For much of its history, the Salt Lake City-based LDS Church edition of the Book of Mormon taught that dark-skinned Lamanites (Indians) would eventually experience a change in the color of their skin should they embrace the Book of Mormon. Except for a single edition (1840), 2 Nephi 30:6 has read:
“…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 white and a delightsome people.”
In 1981, the LDS Church decided to change what Joseph Smith called “the most correct of any book on earth” by reverting to the wording of the lone 1840 edition. The word “white” was replaced with the word “pure.” Some Mormons insist that this was a clarification since the word was never meant to refer to a person with dark skin pigmentation who would magically turn white based upon a conversion to the Mormon gospel; rather, it is claimed that the change referred to a cleaner state of heart. This assumption fails to explain (or counter) other passages in the Book of Mormon that still make a connection with “iniquity” and skin color. For example, 2 Nephi 5:21 still says:
“And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, and they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.”
Third Nephi 2:12-15 continues to teach that dark-skinned Lamanites who converted unto the Lord had their curse “taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites.”
That the context refers to skin color is verified by a number of LDS leaders including Joseph Smith. Mormon author George D. Smith notes that Joseph Smith was given a revelation which foretold of a day when intermarriage with the Lamanites would produce a white and delightsome posterity. George Smith wrote:
“This unpublished 17 July 1831 revelation was described three decades later in an 1861 letter from W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young quoting Joseph Smith: `It is my will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity, may become white, delightsome and just.’ In the 8 December 1831 Ohio Star, Ezra Booth wrote of a revelation directing Mormon elders to marry with the `natives'” (Sunstone, November 1993, footnote #5, pg. 52).
Second LDS President Brigham Young stated in 1859 that Lamanite skin color was related to transgression:
“You may inquire of the intelligent of the world whether they can tell why the aborigines of this country are dark, loathsome, ignorant, and sunken into the depths of degradation …When the Lord has a people, he makes covenants with them and gives unto them promises: then, if they transgress his law, change his ordinances, and break his covenants he has made with them, he will put a mark upon them, as in the case of the Lamanites and other portions of the house of Israel; but by-and-by they will become a white and delightsome people” (Journal of Discourses 7:336).
At the October 1960 LDS Church Conference, Spencer Kimball utilized 2 Nephi 30:6 when he stated how the Indians “are fast becoming a white and delightsome people.” He said, “The [Indian] children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation” (Improvement Era, December 1960, pp. 922-3).
During the same message Kimball referred to a 16-year-old Indian girl who was both LDS and “several shades lighter than her parents…” He went on to say, “These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness. One white elder jokingly said that he and his companion were donating blood regularly to the hospital in the hope that the process might be accelerated.”
Kimball’s comment sounds very similar to a curious comment made in a conference message given by Elder Eugene J. Neff in 1927. Referring to Hawaiian members, Neff stated:
“The first missionaries went from this section around to another little town on the east side of the island, and there they gathered in a grass hut one hundred people to hear the message of these strange white men, As they all sat around the mat and heard the voice of this missionary from Utah, they were transfigured before George Q. Cannon, and he saw ninety-seven of them become white, and three of them remained dark. He did not understand. He did not know why it was that three of them would remain dark and all the rest should become light. He received a partial answer to this manifestation when it was learned that ninety-seven of those people in meeting at this time joined the Church, became devout members, lived and died Latter-day Saints, while three of them never did. It is said that they will become a white and delightsome people. They are delightsome at present, and I believe they are going to become white. They are growing whiter from year to year. I have said to myself and to some of my intimate friends that I thought the Hawaiian people would become white and delightsome, through intermarriage. I do not know whether that is according to the doctrines of the Church or not, but they have married the oriental races and married white people on the islands to such an extent that today there are more half casts than there are pure Hawaiians” (Conference Report, April 1927, p.49).
LDS writer George Edward Clark gives a similar account in his book titled Why I Believe. On page 129 he wrote:
“The writer has been privileged to sit at table with several members of the Catawba tribe of Indians, whose reservation is near the north border of South Carolina. That tribe, or most of its people, are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon). Those Indians, at least as many as I have observed, were white and delightsome, as white and fair as any group of citizens of our country. I know of no prophecy, ancient or modern, that has had a more literal fulfillment.”
It has also been taught in Mormonism that opposite repercussions could result when a white person abandons their Mormon faith. For instance, the Juvenile Instructor (26:635) reads,
“From this it is very clear that the mark which was set upon the descendants of Cain was a skin of blackness, and there can be no doubt that this was the mark that Cain himself received; in fact, it has been noticed in our day that men who have lost the spirit of the Lord, and from whom his blessings have been withdrawn, have turned dark to such an extend as to excite the comments of all who have known them.”
In 1857, Brigham Young declared that apostates would “become gray-haired, wrinkled, and black, just like the Devil” (Journal of Discourses 5:332).
To say 2 Nephi 30:6 was altered merely for clarification, and had nothing to do with skin color, is certainly not supported by comments from past LDS leaders, or from current readings in the Book of Mormon.
To read more on the issue of blacks and the Mormon priesthood, click here.