Man, she was passionate, though. I’ll give her that.

    And I hate the argument that God revealing himself would take away our agency. It wouldn’t take away our agency, it would just make people who denied him dumber. We’d still have the power to choose. There are children who rebel against their parents and choose to live on the streets despite the obvious availability of a home with food and shelter. The solution is clear, but they’ve chosen something else.

  2. *Sam: If there was overwhelming empirical evidence that God existed, I would follow that God.

    Martha: well if everyone knew with perfect knowledge that there is God they wouldn’t want to sin , they would only make the choices they think God wants them to and that would take away their agency.. of you have faith and you want to believe and want to change your life and become better and you truly search for Him you become greater than the person who has full knowledge of that.. I don’t know how ot explain it*

    Strange religion.

  3. They try to claim that the curse was not skin color as if that makes it less racist. But the Mormon church’s Book of Mormon is the only canonized scripture in the world that teaches that American Indians are cursed. Mormonism stands alone with this disparaging teaching. It is racist and their efforts to separate the curse from skin color are quite meaningless.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MduC120n6QU

    1 Nephi 13 is about a time in recorded history with Columbus and the arrival of the Europeans. That makes it quite different than other Book of Mormon stories about some ancestors of American Indians a long time ago during bible times.

    And it clearly says that god’s wrath was on the Indians and his spirit with the Europeans. That teaching is very racist in the 21st century but missionaries do not seem to understand why.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aa2dWCsvzmQ

    Missionaries have no problem claiming that ancestors of living American Indians had rejected the god of Mormonism, causing them to be cursed and punished with genocide beginning with the arrival of Columbus.
    https://twitter.com/AskAMormon/status/330335705450561536

  4. Excellent piece/Comments.

    Trouble with the sign/signified issue? Think Abraham, who entered into a covenant, of which circumcision was the sign. Trouble with Lamanites’ sign/curse? Think full-body circumcision. Like a gang tattoo, maybe. So, it’s not a bad thing; it’s just God’s little life-style fashion-statement.

    Trouble with knowledge of God and sin? Ask Martha about 30% of pre-existent souls rebelling against a God of whom they had a perfect knowledge but still didn’t like much. Did they have too much or too little free agency? How does her argument hold up in that case? Good for the pre-existence, good for the post-pre-existence, one would think.

    Trouble with BoM provenance? Think Fraud:

    “How Fraud Flourishes
    . . . . .
    ” . . . Schön’s work, like that of long-ago forgers, also had a convoluted provenance. As Grafton explains, literary forgers often found it useful to concoct an elaborate story about why the original document they claimed to have discovered was no longer available for others’ inspection. (“I stumbled upon these ancient papyri in my fields, but they crumbled to dust just after I managed to transcribe them.”) So, too, with Schön. He conducted nearly all of his experiments at his former laboratory in Germany, where he had completed his doctorate, rather than on site at Bell Labs.
    When colleagues occasionally expressed curiosity about how he prepared his samples or undertook his measurements, Schön could throw up his hands and explain that the apparatus was several thousand miles away. Schön also maintained that he was in the habit of deleting all computer files of raw data—he later claimed that his computers lacked adequate storage space to keep the original data files—saving instead only the results after data had passed through various layers of analysis. . . .”
    . . . . .
    American Scientist
    BOOK REVIEW
    “Physics and Pixie Dust”
    David Kaiser
    PLASTIC FANTASTIC: How the Biggest Fraud in Physics Shook the Scientific World. Eugenie Samuel Reich. iv + 266 pp. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. $26.95.

  5. Sam–

    Your windows into operational apologetics are fascinating.

    But I think Martha hornswoggled us on this one.

    “Of more interest to me, however, was their clear belief that the Book of Mormon is a literal history of Native Americans. I guess they missed the memo about it being about a book about some people “among” the ancestors of Native Americans.”

    Upon the first couple of readings, I thought she did, too, but now I’m not too sure. Emily’s good at reading from her script. She says the BoM deals with “ancient inhabitants,” unspecified. I think Martha is very skilled, indeed.

    Look how Martha handles your Cherokee identity (I’m similarly Delaware) like this:

    “Martha: so we don’t believe that YOU are cursed.. unless you choose to disobey the Father willingly now.. and the same curse would come upon ME if I would choose that.”

    According to her terminology, “You” are the “Samuel the Cherokee,” not “Samuel the Lamanite.” By equating “you” with her in regards eligibility for being cursed for sin, she is sliding you away from category Lamanite into the category of just another person-ness, who happens to be descended from others who may have shared this hemisphere with “the ancient inhabitants” who are the real focus of the BoM, but aren’t necessarily the same people. Am I reading too much into this? Thanks.

  6. Pierre (#5),

    If you’re right, I’m not giving Martha enough credit.

    Of course, the apologetic argument is a sneaky one. Basically, the goal is to separate the curse from skin color, so it doesn’t seem like the Book of Mormon is racist (and, concomitantly, God and/or Joseph Smith). So, the “symbol” of the curse is the skin color but the “curse” was being removed from God. Of course, God, conveniently, forgot to remove that whole symbol thing, and then there was the century+ period of time during which Mormons believed – because the leadership taught them to believe – that being black was a curse from God based on their fence-sitter status in the pre-existence. But let’s focus on the BofM for now.

    There are two thoughts that come to mind on this. First, the apologist argument is pretty compelling if you: (1) accept that God is real and (2) accept that the BofM is historically accurate. If those two assumptions are valid, then God changed Lamanite skin as a symbol of a curse. Thus, the curse and the symbol are distinct. If you reject either of those assumptions, the argument is moot.

    This also leads to my second thought. Distinguishing the curse from the symbol fails to address the present reality for Native Americans and those of African ancestry. If God changed skin color (again, assuming #1 above is true) as a symbol of a curse, then: (a) the symbol is still in effect, since skin color has not changed back to “God-glorified white” (I think they sell this color in Home Depots in Utah), which means the curse is still in effect; or (b) God is absent-minded and forgot to change the skin color since the curse is no longer in effect. Either way, the apologist argument is a smokescreen. The goal is to convince those who raise this issue that skin color isn’t a curse, but it conveniently ignores the fact that the skin color is a symbol of a curse and, if God is going to be consistent (i.e., b), then (a) still holds.

    Of course, assumption (1) and (2) are huge assumptions, both of which I reject. Additionally, the whole discussion of God changing skin color completely ignores evolutionary history and biology, making it a discussion so ridiculous as to be absurd. The scientific community has pretty good explanations for changes in skin color at this point, and we also have a pretty good sense of the genetics involved in skin pigmentation. Unless God periodically interferes with DNA, the evidence for which will never be produced, the whole issue is really more about fictional manifestations of Joseph Smith’s racist ideology in the 1820s than it is about curses, symbols, and apologetics.

    Finally, drawing a distinction between the curse and the symbol is sneaky for the simple reason that it sidesteps the fact that the symbol of a curse from God is dark skin, which is inherently racist. Using apologetic sleight-of-hand to try to get everyone to focus on the curse itself, is a nifty approach to shift attention away from the racism of the symbol.

    (Oh, and I’m not actually Cherokee or named Sam. I’m “under cover” in my discussions with the missionaries.” I adopt relevant characteristics in my fictional personas to advance my points in the questions.)

  7. Finally, drawing a distinction between the curse and the symbol is sneaky for the simple reason that it sidesteps the fact that the symbol of a curse from God is dark skin, which is inherently racist.

    True, and I think Tapirrider also made a very good point @3 that believing that the Native Americans are cursed is racist even if the curse isn’t specifically skin color.

  8. I might could go along with a curse with a symbol where the symbol is unrelated to the curse, if I could see more examples. Also, I have been trying to come up with an instance where there is a blessing with a symbol, but the symbol is unrelated to the blessing, without any success.

  9. Interesting exchange! Curious how they train these missionaries and what scripts they have in front of them to use/copy/paste.

    The whole this is not emotion….this is from God thing is just fascinating and problematic in so many ways.

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