In the General Conference prior to the U.S. 1976 Bicentennial celebration, President Marion G. Romney gave one of the all-time conference classics.
Reading it now, 45 years later, the message is even more impactful.
There is an annotated version of the video here:
President Romney said,
In the western part of the state of New York near Palmyra is a prominent hill known as the “hill Cumorah.” (Morm. 6:6.) On July twenty-fifth of this year, as I stood on the crest of that hill admiring with awe the breathtaking panorama which stretched out before me on every hand, my mind reverted to the events which occurred in that vicinity some twenty-five centuries ago—events which brought to an end the great Jaredite nation.
Within 25 years of President Romney's talk, the New York Cumorah was gradually de-correlated. Certain LDS scholars insisted that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were merely ignorant speculators who misled the Church because, according to these scholars, the "real Cumorah" was somewhere in southern Mexico.
That began the gradual repudiation of other things Joseph and Oliver taught, such as their claim that Joseph translated the engravings on the plates by means of the Nephite interpreters.
Now we're at the point where the most prominent critics of the Church and the most prominent LDS scholars and apologists agree that Joseph and Oliver were wrong about the New York Cumorah and the translation, and that they misled the world about those two key elements of the Restoration.
Everyone can see the obvious results of rejecting what Joseph and Oliver taught. As Joseph Fielding Smith warned, Church members are confused and disturbed in their faith.
People can believe whatever they want, of course, but the healthiest approach would be recognizing that there are many faithful Latter-day Saints who still believe what Joseph and Oliver taught.
Some of us can still read and accept what President Romney taught, as well.
While America has had a unique and critical role to play in the Restoration, it is no longer the sole gathering place for the Saints.
Modern prophets have explained this quite clearly.
This gathering of Israel and this building of Zion in the last days occurs in stages. The early part of the work, which involved gathering to the United States and building stakes of Zion in North America, has already been accomplished. We are now engaged in gathering Israel within the various nations of the earth and in establishing stakes of Zion at the ends of the earth. This is the work that is now going forward in all of the nations of South America and of which I shall now speak.
As is well known, ancient Israel was scattered among all the nations of the earth because they forsook the Lord and worshipped false gods. As is also well known, the gathering of Israel consists of receiving the truth, gaining again a true knowledge of the Redeemer, and coming back into the true fold of the Good Shepherd. In the language of the Book of Mormon, it consists of being “restored to the true church and fold of God,” and then being “gathered” and “established” in various “lands of promise.” (2 Ne. 9:2.) “When they shall come to the knowledge of their Redeemer, they shall be gathered together again to the lands of their inheritance.” (2 Ne. 6:11.)
Two things are accomplished by the gathering of Israel: First, those who have thus chosen Christ as their Shepherd; those who have taken upon themselves his name in the waters of baptism; those who are seeking to enjoy his Spirit here and now and to be inheritors of eternal life hereafter—such people need to be gathered together to strengthen each other and to help one another perfect their lives.
And second, those who are seeking the highest rewards in eternity need to be where they can receive the blessings of the house of the Lord, both for themselves and for their ancestors in Israel who died without a knowledge of the gospel, but who would have received it with all their heart had opportunity afforded.
Manifestly in the early days of this dispensation, this meant gathering to the mountain of the Lord’s house in the tops of the mountains of North America. There alone were congregations strong enough for the Saints to strengthen each other. There alone were the temples of the Most High where the fulness of the ordinances of exaltation are performed.
However, in the providences of Him who knoweth all things, in the providences of Him who scattered Israel and who is now gathering that favored people again, the day has now come when the fold of Christ is reaching out to the ends of the earth. We are not established in all nations, but we surely shall be before the second coming of the Son of Man.
As the Book of Mormon says, in the last days, “the saints of God” shall be found “upon all the face of the earth.” Also: “The saints of the church of the Lamb and … the covenant people of the Lord”—scattered as they are “upon all the face of the earth”—shall be “armed with righteousness and with the power of God in great glory.” (1 Ne. 14:12, 14.)
We are living in a new day. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is fast becoming a worldwide church. Congregations of Saints are now, or soon will be, strong enough to support and sustain their members no matter where they reside. Temples are being built wherever the need justifies. We can foresee many temples in South America in process of time.
Stakes of Zion are also being organized at the ends of the earth. In this connection, let us ponder these truths: A stake of Zion is a part of Zion. You cannot create a stake of Zion without creating a part of Zion. Zion is the pure in heart; we gain purity of heart by baptism and by obedience. A stake has geographical boundaries. To create a stake is like founding a City of Holiness. Every stake on earth is the gathering place for the lost sheep of Israel who live in its area.
The gathering place for Peruvians is in the stakes of Zion in Peru, or in the places which soon will become stakes. The gathering place for Chileans is in Chile; for Bolivians it is in Bolivia; for Koreans it is in Korea; and so it goes through all the length and breadth of the earth. Scattered Israel in every nation is called to gather to the fold of Christ, to the stakes of Zion, as such are established in their nations.
Isaiah prophesied that the Lord “shall cause them that come of Jacob to take root; Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.” The Lord’s promise is: “Ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel.” (Isa. 27:6, 12.)
That is to say—Israel shall be gathered one by one, family by family, unto the stakes of Zion established in all parts of the earth so that the whole earth shall be blessed with the fruits of the gospel.
This then is the counsel of the Brethren: Build up Zion, but build it up in the area where God has given you birth and nationality. Build it up where he has given you citizenship, family, and friends. Zion is here in South America and the Saints who comprise this part of Zion are and should be a leavening influence for good in all these nations.
And know this: God will bless that nation which so orders its affairs as to further his work.
(1977, April, Bruce R. McConkie, Come: Let Israel Build Zion, ¶21 • CR)
The choice to come unto Christ is not a matter of physical location; it is a matter of individual commitment. People can be “brought to the knowledge of the Lord” without leaving their homelands. True, in the early days of the Church, conversion often meant emigration as well. But now the gathering takes place in each nation. The Lord has decreed the establishment of Zion in each realm where He has given His Saints their birth and nationality. Scripture foretells that the people “shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise.” “Every nation is the gathering place for its own people.” The place of gathering for Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; the place of gathering for Nigerian Saints is in Nigeria; the place of gathering for Korean Saints is in Korea; and so forth. Zion is “the pure in heart.” Zion is wherever righteous Saints are. Publications, communications, and congregations are now such that nearly all members have access to the doctrines, keys, ordinances, and blessings of the gospel, regardless of their location.
Spiritual security will always depend upon how one lives, not where one lives. Saints in every land have equal claim upon the blessings of the Lord.
(2006, October, Russell M. Nelson, The Gathering of Scattered…, ¶38–39 • CR)