The Mutt’s Nuts

Where religion is about as attractive as a two week holiday in Afghanistan

Mormon Church (almost) bows to science

with 27 comments

A recent Associated Press article is among several to report that the latest edition of the Book of Mormon has a new word inserted in its introduction. So what? Why would one little word be considered controversial enough to merit its own news article? Although the introduction is not considered scripture by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the actual Book of Mormon definitely is. Because the introduction describes the Church’s stance towards the book itself, even a subtle change to its content can be an indicator of how the book is viewed by church leaders.

The Book of Mormon was described by the church’s founder Joseph Smith (revered by church members as not just a prophet but the Prophet) as “the most correct of any book on earth and the keystone of our religion” (History of the Church 4:461).

From its publication it has been accepted by Latter-day Saints as an historical record of the ancient inhabitants of the Americas from 600 BC to 400 AD. One of its main assertions is that the Israelites are the ancestors of today’s Native Americans. It begins with the story of Lehi, a Jewish man, and his family fleeing Jerusalem at the time of the reign of King Zedekiah and being guided by God to “a land of promise” – the American continent. This family forms the basis of two groups of people, named after Lehi’s sons, and known throughout the book as Nephites and Lamanites. The Lamanites, being disobedient to God, were cursed with a darker skin, to distinguish themselves from their more righteous brethren, the Nephites. These dark-skinned people, the Church has always taught, are the progenitors of today’s Native Americans. The Book of Mormon goes on to record that many of the Lamanites eventually repented and began to lose their dark skin tone. It concludes with a huge battle between the two groups, with the Lamanites emerging victorious and the Nephites being completely destroyed.

As a young woman I served a mission to the native peoples of North America and one of our main – and most successful – missionary tactics was to tell them that the Book of Mormon contained a history of their ancestors. It was something that I had always been taught from my conversion to the church and, as a faithful member and enthusiastic missionary, I was only too happy to impart this good news to the people I believed to be the descendants of the “Lamanites”. I loved the people that I worked among and considered them to be particularly special because of their Book of Mormon ancestry.

A few years ago a controversy arose when scientists discovered that Native American DNA markers suggested that they originated from central Asia, not the Middle East as posited in the Book of Mormon. Although church leaders have never officially acknowledged that genetic evidence contradicts the Book of Mormon’s assertions about the ancestry of today’s Native Americans, some people believe that the small insertion into the book’s introduction indicates a tacit acknowledgement of those DNA findings.

The old introduction, which claimed:

After thousands of years all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians

has been amended thus:

After thousands of years all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians

With the use of the word “among”, church leaders have subtly changed the church’s stance on Native American ancestry. Leaders throughout the history of the church have commonly used the word “Lamanites” to denote American Indians. According to noted Mormon sociologist and historian Armand L. Mauss:

Since the very founding of the church in 1830, Mormons had believed that North American Indians were Lamanites, described by the Book of Mormon as literal Israelites, the seed of Abraham, who would flock to the church as lost sheep responding to the voice of the true Shepherd of Israel and would actually take the initiative in building a New Jerusalem on the American continent. (Armand L. Mauss, All Abraham’s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage, University of Illinois Press, 1993, p. 115)

This was certainly the understanding of church members and leaders when I joined the church in 1974 and remained unchanged during my 27 years as an active member. As an example, here are quotes from Spencer Kimball, the President when I was baptised into the church, and Gordon B Hinckley, the President when I left:

President Spencer W. Kimball:

The term Lamanite includes all Indians and Indian mixtures, such as the Polynesians, the Guatemalans, the Peruvians, as well as the Sioux, the Apache, the Mohawk, the Navajo, and others. It is a large group of great people. (“Of Royal Blood,” Ensign, July 1971, p. 7)

President Gordon B. Hinckley:

President Hinckley next visited Lima, Peru, where he met with missionaries and held two conferences attended by a total of 28,000 Latter-day Saints. …President Hinckley recognized the Book of Mormon heritage of his listeners in Lima: “As I look into your faces, I think of Father Lehi, whose sons and daughters you are. I think he must be shedding tears today, tears of love and gratitude. … This is but the beginning of the work in Peru. This work of the Almighty will go on and grow and grow.” (“God’s Holy Work” in Peru, in “News of the Church,” Ensign, Feb. 1997, 73).

Early revelations, supposedly from God, to Joseph Smith also used the words “Lamanites” and “Indians” interchangeably (see D&C 28:2 and 32:3). In an extract from Joseph Smith’s History, contained in another Book of Mormon scripture called the Pearl of Great Price, the Mormon Prophet speaks of a visit from an angel called Moroni who was one of the last writers in the Book of Mormon. Joseph records his interview with this personage in these words:

He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fulness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered the the Saviour to the ancient inhabitants” (Joseph Smith – History of the Church 1:34).

Joseph Smith, the Prophet taught that the Book of Mormon spoke of the “former inhabitants” of the American continent. The Book of Mormon describes the “former inhabitants” as originating in Jerusalem. Some of those “former inhabitants” became known in the book as Lamanites. Joseph Smith and subsequent church leaders referred to modern Native Americans as Lamanites. It is clear that the original teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the principal ancestors of Native American Indians originated in the Middle East.

Strangely, it is only since DNA evidence was shown to contradict this assertion, that Mormon apologists and, lately, Mormon leaders, have decided that Israelites are only one of a number of potential progenitors for today’s Native Americans. They are back-pedalling on a doctrine that has been universally accepted since the church’s inception. Although the word “among” still allows for the Lamanites to be a part of the Indians’ DNA mix, it has also introduced the idea that they may be comfortably thought of as not necessarily being responsible for the majority of Indians’ genetic make-up.

To me, this smacks of equivocation on behalf of the church and is the kind of thing that drove me away from the religion in the first place. I believed that I was a member of “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” (D&C 1:30), yet little by little, over its history, the church had made changes to original revelations and doctrines that undermined – in my eyes – its claim to be divinely appointed. This latest alteration, subtle as it might be, is yet another example of the church’s concession to prevailing science and culture at the expense of its historical roots. To me this is a cop-out, made all the more duplicitous by its insistence that the church is God-inspired. If God was content for his church to understand for nearly 180 years that the Book of Mormon peoples called Lamanites were the primary ancestors of Native Americans, why would he now approve this shift in thinking which describes them as only one of a group of potential progenitors? It may seem a small thing, and probably wouldn’t bother the majority of Latter-day Saints, but the principle of altering doctrine for the sake of expediency was the main reason for my loss of faith in the Mormon church and the fact that it is still happening only confirms the rightness of my decision to abandon Mormonism all together.

IslaSkye

Advertisements

Written by islaskye

January 13, 2008 at 1:33 pm

27 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. thanks for the insight into mormon teaching. Faith systems in general, I am a Christian, seem to be moving towards a relaxing of many of the doctrines that they have stood on for years. it seems that we want to make is more acceptable to people as opposed to stand up to challenges in knowledge and faith.

    curtismchale

    January 13, 2008 at 4:17 pm

  2. “Strangely, it is only since DNA evidence was shown to contradict this assertion, that Mormon apologists and, lately, Mormon leaders, have decided that Israelites are only one of a number of potential progenitors for today’s Native Americans.”

    This is simply not true. Mormon scholars have been publishing and theorizing on these type of issues long before DNA analysis came on the scene. For a sampling see FARMS publications on DNA or archaeology/geography.

    Even if all the members of the church, even its leaders, interpreted all Native Americans as being descended from the Lamanites (which an impossible group of people to define ethnically from the text) and such claims turn out to be mistaken, it means very little for the truth claims of the book and the doctrines of the Church. Such beliefs are interpretations of the text and interpretations can change as knowledge increases that puts the book in a more complete context. Mormons have every right to change their interpretation to what is more accurate. I’ll also point out that the word change cited is not a change in the text of the Book of Mormon but a change in the introduction, most likely written by Bruce McConkie, in 1981.

    You ask the question of why God would allow the church to function for 180 years with a false premise about the geography and DNA of the people’s of the Book of Mormon. Just restating that question I think answers it. I think in the eyes of God that question matters very little; He is not trying to teach a history lesson but is trying to test character and refine souls.

    As far as changing doctrines according to expediency, I would say the Church has done it no more than the Lord has done it in the written record.

    Dave

    January 14, 2008 at 3:11 am

  3. This is an interesting change on the behalf of the Mormon Church, but it will most likely change again. We are still a long way from understanding the DNA evidence when it comes to Native Americans and the peopling of North America. As the evidence is further studied and researched, our understanding is sure to change. Will the Mormon Church continue to follow DNA evidence if it does not support the Church?

    Molecular Anthropologist

    January 14, 2008 at 1:15 pm

  4. I agree with Dave that LDS apologists have argued the limited geography theory long before the structure of DNA was even discovered. This theory argues that Laminites were only a small group compared to the vastly larger group of those coming over the land bridge from Asia. It is obvious however that the LDS Church did not accept this theory until now when the DNA evidence seems to make it more likely. This theory gives members (at least the ones that know about it) the little reason they need for continued believe.

    Jay

    January 14, 2008 at 6:00 pm

    • Now these type of arguments over here is what makes it impossible for members to take much serious notice of people like this, the comments are really shortsighted, and again not in any scientific depth whatsoever, just trying to find reason for negative comments. “This theory gives members the little reason they need to continued belief”. However small the original Lamanite group was and how their DNA was with some not of Jewish origin and others more linked, there is no reason why they should not count ALL who followed certain related traditions into one umbrella group, as they named them Nephites when they joined the Nephite group and counted into their umbrella group. I am sure all mixed and all counted as Lamanites are counted so still today,so as the leaders have unscientifically commented on, it does not mean they al have same or even linked DNA, but they belong to the indignineous groups of BOM as well. This is My view. “The last Nephite” on record in BOM records the catastrophe he watches, hides records and the Umbrella group “Lamanites” are left to populate US. The book describes them as able to be a very righteous people and even more so than the deteriorating Nephites in periods, the latter degraded to the point where they ate thier own people and even children (BOM). Their actions and beliefs groups them as well as traditions and background. Because the Nephites were a pure (white and delightsome is often the term) people at the beginning did not grant them any rights when their actions degraded.No DNA used to group them here.

      s ellingsen

      March 7, 2010 at 4:47 pm

      • Oh yes, now some would say ..oh comment said ..”left to populate USA”, meaning there were no other people..of course there were other people, BOM does not state there were not others, on the contrary..
        I meant left of that group to continue populating the areas, and as it happens we do not know more from that group in BOM, nor does later information from J S add to that information. Seriously some will find and twist and misunderstand, whatever is said. From the church side, there are always plenty of unscholared member’s thinking even in book form, and trying to be nice to all, some even brainless material is also spread from those least wanted groups in form of fiction and special experienced “histories”. I for one do not envy the task of leading any large group!! So all private opionions must be seen as private opinions.

        s ellingsen

        March 7, 2010 at 5:04 pm

  5. Curtis

    I think religions do need to re-examine their teachings in the light of scientific evidence, or they’ll just end up looking silly. After all, the majority are based on knowledge that was available over a thousand years ago, and look how far knowledge has advanced since then.

    I realise that some believers don’t mind revisions in doctrine because they see it as a natural progression of their religion, whereas I see it as “selling out” what they once adamantly declared to be true for the sake of saving face or gaining/retaining popularity.

    islaskye

    January 14, 2008 at 6:50 pm

  6. Dave

    This is simply not true. Mormon scholars have been publishing and theorizing on these type of issues long before DNA analysis came on the scene. For a sampling see FARMS publications on DNA or archaeology/geography.

    Yes, I’ll concede that there has been quite a bit of discussion about the limited geography issue for some years now. I’m not sure that the DNA issue in particular received “official” support until more recently, though. I’m sure you’ll correct me on that if I’m wrong.

    Even if all the members of the church, even its leaders, interpreted all Native Americans as being descended from the Lamanites (which an impossible group of people to define ethnically from the text) and such claims turn out to be mistaken, it means very little for the truth claims of the book and the doctrines of the Church.

    I would say that the doctrine that today’s native Americans and Polynesians are direct descendants of the Book of Mormon Lamanites is an important one and would have significant consequences, were it shown to be wrong, for the hundreds of thousands of people who have been told since the founding of the church that they are Lamanites and as such are eligible to claim the blessings promised them in the Book of Mormon ( e.g. 3 Nephi 21: 22-26) – that they are the heirs of Jacob, that they will receive the Book of Mormon lands for their inheritance and that they will build the New Jerusalem prior to the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. A reinterpretation of the text to better fit scientists’ growing knowledge of Native American DNA would be a tacit admission that that these people have been misled about their very identity.

    It would also throw certain scriptures into question. For example, the Doctrine & Covenants says that the Book of Mormon was preserved to come forth for the express purpose of giving the Lamanites a knowledge of their fathers and of the promises made to them, as well as converting them to the gospel of Christ (D&C 3: 19-20). See also 2 Nephi 30: 3-5. Who exactly are the Lamanites spoken of here? The text seems to suggest that they are a clear and significant group, rather than an indistinguishable tiny minority.

    Such beliefs are interpretations of the text and interpretations can change as knowledge increases that puts the book in a more complete context.

    I suppose I still have a problem accepting that prophets of God from Joseph Smith onwards all misinterpreted the text of the book. One has to wonder why men who, by virtue of their calling, have a special relationship with the Lord, were not corrected in their erroneous belief and teaching. It doesn’t inspire confidence to discover that Mormon apologists can interpret the scriptures more accurately that the Lord’s anointed. Surely seers and revelators should have a better understanding of God’s word?

    islaskye

    January 14, 2008 at 9:32 pm

  7. Beautifully and intelligently written. It’s nice at long last to see someone putting serious effort into a blog writing. I’ll be back.

    Eight Hour Lunch

    January 15, 2008 at 7:15 pm

  8. I am not suggesting that we don’t re-examine our beliefs but that we don’t change them on the sly, as you have stated in your post. I think that we need to hold as many doctrines as possible with an open hand. Really there are very few for me that I can’t compromise on as a Christian. Jesus died and rose for our sins and was the Son of God. I think that is about it. If that was disproved with out a doubt I would have a faith crisis. Most other things I think I could survive.

    curtismchale

    January 17, 2008 at 5:51 pm

  9. Curtis,

    ***Really there are very few for me that I can’t compromise on as a Christian. Jesus died and rose for our sins and was the Son of God. I think that is about it. If that was disproved with out a doubt I would have a faith crisis.***

    It’s ironic that you’ve accepted that Jesus died and rose for your sins and that he is the Son of God without any proof whatsoever, but yet you require evidence that it isn’t true before you’ll reject it. It’s contradictory that on the one hand you’ll happily embrace an unproven belief, while on the other hand you won’t discard that belief until it’s been disproved.

    Curmudgeonly Yours

    January 17, 2008 at 6:48 pm

  10. your right I have accepted it without proof. I sit here trying to think of some very intelligent awe inspiring thing to say about it. Nope don’t have it. This is why I write and blog to be challenged on my beliefs. Thanks.

    curtismchale

    January 17, 2008 at 8:13 pm

  11. Molecular Anthropologist

    I think the Mormon Church will have no choice but to go with DNA evidence, even if it contradicts former teachings. As the change to the Book of Mormon introduction shows, the church has already started moving away from the Lamanite = American Indian position and will now carefully eliminate that teaching from its publications and discourses. In a few years, anyone who joined the church from about 2005/6 onwards probably won’t even realise that such a doctrine was ever taught.

    islaskye

    January 18, 2008 at 6:49 pm

  12. Jay

    I think that Mormon church leaders will have to rely on the apologists more and more to get them out of the hole that science and history are relentlessly pushing them into. It’ll be interesting to see just how powerful the apologists become over time.

    islaskye

    January 18, 2008 at 7:04 pm

  13. Eight Hour Lunch

    Thank you for your kind words. It was strangely enjoyable to be studying the scriptures again after more than 6 years – although of course now I view them from a whole different perspective.

    islaskye

    January 18, 2008 at 7:08 pm

  14. Curtis,

    ***your right I have accepted it without proof. I sit here trying to think of some very intelligent awe inspiring thing to say about it. Nope don’t have it. This is why I write and blog to be challenged on my beliefs. Thanks.***

    I appreciate your stark honesty, it’s refreshing. A quick question, if you don’t mind: why do you like to be challenged on your beliefs? There was a time, when I was struggling to hold onto a modicum of my belief-system, when I too liked to have my beliefs challenged, because I wanted to see how firm they really were – whether or not they would stand up to the pressures of contrary propositions. They didn’t. Hence my atheism. Please don’t read much into that, as I’m not deliberately trying to imply anything. I’m just curious about your motivation.

    ***Jesus died and rose for our sins and was the Son of God. I think that is about it. If that was disproved with out a doubt I would have a faith crisis.***

    But returning to your initial comment, I just wanted to say that I don’t think you’ll suffer a “faith crisis” as long as you continue thinking magically, as opposed to thinking logically. There will be no proof that Jesus Christ isn’t the Son of God, so I think you’ll be safe in your beliefs.

    Curmudgeonly Yours

    January 18, 2008 at 10:17 pm

  15. You are in denial. The primary pre-Columbian Y lineage group of Native Americans is known as Q. Modern Jews share this DNA; 5% of Ashkenazi Jews, 5% of Iraqi Jews and 15% of Yemenite Jews belong to the Q lineage group; the same lineage group as most Native Americans. Q is more common in Europe than East Asia and its closest relative is R; the primary lineage group of Europe.

    Doug Forbes

    February 23, 2008 at 11:09 pm

  16. Doug

    Could you reference the research for this information please.

    islaskye

    February 24, 2008 at 9:39 am

  17. Hi there,
    I think it is clear in all scripture and church history that just because a person has a high calling in the LDS church it does not make him or her a specialist in any particular subject unless this is their profession and maybe not even then. A prophet does not state to be a specialist in many things, but professes to be the spokesman for God in the matters that is relevant for his time and on matters to do with the eternal progression of the people he is set out to lead. Of course he may make mistakes in his own personal views and even those uttered as a prophet if it is not been specially directed. Only one thing is stated that the prophet will not be allowed to lead his people astray, meaning in important things that would affect a persons progress towards salvation. Whether a prophet says unknowingly that Abstract Art comes from the devil (I have read it has been said at one point by George A Smith) or other statements that has been made as a personal opinion, it is not of much interest to anybody that can think a little. And would certainly not be corrected by God and put straight. There are many examples of statements done which has been of a personal character and based on wrong information and even personal preconceptions or local or traditional thinking. In the bigger picture that the scriptures deal with, although of obvious interest to many people included LDS members, and in this case in the further writing and refining of history, many such statements are of little importance. One may say in retrospective if unclear statements have been made, that some are unfortunate, not because stated so much as because some people misinterpret what it means and by which authority it is said. I did not get offended when I heard about this comment on Art (it was obviously just a misunderstanding), I laughed a little and recognized that some things I know better myself. History develops. It will be very interesting to see what comes out of all research and I do hope people and especially members of the LDS church, I am one myself!, are able to see the information in a wider light, whether new facts are found or old changed. Science and research must make the move forward and find, question and coordinate all for our benefit. Slowly but surely the picture we all have become clearer. Sad if this discourages anybody, cause there is no need for that sort of reaction. All serious research into this area is so exiting and hopefully in 10 years we will have so much more insight in all. And maybe links with some groups may be found that opens our eyes to new views. Maybe one should be looking for another DNA???But don’t forget there is a spiritual reality as well which cannot easily be researched, but only searched with all spiritual efforts of ones being. Good luck.

    synnove ellingsen

    May 29, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    • “Only one thing is stated that the prophet will not be allowed to lead his people astray, meaning in important things that would affect a persons progress towards salvation”

      That may be stated, but is clearly false. I grew up with a church that taught racist doctrine and denied priesthood and temple ordinances (including the all-important eternal marriage, which is taught as essential to salvation) based on race. I was taught that it was due to revelation. But any study of history, including church sources and apologetic sites show the truth – it was just a policy of Brigham Young. There is no record of revelation. Not only did the church lie (and still lies) about the reason for the exclusion, but as it came from a prophet, it did lead the church astray in a key doctrine.

      Seeker of truth

      August 9, 2010 at 4:33 am

      • Sad there will always be those misunderstandings by some people. A lot of mistakes have been done and will be dine by leaders who may have been chosen for one specific purpose but may be lacking other qualities. What I said is clearly not false it is absolutely correct, however, people will make mistakes and misunderstand, even in ones own family and leaders in many cases if outside their area. There will be long lists of mistakes and misconceptions, God cannot work with people he does not have, I am afraid like any one has to pick admin and help from those actively involved whatever they are their weak qualities. These days since all are more collectively educated, much has improved. LDS Fair is a pretty good site that shows this.

        synnove ellingsen

        March 28, 2011 at 9:18 pm

  18. IslaSkye

    That is some really good writing and preaching bro. You just don’t know how inspiring it is to me to see that Mormons do leave Mormonism.

    I Subscribed to your blog. I don’t think my blog tracker is working right though. I have to look real good to make sure I am not missing something. I will be back although I might forget for a bit, but i really liked you writing and our site. I will check out more later.

    I may add you to my blogroll. That is what I will try to determine on my next visit to your kool blog.

    TY,
    Damon Whitsell.
    How2BecomeAChristian.info
    How2BecomeAChristian.wordpress.com

    how2becomeachristian

    August 24, 2008 at 1:11 am

  19. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

    sandrar

    September 10, 2009 at 1:39 pm

  20. Not many comments on this blog so long ago, seems to me questions asked in hoping to find negative answers to this (one commented:I am so glad others are leaving the church…how scientific is that!!) is not the best way forward anyway, it proves science is used agressively and not in depth in the DNA cases as well as many other cases by critics of the BOM, rather by scientists working in depth to find further information. There seems to be a constant flow of people who claim to be scientists and provide some later proven shallow series of evidences against areas of LDS teaching, very often without understanding it properly, and without looking to what is said by who and context. So the best solution is then to look for people who really work on their science whoever they are, and not for opportunist who aims to find easy fixes to critisize something they do not understand. About Lamanites, they would not need to be direct descendants to be counted as a special group and included religiously automatic into this group, many common traditions and ways of approaching, makes them seen as one larger related group today. There could be many reasons for including these peoples into the umbrella group “Lamanites”. In the BOM they included other people into their groups and this is also done today by Indians, some tribes are joined from more than one group to one, much against the will of some tribe members but still. Many groups can symbolically be counted as one regardless of current tribe status. I met such a group yesterday, the person complaining why their tribe had joined another into a larger tribe.

    s ellingsen

    March 7, 2010 at 4:27 pm

  21. Sign: wdpad Hello!!! ymrrg and 1921nfhrfzdrmw and 9810 : I love your blog. 🙂 I just came across your blog.

    black celebs

    August 10, 2010 at 6:30 pm

  22. Hello, I think your site might be having browser compatibility
    issues. When I look at your blog in Ie, it looks fine but when
    opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give
    you a quick heads up! Other then that, excellent blog!

    check over here

    July 18, 2013 at 10:09 pm

  23. According to http://www.crackedhistory.com/missouri-governor-threatened-exterminate-mormons/ a Missouri governor once actually threatened to exterminate Mormons!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: