FairMormon is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of LDS doctrine, belief and practice.
Question: In the 1800s, did Latter-day Saints "glorify vengeance" through the singing of hymns?
Question: In the 1800s, did Latter-day Saints "glorify vengeance" through the singing of hymns?
These hymns are a rather mild Christian apocalyptic, and do not "glorify vengeance" in any way
When we consider that the hymn book cited contains 330 hymns spread over 398 pages, it is difficult to conclude that the Saints' hymns were obsessed with violence or vengeance. Presumably, the critics which put forward this accusation have chosen the most dramatic examples of supposed hymn-endorsed vengeance—and, as we have seen, even these are nothing of the sort.
On page 334 of the critical work One Nation Under Gods, the author presents a table (15.1) with verses from four hymns (marked with an asterisk, '*') that he claims "glorified taking vengeance." Each of these will be examined below, and it will be seen that in every case the author's characterization has distorted the hymn's intent.
The author's source (Quinn) says that "throughout the last half of the nineteenth century, Mormon congregations sang five hymns that mentioned vengeance and violence upon anti-Mormons" (pg 249). The footnotes (162 and 163) list the songs (more than 5) as these:
- The Reformation
- Up, Awake, Ye Defenders of Zion!
- Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Scattered Saints
- Awake, Ye Saints of God, Awake!
- Wake, O Wake, the World from Sleeping!
- O! Ye Mountains High
- Deseret, Deseret!
Though ONUG includes only four songs in its table, all of Quinn's examples are listed below. Italics and emphasis are added in each case.
This song is not listed in the hymnbook scan above. Its omission is not a surprise; it is most like doggerel of the five. The on-line text of this hymn (dated from 1856) reads in part:
To gain these blessings we must try
And do what we are told;
I'll tell you what we ought to do,
If you won't think me bold:
We ought to put down wickedness,
We ought to watch and pray,
We ought to build the kingdom up--
Not loaf our time away.
We ought to have our houses neat,
Our Teachers to obey,
We ought to keep our bodies clean,
Our tithing always pay:
We ought our brother's character
Keep sacred as our own,
Attend to business all we can,
Let other folks alone.
We ought our Bishops to sustain,Likewise from stinking tubs.
Their counsels to abide,
And knock down every dwelling
Where wicked folks reside:
We ought our Teachers to respect,
Not give them looks nor snubs;
And keep our ditches free from pots,
Though the Saints are to "put down wickedness" and "knock down every dwelling where wicked folks reside," they are also to "let other folks alone." There is certainly no call for vengeance. The discussion about dwellings may refer to taverns, grog shops, or houses of ill repute—the absence of which was something which visitors to Utah often remarked upon, in contrast to other frontier settlements.
Up, Awake, Ye Defenders of Zion! (p. 73)
1. Up, awake, ye defenders of Zion!Then let us be faithful and true!
The foe's at the door of your homes;
Let each heart be the heart of a lion
Unyielding and proud as he roams.
Remember the wrongs of Missouri
Forget not the fate of Nauvoo:
When the God-hating foe is before ye,
Stand firm, and be faithful and true...
3 Shall we bear with oppression for ever?
Shall we tamely submit to the foe,
While the ties of our kindred they sever?
Shall the blood of the prophets still flow?
No! The though sets the heart wildly beating;
Our vows at each pulse we renew,
Ne'er rest till our foes are retreating,
While we remain faithful and true.
4 Though, assisted by legions infernal
The plundering wretches advance,
With a host from the regions eternal,
Soon "the Kingdom" will be independent;
In wonder the nations will view
The despised ones in glory resplendent;
This does not call for vengeance. It encourages those who are attacked with "foes at the door of your homes" who seek "plunder" to defend their families, and not to flee if enemies "sever" their kindred or spill the blood of the prophets. The song does not call for extermination of enemies, but only to stand firm until they "are retreating"—that is, until they have protected their homes and families from imminent danger.
* Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Scattered Saints (p. 314)
1 Life up your heads, ye scattered Saints
Redemption draweth nigh;Redemption's at the door.
Our Savior hears the orphan's plaints,
The widow's mournful cry.
2 The blood of those who have been slain
For vengeance cries aloud
Nor shall its cries ascend in vain
For vengeance on the proud
3 The signs in heaven and earth appear
And blood and smoke and fire
Men's hearts are failing them for fear
Redemption's drawing nigher.
4 Earthquakes are bellowing 'neath the ground,
And tempests through the air;
The trumpet's blast, with fearful sound,
Proclaims th' alarm of war.
5 The Saints are scattered to and fro
Through all the earth abroad;
The Gospel trump again to blow,
And then behold their God.
6 Rejoice, ye servants of our Lord,
Who to the end endure;
Rejoice, for great is your reward,
And your defence is sure.
7 Although this body should be slain
By curel wicked hands,
I'll praise my God in higher strains,
And on Mount Zion stand.
8 Glory to God! ye Saints rejoice!
And sigh and groan no more;
But listen to the Spirit's voice—
Here again there is no call for members to take vengeance. They pray only that the cries of widows and orphans (i.e., those killed by the wicked) will ascend to the Savior. Signs appear in the heavens, and earthquakes speak—surely this is no mortal vengeance, but rather the judgments of God come upon the wicked.
The song envisages the Saints "scattered to and fro," and needing to "endure." But, they are promised a reward, though their bodies may "be slain" and they may have cause to "sigh and groan." However, the Saints may look forward to the Lord's redemption and justice when he comes again.
* Awake, Ye Saints of God, Awake! (p. 329)
1 Awake, ye Saints of God, awake!
Call on the Lord in mighty prayer,Let all the Saints in union join.
That he will Zion's bondage break
And bring to naught the fowler's snare.
2 He will regard his people's cry,
The window's tear, the orphan's moan;
The blood of those that slaughtered lie,
Pleads not in vain before His throne!
3 Though Zion's foes have counselled deep,
Although they bind with fetters strong,
The God of Jacob does not sleep;
His vengeance will not slumber long.
4 Then let your souls be stayed on God
A glorious scene is drawing nigh;
Though tempests gather like a flood,
The storm, though fierce, will soon pass by.
5 With constant faith and fervent prayer,
With deep humility of soul,
With steadfast mind and heart prepare
To see th'eternal purpose roll.
6 Our God in judgment will come near,
His mighty arm he will make bare;
For Zion's sake he will appear;
Then O, ye Saints, awake, prepare!
7 Awake to righteousness, be one,
Or saith the Lord, you are not mine!
Yea, like the Father and the Son,
Here again, there is no urge to vengeance. The singers pray again that God "will Zion's bondage break," and that he will hear the cry for justice of blood of the slaughtered and tears of the innocent orphans and widows. God's vengeance is coming, and so what are the Saints to do? Arm themselves? Plot against their enemies? No, they are to have "constant faith and fervent prayer," humility, and strive to be one with the Saints, that they may not likewise be subject to God's punishing justice when He comes.
* Wake, O Wake, the World from Sleeping! (p. 332)
1 Wake, O wake, the world from sleeping!
Watchman, watchman, what's the hour?
Hark ye, only hear him saying
'Tis the last, the eleventh hour!
- We're the true born sons of Zion,
- Who with us that can compare
- We're the royal branch of Joseph,
- The bright and glorious morning star.
Christ will come in very deed.
2 Lo! the Lion's left his thicket;
Up, ye watchmen, be in haste;
The destroyer of the Gentiles
Goes to lay their cities waste....
3 Bring the remnants from their exile,
For the promise is to them;
Japhet's ruled the world his time out;
He must leave the "tents of Shem."
4 Comfort ye the house of Israel;
They are pardoned; gather them;
Hear the watchman's proclamation,—
Jews, rebuild Jerusalem.
5 Soon the Jews will know their error—
How they killed the Holy One,
And they'll mourn and shout Hosannah!
This is "THE BELOVED SON!"
6 Sound the trumpet with the tidings—
Call in all of Abra'm's seed;
Though the Gentiles may reject it,
This song sings of the last days, and God's redemption of Israel. It is he, "the Lion" who is the "destroyer of the Gentiles," who will redeem and gather scattered Israel and reclaim the Jews. This is no call for vengeance; the Saints remain "the watchmen"—witnesses to God's triumph and justice, not the instruments of it.
* O! Ye Mountains High (p. 376)
1 O! ye mountains high, where the clear blue sky
Arches over the vales of the free,And our home shall be ever with thee.
Where the pure breezes blow
And the clear streamlets flow,
HOw I've long to your bosom to flee.
O Zion! dear Zion! home of the free:
My own mountain home now to thee I have come;
All my fond hopes are centred in thee.
2 Though the great and the wise all thy beauties despise,
To the humble and pure thou art dear;
Though the haughty male smile
And the wicked revile,
Yet we love thy glad tidings to hear.
O Zion! dear Zion! home of the free;
Though thou wert forced to fly to thy chambers on high,
Yet we'll share joy or sorrow with thee.
3 In thy mountan retreat, God will strengthen thy feet;
On the necks of thy foes thou shalt tread;
And their silver and gold, as the Prophets have told,
Shall be brought to adorn thy fair head.
O Zion! Dear Zion! home of the free;
Soon thy towers will shine with a splendor divine,
And eternal thy glory shall be.
4 Here our voices we'll raise, and we'll sing to thy praise,
Sacred home of the Prophets of God;
Thy deliverance is nigh, thy oppressors shall die,
And the Gentiles shall bow 'neath thy rod.
O Zion! dear Zion! home of the free
In thy temples we'll bend, all thy rights we'll defend
There is no mention of vengeance at all in this hymn. Verse two describes the Zion of Enoch, forced to flee by the world's wickedness (compare Moses 7:69). The song has a strong Millenarian flavor, and uses some apocalyptic imagery. Isaiah promises that
- I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders. (Isaiah 14:25; see also 2 Nephi 24:25)
This calls to mind the third verse, where foes will be tread underfoot when God strengthens the mountain retreat.
Apart from Isaiah, this is not an uncommon image. For example, the "necks of foes" are "tread" on, in the same vein as Psalms 60:12 ("Through God we shall do valiantly: for he it is that shall tread down our enemies") or Psalms 44:4-8:
- 4 Thou art my King, O God: command deliverances for Jacob.
- 5 Through thee will we push down our enemies: through thy name will we tread them under that rise up against us.
- 6 For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me.
- 7 But thou hast saved us from our enemies, and hast put them to shame that hated us.
- 8 In God we boast all the day long, and praise thy name for ever.
In the hymn—as in the Psalms—the righteous will tread down the wicked—but, not through weapons (bows or swords) but by God's judgments and deliverance (see also Psalms 91:9-16 and Psalms 1081:11-13). This imagery anticipates the second coming of Christ (see DC 133:51), who will "arise with healing in his wings,"and ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the LORD of hosts" (Malachi 4:3; see also 3 Nephi 25:3).
That the "oppressors shall die/And the Gentiles shall bow 'neath thy rod" is also a common scriptural image. In this case, it probably derives from Isaiah 9:4-6, which testifies of the Messiah's coming:
- For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor...For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (see also 2 Nephi 19:4-6)
Yet, despite this potentially violent image, we do not charge all Christians with vengeance fantasies. It is understood in the symbolic and eschalogical context in which we find it, in which during the Millennial reign of Christ,
- ...the LORD will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: and the strangers shall be joined with them, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob. And the people shall take them, and bring them to their place: and the house of Israel shall possess them in the land of the LORD for servants and handmaids: and they shall take them captives, whose captives they were; and they shall rule over their oppressors. (Isaiah 14:1-2; 2 Nephi 14:1-2)
We note, too, that these Isaiah scriptures are all included in the Book of Mormon—further evidence that they would have been treasured and appreciated by the Saints, besides being classic texts in Christian Millennial thinking.
Thus, to argue that this hymn urges the Saints to take vengeance is a gross misrepresentation of the hymn, and ignores clear precedent for use of such language in the Old Testament and Christian apocalyptic generally.
Deseret, Deseret! (p. 383)
1 Deseret, Desret! 'tis the home of the free,
And dearer than all other lands 'tis to me;And Jesus as King of the nations will stand.
Where the Saints are secure from oppression and strife,
And enjoy to the full the rich blessings of life....
2 Deseret, Desret! she has long been opprest,
But now, for a while, she is taking her rest,
She feels like a giant, refreshed with new wine
And enjoys from Jehovah his blessings benign.
There are hearts that can feel for another's deep woe,
And with charity, blessings on others bestow;
Return good for evil to those who oppress,
And await the time coming to give them redress....
4 Deseret, Deseret! she's the pride of the world,
Where the banner of freedom is widely unfurled;
Where oppression is hated and liberty loved,
And truth and sincerity highly approved;
Where labor is honored, nor workman oppressed;
Where youth is instructed and age finds a rest;
Where society frowns upon vice and deceit,
And adulterers find Heaven's laws they must meet.
5 Deseret, Deseret shows the pattern to all
That all may take warning ere Bab'lon shall fall
And flee to the mountains when trouble shall come,
To be free from the plagues in this beautiful home.
O, how my heart yearns for the time to draw near
When earth will be freed from oppression and fear,
And the truth rule triumphant o'er sea and o'er land,
Far from advocating violence or vengeance, this hymn encourages the Saints to "Return good for evil to those who oppress," while awaiting the time when "Jesus as King of the nations will stand," which is the time when "the time coming to give them redress" will be here. Those oppressed are not encouraged to fight or war with the world, but to flee out of it to Zion. There is nothing here about vengeance, save God's eventual justice in the Millennium.
Some critics of the Church may not like the idea of the Saints awaiting God's vengeance and judgment upon the wicked; however, the idea is thoroughly biblical, and has been a comfort to many oppressed believers through the ages. See, for example, Matthew 16:27, Romans 12:19, Isaiah 59:18, Leviticus 19:18, Proverbs 20:22.
This may explain why Quinn's Mormon Hierarchy, later concludes, "the historical evidence indicates that most early Mormons avoided violence and were saddened by the news of such incidents" (260).