Tiffany Lundeen and Stacey Solie: Pandemic pause a chance to erase LDS racism

(photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson speaks at the Saturday evening session of General Conference on April 4. 2020.

Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently co-published an essay with leaders of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, calling for an end to racism.

This marks a significant shift from the 1960s, when the NAACP protested the church’s white supremacist policies, such as the ban that barred faithful black members entry to Mormon temples and prohibited black men from performing sacred rites that white men could perform.

“Prejudice, hate and discrimination are learned,” the new statement asserts, calling on “parents, family members, and teachers to be the first line of defense.”

In March, 26,000 missionaries were brought home from their missions to help slow the spread of coronavirus. We urge these same young Latter-day Saints to heed the call made by President Nelson to be the first line of defense against racism by refusing to return to their missions — or to embark on new missions — until racist text has been removed from the Book of Mormon.

Imagine what it’s like to read these lines in the Book of Mormon for the first time, “And [God] 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, 5:20.

There are real psychological consequences when “white” youth read that darkness is associated with sin and when youth with more melanin are told that skin color is associated with a curse from God. For other examples of text that reinforce white supremacy, see 1 Nephi 12:23, 2 Nephi 5:21-24, Mormon 5:15 and Enos 1:20.

We call on Nelson to recall current editions of the Book of Mormon, excise white supremacist content, explain the change in the book’s preface and draw upon $100 billion in stockpiled tithing funds to pay the cost of distributing a new anti-racist edition of the Book of Mormon to Latter-day Saints and missionaries worldwide. This pause, this pandemic, is an opportunity to make an anti-racist change.

Precedents exist. In 2010 Church leaders approved alterations to the text of the Book of Mormon to remove white supremacist language from chapter headings, and in 2019 the Church changed the text of temple rites, removing language that emphasized men’s authority over their wives.

We were once young women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We did not understand that as we shared handshakes and the Book of Mormon we were also spreading a different kind of virus, an insidious idea that “black” skin represents God’s curse for iniquity.

When we woke to the racist, sexist and anti-gay ideologies spread like viruses by our church, full of grief, we removed ourselves.

If the contents of these verses is similarly creating a crisis within you, we urge you to stop the spread of racist ideas by declining to share the Book of Mormon in its current published form.

Our hearts go out to Latter-day Saints burdened by the church’s white supremacist texts. The murder of George Floyd is just one example of widespread institutionalized racism. Leverage this moment of clarity to remove racist text from the Book of Mormon.

Tiffany Lundeen

Tiffany Lundeen is a nurse-midwife living in San Francisco.

Stacey Solie

Stacey Solie is a writer and editor living in Wonder Valley, Calif.