For his work with MormonLeaks, Ryan McKnight releases previously confidential information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Las Vegas man has said in public interviews that “institutional racism” in the church bothered him when he left the institution.
Showing photos of families from the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Samy Galvez said that Americans would call each person in the pictures “black, but people from the Dominican Republic and Haiti would prefer to be called Dominican or Haitian.”
McKnight’s ideology and Galvez’s statement were expressions of their panel wherein they said that colorism is in The Book of Mormon and that Mormonism has led to cultural erasure in Guatemala, among other items.
The panel Saturday was part of the 2018 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium, a conference of critiques of Mormonism.
McKnight grew up in South and Central America between ages 10 and 19. That meant that he met people from there, like Guatemalans or Hondurans, he told attendees.
And for him and others in the Mormon congregation that he associated with, “I am sure we would refer to them as descendants of the Lamanites,” McKnight said.
“It wasn’t even a question for us,” he had remarked.
A theory in LDS Mormonism, rooted in The Book of Mormon, is that people from Central America are “Lamanites.” That term is used for people in The Book of Mormon who are not white, having the color because their ancestors had been cursed, with dark skin to distinguish them as such.
This belief carried further; McKnight and his friends thought their language was informed by reformed Egyptian, the supposed original language of The Book of Mormon. They thought that the indigenous people were “even more pure Lamanites.”
Galvez, who is from Guatemala, then described the development of race classifications in the United States, pointing out the Italian-American classification that led Italian-American folks to be “lynched.”
Galvez spoke poorly of “the one-drop rule,” wherein “one drop of African blood” meant that a person was no longer considered white.
It’s a belief that is “reflected” in The Book of Mormon due to its teachings that the Nephites, who had white skin, came under the curse involving dark skin because they “mixed” with Lamanites. It’s a teaching that would have been passed on to their children, Galvez said.
“In Guatemala, there was a lot more mixing … with Spaniards coming into Guatemala and mixing a lot with indigenous peoples,” Galvez remarked.
There was a “hierarchy” upon which that Guatemalans would be higher the “whiter” they were,” Galvez said.
“Indigenous people were seen as less (important),” he added.
Indigenous people have even changed their last names, Galvez said.
Mormonism comes into play as it has a “hierarchy of U.S. racial identities” it “tries to impose,” and Americans attending church in Guatemala “say they are going to church with the Lamanites, when in reality, (those) people might be fully Spanish,” Galvez remarked.
On his mission in Spain, McKnight was teaching post-baptism lessons to a family who had been baptized. As is normal, he and his companion brought along a member of the congregation who read “obscure church stuff” that other Spanish Mormons would not read. So when he testified in the lesson, he spoke beyond Mormons’ typical view that converts had found the one true church.
“Your grandchildren are going to be whiter,” McKnight reported him saying.
“The blood just drained from my companion and I,” McKnight said. “I don’t even think I was aware with the idea that skin would become whiter with righteous (living) … I was mortified by it.”
Also, even though McKnight’s family never lived in a given international location for more than two years, his father still was a member of the bishopric, the three-leader all-male team over a congregation, wherever they lived.
“Everybody would look to us as being sort of this foundation of perfect knowledge about the church because we were from the motherland (of the United States) from the religious aspect,” McKnight said. “We were just regular people.”
It was a “perception drilled into (the overseas Mormons) by the church,” McKnight remarked, noting also that they would ask what McKnight’s family thought about doctrine because they were Americans.
McKnight’s father being in the bishoprics “(were) taking away a lot of leadership and development opportunities from some of the local people.”
“That’s a travesty,” McKnight said.
Galvez cited the Book of Mormon passage 2 Nephi 5:20-24, which says that folks were, as a curse, given skin of “blackness” as to “not be enticing” to those who were “white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome”; that they would be “loathsome” to whites; that whites would be “cursed” for “mixing” with the dark-skinned folks; and that because of the cursing that made for dark skin, those individuals “did become an idle people, full of mischief and subtlety, and did seek in the wilderness for beasts of prey.”
“We see how positive (being) a Lamanite is .. just from the start,” Galvez remarked. “We also must recognize that these few verses have been used for the basis of colonization and discrimination of indigenous people.”
Galvez also acknowledged “prophesies (in Mormonism) that were made that Lamanites would blossom as the rose.”
“But again, this is dependent upon … repentance,” Galvez said. “And this repentance … whether it was intended or note … (has been) a code word (for) the abandonment of cultural practices.”
Galvez then criticized the church’s exchange problems with Native Americans that “ended up being a reformation of cultural activities instead of an actual call to repentance.” He noted that the first female Mormon missionary who was fully indigenous was not allowed to wear the only attire she had known.
“She was asked to take it off and asked to wear more western clothes,” Galvez remarked, saying that “represents cultural erasure.”
The church’s efforts to “make practices uniform throughout the world” means that converts say that they want to be baptized by people in Utah, or attend Brigham Young University for college, as Galvez did.
Galvez was complimentary of the church’s Perpetual Education Fund, which helps enable higher education.
McKnight added that he was “obsessed” with ancient Mayan sites as a teenager, when he lived in central America. And he remembers getting a book signed by a Book of Mormon tour guide; he remembers making the assumption at one location that a “Nephite” (the white people) who survived the destruction of the civilization at the end of the book was baptized there.
Understanding now that his viewpoint of these world-class locations were wrong, McKnight said, he has told his wife that he wants to “revisit” the places.
Galvez stressed the need to listen to the “Lamanite” descendants; that their voices are not “from the dust” as claimed in The Book of Mormon, but “through Facebook.” Galvez doesn’t want Americans to “kill their history” further.
“We need to … allow indigenous people to determine their own destiny,” Galvez said, adding that even in Utah, this can be done, being an “indigenous land” and having activists in the state.
During a question-and-answer period, an attendee said that “in many areas of the church, you are not allowed to speak a secondary language in your church building.”
Do you want to be part of ending sexism, racism, and homophobia?