An Exception Having Made, or You Might Be Racist If… (Part 4)

The story of Joseph in Egypt stands as a metaphor for the atonement and instructs us in patience, faith, and brotherhood. 

For my purposes here, the reconciliation of Jacob’s sons with their brother, whom they had sold to Middianites and not seen in many years, is particularly relevant. During the time that Joseph lived in Egypt, he found himself prospering and then betrayed, then prospering again until he was nearly as powerful as the Pharaoh and was put in charge of Egypt’s grain—at a time when the rest of the land was in a drought.  Those suffering included Joseph’s faraway family.  Finally, his brothers–they who had sold him—came to Egypt to beg, as it were, at the mercy seat, unaware that it was Joseph himself sitting resplendently before them.  Years had changed them all, and Joseph was dressed as the Egyptians.  Nor did he speak to them in the language of their childhood, but used an interpreter.  There would not be a simple reconciliation, but a test to see how much his brothers’ hearts had changed.  In asking them to bring the youngest brother, Benjamin, back to Egypt with them, he was proving their loyalty.  After they did as instructed, Joseph tested them yet again, and threatened to imprison Benjamin.  At last, Judah spoke of the brother (Joseph himself) who had been “lost” and of  grief which would overcome their father should he lose yet another. Judah then offered himself in Benjamin’s place, and said he was willing to spend the rest of his years as a slave rather than break his father’s heart (Genesis 44:33-34).


At this offer, Joseph “made himself known unto his Brethren” (Genesis 45:1).  How did he do this?  By removing his finery so that he was dressed like them?  By washing his face of Egyptian make-up?  The scriptures don’t tell us, but clearly he did something to reveal himself before he spoke to them in their common language.  Once he had removed whatever divided him from them, he wept loudly, and finally spoke: “I am Joseph, your brother, whom ye sold…”(verse 4).

 The brothers were reconciled, and all of the family moved to Egypt,  where they prospered.

 The Book of Mormon preaches a similar message of reconciliation.  Brothers divide themselves (and the reason for the division isn’t as important as the division itself).  Traditions grow supporting tribalism, and we see the tribes—referred to simply as Nephites and Lamanites—seeking to destroy each other.  War begets war.  Sometimes the Nephites are in the right, and sometimes the Lamanites are.  All the wars culminate in massive destruction of the land, and only the “more righteous” of either group survive.  Finally, they unite, and all choose to self-identify as Nephites (3 Nephi 10:18).  Together they see Jesus Christ descend, and receive instruction and blessings under His hands.  Their conversion is so thorough that they build a community in which all things are had in common, with no rich nor poor; no bond nor free (4 Nephi 3).  Divisions cease, and there is not “any manner of –ites; but they [are] in one, the children of Christ and heirs to the kingdom of God” (4 Nephi 17). 

The utopia ends, of course, as utopias generally do.  Once again, the people name themselves tribally according to their ancestors and their previously abandoned traditions.  Classism returns, and children are taught to hate the “others”, just as their progenitors had done (4 Nephi 39).

 Our challenge in these latter days is to identify anything which will divide us or keep us from recognizing our brothers and sisters because they don’t quite look like us, or they are dressed either more richly or more poorly than we are.  We are asked to press forward towards the kind of unity Christ himself would inspire, denying ourselves “all ungodliness” (Moroni10:32). 

 What ungodly traditions might we still be clinging to?  Could any Latter-day Saint justify prejudice against Mexicans because of strong feelings about legal immigration?  One of my Institute students reported a co-worker telling her flatly, “I’m sorry, but I just don’t like Mexicans.  It’s nothing personal.”  Could a Latter-day Saint maintain prejudice against Blacks because of what past leaders have stated?  Surely anything a Mormon leader said which might encourage division is overridden by all that the Savior said. Could a Latter-day Saint nurture prejudice against a Muslim because of the acts of a few fanatics?

 I close this post with the words of a young man in the Congo, who recently returned from his mission.  He had been a revolutionary, trained to hate white people and everything involved with Colonialism.  Joining the LDS Church was a huge turning point in his life, and he vowed that he would prove during his mission that racism need not exist. 

He wrote me these words while he was still serving:

 “I know there are some incidents in the story of not only the Church but also of the whole world in which we can find hatred or racism between human races. But these are the mistakes of men, for said the Lord in the Book of Mormon ‘This is not my doctrine to stir up the hearts of men with anger one against another.’ However, what sometimes men may call hatred or racism is not really hatred or racism. Men sometimes need to understand the Lord and learn to know the dealings of God. If we recognize His love and wisdom and also the shortness of our minds we will see our need of relying on Him.”




  1. “What ungodly traditions might we still be clinging to?”

    Interpreting metaphors literally.

  2. Thanks, Margaret, especially, for the closing quote. The Gospel truly can change both heart and mind.

  3. rogerthegentleradical says:

    I may have to re-read the BOM. Ms. Blair Young is full of provocative insights.

  4. Rulon Brown says:

    There is a bouyancy and light to your thinking that eases the shame and helplessness I feel about our tribal divisions. I appreciate your many reminders that if we repent, Christ is eager to heal us of our “ites” so we can become one in him. I wish you and Darrius God’s speed and strength to continue this work.

  5. Much appreciated, Rulon Brown. Darius is recovering from bypass surgery now, so any good wishes and prayers are very appreciated!

  6. I’m fascinated by the story of Joseph preserved in history, and like many of the stories in Genesis, I’ve changed my mind several times over my life about what they mean. I love the frequency of the reconciliation motif in scripture.

    I was talking to my son-in-law last night about SteveP’s writeup on Da Jesus Book (because he is Hawaiian) and we had a mind-opening discussion (for me) about the level of racism he faces in the US and which further explains the extraordinary racism regarding mainland whites that exists on his island. Like most cycles of revilings, someone has to stop before it heals. Reconciliation isn’t about a laundry list of historical fault, but of moving on toward where we should have been. I can do that.

  7. “Reconciliation isn’t about a laundry list of historical fault, but of moving on toward where we should have been.”

    I can’t remember where I first read the following idea, but it has stayed with me ever since that moment long ago:

    “Full ‘restoration’ is much more about restoring harmony, beauty and peace (even harmony, beauty and peace that only has existed rarely) than it is about restoring structure, organization and dogma. Restoration, from an eternal perspective is about finding once again the unity of God’s family prior to the War in Heaven – prior to the first division that destroyed fundamental harmony, beauty and peace.”

  8. I love that, Ray!

  9. rameumptom says:

    thanks for these posts. Jesus taught the Nephites that his doctrine is one of unity, and that Satan’s doctrine is contention (3 Ne 11). As mortals, if we cannot learn to love and unite in Christ, then we can never be one with Christ and the Father. It requires a lot to stop seeking our own will and traditions, and to embrace Jesus’ path. Thanks for helping illuminate that path for us.

  10. The utopia ends, of course, as utopias generally do. Once again, the people name themselves tribally according to their ancestors and their previously abandoned traditions. Classism returns, and children are taught to hate the “others”, just as their progenitors had done (4 Nephi 39).

    The two times Jesus tried to set up his religion ended maybe 200 years later. Both attempts ended because of lack of love and respect, one by race, the other by creed. If we would learn the lesson, as we approach our 200th year as a church, we need to love our brothers and sisters who are different and be accepting of their differing opinions.

    Openness to new understanding and love are the keys.

  11. Sharee Hughes says:

    Bonnie (#6), I lived in Hawaii for 8 years and never felt any racism from the locals. A couple of years ago I attended my college reunion on Maui and remember one man (one of the many “blends” you find in Hawaii) telling me the reason he liked Hawaii was because nobody cared what color your skin was or what shape your eyes were. The people of Hawaii will come up to you and give you a hug and a kiss on the cheek and THEN ask you who you are. So the experience of racism that other haoles (whites) may have found in Hawaii is not experienced by everyone. At least it wasn’t when I lived there in the 60s and 70s.

  12. Sharee, that had been my understanding as well so I was surprised by how my daughter is treated when she visits there (Moloka’i). I think it may be island-specific and a more recent phenomenon. There is a strong sentiment among a portion of the smaller island populations to throw off US “occupation.” When people leave the island for education, and stop speaking pidgin, they are ridiculed when they return, made to feel “other.” Most don’t want to return. The elders try very hard to fight this rising sentiment, as evidenced by the correspondence my son-in-law had regarding the scholarship he has from his island to complete his Master’s at BYU. My son-in-law told of his brother threatening haoles on the beach and forcing them to leave the water when his family is there. He teaches his sons to think this way of white people. It is so different from the inclusiveness of the older generation and the different mix on Maui and the big island.

  13. Sharee Hughes says:

    Bonnie, that is so sad. I truly loved the years I lived in Hawaii. I lived on Oahu (first in Honolulu, then in Hauula) and I graduated from BYU-Hawaii way back when it was still Church College of Hawaii. While in Hawaii I dated men of lots different races. It didn’t matter. They were all brothers in the Gospel. The reunion in July of 2010 was on Maui and was for all CCH alumni. There were Polynesians, Asians, whites, and many blends there and everyone got along so great. How awful that Satan has dropped his little racism card in such a wonderful paradise. I hope your son-in-law can talk some sense into his brother. We need less hatred in this world, not more.

  14. So true, Sharee.

  15. StillConfused says:

    “What ungodly traditions might we still be clinging to?” judgmentalism, exclusionism, sexism, racism, “chosen people”-ism, worshiping religious traditions more than caring for our fellow man; placing more emphasis on religious rules rather than purity of heart.

  16. Meldrum the Less says:

    The story of Joseph of Egypt has a forgotton paradoxical twist to it for Mormons that used to surface ocassionally in discussions on racism when I was in college in Utah before the 1978 revelation. The elements of the paradox were:

    1.The curse of Cain included the loss of the priviledge to hold the Priesthood.
    2. Noah’s three sons were the ancestors of the three major races of the earth after the flood.
    3. Ham preserved the curse of Cain after the flood and founded the Canaanite people (Gen 9:18).
    4. Ham was associated with Egypt in the Bible (Psalms 78:51 Egypt/ tabernacles of Ham)(also Psalm 105:23, 27).
    5 .From the Pearl of Great Price (Abraham 1: 21, 25) we gain further knowledge that Ham had a daughter named Egyptus who was the mother of the Egyptian pharaohs. Hence the pharaohs were of the lineage of Ham.

    6. Joseph of Egypt married Asenath daughter of Potipherah, Priest of On. (Gen 46:20)
    7. Asenath was of royal Egyptian lineage and that gave Joseph needed credibility to rule Egypt.
    8. Asenath being royal Egyptian was also descended from Ham.
    9. Ephraim and Manasseh were Hebrew from Joseph AND descendants of Ham from Asenath.
    10. Descendants of Ephraim and Manasseh being from the linage of Ham would not be allowed to hold the Priesthood.

    To pound in one more nail, Joseph Smith was of the tribe of Ephraim and even claimed to be a direct descendant (reference needed and forgotten-sorry). Joseph Fielding Smith repeatedly taught this direct descendant of Ephraim concept. Hence Joseph Smith could not hold the Priesthood. Neither could Joseph Fielding Smith by the same logic. Neither could Bruce R. McKonkie’s sons since he married sweet Amerlia, Joseph Fielding Smith’s daughter. In fact most of the LDS church is adopted into this “cursed” lineage through their patriarchial blessings.

    This is one twist to an ungodly tradition to which we no longer cling although I always found it a rather amusing one before 1978. I guess for those who think it was the right thing to do (withhold the Priesthood from the Canaanites before 1978 and suddenly it became acceptable after 1978) then the paradox still stands. My memory isn’t that good but last time I checked, the Priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith around 1830, give or take a few years (another minor controversy) and that was a good bit before the 1978 revelation would allow it to one of his ancestry, but I can’t remember for sure. :)

  17. Meldrum the Less says:

    (My last sentence got digitally deleted…)

    You have to be careful when you start excluding people. You might just be excluding yourself.

  18. rogerthegentleradical says:

    Lots of paradoxes. Right up there with the deaconesses of the NT. We are eventually all to be included — or excluded.

  19. cathodroid says:

    #16, Meldrum, thanks for that.

    So what is the typical FARMSish response to this twist? Do they somehow think that Asenath escaped the seed of Ham?

  20. The “typical” FARMSish response is also common among some very conservative Baptists: That Asenath was from the Hyksos. Unlikely, however. The Hyksos did not interfere with the set religions of the places they conquered. I heard one very big racist televangelist–can’t remember his name–preach in absolute terms that Asenarth was NOT black. Kinda gave me the creeps. I don’t go as far as Meldrum does (I don’t take the Noah’s Ark story quite as literally as many do), but I appreciate the thoughts.

  21. cathodroid says:

    Thank-you Margaret.

    For me the issue is settled by Christ when he reveals to Peter that the gentiles are “cleansed”. It is antithetical to assume that Christ meant “cleansed, except for the priesthood ban for those who are visibly black: they can be preached to & baptized, but not ordained.” The OT/POGP examples only apply to the pre-Peter era.

  22. Fully agreed, Cathodroid.

  23. Kevin Barney says:

    I hope people are using “typical FARMsish” as a caricature and not seriously. I don’t know anyone affiliated with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship who would have any interest in defending the Curse of Cain/Canaan nonsense in such a way.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    …or in any way…

  25. cathodroid says:

    Kevin, I admit it was a caricature and a generalization. I apologize if I ruffled any sensibilities.

  26. Agreed, Kevin. I have great respect for the Maxwell Institute.

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