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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Nephi Sees the Fate of his People (1 Nephi 12)

Listen now!Nephi's vision continues as he is shown his own descendants and the descendants of Laman and Lemuel numbering as many as the sands of the sea. Their cities are also numerous. But he is disturbed to find that they are in constant battle with one another. He sees a mist of darkness accompanied by lightning, thunder, earthquakes, and destruction of many wicked people and cities.

At the end of this destruction and mayhem, he sees the Lamb of God (the Messiah) descending and showing Himself to the righteous who were spared from the destruction. He calls twelve disciples in the land of promise, who, Nephi is told, would be set apart to minister to Nephi's posterity. They are to be subordinate to the twelve apostles who would be set apart in Jerusalem at the time of the coming of the Son of God. The twelve in Jerusalem will judge the twelve from the New World when the Messiah comes the second time.

Three generations of people after the visit of the Messiah pass before Nephi's eyes, all of them living in righteousness. A part of the fourth generation also lives in righteousness, but not without conflict. Quickly, the people begin to forget what they had been taught and start to have wars with each other again.

It is at this point that the angel explains to Nephi the meaning of the "filthy water" and the "mists of darkness" in Lehi's dream. The filthy water is symbolic of the depths of hell and the mists of darkness are the temptations of the devil, blinding them and leading them away from the right path to perish and be lost.

The meaning of the large and spacious building is also given as the pride and "vain imaginations" of mankind. Notice that the filthy water is between the building and the tree of life as a gulf that separates mankind from God. When people complain that God doesn't hear them, or they claim that God does not exist, it is because they stand mocking and prideful in the great and spacious building rather than eating of the fruit of the tree (believing in the Messiah). They are separated from the knowledge and belief in God by the sins of pride, ambition, hatred, apathy, sensuality and licentiousness, and desires of the flesh which the filthy river (the depths of hell) represents.

To Nephi's horror, he sees his own descendants defeated and exterminated by those of his brothers, Laman and Lemuel, because of unbelief and rejection of God by Nephi's seed. Then he sees that Laman and Lemuel's descendants fully populate the land, engage in their own wars of mutual destruction, and dwindle in unbelief.

The next (and last) verse of 1 Nephi 12 is one of controversy whenever it is encountered by those outside the Church. It is even hard to take by some inside the Church who choose to view it out of context with actual doctrines, policies, and practices. Verse 23 says:
And it came to pass that I beheld, after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a adark, and loathsome, and a bfilthy people, full of cidleness and all manner of abominations.
Some point an accusing finger to this verse and say, "There! See how the Mormon church is a racist church, equating skin color with evil!" It is tempting in today's political climate to simply fold our arms and nod in agreement without making an effort to find out more. Upon further analysis, however, it's not that simple.

First, one has to reconcile the above scripture with what is found in a later chapter. 1 Nephi 17:33-35 (emphasis added) states:
33 And now, do ye suppose that the children of this land, who were in the land of promise, who were driven out by our fathers, do ye suppose that they were righteous? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
34 Do ye suppose that our fathers would have been more choice than they if they had been righteous? I say unto you, Nay.
35 Behold, the Lord esteemeth all aflesh in one; he that is brighteous is cfavored of God. But behold, this dpeople had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it.
Therefore, we learn that God judges us by our actions, not by the color of our skin.

W. John Walsh, a Mormon apologist (one who answers critics), wrote a very good article on the subject of racism as perceived by those outside our faith:
One of the favorite techniques of anti-Mormons is to falsely say that the Lamanites were cursed with dark skin. They falsely say that Latter-day Saints believe that there is something inherently wrong with someone because he has dark skin. By the dictionary definition of racism, this idea is certainly racist. However, it is not a Latter-day Saint teaching and stands in direct opposition to the Book of Mormon (the keystone of our religion): "... [Jesus Christ] denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God ...(2 Nephi 26:33)

According to President Joseph Fielding Smith,

"The dark skin was the sign of the curse. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord and the Lamanites becoming a "loathsome and filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.'' The Lord commanded the Nephites not to intermarry with them, for if they did they would partake of the curse." (Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol. 3, p.122)

The dark skin given to the Lamanites was simply a physical characteristic to distinguish the Lamanites and Nephites and to keep them from intermarrying. Skin color has no moral significance one way or the other. Why were the Nephites commanded not to intermarry with the Lamanites? For the same reason that Latter-day Saints today are counseled not to date or marry nonmembers of the Church. Latter-day Saints who are married to nonmembers do not enjoy full Church participation, especially temple marriage. Furthermore, their children are far less likely to be faithful members of the Church.
Any reading of the Bible will show that this was certainly not the first time the Lord had made a distinction between one people and another people and commanded that they should not mix or intermarry. The Jews of Palestine were constantly reminded not to intermarry with the native Canaanites, regardless of their skin color, because doing so would have also mixed their differing theologies and put the cohesiveness of the Jewish people in jeopardy. Indeed, whenever they disobeyed this commandment, apostasy (falling away from God) always came, followed by the Jewish nation being conquered and made captive by foreign nations. The promises God was trying to make with them were of no effect when they disobeyed the commandment to not combine with other nations because those promises were contingent on their being part of a faith united in both doctrine and lineage.

Therefore, to reject the Book of Mormon on the grounds that God would never exclude one group of people from His promises at the expense of another is to reject the Bible on the same grounds as well.

To wit, at another point in the Book of Mormon, we will read how the tables turned and how the Lamanites became the more righteous of the two groups. The Nephites became the more wicked part. Therefore, we see that evil is not defined by the color of one's skin, but by one's attitude towards the commandments of God. Obedience to God ensures blessings. Disobedience ensures loss of blessings.

This topic is important and much too broad to cover in this simple blog post. Indeed, multiple blogs could be devoted to the subject. For further reading, see:
  • President Gordon B. Hinckley on Racial Intolerance, April 2006 General Conference
  • 1978 Official Declaration, Newsroom.LDS.org
  • "Mormonad" denouncing racism, from LDS Church youth magazine The New Era.
  • Race Relations, Newsroom.LDS.org
  • The Genesis Group, LDSGenesisGroup.org (unofficial web site)
  • Topic Search: Racism, LightPlanet.com (unofficial web site)
  • Black Mormon Homepage, http://www.angelfire.com/mo2/blackmormon/homepage.html (unofficial web site)
  • Black Mormon History 101, http://www.angelfire.com/mo2/blackmormon/History.html (unofficial web site)
  • Experiences of African-American Church Members, Newsroom.LDS.org
  • Four Who Serve, Ensign Magazine, February 1992 (emphasis added)
    Robert Stevenson was baptized on 8 February 1972. After being discharged from the army in 1973, he considered himself just another LDS student when he enrolled at Church-owned Ricks College that fall. In 1975 [three years prior to the Official Declaration] he went on to study at Brigham Young University, where he made news when he was elected student body vice-president. After the election, a New York Times reporter asked him what it was like to be a black person at a white university. “I don’t know,” Brother Stevenson replied, “because I’m not a black person at a white university. I’m a Mormon at a Mormon university.