There’s been a lot in the news this week about illegal immigrants; this promises to be a topic that will continue to receive much attention in the months (or years) to come. One article of interest appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune last weekend: “Many illegal immigrants feel right at home in Utah.” Reporter Michael Riley wrote:
“Amid the country’s caustic immigration debate, Utah may be the closest thing these days to an immigrant paradise.
“Utah is the most Republican state in the country. But the state’s more than 95,000 undocumented immigrants can legally drive with a ‘driving privilege card’ created last year. They can, if they graduated from a Utah high school, go to any public university or community college and pay in-state tuition.”
Trying to explain why this republican state has opened its arms to these immigrants, the article says experts point to Mormon doctrine as the main reason.
“The Book of Mormon teaches that a group of people that traveled to the American continent from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., later called the Lamanites, are the forefathers of the native peoples of Mexico and Central and South America.
“Many Mormons see the tens of thousands of Latin American immigrants who have arrived in the seat of the church as guided by the hand of God in order to be converted and become critical players in an unfolding religious tale of biblical proportions.
“‘Mormons have the Book of Mormon, and the Latin American, aboriginal ancestry is relevant to their views,…’ said [Chris] Cannon, a five-term congressman and a Mormon.
“‘The Mormon church has taken a position that is pretty clear. They are a proselytizing church, and they view the people coming to Utah as a great group of people to convert,’ Cannon said.”
Indeed, an editorial that appeared last July in Salt Lake City Weekly supports this doctrinal connection. “Immigration & Revelation — Some of Utah’s LDS Latinos believe their presence is part of heavenly Father’s master plan” by Naomi Zeveloff recounts the stories of a few representative Utah immigrants.
One is Oscar Faria, who emigrated from Venezuela due to dreams and visions he believed were directing him to Salt Lake City. Once there, through another series of visions, he joined the LDS Church. Mr. Faria believes his journey to the United States “is part of a biblical prophecy” and that the surge of current immigration is “a sign of God’s gathering of the Children of Israel.” He said,
“The people who come here to the United States, the people who come to Utah, are the chosen people. They come here looking for the church and they don’t know it. I am an example of this.”
The Salt Lake City Weekly article went on to note:
“Today, Latinos are converting to Mormonism faster than any group on the planet. There are 102 full-time missions in Latin America, said [Arturo de Hoyos, retired BYU professor of sociology]. The church numbers 3,681,000 Spanish-speaking members, with 952,950 in Mexico alone, fulfilling the prophecy in the Doctrine and Covenants, an LDS scripture, that ‘…the Lamanites shall blossom as the rose’ in the latter days, or the epoch leading up to the Second Coming. ‘The Latinos are joining the Mormon Church tremendously. We believe that it is because they are beginning to remember who they are,’ de Hoyos said.”
Mr. Faria believes the “discord of illegal immigration in the United States is part of God’s plan.” So does another LDS Latino in Utah:
“As a first-generation Latino in the United States, [Oscar] Garcia views the immigrant’s struggle as a gateway to a glorious future. ‘God said that we will be a generation of Latinos that will suffer because we are not legal here, because we are not born here or born from the people who populated this area many generations ago. We will have poverty and racism, but it’s because our children, who are born here as U.S. citizens, are the people that God will prepare for his future plans.’
“Garcia said that as Lamanites come to the United States, the second generation will become fortified. His three children, he said, are living examples of how the Lamanites are increasing in righteousness in the latter days; God is finally taking the ancient curse of black skin for iniquity from this generation of Lamanites, Garcia believes. ‘My children are turning white and they are Lamanite descendents. My daughter is a white Mexican,’ he said.”
Mr. Garcia’s last statement really needs some comment, but more on that later. The point I’d like to bring up here is that not all Utahans are pleased with the idea of Heavenly Father bringing illegal LDS immigrants to their state. The Salt Lake Tribune article noted:
“Recently, opponents have fought back in Utah, wielding their own version of church theology. They note that the Book of Mormon emphasizes obeying the law and that prospective converts must swear that they deal honestly with other people before they can enter a Mormon temple. Both are inconsistent with crossing the border illegally, critics say.”
I’m not sure what reporter Michael Riley means by opponents “wielding their own version of church theology.” It is beyond dispute that Mormon converts must make certain covenants at baptism which obligates them to: 1. Stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all places; and 2. Serve God and keep his commandments. Furthermore, for a Mormon to enter a temple that person must be deemed worthy. One of the questions prospective temple-goers must answer in the affirmative is the one cited above: Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?
I’m not stating a position on this issue; I’m only asking questions. Can illegal immigrants honestly make and keep LDS baptismal covenants? Can they pass the “worthiness” test and go into LDS temples? Is the Mormon Church taking any steps to help these people become legal immigrants? Should it?
Okay. I can’t resist a quick comment about this (from above):
“His three children, he said, are living examples of how the Lamanites are increasing in righteousness in the latter days; God is finally taking the ancient curse of black skin for iniquity from this generation of Lamanites, Garcia believes. ‘My children are turning white and they are Lamanite descendents. My daughter is a white Mexican,’ he said.”
This comment is really no surprise to many of us who have examined some of the racial issues in LDS Church history. But to BYU church history professor Richard Bennett this was something new. In response to Mr. Garcia’s comment,
“Bennett says that he has never heard Garcia’s interpretation. ‘The understanding of the scripture of the Book of Mormon is as the Lamanites increase in righteousness, they will become “white” in the sense of having their sins perfectly cleaned out of them. They become purified as a white and delightsome people but not in the connotation of pigmentation or racial expression,’ he said.”
I guess Dr. Bennett is unfamiliar with the remarks of Prophet (then Apostle) Spencer W. Kimball, which were made at the October 1960 General Conference of the LDS Church:
“The day of the Lamanites is nigh. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome. In this picture of the twenty Lamanite missionaries, fifteen of the twenty were as light as Anglos; five were darker but equally delightsome. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.
“At one meeting a father and mother and their sixteen-year-old daughter were present, the little member girl — sixteen — sitting between the dark father and mother, and it was evident she was several shades lighter than her parents — on the same reservation, in the same hogan, subject to the same sun and wind and weather. There was a doctor in a Utah city who for two years had had an Indian boy in his home who stated that he was some shades lighter than the younger brother just coming into the program from the reservation. These young members of the Church are changing to whiteness and to delightsomeness.” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 599 – Infobases Collectors Library ’97)