Blacks in Mormonism: Exploring the Curse of Cain
There’s no shortage of doctrinal myths and misunderstandings in the Church that seem to propagate from generation to generation. One of these is, what exactly is the curse of Cain? Many in and outside the Church will answer that as black skin, but that is incorrect. No official statement states that the Curse of Cain relates to the subject of blacks in Mormonism or blacks and the priesthood, although many people often associate them. Some in the Church get comfortable with what they think they know, but sometimes we get shocked at a doctrinal truth that goes against what we have always believed. Then when those misunderstandings are put under the microscope of science or the lens of history or must hold under apostate pressure, or perhaps pitted against our beliefs regarding the nature of God and his plan, these traditions and myths can cause some to fall away due to lack of knowledge.
Introduction to the Abrahamic Covenant
To understand the curse of Cain and how it relates to Blacks in Mormonism, one must first look at the Abrahamic Covenant, which includes specific blessings and promises. The four main blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant are property, priesthood, prosperity, and posterity. Yet some recognize one additional blessing of “the name.” Abraham was promised all of the Abrahamic covenant blessings plus one. The additional blessing is “a name,” which is often overlooked. Abraham 1:18 says, “I will take thee, to put upon thee my name, even the Priesthood.” So part of receiving the Abrahamic covenant is taking the name of Jesus Christ upon ourselves.
The curse of Cain was the exact opposite of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Lord describes the cursing that Cain will receive in Moses 5:25, “And this is a cursing which I will put upon thee.” Starting with verses 36 and 37, “And now thou shalt be cursed from the earth, which has opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand. When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength. A fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.” These verses spell out two opposites from the Abrahamic Covenant. Rather than being blessed with prosperity, Cain was cursed from the earth. Also, rather than having lands and prosperity where one can settle down and establish a homestead, he was condemned as a fugitive and a vagabond – cursed to wander the earth.
We know Cain and his seed were cursed not to have the priesthood because Moses 5:29 through 31 says, “And he entered into an unholy covenant with Satan.” Cain slew his brother, who was also his priesthood leader. The fate of those who murder their priesthood leader is listed in Dr. Covenants 121, verses 16 through 21, which says, “Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed, sayeth the Lord… they shall be severed from the ordinances of mine house … They shall not have right to the priesthood, nor their posterity after them from generation to generation.” The fourth blessing of the Abrahamic Covenant, Joseph Fielding Smith stated, “Those who are married in the temple for all time and eternity obtain the blessings of eternal lives … Eternal lives means eternal increase – the continuation, as the revelation says, of the seeds forever.” Thus it is clear that Cain would not be able to have an eternal increase in the world to come. Cain received a name as a result of his curse. Moses 5:24 says, “For from this time forth, thou shalt be the father of lies; thou shalt be called Perdition.” We also know that Satan was named Perdition due to his rebellion in our premortal life. A part of Cain’s curse was to take upon him the name of his master, Satan. Therefore, the curse of Cain and those that become sons of Perdition obtain the opposite of the Abrahamic Covenant.
Moses 5, verses 38 through 40, makes it clear that many would try to kill Cain due to the curses listed above. It says, “He that findeth me will slay me because of mine iniquities.” So the Lord set a mark upon Cain, “lest any finding him should kill him.” The mark set upon Cain was to protect him from being killed. The mark is not the curse but rather a way to identify someone that was cursed. We also are not sure what the mark was. The belief that the mark was black skin comes from Moses 7:22 and perhaps other places: “And Enoch also beheld the residue of the people, which were the sons of Adam, and they were a mixture of all the seed of Adam, save it was the seed of Cain, for the seed of Cain were black and had not place among them.” An assumption has been made that the mark was the black skin. However, earlier in that same chapter of Moses, it talks about when the blackness came upon the Canaan children, who are Cain’s descendants. Moses 7:8 says, “For behold, the Lord shall curse the land with much heat, and the barrenness thereof shall go forth forever; and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.” Some from this theorize that the blackness of the skin is a result of the sun and heat in the land, while others believe it was the mark placed upon Cain and his descendants. Yet it isn’t clear what the mark is or if the black skin is the mark. What we do know is that the mark was not the curse. Whatever it was, it was so that others would not kill him.
Moreover, footnote A on the word “Mark” in Moses 5:40 leads us to Alma 3, verses 7 through 16, which talk about the mark placed upon the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon, clearly defined as dark skin. It is here where perhaps more confusion comes because the Book of Mormon makes it clear in second Nephi 5:5 that a skin of blackness came upon the Lamanites as a curse. But this relationship between the blackness of skin in the Bible and that of the Book of Mormon may be misleading because the Lamanites are never described as sons of Perdition or cursed with the curses mentioned above. It is unclear whether the footnote is meant to say that the marks were the same or instead just linking scriptures, referring to marks in general. So the Book of Mormon describes the mark of black skin as a curse, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was the same for the descendants of Cain.
We realize that the curse of Cain is the opposite of the Abrahamic Covenant. Skin color may have very little to do with this. Understanding that dark skin doesn’t mean somebody is cursed today is essential. Even later in the Book of Mormon, the Lamanites were more righteous than the Nephites. We also know that any limitations regarding the priesthood have been lifted, and any worthy male, regardless of color, can have the priesthood in this – the dispensation of the fullness of times. This information was about the curse of Cain and not about blacks in Mormonism or blacks and the priesthood, although many people link those subjects together. There are many theories around the policy for restrictions to the priesthood. The Church has been clear that there is no official stance on the reason for this.
Cain was a son of Perdition and effectively walked away from all the promises and blessings God offers us through the Abrahamic Covenant. Blacks in Mormonism do not face this today. Further light and knowledge can be gained by studying the differences between them
By Mr. Kevin Prince, Source Expert
Kevin Prince is a religious scholar and YouTube host of the Gospel Learning YouTube Channel. His channel currently has over 41,000 subscribers with over 4.5 million views. Mr Prince also developed the Gospel Learning App, a trusted source where truth-seeking individuals can easily find trusted answers to religious questions from the best teachers in the world.
Fact checked by Dr. Taylor Halverson, Source Expert
Dr. Taylor Halverson is a biblical scholar and instructional technologist. Halverson is an Entrepreneurship professor in the BYU Marriott School of Business. He has played key roles in envisioning and executing on BMCs breakthrough resources such as ScripturePlus and the Come Follow Me videos series.
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