Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Fall of the Gentiles and the Gathering of Israel

So long, 2020. It's good to have you in my rearview mirror.

There were a lot of things that made me feel frustrated last year. Like, a lot frustrated. However, one of the things that really helped me put perspective on things was that old faithful book, the Book of Mormon. Studying it this year was good therapy. It calmed me down. It gave me peace. It helped me forgive. It helped me see that the political and social shifts going on around me fit into a larger prophetic narrative.

It was quite a ride reading the Book of Mormon alongside the news in 2020. The Book of Mormon reads like the fieldnotes of a civilization that fell apart, which is kind of what this year has felt like to me. Through it all, though, there is one insight that has really struck me this year, and it coincides perfectly with the message of our current prophet:

"There is nothing happening on this earth right now that is more important than [the gathering of Israel.] There is nothing of greater consequence. Absolutely nothing." (Russell M. Nelson, Hope of Israel, March 2019.)

Yes, even more important than a pandemic. Even more important than a tumultuous American election year. More important than any headline making waves today. Compared to the gathering of Israel, all the rest is just "fake news" in comparison.

The Book of Mormon says a lot of different things, but it seems to weave it all into one central narrative: there is a literal gathering of Israel. I have always been struck by the role that the Gentiles play in the gathering of Israel, but most interesting to me this year was how the scriptures explain that the Gentiles place in the spotlight would inevitably come to an end.

"These sayings which ye shall write [the Book of Mormon] shall be kept and shall be manifested unto the Gentiles, that through the fulness of the Gentiles, the remnant of [Israel's] seed, who shall be scattered forth upon the face of the earth because of their unbelief, may be brought in, or may be brought to a knowledge of me, their Redeemer. And then will I gather them in from the four quarters of the earth; and then will I fulfil the covenant which the Father hath made unto all the people of the house of Israel 
"And blessed are the Gentiles, because of their belief in me, in and of the Holy Ghost, which witnesses unto them of me and of the Father. Behold, because of their belief in me, saith the Father, and because of the unbelief of you, O house of Israel, in the latter days shall the truth come unto the Gentiles, that the fulness of these things shall be made known unto them." (3 Nephi 16)

Who are the Gentiles, and what makes them so special?

The definition of Gentile varies in scripture, but it is clear enough in the Book of Mormon that in the last days, the Gentiles would arrive on the scene to possess the land of the Americas, and that through them the restoration would begin and the Book of Mormon would come forth. Based on the outline of history, the Gentiles in the Book of Mormon could refer mainly to those of European descent. 

Racial identity is always a tricky and problematic social construct to define today, but if you celebrate the Mayflower somewhere in your family tree, it is probably you. It is me. It is Europeans. It is, generally, white America. It is those who have held power in this country for the last 200+ years.

To understand the plot of this story, one has to understand the covenant that God made to Israel. To the descendants of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, God promised, among other things, land and power over their enemies. They were God's chosen people to receive the priesthood, and that the Messiah would come through them. But the Israelites were more than a little bit rebellious, they sought after other gods, and over time they were scattered. But the covenant still stands, and in the last days it is prophesied that they would be gathered back together like the branches of the olive tree, that "the last shall be first and the first shall be last." In other words, the gospel would be taken from them and given to the Gentiles. Thus Europe, not Israel, became the capital of Christianity.

However, the Gentiles are not the focus of the covenant. They are a means to an end in fulfilling the covenant. They are, in a way, dispensable. Mormon writes:

"I have charity for the Gentiles. But behold, for none of these can I hope except they shall be reconciled unto Christ, and enter into the narrow gate, and walk in the strait path which leads to life, and continue in the path until the end of the day of probation." (2 Nephi 33:9)

Christ explains this further:

"But wo, saith the Father, unto the unbelieving of the Gentiles—for notwithstanding they have come forth upon the face of this land, and have scattered my people who are of the house of Israel; and my people who are of the house of Israel have been cast out from among them, and have been trodden under feet by them;

"And because of the mercies of the Father unto the Gentiles, and also the judgments of the Father upon my people who are of the house of Israel, verily, verily, I say unto you, that after all this, I have caused my people who are of the house of Israel to be smitten, and to be afflicted, and to be slain, and to be cast out from among them, and to become hated by them, and to become a hiss and a byword among them." (3 Nephi 16:8-9)

It is a horrible matter of historical record that Europeans have been anything but kind to the nations where Israel is most likely to be represented. The Native Americans in both the north and south were smitten and massacred and dehumanized; colonialism and greed desolated nation after nation; and racism has ever been an integral part of our history. Alongside our pious desire to spread the word of God through Christian missionary work, we simultaneously were also caught pillaging the resources and disrupting the political and social order of the nations where we were supposedly spreading a message of peace and love. As Europeans dominated the world, so did our abuse against Israel, particularly against people of color. It is precisely as prophesied, but justice for their wrongs is always a key part of God's promise to His people.

The great dramatic irony is that those same Gentile nations who scattered them would also be responsible for gathering them back again.

"Thus saith the Lord God: Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people; and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders.

"And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers; they shall bow down to thee with their face towards the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord; for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me." (Isaiah 49 as quoted in 1 Nephi 21:22-23)

All this is common BOM Sunday School talk. Christopher Columbus, Europeans discovering America, the scattering of the descendants of Lehi on the American continent, Joseph Smith's role as a descendant of Joseph, and Ephraim's role in gathering Israel, grafting them one by one back into the tree through family history and missionary work.

But something that became more and more apparent to me in 2020, and something which is prophesied in the Book of Mormon, was how terribly white America would eventually flunk out of the gospel program, speaking generally.

After the injustice of the Gentiles towards Israel, the day comes when a centuries old power dynamic is to be absolutely reversed. The day of the Gentile is prophesied to have an end, and scattered Israel throughout the world will begin to take back their place as God's chosen people.

[Jesus says] And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.

And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them. And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, that the Gentiles shall not have power over you; but I will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel.

Only after the Gentiles reject the gospel, then will God remember His covenant to gather up His people. The gathering is only just starting. If this description of the falling away of the old power structure to make way for the new one reads like the newsreel of today, you might be right.

If ever there were a time when, speaking generally, white America has turned away from the gospel of Jesus Christ, it may be now. Not only do we have the slow decay of godless secularism and general hedonism always growing in our society, but we also see moral decay from those who should know better---the Christian right. It feels like, more than ever, white Christians have lost their way. 

Even more troubling, antagonism towards those who have been scattered and oppressed---the literal House of Israel---is growing in America. Those in power are less and less interested in protecting the vulnerable, which was once the defining hallmark of American greatness. We are becoming less and less interested in "carrying Israel on our shoulders" and more interested in pursuing our own selfish interests. 

As Israel is gathered and grows in power and influence, so does the threat to old hierarchies. It is small wonder that white nationalists have started rallying in full force to protest the shifting power dynamic that moves decidedly towards the oppressed: blacks, Native Americans, and other people of color---basically any who were once marginalized, abused, and scattered. In other words, Israel. Tellingly, some even going so far as to chant angrily at pro-Trump rallies, "Jews will not replace us!" Unaware of Book of Mormon prophesy, the irony is certainly lost on them. Though this is admittedly a small minority, the feeling of being replaced or left out of society is the absolute fuel for the alt-right movement, and is widespread.

As a society, never before has our fall from Christian principles been as obvious as it has been in 2020. The cozy relationship that white America has made with some decidedly un-Christlike politicians, for example, and most notably the current American president, demonstrates (to me anyway) that the fall of the Gentile is well underway. White Christian men applaud politely while the ultimate metaphor for the collapse of Christian decency and moral authority, as embodied in the persona of Donald Trump, blusters on about immigrants and refugees, disregards the oppressed, spreads a steady stream of lies and mischief, protects the interests of the crooked and the shamefully wealthy, and acts with complete disregard, contempt even, for the vulnerable to whom he has responsibility, particularly in this pandemic, and all this with a Christian church as backdrop and an unread bible as prop. 

The current presidency gained momentum from the start by focusing on the fear of Latinos and other ethnic minorities, trying to halt as much as possible the gathering of Israel in the United States of America. All this, to me, has a parallel to the prophesies in the Book of Mormon, that literal Israel would grow in power and authority on the American continent, and that they would be seen as a threat to the unbelieving Gentiles. 

People have seen the changing face of America, perhaps even more so after seeing a person of color as president. Alarmed, they work desperately to bring back a time when God's chosen people were still white. Sensing their fall from power, there are many people who would like to "Make America great again," (white America, it wasn't so great for people of color) and do so without their arms open to the vulnerable, the downtrodden, and the stranger--to scattered Israel--which is a definite requirement of this land. 

Nevertheless, churches are filling up more and more with immigrants and ethnic minorities, and the gathering of Israel is taking place beneath our very noses. Meanwhile, white America is found less interested in ancient promises and more interested in defending their political and economic advantage. In this they will fail.

This tumultuous year may well mark the end of an era of Gentile spiritual stewardship and moral authority. The Christianity of the new predominately white alt-right movement has departed so drastically from the teachings of Christ as to be almost entirely unrecognizable. We can't undo what has been done.

And the Gentiles are lifted up in the pride of their eyes, and have stumbled, because of the greatness of their stumbling block, that they have built up many churches; nevertheless, they put down the power and miracles of God, and preach up unto themselves their own wisdom and their own learning, that they may get gain and grind upon the face of the poor. (2 Nephi 26:20)
And the blood of that great and abominable church, which is the whore of all the earth, shall turn upon their own heads; for they shall war among themselves, and the sword of their own hands shall fall upon their own heads, and they shall be drunken with their own blood. (1 Nephi 22:13) 

I can't think of a more dramatic demise to white America's place as moral authority than what has just transpired in 2020, as the great and abominable churches of political conservatism and liberalism tear each other apart, "drunken with their own blood." I fear it is far from over yet. And unfortunately, many latter-day saints are far too eager to be a part of it.

But the good news is, it gets better. Those willing to be a part of the gathering, no matter how little Israel blood they have in their veins, have great blessings in store for them. The gathering has less to do with race or any other category as it does with "healing the brokenhearted, proclaiming liberty to the captive, and opening the prison to those who are bound." (Isaiah 61:1)

Whoever they are, those who have been oppressed and abused (Israel) will be passed the baton of power in this nation as it passes out of the hand of the Gentiles. All the injustice, abuse, and pain of the centuries shall be made right, and the power and authority of Israel will be restored to them at last, both temporally and spiritually.

"And my people who are a remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles, yea, in the midst of them as a lion among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep, who, if he go through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver."

In other words, white America is going to get a thrashing if they don't get on board to help with God's covenant to the oppressed.

Yea, wo be unto the Gentiles except they repent, for it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Father, that I will cut off thy horses out of the midst of thee, and I will destroy thy chariotsAnd I will cut off the cities of thy land, and throw down all thy strongholds. 

And I will execute vengeance and fury upon them, even as upon the heathen, such as they have not heard.  

But if they will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance. (3 Nephi 21) 

And there's the rub: This land is not ours. It is on loan to us, and only so far as we are willing to do the work in redeeming captive Israel can we be numbered as heirs with Israel to dwell in it. If we want to have a place in this land, we certainly can, but it's not going to happen while moaning about the immigrants, whether they come legally or not; nor by shutting our doors to the refugees, fretting about the Muslims, or denying that the face of America is changing. We can't chant "All Lives Matter" at God's covenant people. We can't build a wall to stop the gathering of Israel.

If we want to be a part of this land, we need to repent. 

Behold I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel. (2 Nephi 30:2)

As outlined in the Book of Mormon, we need to do our part to gather downtrodden Israel. This is not necessarily a specific race, or one specific group, though we do have some clues. Israel is simply whoever we can find who has been downtrodden, marginalized, left out of the power structure, and abused. It is the ultimate affirmative action program. We need to be willing to carry Israel on our shoulders. We need to be their nursing fathers and nursing mothers.

One of the ways we carry Israel on our shoulders is to fight against racism. There are many ways to do this. We might support the influx of Syrian refugee families seeking asylum. We might work to help distressed families at the Mexican border, or speak out against deplorable human rights violations by the US government there. We may feel a desire to support our black brothers and sisters and march with them when they seek justice for centuries of abuse and ongoing racism. We might protest with Native Americans as they demand their rights to their land. Or, more simply, we might help whatever person we see who needs to be gathered, regardless of their nationality.

Gathering takes many forms, but refusing to be a part of the process may mean risking being torn to pieces spiritually by the emerging young lion of Israel among our flock of sheep.

But if the Gentiles will repent and return unto me, saith the Father, behold they shall be numbered among my people, O house of Israel. And I will not suffer my people, who are of the house of Israel, to go through among them, and tread them down, saith the Father. (3 Nephi 16:13)

It's the only way to inherit this land. 

In conclusion, the Book of Mormon is not just a book about our individual relationship to Jesus Christ, but it is also about our relationship to each other. It is an instruction manual on how to crash a big ginormous family reunion that we are invited to, even if we are only very distantly related, even if we hail from the most far-flung, furthest remote islands from Jerusalem, even as far as the British Isles.

The Book of Mormon is both radical and progressive. It demands a new world order. It is a book that calls upon us to fight for equality and social justice. It invites us each to be individually grafted into the tree of Christ, and to help gather the original branches that have been scattered around the vineyard. It is a guidebook for peace and charity.

It is a book we need a lot more of today.

1 Nephi 22

2 Nephi 6

2 Nephi 26

2 Nephi 30

2 Nephi 33

Jacob 5

3 Nephi 16

3 Nephi 21