In recent years, my religious tradition has placed a renewed emphasis on a concept we call the gathering of Israel. Gathering is a core belief in my faith codified succinctly if not slightly confusingly in our tenth of twelve articles of faith, articles that state core tenants of my faith. Like many ideas in religion, everything has a historical, orthodox, fundamentalist, and alternative interpretations and applications. Here I propose a way to interpret gathering that is expansive, inclusive and that speaks to the specific challenges facing people today.
Gathering – Definitions
We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisaical glory.Article of Faith 10
The word “literal” in this sentence imposes quite a burden. Scripture and theology takes a much richer place in my life as metaphor. I am perfectly free to ignore the “literal” claim imposed by this phrase but perhaps I should at least try to take it seriously as a jumping off point. Israel has a literal meaning in terms of geography, history and people. The twelve tribes of Israel organized originally by Moses and Joshua after they left Egypt, fleeing as slaves. They eventually create a tiny, ancient nation subjected to the forces and temptations of surrounding nations to whom they would ultimately succumb. The Israel nation begins slowly as a set of twelve affiliated tribes governed loosely by different judged until they organize themselves into a kingdom, only to have that kingdom split into two – the Northern/Southern kingdoms. The Old Testament documents the scattering of the Northern tribes by Assyria who most likely assimilated into the surrounding nations, losing their identity as descendants of the Genesis patriarchs and as inheritors of that religious covenant. Judah, Benjamin and remnants of Levi survive through exile, scattering, and violence but continue to this day as a Jewish people with a rich history, theology and an ambition that includes the reconstitution of a Jewish state in Israel.
The Latter Day Saint faith, more so than most Christian traditions, attempts to graft a purely Jewish notion of history and nation into Christianity by claiming its own connection to Jewish heritage. Faithful members receive a patriarchal blessing and as part of that they are assigned membership to one of the twelve tribes. Most are assigned assigned membership to the tribe of Ephraim, one of the lost ten tribes. The tribe of Ephraim, Mormons believe has been designated to gather Israel in the last days. The Book of Mormon, in fact, is record of a remnant of the tribe of Manasseh and will become a key vehicle from which this gathering can occur. These tribal assignments could be literal, but mostly we accept membership through adoption, itself sort of a metaphor of a binding familial tie. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints believe as adopted members of the tribe of Ephraim, we have been designated to lead the effort of gathering Israel in preparation of the second coming of Jesus Christ.
The current prophet and president of the church, President Nelson has placed an emphasis on this gathering. Shortly after being called as prophet, he said to the youth of the church:
My dear young brothers and sisters, these surely are the latter days, and the Lord is hastening His work to gather Israel. That gathering is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty. And if you choose to, if you want to, you can be a big part of it. You can be a big part of something big, something grand, something majestic!
When we speak of the gathering, we are simply saying this fundamental truth: every one of our Heavenly Father’s children, on both sides of the veil, deserves to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. They decide for themselves if they want to know more.President Nelson
Reading that tenth article of faith is difficult to understand, but here President Nelson simplifies it – gathering is the work of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which involves taking on covenants through ordinances like baptism and temple and then inviting others to do so as well. The additional work of geneology and proxy ordinances is also included in the work of gathering. This definition implies Israel is within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the gathering work amounts to bringing people within this particular church.
I don’t want to extrapolate too much. President Nelson does not necessarily limit gathering to missionary and geneology work, nor did he say explicitly that Israel can only be found within the church he leads. What he says is that this is part of the gathering work, but perhaps a small part of something bigger. And I should hope so. Just like Moses’ Israel was a tiny nation with limited geographical reach, the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a tiny branch within Christianity, a tiny strand within one of a number of other global religious movement. There is no way that the burden of gathering can be born on the shoulders of this church alone.
Is There a Better Interpretation?
Perhaps not a better interpretation, but certainly a more expansive interpretation. To think of what it means so gather, I think it’s helpful to think of what it means to scatter. Perhaps other words might help think about this idea differently – inclusive vs. divisive, building bridges vs. burning them down. In this sense, think of all the ways we scatter, at macro vs micro scale.
- Rejecting a loved one because they fail to live up to expectations. Kicking a member of the family out because they are gay. Rejecting a family member because of their religious beliefs.
- Trump supporters who believe Democrats are driving the country to destruction. Democrats who cancel Trump supporters. Cancel culture. Talk of RINO’s.
- Closed borders. Reducing immigrants wanting to come to America to work in pursuit of a better life as criminals.
- The rich who live in housing within gated communities, sending their kids to private schools, and pressuring local governments to defund public schools.
- Religious claims that elevate one faith over another.
- Addiction. Excessive online activities. Isolation.
- Interfaith organizations that cooperate to uplift their communities.
- The rich giving away their resources to uplift marginal people and communities.
- Bi-partisan efforts to find compromise legislation that includes the concerns and best ideas from both parties.
- A humble recognition that no single perspective is looking at a complex world without bias and blind spots.
- A recognition that black lives matter and because they do all lives matter as well.
- We need to enforce our borders but we also need a robust pathway for continual immigration and we also need legitimate avenues for asylum claims.
- The best way we can respond to war is to provide a safe haven for those most affected by it – we should be doing all we can to welcome Russian refugees fleeing Putin’s failed leadership.
- Finding ways to reconcile and include the best ideas of science, art, humanities and religion. The university and the church cooperate in a give and take in search for both truth and the kind of truth that provides meaning and well-being in people’s lives.
- Yes, we need individual churches to seek converts but we also recognize that different people will find the journey more satisfying in different faiths.
- So many more ideas.
The gathering of Israel is another way of pursuing something that has also been part of my faith – establishing Zion, creating a world where division dissolves and inequity disappears. Individuality blends with pluralism to create a world where there are no poor and where everyone can reach their potential as we support and sustain each other even if we don’t always understand or agree with one another. A world where we end exploitation, where we give up on the pursuit of wealth for wealth’s sake, and a world where we seek abundance broadly shared and broadly enjoyed. This is the work of gathering, and we can’t do it alone. We need everyone.
To bring it back to literal Israel, the Abrahamic covenant, the founding covenant of Israel, was to create a nation founded on the rule of law with a commitment to bless the entire earth. The promises of that covenant still exist but only as we thing bigger. Gathering of Israel means gathering everything that is good, united and linked to nurture and care for all who have been gathered.
And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount aZion, and upon her assemblies, a bcloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming cfire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.
And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat, and for a place of arefuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.Isaiah 4:5-6