This picture of Adam and Eve used by the Church is problematic to say the least. Apparently, Adam and Eve were white. Not only were they white, they were Rocky Mountain Mormons (who simply wore skins instead of Gap). Now, if you think Geoff is right (that many aspects of the Adam and Eve story are figurative), then it doesn’t matter: Adam and Eve are you, and you are (predominately) white Americans. So this, in fact, is a perfectly reasonable picture.
But I don’t think most Mormons think that way. For them, Adam and Eve were literal people, the first humans and ancestors of all of us. So, this painting says: Adam and Eve were white, and white is somehow original.
Church art rarely stops there. Jesus is white, God the Father is white, angels are white, spirits are white. In the Lamb of God video (seminary version), when Jesus enters the spirit world, he is greeted by people who are not only dressed in white, they are white.
You may think this is simply a benign reflection of the Church’s predominant culture. Maybe. But I worry that despite major efforts (I for one do not think the Church is racist today — far from it), we are not careful enough in the messages we send. I’m not just thinking of our international expansion here, but also of the Church in the US and our relationship with African Americans.
If our art is taken literally, it not only says God is white and the first humans were white, but that whiteness is somehow the natural colour of the human family. And that, my friends, is racist. It’s also rubbish.
Newsweek’s article on DNA lineages should be an eye-opener for some: not only do we all carry technicolour DNA, we are, of course, descended from Rift Valley Africans many thousands of years ago. However one factors a literal Adam and Eve into the history of our species (and I have my own ideas), one thing is for sure: they were not white. Not that there’s anything wrong with white, but Church art should reflect the full spectrum of the human family. We can have white Adams and Eves if we can have African, Asian, Hispanic, and Indian ones too. But we don’t, and I don’t like that. It doesn’t lead Mormons to the KKK (as I said, in my experience Mormons seem pretty tolerant, by and large), but it must be tough at times for the people of colour in our congregations. That makes me sad. And it’s easily remedied.