Over this year’s Independence Day weekend, I heard some things through a restorationist church that suddenly helped me peg down one of the things that has just felt wrong to me for a very long time regarding a particular part of Joseph Smith’s teachings.
I think Smith discards part of the notion of the Universality of the Church Christ established and his reclamation of the whole world (making all things new) for a return to Old Testament concepts of Israel-as-promised-land, with specific “chosen people,” as well. He has the pattern of Salvation History short-circuited so that, instead of ever-expanding covenants from One Holy Family (in Adam and Eve) to One Holy Household (Abraham), Tribe (Israel), Nation (Davidic Kingdom), Empire (Solomonic), Universal Church (Catholic Church established by Christ to encompass all of Redeemed Humanity), it falls back into tribalism and territory.
Here is where I get this:
The various sects that follow the Book of Mormon generally have in common an idea that “Zion” is to be the “City of God” established physically on earth, and as Smith taught it, in Jackson County, Missouri (Independence). I’m not really sure anymore how much the LDS hold to this, but the RLDS/CoC and various restoration movement offshoots still hold to that pretty literally.
Following Book of Mormon language and “prophecies,” they also speak in terms of Gentiles and Jews (pointing to BOM passages anachronistically engineered to refer to Christopher Columbus and later the United States–referring to them as Gentiles and Gentile nations). North America is called a “choice land” that has a special purpose, and the aforementioned Jackson County, MO as the “center place,” a specific land territory.
Combine this with what I think was (and is) part of the appeal of Smith’s teachings–a certain particular cultural nationalism, very much akin to the Anglican state church from which he culturally inherited, yet colored with extremely anachronistic language (in the BoM) specifically drawn from the American Revolution.
I have long felt that that particularly American spin on Christianity, brazenly retrofitting it into “scripture,” was part of what made Mormonism a success–the tribal, insular tendency of humanity tends to love this idea that you and your race or culture are special and greater than others. In this case, “American Exceptionalism” institutionalized and made “sacred” in “scripture.”
I will only mention briefly that to this can be added the oft-discussed racism inherent to Smith’s works, which associate skin color with blessings and curses and very much get into supposed Jewish descendents vs. Gentiles, separate races of people, etc.
Throw all this data together and it looks like yet another of Smith’s errors was in discarding the true “New Jerusalem” for a mere earthly rehash of Israel-as-promised-land (physically and literally, just rebranded “Zion” and relocated), with a similar chosen people.
As opposed to the Catholic approach that really and truly, more than any other religion, culture, government, etc, finally overcame tribalism and transcended national boundaries, making all of “Christendom” and recognizing that ALL the world is “Chosen” and set aside by Christ, made new by him. No people is chosen, but all are grafted in. No land is singled out, but the whole world is his Kingdom.
It seems to me, therefore, that** Smith negates Christ’s great universal kingdom and redemptive work, wishing instead to claim it for a small territory and nationalism/tribalism.**