The nineteenth-century history of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints, Max Perry Mueller argues, illuminates the role
that religion played in forming the notion of three "original"
American races—red, black, and white—for Mormons and
others in the early American Republic. Recovering the voices of a
handful of black and Native American Mormons who resolutely wrote
themselves into the Mormon archive, Mueller threads together
historical experience and Mormon scriptural interpretations. He
finds that the Book of Mormon is key to understanding how early
followers reflected but also departed from antebellum conceptions
of race as biblically and biologically predetermined. Mormon
theology and policy both challenged and reaffirmed the essentialist
nature of the racialized American experience.
The Book of Mormon presented its believers with a radical
worldview, proclaiming that all schisms within the human
family were anathematic to God's design. That said, church founders
were not racial egalitarians. They promoted whiteness as an
aspirational racial identity that nonwhites could achieve through
conversion to Mormonism. Mueller also shows how, on a broader
level, scripture and history may become mutually constituted. For
the Mormons, that process shaped a religious movement in perpetual
tension between its racialist and universalist impulses during an
era before the concept of race was secularized.