Literary DCGD #12: The Gathering of Zion

March 17, 2013 | 5 comments
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evan-molbourne-greenOne of the most modified Mormon doctrines is the doctrine of the gathering—the idea that Church members should move to a central gathering spot to build up Zion in this dispensation. D&C lesson 12 teaches about this doctrine, the subject of many of the sections in the Doctrine and Covenants. Under this doctrine, Mormons have “gathered” to Kirtland, Ohio, Independence, Missouri and other areas in that state, Nauvoo, Illinois and Salt Lake City, Utah and perhaps other places. Other Mormon sects have likewise sought to gather members to central locations. Hundreds of thousands of converts have left their homes to travel thousands of miles as a result of the teaching that saints should be gathered in one place. And often after reaching the gathering place, they have suffered persecution there, and then moved to a new gathering place. In the following poem, Evan M. Greene expressed the feelings of the saints about this commandment.

Evan M. Greene (1814-1882) was the son of Mormon missionary and mission president John P. Greene, and served several missions himself, the first two before he turned 18. By 1836 he had married and moved to Kirtland and by 1845 he was in Illinois. In 1847 he was the Postmaster of Kanesville, Iowa (near Winter Quarters) and by 1852 he had immigrated to Provo, Utah, where he became the town’s second mayor in 1853-1854 and served in the territorial legislature. He moved to several other places in Utah—Grantsville, near Bear Lake, Smithfield, Springdale and eventually Iron County, after he was ordained a patriarch in 1873. He was the father of long-lived and prolific Mormon poet Lula Greene Richards, but his own literary output is not well known, and this is the only example of his poetry that I’ve encountered so far.

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The Gathering of Zion

By E. M. Greene

Scattered many a toilsome year,
Pledged in faith to memory dear;
We our gathering still pursue,
And our covenants renew;
Bound by love’s unsevered chain,
We all hope to meet again.

 

Tho’ our homes, sunk by decay,
Wicked mobs have torn away;
And our holy, sacred place,
Wickedness has long defaced;
Still on Zion’s happy plain,
We all hope to meet again.

 

Many a time we there did meet;
Many a friend we there did greet:
Now our friends are scattered from
The sacred place they called their home;
Still on Zion’s flowery plain
We all hope to meet again.

 

We’ll pass thro’ toils for many years,
Till Christ the second time appears;
When in cold oblivion’s shade,
Proud oppression low is laid;
Then on Zion’s peaceful plain
We all hope to meet again.

The Wasp, v1 n11 25 June 1842, p. 4

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For Greene, the gathering is apparently closely associated with the persecution that seemed to follow it to Kirtland, Missouri and Nauvoo, although this latter occurred after he wrote this poem. So Greene sees the ultimate gathering as what will happen after this life, as the Lord gathers the righteous to live with him.

In my mind this demonstrates the ambiguity of this doctrine, since the concept is used to refer not only to a physical gathering like that of the 19th century, but also a spiritual gathering of souls to the gospel and of the righteous to Christ. In almost literary fashion, this doctrine refers at once to any and all of these, and leads us to perhaps consider what it means to “gather” today. Is it simply joining to righteousness and seeking the will of God? Or is there still some physical requirement? Or, is Greene right that the ultimate gathering will only occur after this life?

5 Responses to Literary DCGD #12: The Gathering of Zion

  1. Cameron on March 17, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Thanks for sharing! The answer to your final questions, I think, would be ‘all of the above.’

  2. Steve Smith on March 17, 2013 at 9:29 am

    No, I don’t think there is a physical requirement. I think that it was difficult, and still is difficult, for many LDS to give up on the idea of a Zion with physical boundaries. Joseph Smith’s vision of Zion in Jackson County was compromised only two years after migrants began arriving. The Nauvoo years lasted only three-four years. Brigham Young’s state of Deseret was completely brought to an end during the Utah war 1857-8, only ten-eleven years after arrival. Colonies in Canada and Mexico never experienced tremendous growth. At some point the LDS followers gradually conceded to be absorbed into the political entities around them and make the concept of gathering more of a spiritual quest than a physical one. Yet oddly the hope for a physical gathering still linger. A few years ago my wife’s cousin and her husband were seriously entertaining the idea of moving to Jackson County, Missouri and settling there for good. They believed that the last days were coming and that they would get a head start on physical gathering. However, thankfully they never went through with it .

  3. Cameron on March 17, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Well, Steve, I think you are correct to a degree, but Zion also of necessity involves community worship and participation, even if today it is no longer a singular place but a pluralistic one. Also, although preemptive physical moving is rather silly, the eventual return to a distinct city of Zion, the new Jerusalem, is revealed doctrine. I suppose this combined singular/pluralistic paradigm is the most complete and so it’s appropriate that it is the final one.

  4. Steve Smith on March 17, 2013 at 3:40 pm

    Cameron, I agree that regular assembly is required for Zion. My point is that a distinct physical territory isn’t a requirement for Zion. Mormons are no longer nationalists who claim specific territories for the purpose of creating a nation-state (an independent Mormon country so to speak). The current LDS church appears only to hold on to the idea of Jackson County as a relic. Other than buying up a select few properties in the area, the LDS church hasn’t made any major attempt to call for any sort of gathering there. In other words the idea of Jackson County as Zion, even if it is considered doctrinal by many, has little to no significance in the day-to-day lives of LDS people. Contrast this with Zionism, the nation-state of Israel, and many Zionist Jews; the specific territory on the far southeast side of the Mediterranean Sea has such significance to them that they were willing to lobby the British and other foreign actors, assemble militarily, and rally their coreligionists together for the purpose of persuading foreign political entities to recognize the sovereign nation-state of Israel, controlling its domestic affairs, and protecting and expanding (1967 war) its borders. Another noteworthy example of comparison might be the Hindus in India and the Muslims in Pakistan/Bangladesh; two other examples of religious nationalism. The Mormon experience started out as quasi-nationalist but never came to fruition, largely due to the policies of leaders in the United States.

  5. Tiger on March 20, 2013 at 11:11 am

    I agree that its “all of the above,” and although the message of Zion has expanded spiritually–that Saints build up Zion wherever they live–a physical gathering in due time will be necessary. Because Zion will be the only place where people, as incredible as it sounds, will not be warring with each other. Ultimately, it will be a place of safety, and those who revel in their wickedness will fear to approach Zion since the “terror of the Lord” will reside there (see D&C 45:67, 75).