As we scrutinize political trends, demographics, and cultural indicators, two prophecies from the Book of Mormon should give us all something to seriously mull over as we ponder America’s future. Consider:
3 Nephi 16: 7–“in the latter days shall the truth come unto the Gentiles.” Indeed, the gospel was restored in America in the early 19th century, primarily among Caucasian people (Gentiles).
verse 8–“they have come forth upon the face of this land, and have scattered my people who are of the house of Israel…” That same population that received the gospel also oppressed some of God’s chosen people.
verse 9–“after all this…”
verse 10–“At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel…I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.” (emphasis added) This single verse should scare the heck out of every Anglo American, especially among the Latter-day Saints. The prediction there is pretty clear: when our society becomes pervasively unrighteous, rejecting our Christian heritage, God will take that gift of gospel truth away from us.
It’s not giving away any big secret to share that convert baptisms into the LDS church in the United States have been fairly stagnant over the last decade. The explosive rate of growth in the second half of the 20th century has largely leveled off.
So, if the gospel is going to be taken away from us white Gentiles, to whom will it go?
verses 11-12–“And then will I remember my covenant which I have made unto my people, O house of Israel, and I will bring my gospel unto them. And I will show unto thee, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel.” (emphasis added) Here, Jesus Christ plainly foretells that after the initial phase of the Restoration has been accomplished by the Gentiles, they will reject it, and the gospel will then be embraced by the descendants of the native people of the Western Hemisphere to whom Christ was speaking.
Just as conversions are dying out among white Americans, the LDS church is growing explosively abroad–there are now more Mormons outside the United States than within. Christianity in general is experiencing a staggering injection of growth among the poor, “global south.”
verses 13-14–if the Gentiles repent, they may “be numbered among my people.” Notice how consistently this prophecy draws a distinction between the Gentiles who initially received the gospel in the last days and the Lord’s chosen people (and their descendants).
verse 15–“if they will not turn unto me…I will suffer my people, O house of Israel, that they shall go through among them, and shall tread them down…” It seems that the days of our cultural dominance in this country are numbered…
verse 16–The Lord gives “this land” (the Savior was speaking to people somewhere in the Western Hemisphere, probably in Central America or Southern Mexico) to “this people…for their inheritance.” Ditto.
The Savior apparently felt that this prophecy warranted reiterating:
3 Nephi 20: 11-13–Isaiah’s prophecies of Restoration in last days to be fulfilled, including a literal gathering of Israel’s descendants.
verse 14–Again, “this land” is for “your inheritance.” There sure weren’t any Anglo Americans in that audience of ancient American natives…
verses 15-16–“if the Gentiles do not repent after the blessing which they shall receive [the restored gospel]…then shall ye, who are a remnant of Jacob, go forth among them; and ye shall be in the midst of them who shall be many; and ye shall be among them as a lion among the beasts of the forest…who, if he goeth through both treadeth down and teareth in pieces…” Looking around America today, I think one could make a pretty good case that we haven’t repented, and that there is a population among us that is gaining a greater cultural influence.
verse 22–the descendants of Jacob will be established in this land and will build the New Jerusalem.
And just for good measure, 3 Nephi 21:11-13 essentially states the same prophecy a third time.
So…who are the descendants of the ancient people to whom Jesus delivered these prophecies of rising from socio-economic obscurity in the last days and embracing the restored gospel, which would be taken away from the Gentile nation that had built it up but then abandoned it? I suggest that we apply these verses to the Hispanic or Latino populations, especially those coming into the U.S. This isn’t an official doctrine, but I do think it’s a tenable interpretation, and I’m hardly alone in thinking so.
But wouldn’t the modern descendants of those people be Native Americans? Probably not. Consider that the vast majority of the population in most Latin American countries is mestizo–of mixed European and native ancestry. It would make sense that if God were going to bless the descendants of that small group to whom Jesus spoke two thousand years ago, he would most easily accomplish that by blessing the Hispanic population generally. Certainly, most of the Hispanic immigrants to the United States are of that mixed ancestry, and thus likely include many people with Israel’s blood.
The implication of this interpretation for those of us whose politics reject illegal immigration isn’t clear, but I’ve explained elsewhere on this blog that I’ll be loyal to my church’s policies first, and my partisan philosophies second.
Reading this prophecy, I can’t help but wonder at its wisdom. First, as Richard Bushman pointed out in Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, if someone would try to read racism into the Book of Mormon, they’re going to have a hard time explaining passages that clearly have minority races righteously triumphing over apostate white people. But even more importantly, this seems like an eerily prescient description of the current order of things (in other words, a prophecy).
I haven’t seen Clint Eastwood’s recent movie, Gran Torino, but I’ve read a couple of reviews and understand the plot to be very relevant: Eastwood’s character, a grizzled war veteran, finds his racist ideas changing as he realizes that his immigrant neighbors more closely adhere to his own old-fashioned values than his spoiled, amoral children and grandchildren do. That irony should resonate with every conservative Christian: the way of life we cherish, the legacy given to us by honored forefathers, has been rejected by our own kin, leaving us with more in common with the “foreigners” in our midst.
I hope that the “children of Israel” who are now inheriting the gospel and cultural dominance in America will preserve God’s way of life better than we white people have.
In my stake of the church, there are twelve wards, including a Spanish-speaking ward. Out of the twelve, guess which one has the highest attendance at church, and the highest rates for temple work and home teaching? How many guesses should you need? Uno.
UPDATE: Education reporter Joanne Jacobs has just posted about research on immigrant academic achievement that very much pertains to what I’m saying here. For the parents of Asian and Hispanic students, the greatest danger to protect their children from may well be getting “too Americanized.”