Commentary on Doctrine & Covenants 37

/ Doctrine & Covenants 37 / Commentary

Find helpful commentary on the verses below to better understand the message of this revelation.

Verses 1-4

Casey Paul Griffiths (LDS Scholar)

The doctrine of gathering was a central teaching of the Church in the nineteenth century. In September 1830 the Lord commanded through his Prophet Joseph Smith that the Saints “gather in unto one place upon the face of this land, to prepare their hearts and be prepared in all things against the day when tribulation and desolation are sent forth upon the wicked” (D&C 29:8). A few months later, it became clear that the gathering was not just spiritual but literal, when the Lord commanded the Saints to “go to the Ohio” (D&C 37:1, 3). Complying with the command, the newly baptized members gathered to Kirtland, Ohio. When the location for the city of Zion was revealed as Independence, Missouri, many of the Saints went up to Zion (D&C 57:1–2). Throughout the early history of the Church, Latter-day Saints moved to a specific geographic locales like Far West, Missouri, and Nauvoo, Illinois, in obedience to the doctrine of gathering.

 

During his tenure as Church President, Brigham Young continued to emphasize a physical gathering. In 1845, Church leaders issued a general proclamation declaring that the Lord “has commanded us to gather together his Saints on the continent and build up holy cities and sanctuaries” (“Proclamation of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Clark, Messages of the First Presidency, 263). The commandment to gather stayed consistent throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, with most converts immigrating to Church centers in the western United States.

 

Indications of a new phase of gathering began to appear in the 1890s, when difficult economic conditions led to a temporary suspension of the gathering. In January 1899 President Lorenzo Snow led a discussion with other Church leaders about the inherent problems of gathering. A hallmark of President Snow’s brief tenure was the opening of new countries for missionary work and his focus on the international membership of the Church. President Snow’s counselor, George Q. Cannon, expressed concern over “those who come here . . . who fail to secure employment and return to their former homes.” He added, “They either apostatize or to a great extent neutralize the efforts of our missionaries laboring in those regions.” Elder Matthias Cowley noted that when converts did not gather to the Intermountain West it had been “beneficial, since they had in many cases built meetinghouse and helped raise up branches of the Church, as well as becoming seasoned in the faith.” (Journal History of the Church, January 19, 1899).

 

Another important moment came in 1906 when President Joseph F. Smith traveled outside of the United States to Europe—the first time a President of the Church had visited Europe. During a conference held in Bern, Switzerland, President Smith prophesied, “The time will come when this land [Europe] will be dotted with temples, where you can go and redeem your dead.” He further declared that “temples would be built in diverse countries of the world” (Conference Report, October 1920, 90).

 

A year later, an editorial in the Millennial Star offered advice to emigrating saints but added, “The Church to which we belong is not using any influence to persuade its members or others to emigrate, but desires many of them shall stay and build up the work abroad” (Millennial Star, May 23, 1907, 329). An epistle addressed to Latter-day Saints in the Netherlands gave even more indications of a shift in the doctrine of gathering. The epistle stated, “The policy of the Church is not to entice or encourage people to leave their native lands; but to remain faithful and true in their allegiance to their governments, and to be good citizens” (Millennial Star, May 23, 1907, 329).

 

By the 1920s, Church leaders advised Latter-day Saints to remain in their native lands. A 1921 editorial in the Millennial Star declared, “Stay Where You Are!” While the article did not fault Latter-day Saints who immigrated to the United States, it was clear that there was no longer a directive for Church members to physically gather to the Intermountain West. The editorial noted, “The counsel of the General Authorities to the yet ungathered saints, is not to flock to Zionward under existing conditions, but to remain in the countries where they now dwell, and honor the laws of countries. Those who have homes and employment, especially, should stay and help build up the Lord’s work . . . strengthening the hands of the elders and other missionaries laboring among them” (Millennial Star, September 15, 1921, 585).

 

The policy change did not bring an immediate end to the doctrine of gathering; it merely brought a different interpretation. Church leaders now emphasized the importance of gathering as a spiritual ideal for Latter-day Saints. They cited an 1838 prophecy of Prophet Joseph Smith, in which the Lord taught, “The gathering together upon the land of Zion, and upon her stakes, may be for a defense, and for a refuge from the storm” (D&C 115:6). At an area conference held in Seoul, Korea, in 1975, President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “In the early days of the Church we used to preach for the people to come to Utah as the gathering process, largely because it was the only place in the whole world where there was a temple. . . . It is no longer necessary that we bring all the people to Salt Lake City. . . . And so the gathering is taking place. Korea is the gathering place for Koreans, Australia is the gathering place for Australians, Brazil for the Brazilians, England for the English.” On another occasion President Kimball taught, “The First Presidency and the Twelve see great wisdom in the multiple Zions, many gathering places where the Saints within their own culture and nation can act as a leaven in the building of the kingdom” (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, 1982, 440).

 

(Doctrine and Covenants Minute)