Get Your Racist Mormon Action Figures Here!

Book of Mormon Figurines Humor Latter-day Designs Mainstreaming Race Utah Values

First off, a tip o’ the hat to WestBerkeley Flats for the heads up and humorous title.

And a nod to Joanna Brooks’ Dark Skin No Longer a Curse in Online Book of Mormon:

Chapter headings in the online version of the Book of Mormon have been changed by LDS Church officials, eliminating vestiges of racist theology that linked dark skin to spiritual accursedness.

Actually, more than a nod; a little head scratching, too. Because her final graf struck me as maybe a wee optimistic:

The present change is very much in keeping with a strong LDS institutional preference for quietly leaving historical missteps behind as it matures from an American faith with ties to a complex of Anglo-American folk beliefs into a global religion.

Why? Well, let’s call this today’s Exhibit A:

Laman and Lemuel: Before and After

Source: Latter-day Designs

Lemuel’s example in The Book of Mormon teaches us what happens when we do not choose the right.

What happens is you wake up with a permanent tan. That’s no Anglo-American folk belief. It’s 100% Mormon and remains received truth for nearly the same percentage of LDS adherents.

In terms of LDS institutional preferences, let’s call this Exhibit B:

The original headings remained in most English editions until 2004, when Doubleday published the first trade version of the LDS scripture and implemented the editing.

Until this month, the 1981 headings remained in the churchs online version at lds.org. When the church upgraded its website, the Doubleday changes were included online. The former version will continue for now in the printed English versions.

The Mormon church is leaving its historical missteps behind so quietly that they’ve decided to let a gentile book publisher lead the way.

Further reading: You can change chapter headings, but you cannot change history … the only way to remove the racial implications of Book of Mormon teachings is to change the text of the Book of Mormon itself.

80 thoughts on “Get Your Racist Mormon Action Figures Here!

  1. I see a pretty easily defined word for curse, when it came for God cursing the unrighteous with black skin.

    Considering it was done as a punishment, then it’s the same type of curse we thought it was in the first place (when we took it at face-value).

  2. Oh, but openminded, we’re being simplistic, at least according to Seth’s definition:

    simplistic (adj.) Disagrees with Seth.

    Will you tell the dictionary people, or shall I?

  3. I agreed with his methods of determining the meaning of a word.

    Besides, ever heard of Winston Churchill and the school of fags? Google it. Language is as mendable as Seth makes it out to be. (also, remember how God repented in the OT? A lot of atheists took it to mean the “simplistic” use of it rather than the actual “historical” use)

  4. Words can mean many things, but apologists are selective about their semantics in a way that always seems to work to their advantage, no matter what.

  5. That’s what they do, Daniel, but I don’t think that Seth is an apologist. An apologist will do anything to give faith a chance. If there is the slightest ambiguity, the apologist will make a bee line for it and consider his faith reasonable.

    By contrast, Seth is wrestling with the language of the Book of Mormon to obtain an ethically responsible reading of the text.

    Since we have to assume that Mormonism will be around for a long time, that is a valuable effort.

  6. Why? Why is it valuable to try to define your way around the inherent racism in the LDS Church’s defining text so that you can feel okay about it?

  7. I’m with Daniel: Seth’s is an enterprise designed to make people feel good about the racism they’ve grown up with so they don’t have to admit it.

    I find it impossible to believe that anyone could think the Book of Mormon is rather ambivalent about what the word curse even means–unless they’re using “think” to mean “hope.”

    The examples listed below, chosen at random from a search for the word “curse” in the BOM on the LDS scripture page, show that “to curse” in the BOM adheres pretty closely to a standard dictionary definition of “to call upon supernatural powers to bring harm to someone or something,” while the noun form is the calling upon or the resulting harm.

    Saying otherwise is not an appeal to but an avoidance of “the most likely historical use.”

    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.

    2 Nephi 5:23

    And cursed shall be the seed of him that mixeth with their seed; for they shall be cursed even with the same cursing. And the Lord spake it, and it was done.

    2 Nephi 1:22

    That ye may not be cursed with a sore cursing; and also, that ye may not incur the displeasure of a just God upon you, unto the destruction, yea, the eternal destruction of both soul and body.

    Alma 3:9

    And it came to pass that whosoever did mingle his seed with that of the Lamanites did bring the same curse upon his seed.

    Helaman 13:17

    And behold, a curse shall come upon the land, saith the Lord of Hosts, because of the peoples sake who are upon the land, yea, because of their wickedness and their abominations.

    Ether 14:1

    And now there began to be a great curse upon all the land because of the iniquity of the people, in which, if a man should lay his tool or his sword upon his shelf, or upon the place whither he would keep it, behold, upon the morrow, he could not find it, so great was the curse upon the land.

  8. Why? Why is it valuable to try to define your way around the inherent racism in the LDS Churchs defining text so that you can feel okay about it?

    a) The Mormon Church will stick around for a long time.
    b) Therefore, a lot of children will grow up in the Mormon church.
    c) If children grow up in the Mormon Church, they need to learn that racism is bad.
    d) Seth’s approach performs that function.

    Therefore Seth and his buddies at the bloggernacle add value to Mormonism and to the life of those of us who have to continue to live with Mormons.

  9. a) The Mormon Church will stick around for a long time.
    b) Therefore, a lot of children will grow up in the Mormon church.
    c) If children grow up in the Mormon Church, they need to learn that racism is bad.
    d) Seths approach performs that function.

    No it doesn’t, Hellmut. It teaches people that racism isn’t racism if you can find a way to wiggle out of acknowledging it, and that what matters in stereotypes and offensive depictions is not how they affect those described by the stereotypes or offensive depictions, but those who AREN’T described.

    In other words, to apply Seth’s logic about the BOM to the story of the Garden of Eden, how the sexist depiction of Eve affects women isn’t important; what matters is how it affects men. And the word “curse” thrown at Eve isn’t really a curse; it’s…. a site of ambivalence. Women are actually blessed by childbirth, and the whole submission thing? It just keeps life running smoothly.

    I mean, after how many decades/centuries of slapping Seth’s rhetoric on the story of the fall, we ALL know that it’s not REALLY a curse, right? And look how well that works for fostering meaningful discourse about the status of women in religion.

  10. Holly, your critique would have a lot more credibility if I hadn’t called Nephi racist in an earlier comment (and implied that Mormon might have been too). Oh, and I said Brigham Young was racist too – and even Joseph Smith to some extent.

    Or did you just miss that part?

  11. Seth, The fact that you are forced to acknowledge the grossest racism when you’re confronted with it doesn’t compensate significantly for your attempts to whitewash its somewhat subtler manifestations.

  12. Sure, as part of a larger attempt to whitewash an overall racist ideology and culture.

    “OK, there are little bits of racism in the Book of Mormon, but really, taken as a whole? It’s actually really enlightened!”

    Sure, compared to lynchings and slavery. Compared to genuine equality and respect? Not so much.

  13. Well Holly, I guess everyone can look at what I wrote and make up their own mind about that. I doubt me talking to you about this is going to serve any useful purpose.

  14. OK, Seth, if the idea of race you’re trying to defend in the BOM is the best you can do when it comes to condemning racism, I’ll give you credit for at least trying. But as Jonathan Blake said, some of us have higher standards–for ourselves, our ideas of the divine and our sacred texts.

  15. Jonathan wrote:

    “Anyway, I have high standards. God should have created scripture that would have been unequivocally against racism.”

    I disagree.

    Racism is a symptom of a deeper human problem – not a core problem in its own right.

    I would prefer that God address in his scriptures the deeper core human problems that cause racism. Such as selfishness, lack of charity, and pride. Which I believe the Book of Mormon and Bible do.

  16. Racism is a symptom of a deeper human problem not a core problem in its own right.

    I disagree. I think that the tendency to mentally flatten “other” groups into stereotypes is the core human limitation on our biggest human strength (empathy). It is more invisible (hence harder to root out) than pure selfishness. See my post on racism.

  17. Racism is merely a subset of that flattening impulse though. As such, it reflects a symptom and not a core problem. So your clarification is helpful Chanson, but I think you are essentially making the point I was trying to make.

  18. OK, but if God existed and were omniscient, couldn’t He have given us scripture to clarify and counteract this human tendency, instead of just going with the flow?

  19. He did. Scriptures on charity, empathy, love, service, etc. God addressed his words to the core problems of the human condition. He left their application to us.

  20. Racism is merely a subset of that flattening impulse though. As such, it reflects a symptom and not a core problem.

    No, racism isn’t just the flattening impulse. It’s also about biopolitcs: e.g. the “one-drop rule” in the early countings of black people for the US census or the fact that Mormon literature today still features no interracial couples. Or it’s about how the Church supports Mexican immigrants ecclesiastically, but paradoxically cannot be vocal or support immigrant rights in the public sphere except to the extent of calling for things like “charity, empathy, love, service” (which basically amounts to giving a homeless person money without addressing the issue of homelessness itself).

    Same goes with gay rights. In the debate, the Church calls for “empathy, love, understanding, patience.” But it says this after Prop 8. I’m sure you like maintaining a difference between race-based civil rights and gay rights when it comes to the Church’s positions. So, it would seem sensible for you to not make all of the “-isms” (racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism) “subsets” of a “core” issue.

  21. It may also be biopolitics, but biopolitics itself is a symptom as well. I still wouldn’t call it a core issue.

    And the mere fact that the Church still does stuff like Prop 8 after calling for “love” or whatever else doesn’t really establish anything in this argument that I’m seeing.

    And I don’t have any problem making sexism, racism, heterosexism, and such subsets of the same core issue. Should I?

  22. I agree with you, Holly, that hypocrisy is the problem of that approach, not so much of the people who re trying to reconceptualize Mormonism in humane and ethical terms but for their audience, that means our children.

    It doesn’t get us there but I still think that it is a good faith effort that does make a difference.

    The good thing about hypocrisy is that, by definition, it constitutes a contradiction and thus provides an opportunity for criticism, which I will be happy to exploit.

    The narrow point was just that Seth is not an apologist and that there is value in his work.

  23. Hellmut@73

    The narrow point was just that Seth is not an apologist and that there is value in his work.

    i disagree with you on both points. There is little value and great harm in his approach.

    Seth@70

    Scriptures on charity, empathy, love, service, etc. God addressed his words to the core problems of the human condition. He left their application to us.

    while he goes on and on about what a jealous, vengeful, judgmental being he is, prone to playing favorites, killing people on a whim, and cursing his less-favored children with dark skin because that makes them ugly to his more-favord children, which is what all parents want.

    Not surprising that we do such a crappy job of having empathy and compassion with that guy setting the example for moral behavior.

    Seth @64

    Well Holly, I guess everyone can look at what I wrote and make up their own mind about that. I doubt me talking to you about this is going to serve any useful purpose.

    Seth is an apologist, Hellmut. The reason he had to back off from the discussion with me is because he couldn’t hold his point. The “useful purpose” that could be served is that he might actually learn something and have a clearer idea of what’s really going on in very problematic but nonetheless important text. But he’s not interested in truth or accuracy. He’s interested in protecting LDS church texts from criticism. That makes him an apologist.

  24. I guess I can agree that believing that racism is bad and undertaking mental gymnastics to reconcile that belief with racist texts is certainly an improvement over simply accepting the racism in them. Trying to reconcile ancient and 19th century texts with 21st century humanistic values seems much better than simply clinging to the values that actually informed the texts (though it’s also much less coherent or consistent). I sympathize with the effort, even though (or maybe because) it seems likely to be futile in the end. (And I’ve been there myself.)

    OTOH, I think that Holly is right and these attempts fail to grapple with the notion of “privilege.”

    Black people had to wait for the priesthood and temple blessings until white people were ready to give them to them. There was, of course, never any question of white people being the ones who had to wait.

    It’s OK if the leaders chosen by God are a little (or sometimes a lot) racist and even if some racism gets into the scriptures, because that doesn’t necessarily make white believers think that dark-skinned people are inferior. Any effects that may have on actual dark-skinned people are, of course, incidental.

    In the end, the Mormon god doesn’t despise dark-skinned people (anymore). It’s just that when there is any sort of racial conflict, it’s always the needs of white people that come first. Dark-skinned people’s needs are met in terms of how they meet white people’s needs.

  25. Yes to what Kuri says in 75.

    Seth’s refusal to confront the issue of privilege (which is a manifestation of privilege–those who don’t have it figure out a little more quickly what it is) is why I say he’s not interested in truth or accuracy but in devising a position that always privileges his own views at the expense of anyone else–even those more acutely affected by an issue. Think of his attitude about Prop 8, and his insistence that what really matters in the attempts to defeat it is his comfort with the tactics.

  26. Scratch one for the DAMU, Chino. Congratulations!

    “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will,” Frederick Douglas.

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