[Image from the Church’s media library]
This post follows up from my previous post about the racism against Native Americans that is taught in the Book of Mormon.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the United States of America is the Promised Land. It’s right here in the 10th Article of Faith:
We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.
Nephi prophesied that Columbus would be inspired to cross the Atlantic Ocean and discover America for the Europeans (the Native Americans obviously already knew it was here).
11 And it came to pass that the angel said unto me: Behold the wrath of God is upon the seed of thy brethren.
12 And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.
13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.
14 And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.15 And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain. 1 Nephi 13:11-15.
The Book of Mormon teaches that God gives the American continents only to righteous people. ““For it is a choice land, saith God unto me, above all other lands, wherefore I will have all men that dwell thereon that they shall worship me, saith God.” 2 Nephi 10:19.
These beliefs blend nicely with the beliefs of White Christian Nationalism.
The Public Religion Research Institute is a non-profit and non-partisan organization that researches religion and public policy. It doesn’t make recommendations, just observations. In February 2023, the PRRI published the results of a study it did about White Christian Nationalism and its beliefs. The study asked people whether they agreed or disagreed with the following beliefs:
- The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation.
- U.S. laws should be based on Christian values.
- If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore.
- Being Christian is an important part of being truly American.
- God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.
People who agree with these statements are White Christian Nationalists. The PRRI then talked about which groups of people are most likely to share White Christian Nationalist beliefs. Not surprisingly, white Evangelicals were more likely to be WCNs or sympathize with their beliefs. The report then goes through the breakdown of responses by age, race, gender and educational level. You can read the full report here.
As you can see, the beliefs of White Christian Nationalism go right along with viewing America as the Promised Land. Fortunately, WCNs are only a small proportion of the population. About 10% of people are actually WCNs, and another 20% (or so) sympathize with WCN beliefs. A whopping 7 out of 10 people disagree with WCN beliefs. White Christian Nationalists are NOT a majority and they are not acting on behalf of a silent majority. They are the minority.
To any White Christian Nationalists who are reading this post, please reconsider your views. America works best as a plurality nation – a mix of different beliefs that we all learn to tolerate. Most of the population just wants to live their lives without suffering because of someone else’s religious beliefs. WCN beliefs cause suffering because of the violence. Please don’t hurt people who disagree with you. America is too big and too pluralistic to turn into a country like Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, with Christianity playing the role that Islam plays in those smaller and more homogeneous countries. If you keep forcing those beliefs into laws and threatening violence, the aftermath is more likely to look like Europe, in which the people have largely rejected religion because of all the turmoil and suffering that it caused them. Please just let America remain a mix of differing religions and differing lifestyles. The stuff you’re reading in the news about transgender people and liberals is lies and exaggerations. There is no threat you need to take up arms against.
The PRRI asked survey respondents about America as the Promised Land.
In addition to the questions that make up the Christian nationalism scale, the survey included a stand-alone question that asked respondents to agree or disagree with the following statement: “God intended America to be a new promised land where European Christians could create a society that could be an example to the rest of the world.” By a margin of two to one, Americans overall reject this assertion (30% agree, 67% disagree). (towards the bottom of the page)
The survey reports that Mormons are more likely than the general population to sympathize with WCN beliefs. About 33% of the Latter-day Saints surveyed sympathized with WCN beliefs, while 5% were outright supporters. However, 50% of the Latter-day Saints reported skeptical views of WCN beliefs and 10% rejected WCN beliefs entirely. The remainder didn’t answer so the numbers don’t add up to 100%. I found it very heartening that 60% of the Latter-day Saints surveyed do not support WCN beliefs. The survey didn’t ask for activity rates, though, so that 60% may be less likely to be actively attending Church than the 38% who support or sympathize with WCN beliefs.
LDS beliefs about America being the Promised Land feed right into White Christian Nationalism. Church leaders have cautioned members against radical political beliefs, persecution and violence, but they can’t fully turn from the teaching that America is a Promised Land given by God to faithful Christians without disavowing a very clear statement in the Book of Mormon.
In fact, this is one area where I can see that the LDS far-right has a point when they assert that President Nelson is a fallen prophet. The Book of Mormon teachings are very clear that America is the Promised Land. Moroni put it most plainly when he was telling the story of the Jaredites:
8 And he had sworn in his wrath unto the brother of Jared, that 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.
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. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity.
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. And it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off.
11 And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done.
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.Ether 2:8-12.
It’s pretty difficult to interpret those scriptures as anything other than as a warning that sinners in America will be destroyed by the wrath of God if they fail to live by Christian beliefs. If you have a testimony that the Book of Mormon is scripture, it’s almost a given that you’ve got to support WCN beliefs. If President Nelson isn’t willing to stand up for that belief, then he’s rejected one of the foundational LDS teachings. There isn’t any support for the idea that America should be a pluralistic society in the Book of Mormon. Pluralism is based on secular ideas like peaceful co-existence despite differing religious beliefs. If the Book of Mormon was truly written for our day, then I don’t see any way around the conclusion that the Church of Jesus Christ should throw its support behind the White Christian Nationalist movement.
Epiphanies like that are one of the reasons I’m happy to be an apostate. I’ve embraced pluralism. People should be able to worship “how, where, or what they may” (Article of Faith 11). Laws should not be passed that enforce religious ideas about gender roles and bodily autonomy. Laws should not infringe on religious beliefs “unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others” (D&C 134:3). Joseph Smith taught pluralist principles. The Book of Mormon did not. That’s an interesting contradiction.
Church leadership would rather peacefully coexist in a pluralistic society than lead the charge to sweep nonbelievers off the face of the land. Besides the carnage, total revolution would destabilize the stock market and the Church’s nest egg would become worthless.
- Were you taught that America was the Promised Land? Do you still hear this teaching today?
- Do you worry about America becoming less Christian? Is pluralism something that concerns you or something you view as positive?
- Do you worry about America becoming too Christian?
I was taught all of the “promised land” propaganda growing up. I was also taught that I was special and I was preserved to live in this place in this time to carry out the Lord’s purposes (building the Kingdom, etc.). Implied in this teaching is that I did something in my pre-mortal life to deserve this life. That felt good.
I no longer believe any of these things and I’ve come to the following conclusion, which is extremely humbling: I am very very fortunate to be among those who live in arguably the freest most prosperous country in the history of the world. I look at a world map and can hardly believe my luck. I read world history and can hardly believe my luck. But that’s what it is, random luck (in my opinion).
And for those who would criticize my lack of acknowledgement of some divine purpose for the United States, I would simply add that there’s a long list countries and kingdoms and leaders and armies who think they are part of God’s plan. There’s even a country out there who calls the US “Great Satan”. It’s all man-made.
While I hold all organized religion (most notably Mormonism) in contempt and disgust, I find myself still loving the United States of America; even with all of our shared mistakes, foibles and sometimes awful atrocities -over the course of history. I’ve yet to find a place I’d rather live – or one that provides greater personal freedom. I know that it has become fashionable and a real cause celeb to trash America, but (for now) I’m choosing not to do so. No “sh**ting my own bed” for me.
Over forty years ago I read a paper positing that the inspired guy was not Columbus but was his Jewish navigator.
Long-time lurker, sporadic commenter here. Thinking about the PRRI survey questions and how I’d answer them…
The U.S. government should declare America a Christian nation–emphatically NO–this would stand in direct contradiction to the principles and values upon which the USA was founded.
U.S. laws should be based on Christian values–emphatically YES–Christian VALUES are different than Christian BELIEFS. Values would include probably everything that falls under the second great commandment and the principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence. Are these values UNIQUELY or EXCLUSIVELY Christian? No. There is probably significant overlap with many other faith groups & traditions. But the VALUES of Christianity when properly understood and practiced benefit EVERYONE because NO ONE is favored.
If the U.S. moves away from our Christian foundations, we will not have a country anymore–DISAGREE because the true strength of our nation is (was) its erstwhile VALUES, not the fact that “back then” most people attended Christian denominations on Sundays.
Being Christian is an important part of being truly American–emphatically DISAGREE.
God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society–emphatically DISAGREE–I do believe God has called Christians to use the principles of patience, persuasion, and long-suffering to try to pass laws that support a free, safe, and accepting society for all its members, but Christ preached the opposite of “dominion” and WCNs who think otherwise are misled.
That being said–ironically (?) I believe the teaching that “this land” is a “promised land”…though the whole question of BoM geographical models certainly lurks in my mind as a spoiler to the idea.
I’m Canadian. I live in the Americas.
I understand why so many people refer to people in the United States of America as Americans, it’s the same reason we’re called Mormons. The official name is too long to use in casual conversation. But that conflation between the nickname for the US and its people, and the way the word is used in the Book of Mormon, is just that – a conflation. These are two separate things.
I understand how Church leaders have spoken in the past. I’ve read what President Benson said. I’ve hung out in online LDS spaces for over 15 years now as a minority. And just like any other minority, I see the assumptions, often unconscious, of the majority.
So in answer to the questions: 1) I was taught the Americas were the promised land. I grew up assuming the Book of Mormon was set somewhere in Central America. 2) and 3) Eh. Pluralism is good. My only concern is that the US is such a cultural behemoth it influences us here too.
The “Promised Land” doctrine/scriptures are really not sustainable in an international church. It will be interesting to see how the Church chooses to navigate around those scriptures in the future
The Constitution was written with an amendment that separated religion and state. The founding fathers knew all too well how religion had been an oppressor of the masses and didn’t want that in our country. But by the 1820’s smaller more Evangelical religions started a Civil War within their churches and divided along political interpretations of God justifying or rejecting slavery. Thus the Baptists and Methodists divided along North/South attitudes and other religions were born, like Mormonism, that had the same fights within their theology. Joseph Smith having a “prophecy” about the country being divided in a war and it starting in South Carolina was really just an observation and prediction about what was already happening in the churches and knowing where the most brutal forms of slavery were practiced and justified by religion.
The Civil War happened, which was a huge shock and tragedy for our country. Some of the religions started to reflect on what happened and actually came back together with a new purpose hence the United Methodists but other religions continued to justify their beliefs about “others” who were different to explain not only why they lost the war but also why they could continue to discriminate against Blacks. They also changed their historical perspective to explain and then push forward new ways of looking at both religion and the country. The fight to save the union and end slavery became a states rights issue justification for the war. Science was used to justify discrimination and create “race.” Separation of religion and state also started to become very eroded. The idea that we were a Christian Nation began to take hold, God became part of the Pledge of Allegiance, and religion became a place to pressure politicians into action. With the white evangelical church the issues were alcohol and abortion. While the black church worked on Civil Rights. Civil Rights became another battlefield though with the whites that supporting blacks being labeled “liberal” and other words like progressive being given negative connotations by white evangelicals with starting to align themselves into small right groups like the John Birch Society and then into the larger Republican Party which embraced Christian right wing politics almost as a substitute or even an extension of religion.
So just as in the 1820’s-30’s the division in our society started to be manifest in churches, today the division is again being manifest in religion. When you look at who votes and what their affiliations are you can see that white evangelicals including the LDS have banded together behind Trump and issues that push their religious outlook like abortion, book banning, critical race theory, LGBTQ exclution, voting restrictions, and pushing to do away with the separation of church and state with prayer in schools, favorable tax laws for churches and the wealthy and the push to get their own elected to school boards and city councils. That we are a Christian Nation is no longer debated but is a given in spite of historical evidence to the contrary.
I was raised with the belief that we are the promised land and I believed it but as I’ve grown older I’ve come to see that the more we become “religious” the more we become divided and actually betray our most fundamental beliefs of allowing free agency and choice. I believe in God but when I see “Guns and Jesus” aligned together, I know that’s not the side I want to be on. I worry that the more religious our society seems to become, the more divided we end up. If we are all equal in God’s eyes, it’s not very apparent in the eyes of the religious right and I feel I need to stand up against them because I believe in equality for ALL.
Zwingli: I remember Hill Cumorah Pageant from my childhood and teen years. They used to encircle the seating area with US flags. It was very Ezra T Benson friendly. Then one year in the late 80s all the flags were flags of countries where the Church had a presence. To me this is symbolic of the change in messaging that we have seen and will continue to see. The Church is nothing if not aware of marketing 101 and imagery.
Yes, I was definitely taught the United States of America was the Promised Land, and that Missouri was the literal location of the Garden of Eden, and still the ultimate gathering place for some sort of major Millennial priesthood meeting. In fairness, I did see a shift, or increasing emphasis, of physical gathering as something best done at the stake level (at least until the Second Coming was fully underway). I was absolutely unequivocally indoctrinated to regard Columbus as an inspired man and the person noted above in the Book of Mormon. And in my adult live, over the course of training in literature and generally just growing up, I have never been persuaded that the Book of Mormon preaches anything other than plain, unabashed 19th-century white Christian nationalism (albeit an ultimately inclusive kingdom for all who agree to be obedient.) I do not support these doctrinal assertions anymore.
WCN beliefs are a problem, and I think how the concept of the “Promised Land” has been taught in recent decades has major issues. While I agree that the Columbus interpretation of 1 Nephi 13 seems to invite people into the WCN tent, I have serious issues with some of the implications in the post.
To first answer your questions:
1. Yes, I definitely was – it’s been a common theory, especially in seminary in Utah. I do, however, think it’s primarily an effort to give the Book of Mormon historic significance than some thinly veiled attempt to make racists (although that’s surely sometimes a side effect).
2. No. If anything, I think the current trends in the US and globally toward populism are far less Christian than pluralism anyway.
3. Not really, because religion is on the decline nearly everywhere. I do worry about polarizations and the extremes on both ends of that. Secular Puritanism is just as caustic as Puritanical Christianity.
Firstly, the whole idea of Columbus being the person in question comes from Ezra Taft Benson in 1976, and it’s pure conjecture. There’s a whole pile of people who came across the ocean and “discovered” America, so pinning this prophecy squarely on Columbus is a guess. Besides, Columbus mostly just hung out on islands in the Caribbean calling them “The Indies”…Idk, maybe The Bahamas were the real Promised Land all along. There are enough white people on vacation there to make that argument.
Besides, the official stance of the LDS Church is that we have no idea who the people in the BoM were historically or where they lived. How then can we assume this talks about Columbus at all? The Church needs to just walk away from this idea entirely. It’s a stupid theory that has done a lot of damage.
Now here are my issues with the post:
You cannot just assume that the 60% of the Mormons who put no stock into WCN beliefs are just the inactive ones. As you said in the post, better data isn’t available…so we are stuck applying this % to the entire population.
“If you have a testimony that the Book of Mormon is scripture, it’s almost a given that you’ve got to support WCN beliefs.” This is an absolutely absurd statement. Generalizations like that are unfair and the root of the entire issue you are speaking against.
Here are numbers:
-There are roughly 17 million members of the LDS church.
-The 60% mentioned above means that ~10,200,00 million of them don’t put stock in WCN beliefs (in fact, only ~850k of members are staunch supporters).
-91% of Mormons believe the BoM was written by ancient prophets and translated by JS (2012 Pew data was the most recent I had)
-Now this becomes a Venn diagram: 91% of the 10M who don’t support WCN also have a testimony of the BoM…that’s 9.28 million people in the middle of that diagram (well over half of the entire LDS church).
The church absolutely needs to drop Columbus from its list of theories. It’s damaging and the logic just doesn’t add up – you can’t know it was Columbus and also not know where the Book of Mormon took place.
Making sweeping generalizations about what people believe and why also doesn’t do anything to improve the situation.
Honest question: does the TBM community still believe in the Jackson County, Missouri thing?
I was taught that the USA was what the BofM was referring to when it said a promised land. I was taught We are meant to be Christian, the founding fathers were Christian, and if you were righteous you’d be wealthy. Also Thomas Jefferson didn’t have sexual relations with slaves. I live in a conservative area and those are fairly openly taught still.
To me all that is bunk. When my daughter married a (non believing) Muslim I was reminded that there are a lot of reasons why the US is a good place to live, and none of them are because we’re Christian. Most of it has to do with the fact that we have benevolent neighbors, we only have two, and are otherwise surrounded by water. Also dinosaurs died here millions of years ago (oil) and some other geographic luck factors.
I’d like to try living in an entirely secular society. I will never again trust someone who says they speak for God.
grizzerbear55 – I also love this country. I hope this post didn’t come across as anti-American. It’s anti-promised-land theology, and anti-WCN, but I certainly didn’t intend any anti-American sentiment. America has room for improvement, especially in the way it treats the Native Americans, as I detailed in the post I linked in the first sentence.
Pirate Priest – in my previous post about Native Americans (linked in the first sentence), I quoted President Kimball talking about Columbus as the person who fit the prophecy. I’m guessing that most TBMs think it’s Columbus. That’s what I was taught in Church and seminary. I don’t know if it’s taught commonly now, but I know the teaching that Columbus was the prophesied discoverer of the Americans has never been officially rejected.
I should have phrased that sentence better about the 60% of inactive members. I meant to suggest that probably active members were more likely to hold WCN beliefs, and I ended up suggesting that it was a brightline split between active and inactive. Sorry about that.
And with all due respect, I disagree that this is an absurd statement. ““If you have a testimony that the Book of Mormon is scripture, it’s almost a given that you’ve got to support WCN beliefs.” This is an absolutely absurd statement.”
Church leaders have repeatedly taught against the cafeteria approach to a testimony. If you pick up a stick, you pick up both ends. That sort of teaching. The Book of Mormon clearly, emphatically and repeatedly says that that America has to be a Christian and God-fearing nation. I’m willing to bet that many people who have a testimony of the Book of Mormon haven’t really wrestled with this particular issue. It sure isn’t emphasized anymore. But someone who is testifying that the Book of Mormon was written by prophets for our day, to address the specific issues of these latter days, needs to confront the reality of the Promised Land doctrine. I think it would create a real cognitive dissonance problem to believe that the Book of Mormon is “the most correct of any book on earth” and then say you reject WCN beliefs. The Book of Mormon teaches several WCN beliefs.
The Church hasn’t dropped the Columbus idea. They can’t. I personally reject it, but I don’t see the Church hastening to say that God doesn’t wipe out people on the American continent for being sinners.
On whether TBMs still believe in the Jackson County, Missouri thing, when I married my wife 15 years ago, her cousin was planning to move herself her then two kids and her husband from Logan to Jackson County in preparation for the second coming. No job lined up. No house lined up. Just faith that it would work out. Her husband eventually talked her out of it and they still live in Logan. But this Missouri gathering stuff is still real as far as I can tell.
On the OP,
Do I worry about the US becoming too Christian?
No. Traditional religion is seeing high attrition rates. Mormons and conservative evangelicals have held out longer than mainline Protestant variants (Lutherans, Methodists, and others are really hemorrhaging), but my bet is that what we are witnessing now is a reaction to a feeling of imminent demise. White Christian Nationalism is shouting its last hurrah. It may reverberate for another 10 or 15 years and continue to affect Republican politics for a little while still. But Gen Z is overwhelmingly not on board with this. Additionally, the demographics of the US are rapidly changing. It is becoming less white. And less rural. That White Christian Nationalists tether themselves to a man who was just recently found liable for sexual abuse and forced to pay $5 million to E. Jean Carroll and who paid hush money to a porn star he had an affair with is a sign of desperation, if anything. And lastly, I find it telling just how popular Roe v. Wade is in red states. For it appears that in all cases where referenda have been held on abortion, the majority vote has always been to keep protections for abortion rights in place. This includes Kansas, Kentucky, and Montana. The overwhelming majority of the US is pro-choice. The radical Christian retrenchment we’re witnessing is going to last only so long. Their descent into conspiracy theories, madness, and the politics of grievance and resentment has made people hate them even more.
Josh. I am aware of senior missionaries serving at the site formerly known as the Garden of Eden.
@Janey – I don’t think we’re too far off here, but I think we may diverge on which direction the causal arrow is pointing and the implications.
IMO the Columbus theory (and others like it) are classic cases of motivated reasoning – some people want to see a link between history books and the BoM so they just see one. Like cases of cognitive bias, it just can’t hold up to scrutiny.
Taking scriptures too literally and calling the BoM the “truest book” make this sort of reasoning even easier. Plus there has been a problem with big Mormon voices perpetuating these bad theories without a second thought.
I for sure agree that the Columbus bit has never been formally rejected and it should be.
It’s probably a fair statement that most people haven’t tried to wrestle much with the Promised Land doctrine, and it’s something important to confront. I definitely don’t think that means people with a testimony of the BoM are defaulting to the WCN path though.
A testimony doesn’t mean you have to accept every weird theory that floats by, or any of the implications people want to tie to it. False is still false even if a church leader says it.
The Book of Mormon presents the history of a nation that had quite a few shortcomings and some rather dire problems with racial/tribal conflict and violence which eventually caused it to perish in unbelief. The Book of Mormon authors were key figures in shaping that culture who bear partial responsibility for that. Some of their mistakes are visible in the narrative. Some of them even acknowledge their imperfection.
Given that, I think it’s possible to understand pronouncements from BoM authors *not* as things to adopt without question, but rather things to be evaluated thoughtfully in context of the whole narrative for how they contributed to BoM people’s highs and lows.
Of course, the church doesn’t seem interested in that quality of engagement with the scriptures, and seems to frequently choose framing that is agreeable to american christian nationalism instead. It doesn’t have to be that way, which is nice, but on the other hand that makes the fact that it is that way look uncomfortably like a deliberate choice.
As seen in most recent issue of LDS Living magazine on page 63 = real estate ad for one-acre lots adjacent to Adam-Ondi-Ahman with the tagline “Something Historic is Happening in Missouri.”