The Gathering – The Scattering
January 11, 2011 10 Comments
During 1844, Joseph Smith was involved a wide array of enterprises. A campaign for president of the United States, the private practice of plural marriage, skirmishes with state and local political forces, managing a Nauvoo economy while attempting to transform it from a consumer-based system to a manufacturing system, building the temple and other projects, leading a changing religious organization, encouraging a diaspora of Mormonism to the West and the East and dealing with interstate political intrigues were only some of the matters on his plate.
Private organizations like the Council of Fifty occupied his attention. His announcement of the new concept of Zion in April 1844 marked a continuing expansion in theological and political initiatives and supported his idea of establishment of Mormon centers elsewhere. Smith suggests that a part of the reason for the announcement was frequent speculation on the issue of Zion, its location and when a gathering would take place to that location. The answer was much different than was expected.
Smith styled the announcement as a “Proclamation” though it is not usually classed with other such announcements. When the “Proclamation on the Family” was released, it was situated historically among a number of Church documents that also claimed the title. As a personal judgement, I offer that Joseph’s proclamation was well beyond anything issued since in its effect on Latter-day Saints and their material (and metaphysical) understanding of what Zion is. (See here for a previous post on the topic.)
The sermon which delivers this proclamation was untypically short, perhaps just a few minutes. During the previous day, Joseph had delivered a 2.5 hour sermon to an open-air congregation exceeding 10,000 persons. Since Joseph did not care for some of the techniques used by open air speakers to broadcast without strain (qua George Whitefield) he was extremely tired, diaphragm sore, and unable to speak loud enough to project to any large group for long. Those who reported the short address seem almost to reflect the fatigue of the speaker. Except for the most robust, William Clayton in this case, the rest appear to be slackers to some degree. When the historians of the 1850s came up with a publishable version, they ended up adding significant portions. I won’t go into that here however.
The main point of the sermon was to resolve an issue that was raised in a previous revelation, now placed as D&C 115, as well as conversation that surrounded it and the expulsion from Missouri. What to do about new converts? And what about the establishment of Zion? The proclamation addressed the questions in clearly unexpected and significant ways. It removed both the pressure to locate Zion and to locate to Zion. The gathering would be of an entirely different character now. Joseph’s revamped temple theology styled the temple as the reason for the gathering. The reason for this centralization of the temple? In the premortal world, it was announced, soteriology was forecasted as liturgy-based. You couldn’t get to the highest heaven without undergoing the proper rituals (in faith, naturally). And some of those rituals were only to be conducted in a special hallowed structure made for that purpose: Temple.
Thus the gathering was for the purpose of getting sufficient finances and skills for building the temple. The proclamation answered the implied question, what do you do when the temple is built? The answer was that new converts would only need to gather to the temple for purposes of receiving temple ordinances and teachings. They could return home after this to await salvation in the afterlife. The temple was now an endpoint in salvific Mormonism, which anyone could achieve without the city of Nauvoo filling the state of Illinois. This was certainly an ideal situation for everyone, eventually it would no doubt remove the political pressures which gathering ensured but still provide for the re-understood purpose of temples as not just administrative and instructional, but places of holy repeated ritual for the temporarily gathered Saints. The death of Joseph brought this process to a screeching halt, but eventually it would be resurrected in the image of Utah in the next century.
 Three of the witness texts for the address suggest that the word “proclamation” was used by JS. Usually five documents are singled out as LDS proclamations:
Proclamation 1. Dated 15 January 1841 (First Presidency). It considers the progress of the Church in spite of harships and persecution, and the settlement of Nauvoo.
2. was issued 6 April 1845 by the apostles. It was a fulfillment of the revelatory commision of D&C 124 and addressed the rulers and people of all nations announcing that God had spoken from the heavens and restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth.
3. was issued 21 October 1865, by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for the purpose of squashing Orson Pratt’s stuff.
4. was issued on 6 April 1980 by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the organization of the Church.
5. “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” was a summary of concerns and underlying reasons for those concerns regarding the idea of family, its ideal composition supported by Mormon doctrine.
 References include the sermon of 8 April 1844 itself. Compare D&C 128.
 Joseph believed that Nauvoo would fulfill this promise, but his own death cast that hope in doubt. A new temple in Nauvoo ultimately illustrates Joseph’s claims, but in a much broader way than he saw perhaps.