“The Gathering of Israel,” Church History Topics
“The Gathering of Israel”
Old Testament prophecies reassured the children of Israel that, although they would be scattered among the nations, they would also one day be gathered again.1 The newly translated Book of Mormon and the Lord’s revelations to Joseph Smith taught early Latter-day Saints that they lived in the time in which the promised gathering would begin. This gathering would occur as they preached throughout the world, bringing the gospel to the scattered descendants of Israel and to all who desired to be adopted into the covenant family. At the same time, the Saints were to build a “city of Zion” to which converts could gather in preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.2
Within months of the organization of the Church in 1830, a revelation to Joseph Smith instructed newly baptized members to leave their homes and gather “in unto one place upon the face of this land.”3 Further revelation designated Ohio as the first place of gathering.4 While believers flocked to Kirtland, Ohio, a revelation to Joseph Smith identified an area near the village of Independence in Jackson County, Missouri, as the place to begin building the city of Zion.5 The Saints were expelled from the county in 1833, preventing them from building the promised city, but they continued to establish settlements in surrounding counties to which converts could gather.
The gathering gained further impetus in April 1836 when the Old Testament prophet Moses appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland Temple and gave them the “keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the Land of the North.”6 Apostles Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde were soon called to England, establishing the Church’s first overseas mission.7 Thousands of converts began to flock to Latter-day Saint stakes in Ohio, Missouri, and later, Illinois. In Nauvoo, Illinois, the Saints established a large stake and began building a new temple. Joseph Smith taught that in one sense, “the whole America is Zion,” and the Saints could gather anywhere so long as there was a temple.8 He explained that the “main object” of the gathering was “to build unto the Lord an house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house and glories of His kingdom and teach the people the ways of salvation.”9
After Joseph Smith’s death, the Saints migrated to the American West, where they continued to establish stakes of Zion and build temples. In 1848 Church leaders urged converts in Europe to “emigrate as speedily as possible” to the Great Basin.10 New members abroad—especially those in Great Britain and Scandinavia—eagerly followed Church leaders’ instructions, so much so that Latter-day Saint settlements faced challenges supporting and integrating the large numbers of immigrants economically.11 In the missions, the constant flow of converts away from local branches toward the stakes in Utah made proselytizing efforts more difficult. Finally, in 1887, United States antipolygamy legislation disincorporated the Church’s Perpetual Emigrating Fund, limiting the Church’s ability to aid immigration in the way it had since 1849.12
Church leaders in the 1890s began encouraging new members to remain in their homelands. In 1894, for instance, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles decided that members far from Utah “should not be encouraged to emigrate until they are firmly grounded in the religion by labor and experience” and that those who were already financially well employed should “not be encouraged to emigrate to this place, where labor is so scarce.”13 But the earlier directive to gather to Zion continued to appeal to some members, and leaders felt they could not in good conscience discourage members from migrating if they desired and had the means to do so. The Liverpool mission office continued serving as an emigration agency until the British Mission headquarters was relocated to London in 1933, though immigration continued to decline steadily.14
In 1952 President David O. McKay traveled to Europe to select sites for temples in England and Switzerland. While there, he told a reporter, “We aim to keep our adherents here instead of encouraging them to immigrate to Utah and other places in the United States.”15 He explained that the presence of temples would bring the blessings of Zion to the Saints in Europe. Subsequent Presidents of the Church continued to pursue the goal of building temples wherever there were large concentrations of Saints. In 1977 Elder Bruce R. McConkie reiterated that Zion exists wherever individuals gather together into the true fold of God through baptism and covenant. Referencing the people of Enoch, Elder McConkie taught, “To create a stake is like founding a City of Holiness. Every stake on earth is the gathering place for the lost sheep of Israel who live in its area.”16 The proliferation of temples and stakes throughout the world has provided Latter-day Saints with the advantages and blessings of gathering while also assisting in the continued gathering of God’s children in their own lands.