Last year students at Peperdine University protested to have a statue of Columbus removed. The “Waves Against Columbus” protesters claimed the statue represents “a celebration of genocide and racial oppression.” This surely isn’t the way Columbus was represented in school when I was growing up and I’m saddened by the outlook of those who choose to focus on flaws rather than celebrate greatness.
From the reporting about attitudes on college campuses and discussions with my children attending college it seems that many are drawn to ideas of blaming historical figures or social classes for every perceived bad that has happened or is still happening within society without acknowledging the good.
So is there a right way to look at Columbus? Both inside and outside religious circles I hear people saying, “Don’t judge me,” and sentiment among many is that we shouldn’t, but is it alright to condemn Columbus? Do we want a free pass for ourselves, but think that we actually know what motivated Columbus and that we are better than he was?
Fortunately for the Latter-day Saint we have the Book of Mormon to answer some of these questions. From a vision the prophet Nephi reports (1 Ne 13:10-12)
And it came to pass that I looked and beheld many waters; and they divided the Gentiles from the seed of my brethren. And it came to pass that the angel said unto me: Behold the wrath of God is upon the seed of thy brethren. And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even into the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.
This man that is spoken of who was wrought upon by the spirit is generally accepted to be Columbus and the spirit moved him to come to America. Wilford Woodruff, a prophet of the LDS church was baptized for Columbus along with signers of the Constitution which would signal that Columbus deserves to be respected, not reviled.
A few chapters after the description of Columbus comes another interesting passage in the Book of Mormon. Referring to the children of Israel, (1 Ne 17:32-35)
And after they had crossed the river Jordan he did make them mighty unto the driving out of the children of the land, yea, unto the scattering them to destruction. And now, do ye suppose that the children of this land, who were in the land of promise, who were driven out by our fathers, do ye suppose that they were righteous? Behold, I say unto you, Nay. Do ye suppose that our fathers would have been more choice than they if they had been righteous? I say unto you, Nay. Behold, the Lord esteemeth all flesh in one; he that is righteous if favored of God. But behold, this people had rejected every word of God, and they were ripe in iniquity; and the fulness of the wrath of God was upon them; and the Lord did curse the land against them, and bless it unto our fathers; yea, he did curse it against them unto their destruction, and he did bless it unto our fathers unto their obtaining power over it.
I continue to be amazed at how the Book of Mormon addresses issues of our day. When I read the passage about Columbus as a youth I thought it a bit odd that he would be included in the Book of Mormon. In light of the more recent turning against Columbus I wonder that this is included in the Book of Mormon, giving me a better reference for what I see around me and guiding me in my evaluation of the world around me.