For members, the term “Promised Land” is very familiar. Not only because the Bible mentions promised lands, but the Book of Mormon does as well. However, some members have mistakingly tried to tie this concept to Book of Mormon geography or solely the United States.
For example, some have made the claim that Elder L. Tom Perry exclusively supported a North American setting for the Book of Mormon when he said,
“The United States is the promised land foretold in the Book of Mormon” -L. Tom Perry, The Tradition of Light and Testimony
But before jumping to conclusions, it’s important to take more accounts into context. For example, at a BYU address Elder Perry said,
“Archaeologists have confirmed the existence of a great pre-Aztec civilization on the American continent. The Book of Mormon is a record of this civilization” –God’s Hand in the Founding of America, emphasis added
Why would Elder Perry even mention the pre-Aztecs? Most people would assume this was the Maya and Olmecs in Mesoamerica. At the least, it’s clear that L. Tom Perry didn’t support just a U.S. setting for the Book of Mormon. While others might try to use this to make a claim that Elder Perry supported a Mesoamerican model, we still shouldn’t jump to conclusions.
The idea of the “Promised Land” has convinced some that it could only be in the United States. There’s a few problems with this thinking that can be discussed in another post, but one major problem is that prophets have said differently. Consider this quote by Spencer W. Kimball in the dedicatory prayer for the São Paulo Brazil Temple,
“We thank Thee that Thou didst bring Father Lehi and his family to this land of promise and Thou didst establish Thy people, the Nephites and the Lamanites and their Book of Mormon.” –São Paulo Brazil Temple Dedicatory Prayer, emphasis added
When taking Elder Perry’s “Aztec” comment and President Kimball’s “land of promise” comment into account, it’s pretty clear that the Promised Land extends from North America to South America. The United States is the Promised Land. Mexico is the Promised Land. Brazil is the Promised Land.
Also, all these statements can agree with each other when we realize that the Promised Land is not as much a pinpointing geography detail as much as it is a sacred concept. This land is promised to the faithful.
Consider Elder Jeffrey R. Holland’s words in his talk titled “A Promised Land”,
“Temporarily, we call it America […] It has not always looked the same geographically nor has it always been governed the same politically. But that all seems appropriate since the meaning of America, in its most theological sense, is something more than borders and boundaries, something above nativism and nationalism. It is an ideal, a thing of the spirit.” -Jeffrey R. Holland, A Promised Land, emphasis added
This is not saying that the United States is not mentioned in the Book of Mormon or that it didn’t have a special purpose. On the contrary, it’s pretty clear that it does. But in relation to the idea of the location of the Promised Land, it’s not exclusive and determined by borders and boundaries.
Consider this quote from the Church’s website on their Guide to the Scriptures page,
“PROMISED LAND – Lands that the Lord promises as an inheritance to his faithful followers, and often also to their descendants. There are many promised lands. Often in the Book of Mormon, the promised land spoken of is the Americas.” –The Guide to the Scriptures, emphasis added
Consider this quote from Ezra Taft Benson,
“to the Latter-day Saints the Promised Land, the land of Zion, includes all of North and South America.” -Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1955, pp. 45-50, emphasis added
There’s a danger when we isolate or cherry pick scriptures or quotes from LDS leaders to support our personal theories. Anyone can do it. There’s a danger when we tell our Mexican or Canadian friends that our land is promised, but theirs is not. There’s also a danger in accepting the words of one prophet, but rejecting another. Let us remember to read and research more and more so that we might always take context into account.