Being One: The Personal Pursuit of Zion

Articles of Faith:10

10 We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisaical glory.

The prospect of contributing to the physical building of Zion has inspired me for as long as I can remember.  With this desire to understand what it will take to physically build Zion I have tailored my life and learning in such a way as to better help me understand the principles associated with community building, such as the relationship between people and place.  This is critical to understand because while Zion is a place, as identified in the 10th Article of Faith, it is also representative of people as identified in Moses 7:18: “And the Lord called his people ZION…”

Generally speaking the relationship between people and place is something that has been long understood, but not often applied in the ways that it should be.  The places we build and inhabit play a role in shaping our behavior, while our activities and interactions as people also contribute to shaping the places we inhabit.  This is a delicate relationship that we all have with the places where we live, work, learn, shop, and play.  Neighborhoods and cities can play a role in our progression as children of our Father in Heaven or they can impact our lives in a negative fashion and contribute to spiritual demise.  The Savior spoke of this when he counseled us to “stand ye in holy places” (D&C 87:8).

There are clear examples of each in the scriptures.  There is the City of Enoch on one side and Sodom and Gomorrah on the other.  There is also the contrast between the Temple of God and the Tower of Babel.  Zion also has its counterpart.  Zion is always countered by its damning opposition – Babylon.

City of Zion

David R. Stone

One of the greatest challenges we will face is to be able to live in that world but somehow not be of that world. We have to create Zion in the midst of Babylon.

“Zion in the midst of Babylon.” What a luminous and incandescent phrase, as a light shining in the midst of spiritual darkness. What a concept to hold close to our hearts, as we see Babylon becoming more widespread. We see Babylon in our cities; we see Babylon in our communities; we see Babylon everywhere.

And with the encroachment of Babylon, we have to create Zion in the midst of it. We should not allow ourselves to be engulfed by the culture which surrounds us. We seldom realize the extent to which we are a product of the culture of our place and time.

Zion in the Midst of Babylon,” General Conference, April 2006

In 1831 Joseph Smith received a revelation concerning preparations for the temporal building of Zion in the Latter-Days.  It was revealed to him that Zion, the New Jerusalem, would be built in Jackson County, Missouri.

Doctrine & Covenants 57:1-2

1 Hearken, O ye elders of my church, saith the Lord your God, who have assembled yourselves together, according to my commandments, in this land, which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.

2 Wherefore, this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion.

On June 25, 1833, Joseph Smith delivered to local church leaders in Missouri a plat map for the laying out of the City of Zion as dictated to Joseph through revelation from God.  The Plat of the City of Zion, as it was called, had very carefully written notes in its margins describing the principles associated with the implementation of the plan.  There were instructions about such things as community size (area), population, its layout, type, and size of lots and streets, the architecture and materials to be used to construct buildings, and its associative landscaping.

Plat of Zion
Plat of Zion

While the initial intent of the Plat of Zion was to be used for Jackson County, Joseph Smith’s margin notes were clear in noting that its principles would also be applied to laying out other Mormon settlements.  Joseph wrote:

When this square is thus laid off and supplied, lay off another in the same way, and so fill up the world in these last days; and let every man live in the city, for this is the city of Zion.”

Joseph’s vision of this became reality through his own efforts and those early prophets that followed him – including Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff to name a few.  Over the course of about 100 years, starting in the 1830’s and concluding in the 1930’s our Mormon predecessors settled and laid out over 750 settlements – of which only 76 were abandoned due to environmental or external forces, meaning there was an almost 90% success rate.

Mormon communities (by decade)
Mormon communities (by decade)

Some of our earliest prophets spoke to the physical building of Zion in the following manner:

Brigham Young

“Let us train our minds until we delight in that which is good, lovely, and holy, seeking continually after that intelligence which will enable us effectually to build up Zion, which consists in building houses, tabernacles, temples, streets, and every convenience and necessity to embellish and beautify, seeking to do the will of the Lord all the days of our lives, improving our minds in all scientific and mechanical knowledge, seeking diligently to understand the great design and plan of all created things, that we may know what to do with our lives and how to improve upon the facilities placed within our reach.”

(Journal of Discourses, vol. 10:177)

Wilford Woodruff

This is the great dispensation in which the Zion of God must be built up, and we as Latter-Day Saints have it to build…

We are obliged to build cities, towns and villages, and we are obliged to gather the people from every nation under heaven to the Zion of God, that they may be taught the ways of the Lord.”

(Journal of Discourses, vol. 16: 268-269)

While each spoke of Zion as a place, each also referenced the principle reason for the building of Zion.  Each identified the purpose as being that of improving the human condition.  Whether it was for “improving our minds in all scientific and mechanical knowledge” or to be “taught the ways of the Lord” the intent of Zion is to assist God in fulfilling His mission as identified in Moses 1:39 – to bring to pass the “immortality and eternal life of man.”  Joseph Smith spoke more directly about this, speaking to the relationship of place and its ability to contribute towards our seeking knowledge and intelligence through the pursuit of education and culture:

Joseph Smith

The advantages of [gathering together in villages] are numerous. . . . As intelligence is the great object of our holy religion, it is of all things important, that we should place ourselves in the best situation possible to obtain it. . . .”

Intelligence is the result of education, and education can only be obtained by living in compact society; so compact, that schools of all kinds can be supported.”

(Letter to the Saints from the First Presidency, Elders Journal [Far West, Missouri], Aug. 1838, p. 53.)

Joseph Smith | community builder
Joseph Smith | community builder

Joseph Smith

The farmer and his family, therefore, will enjoy all the advantages of schools, public lectures and other meetings.  His home will no longer be isolated, and his family denied the benefits of society, which has been, and always will be, the great educator of the human race; but they will enjoy the same privileges of society and can surround their homes with the same intellectual life, the same social refinement as will be found in the home of the merchant or banker or professional man.”

(Contributor, vol. 7 (October 1885-September 1886), Vol. Vii. October, 1885. No. 1. 6.)

These descriptions of Zion inspire me.  I attempt to do some reading and study regarding the building of Zion every week because I am fortunate enough to work professionally in a role that allows me to explore the possibilities associated with the reinstitution of the principles associated with early Mormon community building.  I am trying to do my part in re-discovering what it takes, and will take, to physically build Zion.  Brigham Young laid down a challenge in these regards which I take personally:

Brigham Young

Are we prepared now to establish the Zion that the Lord designs to build up? I have many times asked the questions, “Where is the man that knows how to lay the first rock for the wall that is to surround the New Jerusalem or the Zion of God on the earth? Where is the man who knows how to construct the first gate of the city? Where is the man who understands how to build up the kingdom of God in its purity and to prepare for Zion to come down to meet it?” “Well,” says one, “I thought the Lord was going to do this.” So He is if we will let Him. That is what we want: we want the people to be willing for the Lord to do it. But He will do it by means. He will not send His angels to gather up the rock to build up the New Jerusalem. He will not send His angels from the heavens to go to the mountains to cut the timber and make it into lumber to adorn the city of Zion. He has called upon us to do this work; and if we will let Him work by, through, and with us, He can accomplish it; otherwise we shall fall short, and shall never have the honor of building up Zion on the earth.

(Journal of Discourses, vol. 13: 314.)

Zion as a place is only half of the equation though. What must also be understood is that Zion is representative of a people.  Some of my favorite verses of scripture describe the character and nature of Zion as a people.  These descriptions are contained in 4 Nephi:

4 Nephi 3:3,15-17

3 And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.

15 And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.

16 And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.

17 There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God.

It is critically important that we understand what it means to be a Zion people because that is what we need to be striving for right now.  We must seek after Zion on a personal level, within our families, and within our wards and stakes.  This is what God expects of us.  He expects this because our spiritual state is directly tied to our capacity to be a part of the physical building of Zion as a place.  Before the prophetic nature of the 10th Article of Faith can be fulfilled there must first exist a people that are prepared and ready to live according to the laws of the Celestial Kingdom as identified in Doctrine & Covenants 105.  Both President Spencer W. Kimball and President Ezra Taft Benson have addressed this point:

Spencer W. Kimball

Zion can be built up only among those who are the pure in heart, not a people torn by covetousness or greed, but a pure and selfless people. Not a people who are pure in appearance, rather a people who are pure in heart. Zion is to be in the world and not of the world, not dulled by a sense of carnal security, nor paralyzed by materialism. No, Zion is not things of the lower, but of the higher order, things that exalt the mind and sanctify the heart.

Zion is “every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.” (D&C 82:19.) As I understand these matters, Zion can be established only by those who are pure in heart, and who labor for Zion…”

(Ensign, “Becoming the Pure in Heart,” May 1978)

Ezra Taft Benson

Only a Zion people can bring in a Zion society. And as the Zion people increase, so we will be able to incorporate more of the principles of Zion until we have a people prepared to receive the Lord.

(New Era, “Jesus Christ – Gifts and Expectations“, May 1975)

So where do we need to start?  How do we go about “Being One” and the “Pure in Heart”?  We must first start by recognizing the layers that exist in regards to the impacts that need to be made.  Remember, the manner in which we assist in building Zion is both Spiritual AND Temporal.  Because of the nature of this we must also recognize that its measured impact is both personal and geographical.

President Spencer W. Kimball provided us with some answers as to where to start:

  1. Eliminate the individual tendency to selfishness that snares the soul, shrinks the heart, and darkens the mind
  2. Cooperate completely and work in harmony one with the other
  3. Lay on the altar and sacrifice whatever is required by the Lord
  • We begin by offering a “broken heart and a contrite spirit”
  • We follow this by giving our best effort in our assigned fields of labor and callings
  • We learn our duty and execute it fully
  • Finally we consecrate our time, talents and means as called upon by our leaders and as prompted by the whisperings of the Spirit

(Ensign, “Becoming the Pure in Heart,” May 1978)

Ascent (David Linn)
Ascent (David Linn)

We must also be cognizant of the work that must be done to create places that can serve to better our temporal existence in a manner that will serve us individually and collectively in learning to become one.  We must learn to measure the value of our places based on their return of assisting to fulfill God’s mission of bringing “to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39).  Are they contributing in a way that enable us to act on the principles identified by President Kimball above?  Do they assist in eliminating selfishness?  Do they contribute towards helping us to work in harmony one with the other?  Do they allow us the opportunity to lay on the alter and sacrifice whatever is required by the Lord?

This is not the status of things today.  Rather, our values often are pointed in a different direction – we look at the value of our places instead through a lens of revenue and profit.  The prophet Nephi (son of Lehi) warned us that taking an approach of this nature will ultimately lead to our eternal downfall:

 2 Ne. 26:31

31 But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish.

There is much to do in the building of Zion – temporally and spiritually.  The opportunity exists today for each of us to participate in the preparatory work that must be done.  The question at hand is whether we are willing to commit ourselves to the standards that need to be met in order to be a participant.  The building of Zion will take place regardless of whether we elect to participate or not.  We must demonstrate that we are willing to do things following specific patterns that are eternal in nature.  Those patterns will not bend for us – we must align ourselves to them.

Todd Christofferson

If we would establish Zion in our homes, branches, wards, and stakes, we must rise to this standard. It will be necessary (1) to become unified in one heart and one mind; (2) to become, individually and collectively, a holy people; and (3) to care for the poor and needy with such effectiveness that we eliminate poverty among us. We cannot wait until Zion comes for these things to happen—Zion will come only as they happen.

To come to Zion, it is not enough for you or me to be somewhat less wicked than others. We are to become not only good but holy men and women.

In our families and in our stakes and districts, let us seek to build up Zion through unity, godliness, and charity, preparing for that great day when Zion, the New Jerusalem, will arise.

(Ensign, “Come to Zion“, Nov. 2008)

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