The Mutt’s Nuts

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

Posts Tagged ‘Mormonism

Resurrected me

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The other day I had a conversation with a work colleague about religion. Or rather, she did most of the talking and I listened, interjecting a comment only occasionally. She felt that another work colleague of ours took her Christian evangelical beliefs much too seriously and had missed the point of religion all together. Religion, she explained, was all about being kind to others and doing good. You could do that without all the conditions that religion placed on faith. Our mutual colleague, she said, was wasting precious time adhering strictly to codes that were restricting her life, rather than enhancing it.

She went on to explain that she, too, was a Christian and had been quite fundamentalist in her views and actions for about 20 years. She had given her all to her church, rising to positions of responsibility that had required a lot of her time, effort and resources. Gradually she began to notice the self-righteousness of her fellow church members, an attitude of being better than others and a strong tendency to form exclusive cliques. She had finally decided that the core of religion was simple goodness and had resigned her onerous responsibilities and opted for a much more basic approach to her faith. She had received no thanks for all her previous hard work and no support from her co-religionists. She now attended a church that preached and practised simple faith and caring for others and felt a lot happier.

I could relate to much of what she was talking about. As a dedicated Mormon, I had been zealous in living my faith. So much so that, looking back, I can see all too clearly the social life that I missed out on, the potential friendships that I forfeited and the unnecessary restrictions that ruled my life and almost completely obliterated the person that I really was inside. Baptism into the church was said to be symbolic of burying the “natural man” and being reborn a new person. It was many years before I realised that my baptism had buried the real me and raised up an artificial stranger in its place.

As a Mormon, my thoughts and actions were dictated by scripture, commandments and church teachings. I had to suppress my natural instincts and impulses and act in accordance with someone else’s script for my life. Of course, in those days I thought that the someone else was God, acting through his earthly representatives. Whereas, before, my attitude had been “live and let live”, following baptism I developed very fixed ideas of who and what was wrong and right (viewed through the lens of Christianity and, more particularly, Mormonism). I began to value conformity above individuality, to look down on people who acted in a “worldly” way (i.e. smoked, drank, went to pubs or clubs and generally enjoyed themselves) and to see any deviation from complete obedience to church teachings and commandments as a sign of weakness and lack of faith.

As my co-worker had noticed in her Christian acquaintances, I too was very self-righteous and judgemental of others during my true-believing Mormon years. I realise now that it was a most offensive and unpleasant attitude to have. Like her, I had noticed the “clique-iness” of my own church congregation, mostly along social and economic lines. I had worked hard for the church, often at the expense of my limited free time, never refusing a call to serve and taking on responsible positions within the local children’s and women’s organisations of the church. When I finally realised that the church was not what I had always believed it to be and decided that I needed to step away from it for a while to get my bearings, I received no thanks for over 20 years of service and virtually no support from church members who I had naively thought were my friends.

Unlike my work colleague, though, I hadn’t turned to another form of religion when I became disillusioned with Mormonism, although at one point I did consider possibly attending a Unitarian church. My journey away from my church turned into a journey away from God and religion in general and it’s been a journey of personal self-discovery and a cause for great rejoicing.

One of the interesting things about our one-sided conversation was that, at any time, I could have recounted my own parallel experiences as a believing Mormon and as an ex-Mormon (although technically I’m still classed as a member of the church). But something held me back from revealing my religious past. I decided that I didn’t want to be known as a former believer, but as the person I am now, someone who has no belief in God or religion, a humanist. It’s as though the “new person” that was raised up through baptism has now been buried and the natural me has been resurrected. I can make my own decisions about how I view things and accept that most people are just trying to get through life in the best (or sometimes the only) way they know how. I can say what I think and do what I want, regardless of whether or not it conforms to someone else’s ideas of what is and isn’t acceptable or “righteous”. I can embrace my natural instincts instead of repressing them and I don’t have to continually measure myself – and others – against some impossible standard. I can swear and drink wine and watch R-rated movies without the least twinge of guilt. I never did those things very much before I joined the LDS church, and I don’t do them a lot now, but that’s my choice. That’s me, not the artificial goody-goody person that I used to be.

To some extent I can identify with the young woman that my colleague was talking about, because I can see my own experience in the way she is choosing to live her life. I wonder if, one day, she’ll feel that she’s missed out on some important things because of the restraints that her faith imposes. I hope, if she does, that it won’t be too late to build an authentic life outside of religion and enjoy the freedom and satisfaction that casting off those shackles has brought to me.

Isla

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Written by islaskye

April 13, 2008 at 2:58 pm

Fallen hero

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200px-joseph_smith_jr_1843_photograph.jpgAs a Mormon, the church’s early mythology was an important element in my initial acceptance of, and continuing loyalty to, the church. It cemented my sense of being part of a living, growing movement, one with heroism and pathos in its past, divine power and approval in its present and glory in its future.

The “official” history of Mormonism involves the selective retelling of the life of its founding prophet, Joseph Smith, and of the early church that he created. It’s the story of a poor, ill-educated farm boy who has a spiritual epiphany, receives a long-hidden book of significant religious and historical importance, is visited by God and by angels, restores the true church and priesthood of Jesus Christ which had been lost for centuries, withstands serious persecution, triumphs in the face of adversity, becomes an inspirational leader of his people, founds a city, commands an army, and is finally martyred for the cause of the gospel. Along the way, Smith is portrayed as an heroic character, a man’s man, strong, handsome, honest, loyal, brave, a loving husband and father. He is permitted a few minor flaws which do nothing to diminish the picture of his overall character – allowing himself to be taken advantage of by others because of his trusting nature or becoming overly-competitive in games of strength with his friends.

This is a figure that church members can be proud of and inspired by – someone who overcame the disadvantages of his situation in a spectacular way, a role model for the ideal patriarch and leader. Down-to-earth, yet blessed with extraordinary spiritual gifts of prophecy, revelation and seership. A character to aspire to, yet a personage to stand in awe of at the same time. In common with the mythologies of other religious founders, Smith is painted as larger-than-life, yet comfortably accessible too.

It’s not surprising that Smith plays such a central role in church history. His influence on the fledgling church and its continued progress since his demise at the relatively young age of 38, is immense and, indeed, provides the foundation for all of the most significant doctrines and activities of the church today. Everything that I believed and held sacred as a Mormon originated in the ideas of this one charismatic figure.

Because Smith’s life and teachings provide the backdrop to the church’s most sacred beliefs, they have necessarily been airbrushed by the religion’s leaders to provide an appropriately spiritual canvas upon which to build faith and testimony in both converts and long-time church members. As Mormon Apostle Boyd K Packer once famously commented: “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not … Some things that are true are not very useful” (The Mantle is Far Far Greater Than The Intellect). In other words, prevarication in the presentation of church history is sometimes essential to maintain the faith of its members. If the truth does not promote faith, then church members need protecting from it.

This approach has proved very fruitful, as once the “approved” version of Mormonism’s early mythology is ingrained into its membership, it’s difficult to dislodge. For a start, the leaders of the faith do all in their power to ensure that the “official” history is widely taught, while seeking to dissuade members from accessing a more accurate, and potentially uncomfortable version. They often dismiss more accurate histories as “intellectual” rather than spiritual, as though using the intellect to assess and report historical events is shameful and unprofessional. Basically, they insist that maintaining a faith-promoting mythology is essential, even if the censorship of truth is required to achieve it. Often they do their job so effectively that most faithful members are unwilling to accept a more sceptical view of their church’s origins, no matter how much evidence there is for its veracity.

As I had only ever known the church-sanctioned version of Mormon history, realising that there was more to the stories of Smith and his exploits than I had suspected came as a nasty shock. Revering the man as God’s chosen vessel through which to restore his true church and priesthood certainly elevated my expectations of his behaviour above the ordinary. Of course I was aware that he had flaws, but I assumed that the uniqueness and responsibility of his calling required a certain level of integrity and honour. I had bought into the faith-promoting mythology so thoroughly that I was totally unprepared to discover the more unsavoury aspects of Smith’s character and actions.

It was his attitude towards women, and more especially his wife Emma, that first shook the foundations of my testimony regarding Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling. I read a couple of books on one of his most controversial doctrines – plural marriage. One book in particular – Mormon Polygamy: A History by Richard van Wagoner – detailed how Smith went behind his wife’s back numerous times to “marry” other girls and women. In one particularly poignant incident Emma, as president of the newly formed Relief Society (the organisation for women of the church), gave an address designed to quash the rumours that she believed to be wholly false regarding the institution and practice of polygamy within the church, while embarrassingly unaware that her two counsellors and her secretary were all secretly “married” to her own husband. Other stories of Smith propositioning the wives of his friends who had been sent away on missions at his direction, and reacting with venom towards the women who rejected him, cast serious doubt in my mind as to the likelihood that God would choose such a man to restore his true gospel to the earth in preparation for the eventual return of Jesus Christ, as I had always been taught.

No mention is made in “official” church history of Smith’s infidelity and deceitfulness, nor the way he used his position of authority to coerce married women into acquiescing to his demands that they enter into a polygamous relationship with him behind their husbands’ backs. Nor are members told about the malicious way in which he publicly destroyed the reputations of the women who refused his overtures. I’m sure these incidents would come under Boyd K Packer’s category of that which is true but not very useful in promoting faith.

Learning of these and other distasteful but verified and documented aspects of church history made me realise just how much my testimony had relied on the truthfulness of what I had been taught about the church’s beginnings and Smith’s career as an instrument of the Lord. I found it very hard to reconcile what I was now discovering with what I had always believed. Realising that the “faithful history” could not be trusted to give an accurate picture of what really happened, I was left with a dilemma. Did my new and growing knowledge of Smith’s character and actions mean that he may not have been a prophet of God after all?

But in my heart of hearts I already knew the answer. After 27 years of indoctrination, the church had done a wonderful job of convincing me to listen to my feelings, to treat my gut instinct as a communication from the Holy Spirit. My distaste for some of Smith’s more obnoxious activities felt too much like a confirmation that he wasn’t the man I had always believed him to be. With Joseph Smith gone, there was nothing left to support my belief in the uniqueness of the church. My hero had fallen – and taken my testimony with him.

Isla

Written by islaskye

March 21, 2008 at 6:49 pm

What do they know?

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I’ve just been watching this video of President Hinckley talking about the Mormon church’s attitude to its gay members and listening to him say that people who aren’t married have to “discipline themselves”, meaning that they have to refrain from having sex outside of marriage.

I often thought, as a single person in the church, that it was all very well for the leaders – almost all of whom married in their early 20s – to tell people who were unmarried in their 20’s and 30’s, or who were gay and according to the church should never marry, that they should remain celibate. They talked glibly about “waiting for marriage” without any comprehension of how difficult it was to want a physical relationship and not be able to have one. What did they know of loneliness and longing? They were not the least bit concerned that they were telling people to deny their natural instincts and making them feel guilty for wanting something that married people took for granted.

It frustrated me as an active church member and infuriates me now, when I hear church leaders pontificate about abstinence, even for people in loving, committed relationships outside of marriage. By refusing to countenance gay marriage, or even civil unions, they are blithely condemning many of their fellow human beings to a whole lifetime without the fulfilment of sexual intimacy. I think that’s the height of uncomprehending arrogance.

Isla

Written by islaskye

March 17, 2008 at 9:14 pm

Every believer has their own version of God and religion

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I’ve just had one of those “D’uh!” moments. The kind where you slap your head and say “Why didn’t I see that before?”

Reading the recent comments on this blog from Kuri and Snark, I’ve finally realised that everyone who belongs to a church, or who believes in a god, sees that church and that god in their own personal way. When I was an active member of the Mormon church, I believed everything that the church taught, about itself and about God, wholeheartedly. I realised that there were other people in my ward (local congregation) who didn’t appear to have the same kind of commitment as I did, but I put this down to lack of devotion, rather than to a different view of the church and its teachings. I would have been very surprised to discover that many of the people I was judging so self-righteously were as devoted to their own concept of the church as I was to mine.

Now the penny has finally dropped and I realise that everyone (including me, when I was a believer) has their own customised belief about their religion and their god. For some, their belief might cause them to follow the “letter of the law” absolutely, without any deviation or concession, even when it may be inconvenient, uncomfortable or downright unreasonable to do so. For others, it will mean adapting certain teachings to suit their own ideas of what the church or the god should be.

In order for anybody to successfully embrace a religion and its teachings I think they have to reconcile it, to some extent, with their own personality. Otherwise, cognitive dissonance sets in pretty quickly and makes life increasingly uncomfortable. Especially when the person is told that they should believe certain things, or act in certain ways that are at odds with their experience or inner values.

So, when someone tells you that they believe the LDS church, or the Catholic church or any other church, is true, what they are really saying is that their version of the church is true for them. When they talk about God, it’s their version of God that they are referring to. So many religions, so many gods, so many “truths” – they are just different people’s ideas of religion, God and truth. Those people may be the founders or leaders of a religion, but often they are simply the members of that religion, each worshipping and proclaiming the god, and teachings about that god, that suits them best.

I think that’s why people’s responses to certain religious ideas vary so widely. While a set of teachings may resonate with one person and incline them to believe in the institution that is propagating those teachings, another person may find the same teachings unconvincing, maybe even bizarre. I’m satisfied that it’s not a “holy spirit” that convinces people of the “truth” of a certain precept or revelation, but their own inner beliefs, shaped by upbringing, culture, circumstance and personality. This is why different people can firmly believe in the correctness of totally different creeds.

The Mormon church teaches that there are certain people known as “the elect”, people who are particularly righteous and valiant in support of God’s plans and purposes. It is said that these “elect” people will be more inclined than others to accept the church’s version of the “truth” when they hear it. But I no longer believe that it is some special character trait or spiritual sensitivity that accounts for the attraction that certain people feel towards the LDS gospel, but the elements that I mentioned in the previous paragraph. There’s nothing outstanding about them. In fact, in my experience, the LDS church has just as many lukewarm members as any other church.

What all this tells me is that you can never be sure that what you believe about God, or what your church teaches doctrinally, is actually true – it’s just someone’s perception of the truth and that can hardly be reliable. In the end, religious belief just comes down to feelings, and those feelings are triggered by external elements, rather than by supernatural affirmation.

I realise now that, when I used to believe and express that I knew the LDS church was God’s true church, that I knew Joseph Smith was a prophet of God and that the Book of Mormon was true, my “knowledge” was nothing more than a strong feeling about my personal and individual perception of the organisation, the Prophet and the scriptures. I could say that those things were true because I had made them true for me.

Isla

Written by islaskye

March 5, 2008 at 6:48 pm

Was Gordon B. Hinckley murdered?

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Vodpod videos no longer available. from bravenewfilms.org posted with vodpod
Curmudgeonly Yours

Written by Curmudgeonly

February 6, 2008 at 12:21 pm

My patriarchal blessing

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mosespb.jpgI found it to be a wonderfully liberating feeling when I eventually rejected my religion and started to do some of the things that I had previously been indoctrinated to think were wrong. For example, Mormons have a revelation that’s commonly known as the Word of Wisdom, which is fundamentally a health code that, when obeyed, enables individual Latter-day Saints to avoid destruction as the Israelites who put blood around their doors according the instructions spoken by Moses when they were in bondage to the Egyptians (Ex. 12:23). Part of this health code prohibits church members from drinking tea and coffee, so imagine my exhilaration when I brewed my first cup of tea after so many years of going without. And dunking half a packet of biscuits made the whole experience even better. I am a Brit after all! It doesn’t sound like much, but I guess it was my way of giving Mormonism the finger. Plus, it made me feel good inside, but with a twinge of guilt that paradoxically increased the pleasure ten-fold.

I further detoxified myself by refusing to pray, purchasing normal underwear, ceasing to pay tithes and offerings, not attending long and often boring church meetings, drinking beer (which is actually permissible by my reading of the Word of Wisdom), shopping on Sundays, no longer furthering the cause of Mormonism, and I could list many, many other things besides. Posting my patriarchal blessing on The Mutt’s Nuts is my latest step in purging myself of my former programming. If you don’t know what a patriarchal blessing is, this site will tell you more about it.

I was incredibly disappointed by the content of my blessing. It consisted of no less than 900 words that said, in essence, nothing much at all. For the life of me I couldn’t find anything of any worth in it, except the same old tired-terminology that I was already accustomed to hearing week in and week out at church. It was supposedly a personal revelation to me from a personal God but, sadly, it had all of the hallmarks of a mundane church talk masquerading as an individual blessing. It should have been something special, but it wasn’t.

It’s begins:

Brother xxxxxxx, xxxxx, xxxxxxx as the patriarch in this stake of Zion of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I lay my hands upon your head as a servant of the Lord to confer upon you your patriarchal blessing. To receive those things which are important to you in your life that shall be as guidelines to you through all mortality, as you may gain spiritual strength and desire to continue to serve the Lord in all faithfulness throughout all the days of your life. That you may, by doing so, gain your eternal exaltation in the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father.

So the scene is set. And how intriguing, which is what I initially thought at the time, that my blessing will be of huge importance and as “guidelines” that will serve me throughout mortality, eventually leading me into God’s kingdom. Understandably, I was actually quite excited when I heard the patriarch say that. Any excitement was short lived though, as will become clear as I explain by way of commentary.

For this is a great work which you have embraced and it is because of your diligence and your faithfulness and your humility and willingness to serve the Lord that you have been brought forth at this time to accept the gospel, as it is restored in all its purity and with all of the gifts and powers that are embraced in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That you may also enjoy this companionship of the spirit of the Lord to be with you, that he may lead, guide and direct you in all your endeavours in life. That you may assist in strengthening, building and extending this great work for it is the work that has been given unto mankind for its salvation, for the gathering of the House of Israel and all the faithful that shall come unto it.

There’s nothing of particular interest and absolutely zero that I didn’t already know in this paragraph. Surely I didn’t need a supposed personal communication from God to tell me what I’d been thoroughly lectured in at church? And the reasons why I’ve “been brought forth” to accept the Gospel “at this time” can be deduced from the fact that I accepted it in the first place. I had been a member of the Church for at least six months when the blessing was given, so it was safe to assume that I had those qualities in some degree. Humility being my most noticeable character trait and, coming in a close second, diligence because I was immensely good at showing others how to be humble.

For these are the last days when the Gospel shall be given unto the earth and great shall be your joy and happiness as you continue faithfully to serve the Lord in all diligence. Rejecting the temptations and the evils of this world that you may stand clear of these things. That you may speak with conviction and understanding to all those to whom you associate with. It is for this purpose that you may rise, and be blessed in this manner, that you may have the companionship of the spirit of the Lord to be with you to lead, guide and direct you in your decisions and in your faithfulness.

Again, nothing that I wouldn’t know from church. And, to be perfectly honest, I was pretend happy and pretend joyful while I was in servitude. It was quite a lot of effort to regularly attempt to convince myself that I was indeed happy and joyful. “I am fortunate to be a member of the Lord’s only true church, so I should be happy and full of joy!” Barf! I am decidedly happier now as an atheist. Living a sinful life and drinking a lot of tea is so much bloody fun.

At the time of receiving this blessing I was serving as a Stake Missionary, which is something that the patriarch knew as he had spoken with me and asked me questions prior to laying his hands on my head, so it’s a bit of a coincidence that the blessing mentions that I will speak “with conviction and understanding” to whoever I come into contact with (if I feel so moved by the Spirit, of course!) because that’s what missionaries do. That “purpose” sounds dubious in light of this.

All the promises that are given unto you this day are subject to your faithfulness and diligence in keeping the commandments of the Lord. Continue therefore humbly that your joy may be full, and that you may receive the blessings of the House of the Lord in due time to be upon you. That your companion in life shall sustain you, and that you may continue to serve the Lord. That you may gain your eternal reward in this way that you will have the opportunity and the privilege to give leadership and council in a manner which is pleasing unto your Heavenly Father. You are choice in His sight and great shall be your joy and happiness because of your faithfulness.

In the first sentence we have the usual get-out clause that makes everything your fault if things don’t go to plan and ensures that God is never blamed for anything. And after that the standard progression for all men in the Church is laid out – temple, marriage and leadership. The last line of the paragraph is similar to what’s been said already. Surprise, surprise.

You are one through whom the blood of the House of Israel flows and the blood of Ephraim is within you and it shall be manifest unto you as you are diligent to the words of the council, that are given unto you from time to time by the brethren.

All patriarchal blessings inform the recipient of his or her lineage. There’s nothing new here. Though I can’t help but wonder what the patriarch had in mind when he said that the “blood of Ephraim…shall be manifest unto you”. What does that mean?

Seek therefore to bear your testimony, in all truth, and faithfulness, to the knowledge, to the divinity of this great work and to your thankfulness to your Heavenly Father at all times. That you may seek Him in private prayer to seek the help and guidance that shall be yours, for the Lord will delight to honour you and to give you all of the joy and happiness that shall come by being true and faithful to this great work.

Obviously, I got a bum deal from my Stake Patriarch because here we have yet more everyday church stuff. Testimony bearing. Prayer. And obedience. I would like to read some of the other blessings that he gave around the same time to see if it was just me or if they’re equally bland and far from inspiring.

I seal upon you this day that you shall inherit the blessings of your patriarchal fathers. You shall be one that shall come forth in the morning of the resurrection with immortality and eternal life to take your rightful place in the Kingdom of our Heavenly Father. Therefore continue with all joy and happiness in this life, rejecting evil from whatever source it may come, but proclaiming the gospel, in your faithfulness, in testimony at all times. For this I give you that you may have the courage to stand up for the truth and right, and for the work in which you have been engaged. That you may go forth in all comfort and that you may have the health and the strength throughout your body to fulfil the duties and responsibilities that will devolve upon you.

Hasn’t the majority of this already been said? Eternal life? Tick. Joy? Tick. Happiness? Tick. Rejecting evil? Tick. Missionary work? Tick. Health and strength? Tick. Oops. That’s something new.

Do these to the best of your ability in furthering the work of the Lord. If you are faithful in these things you shall receive the higher priesthood. Continue, therefore, to study the scriptures and all those things that the Lord’s servants have to say and to give unto you in council and advice.

Even more standard church stuff. Scripture study. Obedience to church leaders. And I knew I was pretty much certain to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood at some future date anyway, because that’s how things work in the Church.

All the promises that are given unto you this day are yours to enjoy and will be fulfilled in due time of the Lord. There are many other blessings that you shall enjoy, which shall transpire, and for this you shall bear witness and shall recognise the hand of the Lord in all things. You shall recognise the hand of the Lord in sickness and in health and whatever circumstances or trials of life that you may be called upon to pass through.

I think the patriarch was running out of things to say by this point as it’s evident from this paragraph that he was trying to wraps things up by making sure he had all the bases covered. I don’t think I’ve ever found generalisations inspiring, and so much for the blessing being a personal one.

All the blessings and promises that are given unto you this day, I seal upon your head as a servant of the Lord in His name, the Lord, Jesus Christ, our Saviour and our Redeemer, Amen.

And thus it ends.

This blessing was just another thing in a long line of things that contributed to my cognitive dissonance concerning Mormonism. You’d think that if it was really a revelation from God to me, then surely he should have at least warned me in no uncertain terms of anything that would become a stumbling block to me and possibly jeopardise my eternal future. Imagine that you were a father with an important message for your son, a message that you could only give once. What would you say to him? Wouldn’t you make it as personal and as relevant as possible, taking into account all that you knew about his personality and the path that he was likely to take in life? I know I would.

I’ve always been disappointed by this blessing, but as a faithful church member, I would often read it over and over again in an attempt to find inspiration in it. I had more chance of finding a needle in a haystack.

Curmudgeonly Yours

Written by Curmudgeonly

February 5, 2008 at 8:27 pm

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

Written by islaskye

January 13, 2008 at 1:33 pm