Why the Curse of Cain remains in the Mormon imaginary

Have any of you read Black and Mormon? The authors explain why even though present-day Church leaders have said “NO, NO, NO!” about the curse of Cain folklore, why Mormons like Jason and even his stake president continue to believe and espouse it. It’s not just racism and/or residual notions held by the uninformed, but has to do with a paradox the Church has created for itself.

If there never was a curse of Cain, then why would there have been a revelation that says black men can now be ordained? What exactly was the reason for them not being ordained? If it was racism of every prophet and every Mormon after Brigham Young up to 1978 (and I say “every Mormon” because the Church collectively did not ordain black men), then why would it take revelation to undo this?

Everyday Mormons like Jason and his stake president fill in the blank with past cultural ideas because modern Church leaders have left a gaping hole. Filling in the hole with worldly explanations like, “Oh, well, America had a Civil Rights Movement” or “We needed priests in our meetinghouses in Brazil” would undermine church leaders’ authority because it would make the revelation seem, well, silly.

What’s interesting is that, agreeing with the worldly reasons for the revelation, Jason sees the current Church as “moving to the left” such that church leaders are being tainted by the world (and Satan) in some fashion. He sees a severing of the Church in the near future, clearly relating the 1978 revelation with current national discourse on homosexuality. Academics would frame Jason’s worldview as resulting from “white heteropatriarchy” (as it concerns a triangulation of the modalities of race, sexuality and gender whereby white heterosexual maleness frames the picture). As we all know, this kind of thinking manifests in the Church in a number of ways. The next “revelatory” juncture looks to be female ordination/same-sex marriage, but who knows if and when and how this would come to pass — or the paradoxes it would engender afterward. (Any guesses?)

The juncture after that would be to take seriously indigenous claims that the founding of America, the US Constitution and the Book of Mormon rest within a colonizing framework. I’m not sure Mormonism could survive that, though…..

See also Andrew’s recent post on “Mormonism’s Doctrinal Race Problem” where one commenter says: “I was taught that the less-valiant spirits in the pre-mortal existence must have run out in 1978, and that is why the blacks were given the priesthood from then on.” Still, any maintenance of the “cure of Cain” folklore would require a kind of eternal one-drop rule, which boggles the mind when considering the mechanics of how multiracial spirits would get “raced.” Since Mormon leaders have historically been against interracial marriage, they probably didn’t think about this, though.

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4 Responses

  1. Brethren, the curse of Cain has been lifted. As a stake president I have answered those who think the Church is or was racist in the following post on my blog:

  2. Alan says:

    A satirist, you are. Okay, I was confused for a moment.

  3. Chino Blanco says:

    I wonder what view most Mormons would take of a black author who’d written a foreword to a book with a cover that showed a severed white head, a cross and the title “The White Hammer” (and subtitled “Black Alternatives”) … I’m guessing they’d probably conclude that such an author was racist. Which is why I’m really curious what any Mormons in these parts might have to say about this.

  4. Alan says:

    If you set Benson’s racism aside for a moment, if one actually thinks about what communism is (money going to a central pot, distribution by an oligarchy, personal sacrifice for the whole — *cough* Mormonism *cough* ), then it seems strange how anti-communist he was. “Communism” for Benson seems to be nothing other than “agitation” of the status quo, not coming from any particular place or person, but an ever-present danger in American society (where, bizarrely, communist white men were in control of the civil rights movement — because, well, “Negros” couldn’t possibility have done it on their own).

    I’m wondering how this overlays onto Oaks’ current language concerning “religious speech.” The “state” is infringing on a “private” space, an ever-present danger that is getting worse and worse. It’s not really gay people’s fault that the gay rights movement is happening (like the “decent Negro,” they don’t know any better); it’s the state’s fault for jumping on board, and the state has too much power over our lives.

    Seems like a lot of parallels.

    Seriously, I came across a Mormon recently who believes that many same-sex couples will go to the highest level of Heaven because “they don’t know any better.” It’s a fascinating position, but like racist thinking, it’s still has a long way to go. E.g, What about ex-Mormon gay people?

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