This whole election campaign has taken me back into dark places and to memories that I never wanted to go to again.
It has brought out things in people around me that I had been naive enough to hope no longer existed here. Things that I thought we were past as a people – at least those outside of the FLDS.
I grew up in a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, cult. These ideologies were preached across the pulpit at church and school, in our scriptures and for me at least, heavily at home. I had many men, (and a few women, too) around me who were narcissists and hateful in their words and actions. They tried to hide their vile feelings behind a curtain of supposed Christ-like love and god’s requirements. It wasn’t their fault that black people chose not to be valiant in the pre-existence, the curse of Cain was part of God’s all-encompassing love and His merciful eternal plan to allow even those half-hearted spirits to receive a body.
It wasn’t just the blacks, either. Right in the Book of Mormon we learned about God’s promises and curses. The Book of Mormon was our most inspired and beloved scripture that had been revealed by direct revelation from God to Joseph Smith, Jr.
Those who were evil were cursed with a dark skin, but if they repented and were faithful they would become “White and Delightsome” again.
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?
Here are a few of those references from the Book of Mormon.
- “And the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression and rebellion against their brethren, who consisted of Nephi, Jacob, and Joseph, and Sam, who were just and holy men.”
- “And it came to pass that whosoever did mingle his seed with that of the Lamanites did bring the same curse upon his seed.” – Alma chapter 3
And also this:
“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, that 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.” – 2 Nephi chapter 5
“…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 delightsome people.” – 2 Nephi chapter 30
Each year at Alta Academy, we were required to read the entire Book of Mormon, and in our Morning Classes, or Devotionals, Warren Jeffs (Mr. Jeffs as we knew him) would go over the lessons and help us understand what we were supposed to think about what we had read the night before.
He taught strongly about proper dress and conduct, boy/girl relations, and the “negro race.” (Here is a clip from one of his recorded lessons about the negro race if you feel like you can stomach listening to his voice.)
In that clip Mr. Jeffs read from a sermon given by John Taylor, in 1881. (Journal of Discourses vol. 22, page 304)
“And after the flood we are told that the curse that had been pronounced upon Cain was continued through Ham’s wife, as he had married a wife of that seed. And why did it pass through the flood? Because it was necessary that the devil should have a representation on the earth as well as God.”
Though I was a very faithful, devoted and believing child, these types of teachings always rubbed me wrong. On the one hand we were taught that all men were given free agency, on the other we were told some people were actually representatives of Satan? Not by choice or action, but by the color of their skin? I didn’t really feel accepted among the self-proclaimed group of Saints of God and I had sympathy for anyone who was judged so harshly. For them it was the color of their skin, for me it was my last name, and the fact that we were converts.
The Curse of Cain – Earth’s first Murderer
For those of you unfamiliar with early Mormon teachings I will give a brief summary of what the Curse of Cain is.
In the days of Adam and Eve, when Cain became jealous of his brother Abel and killed him, God cursed him and his seed forever. As Mr. Jeffs put it, “cursed with a flat nose and a dark skin so that they would be loathsome to the faithful.” All of Cain’s descendants were part of this curse, as well as anyone who dared “mix their seed.” (We were told that even if a person had sexual contact with one of the seed of Cain their blood, and their posterity would be cursed also. Strangely, their skin wouldn’t become darkened. This was also a warning for not seeking relationships or spouses outside of the confines of the church. Only the Prophet could receive, through revelation, the assurance that a person was not part of the curse of Cain.)
The mainstream Mormon church leaders changed their policy on allowing black people to receive the Priesthood and blessings of the church in 1978. In the edition of the Book of Mormon printed in 1981, they changed the terms “white and delightsome” to “pure and delightsome.”This and other changes were the reasons behind everyone at Alta Academy being required to have a triple combination (Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) that was copyrighted before 1981.
In our school trainings, Mr. Jeffs gave us strong warnings against partaking of this curse in any way. Gentile clothing and music, kinky hairstyles, or little braids, even tanning our skin to become darker was seen as willfully taking upon us the curse of Cain.
At home my father took all of this a step further. If there was a derogatory term for any group of people, he used it. He would speak with disgust about “Chinks,” “Nips,” “Wet Backs” and “Niggers.” Although, religiously and scripturally he could justify his attitudes and hatred, while at the same time feeling superior as a member of God’s One True Church, (with the requisite white skin) I was always repulsed by it.
As a child if we brought something we had found on the street into the house our parents would scare us into discarding it with, “You don’t know where that’s been! What if a Black Man touched it?!”
I can’t honestly say when the first time was that I saw a black man, besides on TV.
Especially in those days – the late 1970s and early 1980s – Utah was a very white state, and the FLDS are a very white bunch of people. Other than going to church we rarely did much away from home, so I didn’t have many opportunities for experiencing diversity. The closest I got to that was watching Sesame Street where there were kids of all kinds and I learned to count to 10 in Spanish. Though on my street, growing up in Taylorsville, we did have two Latino families. (Fun fact: those families forbade their children to play with or associate with us weird polygamist kids! Not that I can really blame them, though.)
As I have watched and listened to Trump throughout his campaign, it was like watching my father again. It has been troubling, and triggered a lot of old memories. He very much reminds me of my past, my father, and many of the other men I knew. They voiced respect for women, but none was shown in practice. They pushed blame on everyone and everything else for their hatred. They justified their ugliness, and played victim. Looking back I can now see how much of those things were simply projections.
Making accusations and dividing people – my father even dividing his own family against each other through ridicule and favoritism.
Making fun of people was the only real way we interacted with each other growing up. Heaven forbid you make a mistake, or speak wrong, because it would never be forgotten. Shaming was practically the core of our family relationships.
I remember once, sitting in the meeting room at Rulon Jeffs house as a child, as we waited for church to start we drew pencil drawings of each of our family members – accentuating their flaws and making them their most prominent feature – egged on and encouraged by our father. One sister’s big feet made ridiculously large, another’s lips that far escaped the confines of her head – nothing was off limits. To this day I am still self-conscious about my high forehead, round face and wide feet.
I grew up in this kind of world, believing it was “normal.” But when I got married and moved away from my father’s house I was determined that it would not be the norm for my children. I would not have their self-image built on my ridicule. I would not teach them hatred or superiority. I remember often telling them that the terms “gentile” and “wicked” were absolutely not interchangeable! I explained that for what many gentiles knew and understood they were much more sincere and honest at living their beliefs than many of those who claimed the title of “saints” among the FLDS.
I saw people for their humanity. I could see the hurt beneath smiles, and the fear behind their bravery. I understood other people on a level that I couldn’t explain, and when I saw other’s pain it hurt me. I saw that we were all people, and that we had much more in common than we had differences – both in feeling and in experiences.
I taught my children to serve others and to beautify everywhere we went. We had been told that Short Creek was our Zion. When we would visit I would gather up plastic bags and take my children on walks through the town cleaning up garbage. When we were told to move down there we worked hard to beautify our little piece of Zion, kept it clean and weeded, and then moved on to weeding all around our yard. We helped neighbors with their canning, cleaned at the parks, did service projects, and I recovered countless numbers of baby car seats for people all over town.
I taught my children that respect was earned not demanded, and that “with all due respect” meant exactly that. No one and nothing was granted automatic respect. I taught them to be respectable. Whether or not they were seen as “respected” wasn’t as important as being respectable.
In short, I put my efforts as a mother into actually living the best of what I believed, instead of just preaching it. Showing my children, by example, the kind of people I wanted them to become.
I wish I could say that I was perfect. I wish that I could say that I was never racist or allowed any prejudices to enter my heart and mind. But I can say that I never knowingly hurt anyone, and I always looked at everyone with an open heart. I admired and respected anyone who was good, honest and kind, but had no respect for those who I could see were harsh and cruel – no matter who they were.
I also wish that I could say that I openly spoke these feelings to those around me. But my life was lived in too much fear for that. I wasn’t allowed enough power to feel safe in speaking up.
I’m not so sure I feel safe speaking up now, but I do feel it is necessary.
I have seen many posts in the hours since Trump was announced as winner of the presidential race. I have seen how his words have emboldened many to actions – cruel, heartless actions.
In my life I have found that I get much further, and feel much better, if I work towards and stand up for what I believe in instead of fighting what I see as wrong. Creating solutions. Helping those who hurt. Organizing and making positive changes. Refusing to be a part of anything that does harm or takes away another person’s rights.
I want to believe that, as a nation, we are not like Warren Jeffs. I want to believe that there are more good, kind-hearted people than evil, hateful ones. Please, please prove me right. Please turn to love and understanding and show the world that we are better than this.