In Tuesday’s The Washington Post are the musings of BYU associate professor Randy Bott trying to justify the LDS Church’s historic Black priesthood ban. Bott makes an ass out of himself and embarasses the Church. His comments are based on Mormon folklore which has been discredited. In the Post article, reporter Jason Horowitz, paraphrases Bott:
According to Mormon scriptures, the descendants of Cain, who slew his brother Abel, “were black.” One of Cain’s descendants was Egyptus, a woman Mormons believe was the namesake of Egypt. She married Ham, who descendants were themselves cursed and, in the view of many Mormons, barred from the priesthood by his father, Noah. Bott points ot the Mormon holy text, the Book of Abraham, as suggesting that all of the descendents of Ham and Egyptus were thus black and barred from the priesthood.
Bott goes on to make serious racist and bigotted remarks, something unworthy of an instructor at BYU. The reaction on the bloggernacle has been overwelmingly negative, as was the official reaction from the LDS Church. But despite official comments, according to Joanna Brooks writing on religionsdispatches.org, “racist rationale[s] for the priesthood ban . . . persist and circulate, generally unquestioned and unchallenged.”
The Bott scandal points to a serious issue with contemporary Mormonism: our unwillingness to deal with the issue of curses. When the Black priesthood ban was lifted, there was no explanation for why it ever existed. Thus, the issue of a curse was allowed to continue in Mormon folklore. This issue needs to be dealt with now in a forth-right manner.
We have a similar issue with Native Americans. With the LDS Church now suggesting that The Book of Mormon is only a record of a small percentage of those who lived in the Americas, what does this say about the curse of the Lamanites? According to Michael Vinson writing in the December 2011 Sunstone:
So if the Americas were actually populated for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Nephi and Lehi this might explain the population explosion among the Lamanities. It is entirely possible that after the famous family break-up, Laman and Lemuel and their descendents found and integrated themselves with native peoples, marrying and having children with them. Perhaps when the Nephites later encountered the Lamanite descendants (whose children would probably have acquired the native brown skin coloring), they assumed the darkened skin coloring was a curse of God.
If we believe the BoM to be a literal record, this is a very plausible explanation. Again, the alleged curse is no longer a curse. We can quit being condescending and patronizing toward our Native American brothers and sisters.
There is also the curse of Eve. Daniel Peterson, professor of Islamic Studies and Arabic at BYU, writes on his blog:
There is no question that there are many worthy women who could fulfill priesthood callings at least as well as their male counterparts do, if the priesthood were conferred upon them. My wife is certainly one of them; she is superior in every relevant quality of spirituality, service, and righteousness (and I’m entirely serious about that, not merely engaging in some sentimental but empty gesture of placing her, and womanhood generally, on a pedestal). Yet God has not authorized the conferral of priesthood upon women. Why not? I have no idea. I’ve heard various hypotheses, but I find none of them convincing. The Lord hasn’t explained himself on this one.
There is also the curse of being gay. It is okay to be gay as long as one doesn’t act on his or her need for love. In other words, you are denied the sacred right (or rite) of marriage (and temple marriage). Much like the Blacks were denied the right to hold the priesthood. And please don’t quote the OT to me.
Peterson’s recommendation to his fellow BYU staff member Bott is:
So the proper answer, when asked to explain discrimination–and it is “discrimination,” in the sense that it distinguishes between individuals and groups–is and should be, simply, “I know not, save the Lord commanded me.” (Moses 5:6)
The justification for three of the four curses goes back to the Torah. Since these five books aren’t really history and filled with questionable doctrine, they should not be used to justify contemporary discrimination.
Brooks sums up the Bott situation nicely:
. . . [let’s] hope that someone will finally articulate the most credible explanation for Mormonism’s historic discrimination against Black people: WE WERE WRONG (emphasis mine).