FairMormon Conference: Marvin Perkins – Blacks in the Scriptures

Marvin Perkins: Blacks in the Scriptures

Marvin Perkins joined the LDS Church in 1988 and has since been a great speaker on race and the Church.

Perkins noted that we have to smash old paradigms in order to move forward. Some things need a much deeper look to truly understand them. And we can’t be afraid to ask the tough questions, in order to get to the truth.

Are past policies or teachings racist?  Some are, such as:
The belief that some were fence sitters in heaven
The belief in a curse of Cain or Canaan
That some human groups represent Satan

Perkins notes that as we really look at the scriptures, we get some cognitive dissonance, or apparent contradictions, in how we believe and what the scriptures tell us.

First, he discusses the colors white and black.  Displaying a man in a white shirt, he asked how the shirt and the man could both be white, when they are very different colors.  He then did the same thing with the color black.  There is no such thing as white and black people, as we are all shades of brown.

What a wonderful paradigm in which to re-situate the discussion! He shows the two forms of melanin that causes lighter or darker shades of skin.  Darker skin protects from the harsher rays of the sun in warmer climates, while lighter skin allows the absorption of sun rays (vitamin D production) in areas where there is less sun.

Perkins then goes through a variety of scriptures to show that the gospel is for all people. Yet, denying priesthood to a group of people keeps them from receiving all the blessings and ordinances of the gospel.  Going deeper into the scriptures, he shows that the priesthood is for all people.

Using Job 30:30 and Lamentations 5:10, Perkins shows that “black skin” is a figurative term, meaning wickedness or being out of synch with the righteousness of God. 2 Nephi 30:6 emphasizes this as figurative:

their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.

Clearly this cannot be literally understood as having dark scales on the eyes!  Perkins explains several more scriptures that show skin of blackness means a spiritual darkness, not a physical blackening of the skin.

In Alma 55, the Lamanite guards cannot tell between Nephites and Lamanites, strong evidence that there was no skin color difference.

Perkins ends by telling us that continuing revelation allows us to make mistakes, improve, and move forward.  It is okay for prophets to make mistakes.  And it is okay for us to admit to having had a racist past, as did most of America of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Once we admit the racist past, there is nothing more for our critics to say.

When asked, Perkins stated that if some people want to be called, “black”, we need to teach them that there are no black skinned races.

There is no race.

 

18 thoughts on “FairMormon Conference: Marvin Perkins – Blacks in the Scriptures

  1. I saw Marvin Perkins back in 2006(ish) and he gave a similar presentation. Really great information and perspective.

  2. Good thoughts. Alma 55 isn’t a strong example, though, because Moroni specifically sought out a man of Lamanite heritage (Laman, previously a servant of the Lamanite king that Amalickiah blamed for the assassination) in order for the deception to work. Even if the skin color wasn’t different, something had to be different about the way he looked (haircut, skin markings, clothing, etc.) in order for the Lamanite guards to be convinced that he was really a Lamanite. Having Nephites with him wouldn’t have been as big of an issue, as there were many Nephite dissenters among the Lamanites at the time.

  3. Mary Ann,
    where Moroni would have needed one Lamanite is in the language difference. He needed a native speaker to pull off the scam. Others in the group could be Nephites dressed up in Lamanite garb, and they wouldn’t know the difference.

    Language was used in the Bible in a similar way to detect one’s enemies. In Judges 12, there was a battle between Ephraim and Judah. Judah was winning, and Ephraim attempted to escape, pretending they were Judeans. Ephraimites had a different dialect, not able to properly say the word “shibboleth”. When people were stopped by the Judeans, they would force them to say “shibboleth”, but the Ephraimites could only say “sibboleth”, making it evident they were not who they pretended to be.

  4. I think both views are valid.

    A significant question is how one su of a set of descendants could develop skin of a significantly different hue in less than 500 years.

    This period is too short for evolutionary adaptation, there is not observed instance where God changed skin color, but intermarriage with different native populations could produce the difference in hue. Or lifestyle could be the difference.

  5. Whoops, that makes sense. Always envisioned a visual deception there instead of verbal. Thanks for the explanation.

  6. I agree the time wouldn’t allow a noticeable skin color change. Changes in clothing, hair styles, skin markings, and language all are possible, though.

  7. Also, 3 Nephi 2:15 indicates Lamanite converts had the curse taken from them and they became as “fair” as the Nephites. It’s possible that they are describing a gradual change, but their children were indistinguishable from Nephites (3 Nephi 2:16). Intermarriage doesn’t explain it, as God had previously declared that intermarriage between Nephites and *unrighteous* Lamanites would result in children being brought under the mark/curse – Alma 3:9. In the same chapter, Nephite dissenters are described as also having a mark put upon them (Alma 3:10). These lead me to believe that whatever the curse/mark was, it was spiritual (and possibly cultural) as opposed to genetic.

  8. I am always willing to spin a few theories. We know that there were three male progenitors of the Lehite migration: Lehi, Ishmael, and Zoram. Just for fun, let us suppose that Zoram, a high ranking servant (possibly a slave) in Laban’s establishment, was imported from northern Europe where melanin was scant compared to Semites from Israel. The contemporaneous Phoenicians were running trade routes up into Britain. Zoram and his descendants were part of the Nephites and later history shows they could be prideful. In addition, we are told that the Lamanites wore scanty clothing, promoting tanned skin.
    I have previously mentioned the varied background of my 29 grandchildren. It is amazing to see the variety of skin tone, hair color and eye color in just three generations, ranging from a nearly pure Polynesian appearance to pale faced blue eyed red heads. People can be ultra sensitive about very subtle differences in appearance. It does not take much variation to activate prejudice on so-called ‘racial’ grounds. I think it possible that there was a visible difference between the groups.

  9. http://jettboy.blogspot.com/2006/02/whats-in-name-lamanite-redux.html

    “Almost from the start the Lamanites consisted of at least two groups of unrelated peoples. There was Laman and Lemual and then sons of Ishmael. The Nephites had Sam and daughters (perhaps with some sons) of Ishmael. Soon, other groups start popping up everywhere. Some don’t even seem to have a cursory relationship to Lehi. In fact, and this is what most Mormons miss and Hugh Nibley constantly pointed out, the primary ancestors of the Book of Mormon peoples were Jaredites! Nephites and Lamanites are meeting the Jaredites everywhere according to name patterns. I think the Mulekites might have been Nephites who ran into a large population of Jaredites and incorporated themselves into the political structure. Both the Mulekite Nephites and Jaredites lost their original cultural connections. The point is, there were other groups living and mingling with each other.”

    “Even in the Doctrine and Covenants there is a hint of a political, as much as lineal, meaning behind the names when it comes to teaching the gospel. A rejection of the gospel seems to be one of the ways to gain the designation ‘Lamanite’ beyond who were your ancestors.”

    “When you speak of Lamanite, it can very well be understood as having a relation to Lehi. However, the relationship is thin. It is more like saying Latter-day Saints are of the House of Israel. True enough from a spiritual standpoint. If we are to believe the Scriptures that is true from actual fact; as long as we understand the dilution of the original Israelite blood in our Gentile genes. “

  10. Good points, Jettboy, although I take issue with the description of the Mulekites as Nephites that intermarried with Jaredites. The Book of Mormon describes the Mulekites as Judahite refugees from Jerusalem out of a separate migration, who carried with them Mulek (for whom we name them), the son of Zedekiah, king of Judah. My proposed emendation is that the Mulekites are the descendants of this expatriate group who intermarried with Jaredite-lineage survivors.

    Other than that, excellent analysis.

  11. No discussion of Mulekites is complete without reference to Orson Scott Card’s theory that the Mulekites weren’t related to the Israelites at all, but rather claimed relation through blood to accepted royalty for negotiating leverage. His whole talk, “Artifact or Artifice” is worth a read.

  12. Jettboy, those two groups who made up the Lamanites probably weren’t too unrelated. Joseph Smith said that the manuscript of the 116 pages mentioned that the wives of the sons of Ishmael were the daughters of Lehi. (https://ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/JBMRS/article/viewFile/19756/18323)

    The Mulekites included at least one descendant from the tribe of Judah (Mulek). No indication is given as to what the lineage is of the other members of the group. People from Judah could have been from any one of the other Israelite tribes (like Lehi and Ishmael), or they could have had heritage from other nations in the area. We don’t have the record of their journey, so the exact make-up is unknown. They appear to have become quite substantial in number by the time the Nephites encountered them (Omni 1:17).

    Jaredite names among the Mulekites/Lehites can be explained by the 9 months of Coriantumr’s interaction among the Mulekites AND because King Mosiah made public his translation of the Jaredite record (Mosiah 28:17-18). Suggesting that Jaredite peoples survived the destruction of their civilization doesn’t have scriptural support that I know of, though many people believe it to be true.

  13. While I do not know whether Jaredites survived into Nephite times, we do know that the Mulekites were at least heavily influenced by them. Book of Omni shows that the city of Zarahemla was fairly new, as the man Zarahemla is still alive and able to share his genealogy with Mosiah I. The Mulekites were described as a people who lost their language, their religion, and dwelt in a time of great violence and war – very descriptive of a people that dwelt on the edges of Jaredite society for several centuries. With the violence coming to a head, they moved south of the narrow neck of land and settled the city of Zarahemla, with Jaredite language, names, and customs in tow. Mosiah’s translation of the Jaredite record would not have included telling the Nephites in regards to the secret combinations of the people, as Alma tells Helaman to keep that secret from the people. So, such concepts had to be transmitted some other way: through the Mulekites. Coriantumr is proof that the Mulekites had contact with Jaredites. It doesn’t seem like they had problems communicating with him and finding out who he was, possibly because the corrupted language the Mulekites spoke was a form of Jaredite dialect.
    That Jaredite names, secret combinations, and the overthrow attempts of kings begin immediately after the Nephites join the Mulekites in Zarahemla clearly shows this must be the link.

  14. Interesting, but I’m not convinced.

    “Book of Omni shows that the city of Zarahemla was fairly new, as the man Zarahemla is still alive and able to share his genealogy with Mosiah I.” There is no indication that THIS Zarahemla was the man who had founded the city/land. It could have been a descendant of the founder Zarahemla by the same name (Nephites and Lamanites both had traditions of naming subsequent leaders after the founding leader, and the Mulekites came from the same cultural background). They claimed to have been brought by the Lord “across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth.” (Omni 1:16). The scripture indicates this was likely the location of their original settlement.

    “The Mulekites were described as a people who lost their language, their religion, and dwelt in a time of great violence and war” The Lamanites display the exact same pattern of what happens when a group is isolated without prophetic guidance and structure — loss of standard language (Mosiah 24:4), loss of religion, and great violence and war.

    “Coriantumr is proof that the Mulekites had contact with Jaredites. It doesn’t seem like they had problems communicating with him and finding out who he was, possibly because the corrupted language the Mulekites spoke was a form of Jaredite dialect.” The record that Coriantumr wrote on the stone was indecipherable to the Mulekites. There is no indication whether verbal communication was easy or difficult (learning his name within 9 months isn’t out of the question even if they didn’t understand each other).

    “Jaredite names” — available within the portion of the record that Mosiah did share.
    “secret combinations” — didn’t begin until approx. 80 years later. The Jaredites had records of ancient secret combinations. The brass plates could have contained those same accounts. The Nephites/Mulekites could’ve come up with them on their own, too (Mormon goes to great lengths to describe how the secret combination of Gadianton originated without referencing that they got the idea from anyone else.)
    “overthrow attempts” — available within the portion of the record that Mosiah did share, and common with any groups involving unrighteousness (unrighteous king OR group of unrighteous people seeking to gain power).

  15. Alma 55 is at best ambiguous in supporting Perkins’ claims–the incident in question happens at night, and between that and their armor the race of Laman’s companions would have been indistinguishable from a distance.

    If Perkins wants to say that “black and white” in the scriptures never applies to actual races–OK then, but that means we have no direct scriptural references to racism; because 2 Ne 26:33 and Jacob 3:9 have nothing to do with race. Perkins’ continued use of those scriptures is an indication to me that even HE doesn’t buy his own argument; and that he is engaging in results-oriented exegesis.

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