Gathering of Israel

We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and many of our hymns reflect this doctrine. However, we need to be careful about the racial background and implications of the tribes of Israel.

According to tradition, there are twelve tribes of Israel. The tribes of Benjamin and Judah formed the kingdom of Judah and are the primary ancestors of the Jews, with Judah being the larger of the two and most readily associated with the Jews. The other ten tribes are known as the Ten Lost Tribes. The Book of Mormon teaches Lehi was from the tribe of Manasseh, so American Indians and occasionally Polynesians are associated with the tribe of Manasseh. The Church also associated Anglo-Saxons and northern Europeans with the tribe of Ephraim. In general, the Ten Lost Tribes were associated with the North. East Asians and black Africans are not typically associated with Israel.

These associations were reflected in patriarchal blessings. Especially in the early days, Jewish members were given the tribe of Judah, Native Americans were given the tribe of Manasseh, members with European ancestry were given Ephraim and other members another tribe, or occasionally even Cain for black members. At the time, members tended to view patriarchal blessing as a literal declaration of lineage.

In recent years, Church leaders have moved away from the literal gathering of Israel and have focused on a spiritual gathering of Israel, one where all races have an equal priority in the gathering. Still, using a race as a symbol of people who follow the teachings of the Church is problematic. It reinforces stereotypes. It favors people who more closely resemble the symbolism by giving them a higher priority over others. It disfavors those who are not likely to be genetically Israel, even if Israel is symbolically among all the nations (Hymn #16).

Despite the change to a more global focus on the Church, the language of the hymns continues to be race-based. The Elders of Israel will preach the gospel and bring people out of Babylon. They will gather Israel (High on the Mountain Top, Like Ten Thousand Legions Marching, Come, All Ye Sons of God, An Angel from on High) or alternatively the sons of Jacob (Go, Ye Messengers of Heaven). It is Israel who will accept the gospel (What Glorious Scenes Mine Eyes Behold) and they are the ones who will be blessed in the fullness of times (The Morning Breaks, Softly Beams the Sacred Dawning). Even when referring to wickedness and the need to repent, the focus is still on Israel (Israel, Israel, God is Calling, Come, All Ye Saints of Zion, Come, Thou Glorious Day of Promise).

Whether symbolic or literal, Israel is more prominent in our hymns than any other nation. We can believe in the literal gathering of Israel while believing that other races are equally important in the building of the kingdom of God. Our hymns should reflect that all races have equal priority.

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