This song pits the elders of Israel against Babylon. In this song, Israel is gathering the righteous out of Babylon and into the mountains of Ephraim. Babylon is an ancient empire situated in modern-day Iraq. Ephraim is one of the lost ten tribes, and the Church usually associated them with Anglo-Saxons and northern Europeans. The mountains of Ephraim refers to the Wasatch Front, a mountain range in Utah, where LDS pioneers settled. Many believed they were the literal descendants of Ephraim, and that special blessings and assignments belonged to them and not to other races. One of the special assignments was gathering the elect to Utah. This was especially seen as a responsibility of the all-male priesthood.
A lot has changed since this song was written. We no longer try to encourage converts to come and dwell in Utah. Instead, we emphasized a spiritual gathering over a literal gathering. The racial demographics of the Church has changed and we have talked more about adoption than literal descendants. Missionary work is no longer seen as a male-only assignment and many women have joined the missionary ranks. The idea of male-only, literal descendants of Israel bringing the righteous to Utah is antiquated and needs to be revised.
There is also the problem of using Babylon as a symbol of wickedness. It is our belief that there is good and bad among every nation. There were good and bad people among the ancient tribe of Ephraim as well as ancient Babylon. There are also good and bad people among their modern-day descendants. It is not fair to reduce the people of Babylon to a symbol of wickedness and the people of Ephraim to a symbol of righteousness. People of both nationalities have equal divine worth. We should never use race or nationality as a symbol, since there are real people who are children of God behind these symbols. Symbols reemphasize racist stereotypes. Our new hymnbook should help all of God’s children feel like they have equal status before God.
Here is a segment of a missionary choir singing “Ye Elders of Israel” during the priesthood session of General Conference:
Here is the link to the full lyrics:
Here is the link to leave feedback for the hymns:
What do you think? Should we edit the hymn? Should we get rid of it? Should we leave it as is? Let us know in the comments below: