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.