From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Dennis, Ronald D.
For Latter-day Saints, the gathering of Israel involves bringing together the heirs of the covenant to designated places where they can enjoy the blessings of temples (see Abrahamic Covenant; Covenant Israel, Latter-Day; Promised Land, Concept of a). Latter-day Saints believe in "the literal gathering of Israel" and hold that, along with a vital future role for the Old World Jerusalem, "Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent" (A of F 10). Church members still look for an eventual temple and permanent headquarters to be built in Zion, a New Jerusalem in Missouri.
Early Latter-day Saints first encountered the concept of a New Jerusalem separate from the Old World Jerusalem in Book of Mormon prophecies that the land of America was to be "the place of the New Jerusalem" (3 Ne. 20:22; Ether 13:3). More information came in September 1830, soon after the Church was organized, when a revelation mentioned building a New Jerusalem near the Missouri River at a location soon to be revealed (D&C 28:9). Another revelation that same month enjoined the Saints to "bring to pass the gathering of [the Lord's] elect," suggesting both the work of missionaries and the physical gathering of the faithful to a designated location. It also stressed that the Saints should be "gathered in unto one place" (D&C 29:7-8).
In Nauvoo, Joseph Smith taught that "in any age of the world" the object of gathering the people of God was the same-"to build unto the Lord an house whereby he could reveal unto his people the ordinances" of his temple (WJS, p. 212). The gathering was necessary to build a temple, and a temple was a prerequisite for the establishment of Zion. Consequently, at each of the Saints' headquarters gathering places, a temple site was designated, and in Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake City, temples were constructed. Gathering also provided a refuge, a place for mutual protection and spiritual reinforcement and instruction. It strengthened LDS communities and brought economic and political benefits as well (see City Planning).
The Kirtland area in northeastern Ohio was the first gathering place. But when converts from New York arrived there in May 1831, they learned that Ohio would be a gathering place only "for a little season" (D&C 51:16). Some left that same year for Missouri once it was revealed that Zion was to be built in Jackson County, Missouri, a land "appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints" (D&C 57:1-3; see also Missouri: LDS Communities in Jackson and Clay Counties).
For the following seven years the Church had two gathering places-Ohio, the site of the Saints' first temple, and Missouri, the site of the City of Zion. However, in 1838, less than two years after the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, opposition drove the Ohio faithful from that temple-city. The persecution in Missouri that earlier had forced the Saints from Jackson County now forced them from their new headquarters in Far West, Missouri, before temples could be built (see Missouri Conflict). Between 1839 and 1846, Latter-day Saints gathered by the thousands at Nauvoo, Illinois, where they again completed a temple before leaving, in the face of violence, for a gathering place in the Rocky Mountains (see Salt Lake Valley; Westward Migration: Planning and Prophecy).
Although the major current purposes for gathering the faithful into a single place have been accomplished, belief in the necessity of gathering the elect continues. Members in all parts of the world are now encouraged to remain in their own communities and "build Zion" in their own wards and stakes (see Immigration and Emigration). Temples have now been built in many countries, and missionaries further the establishment of Zion by gathering "the pure in heart" (D&C 97:21) to the stakes of Zion throughout the world.
Cook, Lyndon, and Andrew Ehat, eds. Words of Joseph Smith, pp. 209-216. Provo, Utah, 1980.
RONALD D. DENNIS