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Dispelling the Myth of the "Curse of Cain"

Dispelling the Myth of the "Curse of Cain"

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Published by Mike Parker
This one-page class handout explains why the common understanding behind the LDS ("Mormon") priesthood ban—that black Africans were descendants of the Biblical Cain—cannot reasonably be interpreted from the scriptures.
This one-page class handout explains why the common understanding behind the LDS ("Mormon") priesthood ban—that black Africans were descendants of the Biblical Cain—cannot reasonably be interpreted from the scriptures.

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Published by: Mike Parker on Dec 01, 2009
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06/27/2014

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© 2014, Mike Parker http://bit.ly/ldsarc For personal use only. Not a Church publication.
Dispelling the Myth of the “Curse of Cain”
“ 
One clear-cut position is that the folklore  [about the priesthood ban] must never be
 perpetuated…. My earlier colleagues…were
doing the best they knew to give shape to  [the policy], to give context for it, to give even history to it. All I can say is however well-intended the explanations were, I think almost all of them were inadequate and/or
wrong….
 
“It probably would have been
advantageous to say nothing, to say we just
don’t know…but some explanations were given and had been given for a lot of years….
 At the very least, there should be no effort to  perpetuate those efforts to explain why that doctrine existed. I think, to the extent that I know anything about it, as one of the newer
and younger [apostles] to come along,…we
simply do not know why that practice, that  policy, that doctrine was in place.
” 
1
 
Despite this statement by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland in 2006, and other statements by general authorities before and since then, the doctrinal folklore that blacks are the descendants of Cain and Ham continues to be taught by well-meaning members of the Church. Ironically, the dubious
―folk doctrine‖ in question is no longer even
relevant, since it was created to explain a Church policy that was reversed over thirty-five years ago. This theory was adopted by early Latter-day Saints from similar beliefs in early American Protestantism that were used to justify slavery. The Saints used it to explain the policy of denying priesthood ordination to those of African descent, a policy for which no revelation or prophetic explanation was ever given.
This paper is a condensed and adapted version of Armand L. Mauss,
―The LDS Church and the Race Issue: A Study in Misplaced Apologetics,‖ paper given at the 2003 FAIR
Conference in Provo, Utah (
http://bit.ly/fair2003mauss
).
1
 Jeffrey R. Holland, interview with PBS, 4 March 2006 (
http://www.pbs.org/mormons/interviews/holland.html
).
The idea went something like this: In the premortal existence, certain spirits were set aside to come to Earth through a lineage that was cursed and
marked, first by Cain’s murder of
 Abel and covenant  with Satan, and then
again later by Ham’s offense
against his father Noah. The reasons
why
 this lineage
 was set apart weren’t clear, but it was speculated they
 were somehow less valiant than their premortal  brethren during the war in heaven. Because of this, then, the holy priesthood was to be withheld from everyone in this life who had had any trace of
Cain’s
lineage.  As neat and coherent as that scenario might seem, the scriptures typically cited to support it cannot logically be interpreted this way
unless one starts with the priesthood ban itself and then works backward,
 looking for scriptures to support a predetermined belief. This paper will set forth the problems with the
―curse of Cain‖ theory.
 
Cain
(Genesis 4:11
15; Moses 5:23
25, 36
40).
Following Cain’s covena
nt with Satan and murder of  Abel, the Lord cursed him that the earth would not  yield its strength for him, and that he would be a fugitive and a vagabond. Nothing in the scriptures indicates anything about a priesthood restriction on him or his descendants. The Lord placed a mark upon Cain, not as part of the curse, but to protect him from others who would kill him. The mark itself was not described: There is no indication that it involved a change in skin color, or that it would be passed to
Cain’s descend
ants.
2
 Six generations after Cain, Enoch saw a vision of
an unspecified future time (Moses 7:4) in which ―the seed of Cain were black‖ (7:22). There is no
explanation of this blackness or where it came from; it is not even clear if we are to understand it as something physical or spiritual.
3
 
2
 
See Alma 3:18, where the Amlicites ―began to mark themselves
in their foreheads, [for] they had come out in open rebellion against God; therefore it was expedient that the curse should fall
upon them.‖
 
3
 In the 1840 edition of the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith
changed the phrase ―white and delightsome‖ in 2 Nephi 30:6 to read ―pure and delightsome,‖ indicating that ―white,‖ in at least
this context, did not refer to literal skin color, but to righteousness.

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