America – The Conditional Promised Land
America, known to Mormons as the promised land, is said to be “… a land preserved for a righteous people” that serve Jesus Christ. (Book of Mormon, Ether 2: 7;12, Ether 13: Summary)
According to the Book of Mormon, in approximately 2200 B.C. God guided a group of people to America, they were known as the Jaredites. The Jaredites were warned that if they became unrighteous and stopped serving Jesus Christ, they would lose the promised land. They eventually became wicked and refused to repent. They were then “swept from the land,” and by 600 B.C. everyone had died except one man.
Around 600 B.C. God gave the promised land to the Children of Lehi. Lehi led his children out of Jerusalem to come to America. Once in the promised land the Children of Lehi eventually became known as the Lamanites, who were the ancestors of the “American Indians” according to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Lamanites were told the same thing the Jaredites were told, that they could only keep the promised land if they served Jesus Christ. And like the Jaredites, the Lamanites became wicked.
Because of the Lamanite’s wickedness, America the promised land was no longer theirs. Enter the Mormon beliefs that Christopher Columbus was guided by God, and that this was the fulfillment of prophecy in the Book of Mormon. That what hardships and horrors transpired upon Indigenous people, though sad, was also a fulfillment of prophecy.
Location of the Promised Land
First, I feel it important to clarify that the promised land is still currently America, officially. Until official church sources change this, it will stay current.
Since the beginning of the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the church has claimed that North America is the promised land. Joseph Smith said it enough times that there should be little doubt of the original teachings. However, here is something from a church leader who is still living, Jeffrey Holland summarizes this neatly in an article titled: The Promised Land. Holland lays out clearly where the promised land is located. Below are some quotes from that article.
“Temporarily, we call it America.”
“America is such a place, but of course it wasn’t always called America nor has it always been identified by a distinctive continental shape. Originally it was simply a portion of that large, single land mass which God in his creative process called “Earth” and which, when completed, was pronounced “good.” (Gen. 1:10.) Whatever its name and geographical configuration, however, it was from the beginning a land of divinity as well as a land of destiny.
The choicest part of this earthly creation was a garden “eastward in Eden” where God placed our first parents, Adam and Eve. This resplendent place filled with paradisiacal glory was located on that part of the land mass where the city Zion, or the New Jerusalem of the earth’s last days, would eventually be built. (See D&C 57:1–3, D&C 84:1–3; and Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:74.) After Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden, they dwelt at a place called Adam-ondi-Ahman, located in what is now Daviess County, Missouri.”
The above quotes distinctly identify America as the promised land, and within it is a sacred part of the promised land located in Missouri that Mormons call Adam-ondi-Ahman. This is the place they claim will be the location of the second coming of Jesus Christ, and where New Jerusalem will be built.
If the talk by Jeffrey Holland is not enough, please read the official scriptural reference in Doctrine and Covenants 57:2, in which Missouri is declared the land of promise to Joseph Smith through direct revelation. Or read Doctrine and Covenants 84:2 which declares that this location in Missouri will be the New Jerusalem. Or we can look to the Book of Mormon, Ether chapter 13: “Ether speaks of a New Jerusalem to be built in America.”Honestly, there are hundreds of official church sources currently identifying different parts of North America as the promised land, but these suffice.
First Peoples in Missouri
Before I move on, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the first peoples of the land in Missouri, since Missouri has been mentioned in the post. Missouri was home to the Chickasaw, Illini, Ioway, Otoe-Missouria, Osage, and Quapaw. There are even more tribes with ties to this land as hunting grounds and meeting grounds. And even more still who were forced to relocate in Missouri, only to be forced out again.
There are currently no federally recognized tribes in Missouri due to the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
Let me also take a moment to acknowledge that those tribes mentioned did not originate from Jerusalem, they are not of Lamanite descendant, they predate the Book of Mormon timeline by many tens of thousands of years, and their ancestors did not turn evil and lose their ancestral lands. Those teachings are manifest destiny, and do not belong being pushed upon the Indigenous people of the Americas.
In March of 1830, the Book of Mormon was first published.
On April 6, 1830, Joseph Smith founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Following month, on May 28, 1830, U.S. President Andrew Jackson signed into law the Indian Removal Act. Though even prior to this act, forced displacement of Native Americans had already been happening for years. This part of history includes the Trail of Tears, economic collapse of the Native peoples, loss of land, and soaring loss of life in all ages.
In October of 1830 Joseph Smith claims to have had revelation for the first mission to the Lamanites (Native Americans). Smith sent men to teach the “Indians” the Mormon gospel. (Doctrine and Covenants, Section 32) One of the tribes that the missionaries contacted and taught in Missouri was the Delaware tribe, who had already been forced off their ancestral lands and had been relocated to Missouri. Soon this tribe would be forced out once again, along with the other Indigenous peoples of Missouri, due to the Indian Removal Act.
On January 6, 1836, six years after the Indian Removal Act was official, Joseph Smith identifies the Indians of this continent as the Lamanites, and refers to the Indian Removal Act as, “The Gathering of Israel and the American Indians.” Smith continues by saying, “…how sweet it is to think that they (the Lamanites) may one day be gathered by the Gospel!” Smith then goes on to praise the “venerable” Andrew Jackson who signed the Indian Removal Act into being.(History of the Church, Volume 2 Chapter 26)
By 1838 removal of the Indigenous peoples in Missouri was largely complete.
Between the end of 1837 and through 1838 Mormons were moving into Missouri after the Mormon bank failed in Ohio. Joseph Smith fled to Missouri to avoid criminal prosecution, and avoid angry former believing members of his church in Ohio. Though the narrative is much different for believing members. For many believers it was revelation from God to go to Missouri, not because Smith was running from trouble.
May 19, 1838 Joseph Smith receives revelation of the location of Adam-ondi-Ahman in Daviess County Missouri. (Doctrine and Covenants 116)
By 1839 Mormons were being pushed out of Missouri and moving to Illinois.
To clarify why the above events and beliefs are problematic, read those beliefs about the “gathering of Israel” as if you are one of the original tribes of Missouri. Read it as a person who was forced off ancestral lands, far from where your people had lived and where your ancestors were buried, and as someone who loses not only ancestral lands, but also loses the lives of all the loved ones around you as you are all forced to walk.
The Promised Land as taught directly from the Book of Mormon
I have written so much about the topic of the promised land and manifest destiny within Mormonism in my previous blog posts, I feel like it is well covered. What I hope to be understood is that it is current, and part of scripture. Until it is removed from scripture this narrative stays current.
Book of Mormon – Ether Chapter 2 (The Jaredites)
- Verse 7 “… they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people.”
- Verse 8 “…whoso should possess this land of promise, from that time henceforth and forever, should serve him, the true and only God, or they should be swept off when the fulness of his wrath should come upon them.”
- Verse 9 “And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them…”
- Verse 10 “For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God.”
- Verse 12 “Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written.”
Book of Mormon – 2 Nephi Chapter 1 (Written about the Lamanites. Approximately 600 years after the previous people, the Jaredites, were destroyed.)
- Verse 3 “And he (Lehi) also spake unto them concerning the land of promise, which they had obtained obtained—how merciful the Lord had been in warning us that we should flee out of the land of Jerusalem.”
- Verse 5 “But, said he, notwithstanding our afflictions, we have obtained a land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted with me should be a land for the inheritance of my seed. Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord.”
- Verse 6 “Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.”
- Verse 7 “Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity; if so, it shall be because of iniquity; for if iniquity shall abound cursed shall be the land for their sakes, but unto the righteous it shall be blessed forever.”
- Verse 8 “And behold, it is wisdom that this land should be kept as yet from the knowledge of other nations; for behold, many nations would overrun the land, that there would be no place for an inheritance.”
- Verse 9 “…they shall prosper upon the face of this land; and they shall be kept from all other nations, that they may possess this land unto themselves. And if it so be that they shall keep his commandments they shall be blessed upon the face of this land, and there shall be none to molest them, nor to take away the land of their inheritance; and they shall dwell safely forever.”
- Verse 10 “But behold, when the time cometh that they shall dwindle in unbelief… they will reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God, behold, the judgments of him that is just shall rest upon them.”
- Verse 11 “Yea, he will bring other nations unto them, and he will give unto them power, and he will take away from them the lands of their possessions, and he will cause them to be scattered and smitten.”
To clarify why the above beliefs are problematic, read that last two verses as a Native American or an Indigenous person who has been labeled “Lamanite.” Understand that there was not a single Indigenous group that worshiped Jesus Christ before colonization, and that this was evidence to the Mormons that we were unrighteous Lamanite descendants and that our ancestors had turned away from God. Read those verses as a Native American teenager. Read them as a Native American child, then sing the song Book of Mormon Stories. “Giv’n the land if they live righteously.”
Native American Truth
As a Tsimshian woman, I am appalled that Native American and Indigenous families and children are being not only labeled as Lamanite to this day, but that they are actively being taught this manifest destiny narrative by missionaries and in church without fully understanding it for what it is. Instead, they are told they are special, and that they are part of a chosen generation to “redeem” their people, and that they should be grateful because God’s promise was not to destroy all the Lamanites, and we have benefited from that blessing. Indigenous members are experiencing gaslighting, and they are passing it on. I grew up on it, and even in my adulthood I passed this on myself until I realized I had been lied to.
The truth, Native Americans never needed redemption. To assume so is religious persecution and ignores the freedom and beauty in Native American spirituality.
The truth, Native Americans and Indigenous peoples of the Americas and Pacific Islands did not come here from Jerusalem. We have been here far longer than the Book of Mormon timeline. We have our own history.
I support freedom, I support religious freedom. But it is not freedom if what is being taught isn’t truth about Native Americans and Indigenous peoples. Only fully informed faith is true freedom of religion. The church needs to give full representation of its beliefs, especially by those in the missionary program when they are teaching people around the world. Then anyone that chooses to believe in it, after being fully informed of what they believe in, that is their right. But first let’s be honest in our dealings with our fellowman and not whitewash a racist narrative.
If there is any hope in me left for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is to simply embrace its faith about God and family, and leave Indigenous identity, dark skin curses, and religious shaming out of it. The church would be better off focusing on the spiritual and advising all missionaries and leaders that it does not know who the Lamanites are, and to cease all assumptions about where the “land of promise” is located. Also, remove Christopher Columbus, America, and American Indians from its official sources. Consider that restitution is part of repentance, cease cultural appropriation, and apologize. Stop resting the church on top of Indigenous people, stop making them carry a manifest destiny lie.
- Smith, Joseph. Book of Mormon. Retrieved May 05, 2021, from https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/gs/book-of-mormon
- Smith, Joseph. Book of Mormon first edition (1830). (n.d.). Retrieved May 05, 2021, from https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/content/library/book-of-mormon
- Book of Mormon Timeline. (2011, October). Ensign Magazine. Retrieved May 05, 2021, from https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2011/10/book-of-mormon-time-line
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (2019). January 20–26. Come Follow Me Manual. Lesson 1 Nephi 11–15: “Armed with righteousness and the power of God”. Retrieved May 05, 2021, from https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/come-follow-me-for-individuals-and-families-book-of-mormon-2020/04
- Holland, Jeffrey. A Promised Land. (June 1976) Ensign Magazine. Retrieved May 05, 2021, from https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1976/06/a-promised-land
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (n.d.). Doctrine and Covenants. Retrieved May 05, 2021, from https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (n.d.). History of the Church. Volume 2 Chapter 26. Retrieved May 05, 2021, from https://byustudies.byu.edu/further-study-lesson/volume-2-chapter-26/
- U.S. Department of State (n.d.). Office of The Historian. Retrieved May 05, 2021, from https://history.state.gov/milestones/1830-1860/indian-treaties
- Native American/Indigenous STUDIES: Mo Indigenous Nations. (n.d.). Retrieved May 05, 2021, from https://libraryguides.missouri.edu/nativeamericanstudies/motribes