What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
I was asked to speak at a women’s retreat about Zion, and specifically, how a Zion society looks and operates in contrast to a Babylonian/Gadianton society. My prepared remarks follow below.
Throughout earth’s history, God has encouraged his children to rise to a heavenly standard—to create a “Zion” in which each member of society understood and adhered to God’s commandments. In the inspired records kept by prophets we see the term “Zion” being applied both to specific geographical groups of individuals, as well as disparate people figuratively connected by their common faith, wherever they might be. In all cases, it basically is a reference to God’s Saints—the pure in heart who actively build up God’s kingdom rather than their own.
A year prior to the church’s establishment in 1830, Joseph Smith received a revelation in which he was instructed to “seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.” Before the church, came the cause—the reason why the church exists at all. This latter-day preoccupation with establishing God’s kingdom on the earth is not new to our dispensation. As Joseph observed, “The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; … it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory [of Zion] … a work that is destined to bring about the destruction of the powers of darkness, the renovation of the earth, the glory of God, and the salvation of the human family.”
We have been commanded to establish Zion today. This requires, of course, that we understand what Zion is. To actually work towards Zion requires a knowledge deeper than a superficial Sunday School response. Yes, Zion is “the pure in heart.” Yes, Zion is the kingdom of God. But regurgitating these responses does not help us understand the specific actions and attitudes required to build up God’s kingdom, or build ourselves to the point of having pure hearts.
My wife and I are building a new home. We can’t accomplish this task by only reviewing the external features of the home, or by casually considering what the inside will look like. Merely having a “big picture” of the home won’t actually help us to build it, and even if we tried, such a superficial attempt would surely result in the home’s collapse. To properly build our home, we need plans with specific measurements, a list of needed supplies, and instructions on how to build it. Without these details, we would try in vain to build a long-lasting home to shelter our family.
So, too, with Zion. As Latter-day Saints with a duty to build Zion in this dispensation, we cannot be content to passively understand a few aspects of what Zion is. Joseph taught that, “We ought to have the building up of Zion as our greatest object.” To accomplish this monumental task, we need to obtain and review in detail the blueprints. In addition to modern revelation which provides us with some of the details, our efforts to create Zion today should be informed by past experiences in which God’s people created Zion-like communities. How did they do it? What can we learn from their successes and mistakes? It is in the scriptures that we find the details necessary to determine how best to build up Zion in our own day. With at least 45 references to Zion in the Book of Mormon and over 200 in the Doctrine and Covenants, there is ample material to review.
The essential components needed to create Zion are found in Moses 7:18, where the record describes the efforts of a man named Enoch to increase the righteousness of those around him. The society he helped build was given the name Zion by God “because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” This three-fold criteria becomes the foundation upon which our Latter-day Zion must be built. Elder D. Todd Christofferson recently taught on this topic as follows:
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.
This is supported by the scripture just read—Enoch’s society was called Zion because they had realized these three righteous objectives. Only after rising to this standard did they become a model of what Saints are and should be. In our earnest endeavor to build up God’s kingdom, then, we should focus on these three components.
Of One Heart and One Mind
First, unity. Would my home be properly built if the subcontractors did not follow the same plans, use the same quality of supplies, and coordinate their work to proceed in the proper order? Unity means sharing a common goal and working towards that goal with similar passion and effort. It does not mean that we all pursue that goal in the same way. Just as my home requires framers and plumbers and electricians and a variety of other specialists, each accomplishing their varying tasks, bringing about Zion requires diversity in action. In other words, unity does not mean that we each have to do the same thing; unity does not require uniformity. As Elder John C. Carmack once said, “becoming one does not mean becoming the same.” The apostle Paul explained this concept as follows:
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ…
For the body is not one member, but many.
If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?
And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?…
And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you…
Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.
The Godhead offers a perfect model of unity: three distinct individuals with separate missions and activities, pursuing a common purpose each in their various ways. They are one, and yet they are different. We, too, have been commanded to be one. This does not mean that we abandon our individual identity and abilities in order to conform to some perceived societal standard. Think of unity in marriage: husband and wife each have their various roles and responsibilities, but are to work towards the same end. Zion needs carpenters, computer programmers, doctors, farmers, mechanics, teachers, and a host of other talents. More importantly, it needs dedicated husbands and wives purging themselves of the traditions of their fathers, and raising up a righteous posterity. It needs personalities of all kinds: introverts and extroverts, thinkers and doers, adventurous and timid people, leaders, followers, and everything in between.
Imagine for a moment two individuals, one righteous and one sinful. The righteous person understands the purpose of being united and wants his sinful associate to repent and be of “one heart and one mind” with him. The sinful person wants the same, but in the reverse: he wants his Peter Priesthood counterpart to loosen up a little and act “normal.” This dichotomy is seen often in the scriptures, and forces us to address an important question: is unity at all costs the ideal? In other words, if we are surrounded by a sinful society should we abandon our principles to conform to the masses, for the sake of becoming one?
Just a few years prior to Christ’s visit to this continent, a clash broken out between the Gadiantons and Nephites. Giddianhi, leader of the Gadiantons, wrote an epistle to the Nephite governor Lachoneus to suggest a way to end their war and create unity amongst their warring peoples:
Therefore I write unto you, desiring that ye would yield up unto this my people, your cities, your lands, and your possessions, rather than that they should visit you with the sword and that destruction should come upon you.
Or in other words, yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us and become acquainted with our secret works, and become our brethren that ye may be like unto us—not our slaves, but our brethren and partners of all our substance.
Simple, right? All the Nephites had to do was to get off their high horse, or in Giddianhi’s words, stop their “maintaining that which ye suppose to be your right and liberty.” Rather than selfishly refusing to share their supplies with the Gadiantons, the Nephites could effectively relinquish their possessions and become part of the Gadianton society, thereby increasing the unity amongst two previously fighting peoples. The robbers were asking the goody-two-shoes Nephites to be of one heart and one mind with them; if unity is the precursor to Zion, would it not be okay to accept their request?
Consider another example. As Amalickiah began his quest to gain control of the Lamanite government through intrigue and murder, he quickly worked to punish dissenters. His propaganda and deceit led to the Lamanite king issuing a proclamation that all of his subjects must prepare for an offensive war against the Nephites. A large group of anti-war Lamanites refused and opted instead to secede from the Lamanite kingdom. Upon orders of the king, Amalickiah led the military against those who refused to fight the Nephites. By this time, as the scriptures tell us, these anti-war Lamanites “had appointed a man to be a king and a leader over them, being fixed in their minds with a determined resolution that they would not be subjected to go against the Nephites.”
Amalickiah’s desire was much like that of the group of Gadiantons just mentioned. As we read, “it was not Amalickiah’s intention to give them battle according to the commandments of the king; but behold, it was his intention to gain favor with the armies of the Lamanites, that he might place himself at their head and dethrone the king and take possession of the kingdom.” In other words, he intended to use deception to fulfill his own ambition in pursuit of political power.
For tactical advantage, the rebels had gathered on top of a mountain. Amalickiah petitioned the leader of this group, Lehonti, to come down to the valley below to talk. Lehonti refused. He asked a second and third time, and Lehonti persistently rejected the requests. Amalickiah found it necessary, to be successful, to compromise a little. Only after Amalickiah climbed the mountain most of the way did Lehonti decide to finally capitulate and descend from his secure location. Lehonti effectively lowered his standards in pursuit of working with the enemy, ostensibly out of a call for unity. After all, these were all Lamanites. They were brothers. They had just days before been living in peace with one another.
A particular verse of scripture has often given me pause when pondering about the importance of being of one heart and one mind in our pursuit of Zion. Teaching his newly called Twelve Apostles, Jesus Christ told them: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” If the Prince of Peace himself stated that his teachings would cause conflict and division, how are we to promote love, peace, and unity while embracing a set of teachings that necessarily puts us at odds with others? Wouldn’t the Nephites had better been able to foster more harmony in their society by agreeing to the Gadiantons’ demands? Were Lehonti and the anti-war Lamanites better off by deciding to come down from their high place to the deceptive trap below?
Let’s liken these things unto ourselves. Where do we see calls today for unity? How about the demand for politically correct speech? How about the call for “equality” as it relates to a societal redefinition of marriage to include homosexual relationships? Perhaps the most obvious example is in the repeated calls for “bi-partisanship” in politics. Members of the two prevailing political parties basically say that the “other side” should agree with them so that they can “cross party lines” and work together. Ignoring the fact that these two groups are simply two sides of the same coin, consider that in most cases they’re asking somebody else to abandon their principles in pursuit of unity. The scriptural stories that portray this same situation are occurring in our own day. Zbigniew Brzezinski, a prominent individual in American politics, commented about this unity in politics as follows:
Bipartisanship helps to avoid extremes and imbalances. It causes compromises and accommodations. So let’s cooperate.
You know what he’s saying, right? Since the truth is considered “extreme” these days, and stubbornly upholding principle creates “imbalances” in the system, bipartisanship is widely seen as the way by which ideological principles are necessarily cast aside in favor of progress. Modern-day Giddianhis are calling for compromise and cooperation. And Latter-day Saints have largely bought into this false unity.
Another prevalent call for unity despite principles is seen in the current presidential election, where supporters of Mitt Romney are badgering every conservative, constitutionalist, and libertarian to vote for their nominee. We’re told, of course, that Obama must be defeated at all costs, and therefore one must out of necessity support the lesser of two evils. Like Lehonti on the mountain top, those who support the Constitution and stubbornly defend liberty are being asked to come down the hill and join forces with a group that does not have our best interests at heart. In Lehonti’s case, he was slowly administered poison until he died. Would our abandonment of principle, to join arms with our brothers and sisters, lead to a different outcome in our case?
Dwelling in Righteousness
You’ll recall that the second characteristic for creating Zion is righteousness. Unity is important, but it does not stand alone. Unity for its own sake is not the ideal at all, and would require altogether abandoning this second and necessary criteria. The sword that Christ sent creates an important division that helps set His people apart from the world; Zion cannot exist by intermingling with Babylon. Only by creating clear borders between its territory and that of Babylon can Zion be said to truly exist.
David O. McKay helped clarify Christ’s counsel, putting in context how we can pursue unity while adhering to a divisive gospel.
Permanent peace will be found only in the application of the principles of the gospel of peace. Christ came to earth to bring peace and good will. When he said: “I came not to send peace, but a sword,” he perceived how the acceptance of eternal principles might render asunder the dearest ties, and how a man’s foes may become those of his own household. Asserting the principles of the gospel over everything else, he added: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Thus he emphasized the great truth that acceptance of the principles of the gospel is the supreme purpose of life.
Unity is not the ideal; unity in righteousness is what we’re encouraged to attain. We do not capitulate to our enemies because they want us to abandon our ideals and emulate their wicked behavior. If Jesus Christ wants us to accept the gospel at all costs, even if it means breaking family ties and allowing division to occur, then we better understand how pure Zion is to be. It cannot be set apart from the fallen world if its occupants do not adhere to some elevated standard of conduct.
Brigham Young understood this trend, namely, that the desire for unity with society would often come at the expense of righteousness. As recorded in the journal of Mosiah Hancock, Brother Brigham “said that he dreaded the time when the Saints would become popular with the world”—we might say become united with the world—“for he had seen in sorrow, in a dream, or in dreams, this people clothed in the fashions of Babylon and drinking in the spirit of Babylon until one could hardly tell a Saint from a black-leg. And he felt like shouting, ‘To your tents, Oh Israel!’ because it was the only thing that could keep the people pure.” Brigham continued:
Many of this people for the sake of riches and popularity, will sell themselves for that which will canker their souls and lead them down to misery and despair. It would be better for them to dwell in wigwams among the Indians than to dwell with the gentiles and miss the glories which God wishes them to obtain. I wish my families would see the point and come forth before it is too late. For oh, I can see a tendency in my families to hug the moth-eaten customs of Babylon to their bosoms. This is far more hurtful to them than the deadly viper; for the poisons of the viper can be healed by the power of God, but the customs of Babylon will be hard to get rid of.
Unity does not mean joining people in their wickedness. It does not mean modifying our standards to gain favor with those in Babylon. It means coming out of Babylon altogether, and doing whatever is necessary to not be at all affiliated with its standards, its customs, and its trends. Unity in righteousness means gathering together with others who share our elevated standards, and who are also working to build up God’s kingdom.
The phrase “To your tents, Oh Israel!” is a biblical example of withdrawing participation in corruption and wickedness. I’ll briefly share the story from 1 Kings to help explain why withdrawing from Babylon is a necessary first step to establishing Zion—or in other words, why righteousness is imperative to building God’s kingdom. Solomon, the son of David, succeeded his father as King of Israel. He built a large temple and a lavish palace for himself, as well as his many non-Israeli wives. God had told his people that “Ye shall not go in to [other nations], neither shall they come in unto you: for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” And yet Solomon decided to co-mingle with those not of his faith, marrying over 700 women and having over 300 concubines. These women “turned away his heart after other gods” and he engaged in idolatry, which ultimately led to a division amongst the twelve tribes of Israel. Upon Solomon’s death, his son Rehoboam stood next in line to ascend to the throne. But while Solomon imposed heavy burdens upon God’s people through taxation and conscription, Rehoboam promised to be even more heavy handed. “My father made your yoke heavy,” he told the twelve tribes, “and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” In response, and in fulfillment of a previous prophecy, ten of the tribes opted to secede and form their own nation. In defiance of a would-be tyrant, Rehoboam, these tribes casted a vote of no confidence and collectively stated: “to your tents, O Israel.” Rather than supporting a corrupt and heavy-handed ruler, they decided to separate completely.
Framed in this context, Brother Brigham’s call for Zion-like righteousness is better understood. When crying out “to your tents, O Israel” he was encouraging a vote of no confidence for the kingdom of Babylon, and suggesting that we should instead separate completely to retain membership in Zion. As Elder Christofferson noted, to achieve the righteousness that Zion requires we must “become, individually and collectively, a holy people.” Holy is a word we use often, but what does it mean? If building God’s kingdom requires a holy people… what is holy?
The English word “holy” dates back to the Old English word h?lig, derived from the word h?l, which means exactly what it sounds like: to be whole, or to be complete. Listen to the second to last verse in the Book of Mormon, where this is described:
And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot.
Sanctification means the process of becoming holy—the purification of our souls to purge our sins and become spot-free. Only by becoming clean of the “blood and sins of this generation” can our proverbial garments become white. Only through Christ can our incomplete, sinful selves be restored to their whole, complete, and pure form. Repentance is the key to holiness.
As we determine how to best build the kingdom of God, then, we must realize that it’s not a part time job. We cannot have dual residences, one in Babylon and the other in Zion. We cannot be holy, or whole, while willfully engaging in activities that sully our garments with spots and imperfections.
The Hebrew word for “holy” helps provide additional context for why a Zion people must achieve this standard before building God’s kingdom. In that language, the word is kadosh and means separating for a special purpose. Holy temples are special places for the sacred worship of qualifying believers. The Holy Priesthood is an order reserved for those men who live according to the required standard to be trusted with God’s power and authority.
To be a Zion people, we must be separate. We must be special. The opposite of being set apart or special is to be common, or perhaps we might say “mainstream.” Consider the Lord’s revelation to the prophet Ezekiel, explicitly condemning his chosen people—those who were entrusted with holy things—for lowering their standards and pursuing the common:
[Israel’s] priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.
If we want to live a Zion people, we cannot be in the mainstream. As Elder Christofferson noted, we must become, individually and collectively, a holy people. We must be different—a peculiar people. As the saying goes, we should be in the world, but not of the world. In one sense, however, we shouldn’t even be in the world. The Lord commanded the Saints in this dispensation, “Go ye out from among the nations, even from Babylon, from the midst of wickedness, which is spiritual Babylon.” Yes, we must be in the physical world and go about our daily lives, interacting with the spiritual citizens of Babylon. But as we do so, we must figure out a way to remain whole, to remain pure, to remain special. We must be set apart from society even while forced to live in it.
So again, let’s liken this unto ourselves. Let’s talk about what it means to be a holy people in an unholy world. First off, it should be noted that we cannot be holy in action while unholy in thought or belief. We can’t claim to be pure in one way while being impure in another. I’ll use an example to illustrate this. We all agree that murder is evil. We would justly condemn our neighbor for murdering his child, for example. It is clearly an unholy action that would render a person unfit for Zion. So, murderers are out. But what about those who support others murdering? Are we any less culpable when we encourage or support another person doing what we ourselves are not? I might bring up the example of war to make this comparison, but too many would dismiss the death during war as somehow acceptable because of the circumstances involved. So let’s modify the example and talk about sanctions to drive home my point.
Prior to the war in Iraq at the turn of the millennium, the United States government imposed a variety of sanctions on the people of Iraq in conjunction with the United Nations. For nearly 13 years, almost all trade with those in Iraq was banned, and only certain food and medicine was allowed into the country. Here’s one explanation of the process by which the most basic necessities were permitted to enter Iraq:
Persons wishing to deliver items to Iraq, whether in trade or for charitable donation, were required to apply for export licenses to the authorities of individual UN member states, who then sent the application to the Sanctions Committee. The Committee made its decision in secret, and any one Committee member could veto a permission without giving any reason. As a rule, anything that could have a conceivable military use was banned, such as computers, tractors, and trousers, although Committee asserted its sole discretion in determining what is essential for every Iraqi and either permitting or denying any thing to the Iraqi population. If the Committee granted approval, it sent its approval to the authorities of the country where the application came from, and that country then informed the applicant who then shipped the items, which remained subject to inspection at risk of impoundment.
Enforcement was efficient and intolerant. The government fined a non-profit group $20,000 for gifting medicine and other humanitarian supplies to Iraqis. Another group was fined $10,000 for bringing medicine to suffering residents. Malnutrition, disease, and other related suffering was widespread; hundreds of thousands of children died in Iraq as a direct result of these sanctions. In other words, because of the federal government’s actions, every single one of those completely innocent people was sent to a premature death. Asked about this suffering caused at the hands of the government, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright simply stated: “we think the price is worth it.”
I live in Lehi. Let’s imagine me being upset with something the mayor is doing (which is not an uncommon thing) and deciding to blockade my neighborhood to try and get him to capitulate to my demands. I would prevent my neighbors through force from taking their children to the doctor, picking up medicine at the pharmacy, or going grocery shopping. I would cut them off from civilization and prevent anybody else from entering our community to assist them. Now, not one of you would support me doing this. And that would be the correct position to take. I would be a tyrant, a bully, and should be held to account for my crimes.
Because I seek to be holy, I do not commit horrible actions such as this. The thought to do so wouldn’t even cross my mind. But can I be holy while supporting other people doing it on my behalf? I don’t blockade my neighbors, but if I support politicians who blockade other innocent people half a world away, am I any less guilty? Holiness demands actions that are consistent with what God has commanded us, but it does not tolerate us supporting those who violate God’s laws merely because we’re not doing it ourselves. Remember that some of Christ’s strongest rebukes were reserved for those he called hypocrites—those who championed their version of “the letter of the law” while completely violating “the spirit of the law.” Claiming to be holy while supporting others in their unholy actions, whatever they might be, is hypocritical and unbecoming of a Latter-day Saint.
I include this example to highlight an important aspect of righteousness. Consider faith in God for a moment. Does having faith in God merely mean believing in Him, or it is something more? Faith in God implies faithfulness—or, in other words, being faithful to God. Christ often used the example of a bride and bridegroom, so let’s do the same. A husband who is faithful to his wife does not break her trust and does not become disloyal through infidelity. Having faith in God, then, means that we do not violate the covenants we’ve made with him. We not only believe in Him, but we do what He has asked us to do. We maintain loyalty, and engage in behavior that is reflective of that bond. Faith implies action. The same can be said for righteousness, or becoming holy—we should abstain from evil actions and thoughts, but we also must commit acts of righteousness. Those who belong to Zion do not just oppose Satan and his temptations—they proactively support God and adhere to his commandments.
Consider the following counsel from Elder Bednar:
The gospel of Jesus Christ encompasses much more than avoiding, overcoming, and being cleansed from sin and the bad influences in our lives; it also essentially entails doing good, being good, and becoming better. Repenting of our sins and seeking forgiveness are spiritually necessary, and we must always do so. But remission of sin is not the only or even the ultimate purpose of the gospel. To have our hearts changed by the Holy Spirit such that “we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2), as did King Benjamin’s people, is the covenant responsibility we have accepted. This mighty change is not simply the result of working harder or developing greater individual discipline. Rather, it is the consequence of a fundamental change in our desires, our motives, and our natures made possible through the Atonement of Christ the Lord. Our spiritual purpose is to overcome both sin and the desire to sin, both the taint and the tyranny of sin.
Prophets throughout the ages have emphasized the dual requirements of (1) avoiding and overcoming bad and (2) doing good and becoming better. Consider the penetrating questions posed by the Psalmist:
“Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in his holy place?
“He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully” (Psalm 24:3–4).
Brothers and sisters, it is possible for us to have clean hands but not have a pure heart. Please notice that both clean hands and a pure heart are required to ascend into the hill of the Lord and to stand in His holy place.
As we seek to build God’s kingdom and make Zion a reality, we must not only analyze our actions, but our thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. Zion is comprehensive and does not limit itself to religious or spiritual matters. To qualify, we must be on God’s side in all situations, not just those dealing with what can be found in a Sunday School manual. Righteousness means being right—saying, doing, and supporting what God wants us to. So taught President Marion G. Romney:
We… must beware concerning ourselves, that we do not fall into the traps Satan lays to rob us of our freedom. We must be careful that we are not led to accept or support in any way any organization, cause or measure which, in its remotest effect, would jeopardize free agency, whether it be in politics, government, religion, employment, education, or any other field. It is not enough for us to be sincere in what we support. We must be right!
This is pretty self-evident: to build God’s kingdom, we should do it the way God wants it done. The subcontractors building my home are not being employed to build it however they want, and with whatever materials they prefer. They labor under my command, and are tasked with building my home according to my specifications. If we’re to build God’s kingdom, then, we need to do it in God’s way. And God doesn’t limit himself to “spiritual” things, since for him, all things are spiritual—including what we perceive to be “temporal” things. We must be right, or we must support God’s will, whether we be dealing with “government, religion, employment, education, or any other field.”
Bringing about Zion requires not only that we be right, but that we all be right. Recall Elder Christofferson’s description: to create Zion we must “become, individually and collectively, a holy people.” It’s not enough to have isolated individuals seeking God’s will—we must be united to be powerful. President Hinckley said it this way:
We must be united. An army that is disorganized will not be victorious. It is imperative that we close ranks, that we march together as one. We cannot have division among us and expect victory. We cannot have disloyalty and expect unity. We cannot be unclean and expect the help of the Almighty.
Individuals united in righteousness create what Elder Ballard recently called a “compounding effect.” We are more effective and powerful by joining forces and working toward a common goal. There is spiritual strength in numbers.
No Poor Among Them
The third criteria to create Zion is just as necessary, for without it, the other two are not valid. Of Enoch’s people we read that “there was no poor among them.” No poverty, no class warfare, no “Occupy Zion” with the 99% protesting against the 1%. There was no poor among them. Think about the implications of that amazing feat. Of course, we don’t know how many people were in Enoch’s society; it would be easier to eradicate poverty among one thousand people than it would one million. But it had to happen for Zion to come. As Elder Christofferson explains, we must “care for the poor and needy with such effectiveness that we eliminate poverty among us.”
I said that without this criteria being fulfilled, our efforts to be united and righteous are not valid. Are we truly united with our brothers and sisters when we enjoy a bounteous harvest but they are begging for bread? And are we truly righteous if we defy God’s command by refusing to share our blessings with those who need them perhaps more than us? King Benjamin taught his people that those who refuse to share “hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.” The opposite then holds true: those who have an interest in the kingdom of God must, in King Benjamin’s words, “succor those that stand in need of your succor; … administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and… not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.” If we want to build God’s kingdom, then we must eliminate poverty. There are no socioeconomic statuses in Zion.
When Joseph Smith received a revelation regarding the establishment of a storehouse for the poor, God stated its purpose: “That you may be equal in the bonds of heavenly things, yea, and earthly things also, for the obtaining of heavenly things. For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things.” In other words, we cannot collectively build God’s kingdom unless we are “equal in earthly things.”
But what does that mean? Does being equal meaning having equal possessions, and ensuring that no one person has more food or clothes or cars than the next? Speaking to the Saints in his day, Paul provided some potent instructions as to how best to help the poor and become equal: “For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.” In other words, we achieve equality not through making sure that each person has the same amount and type of things as everybody else, but by freely offering resources, talents, and time to others in need. No middlemen need be involved, for the most rewarding and uplifting forms of charity are those which allow giver and receiver to both benefit through their intimate exchange of one’s abundance becoming another’s supply. Zion doesn’t require that we all have exactly the same amount of things, but that we freely share God’s gifts with one another, offering our supplies to those in need.
This anti-poverty program means that rather than “us” giving “our” supplies to somebody in need, we are simply offering God’s property to another one of his children in need of them. We are mere stewards of what God has allowed us to acquire. So when God tells us “let every man esteem his brother as himself,” he means it. They’re not just empty words about some vague conception of equality. This is explained further in the following verse: “For what man among you having twelve sons… saith unto the one: Be thou clothed in robes and sit thou here; and to the other: Be thou clothed in rags and sit thou there—and… saith I am just?” What this effectively boils down to is this: if we are not engaged in humanitarian aid efforts to (voluntarily!) “redistribute the wealth,” then we are not building God’s kingdom. We’re supposed to eliminate poverty, not just make a dent.
How are we doing with this criteria? A few statistics might clarify the staggering size of the problem. Nearly three billion people—roughly half the world—live on less than two dollars a day. Tens of thousands of children die every single day due to poverty. Meeting the food and sanitation needs of the world’s poor people would cost an estimated $13 billion annually, which equates to the amount spent on perfume by people in the United States and the European Union. The United States government alone will spend more than 70 times that amount next year on its military. So the resources exist to satisfy the demand. The question for us is: will we allocate resources properly to help those in need? We haven’t yet done so with any significant degree of success.
It’s important to note, though, that Enoch’s people did not eliminate poverty worldwide. We can reasonably assume that poor people still existed around the globe, despite their community having solved the poverty problem amongst themselves, however large their group was. A decade ago, Elder Glenn L. Pace of the Seventy, formerly Managing Director of Church Welfare Services, asked a question which we should all introspectively ask ourselves as we work to eradicate poverty. He said: “Faced with ever-louder cries for help from the world, how do we determine where to focus our efforts?” With such an overwhelming task ahead of us, in light of the rampant poverty in our world, where do we begin?
Because Latter-day Saints do not live in a cohesive community, we should work to eradicate poverty within our own spheres of influence. We begin with those around us: an unemployed neighbor, a single mom trying to make rent by working two jobs, or the beggar on the roadside. We support food pantries, shelters, fast offerings, and offer direct assistance to individuals we recognize as being in need.
God’s commandments to help the poor do not include a provision that we should only help the poor members of our own Church. As Joseph Smith said, we are “to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to provide for the widow, to dry up the tear of the orphan, to comfort the afflicted, whether in this church, or in any other, or in no church at all, wherever [we] find them.”
Our efforts to eradicate poverty should also not be limited only to those within a close geographical area. If we have enough resources to do so, we should contribute to and support effective anti-poverty programs world-wide, especially in impoverished nations. As the prophet Joseph also taught, “A man filled with the love of God, is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race.” The world needs innovative, well-funded solutions to help poor people obtain the resources they need with the goal of becoming self-sufficient and better able to help others.
The first and great commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” In our dispensation, God further clarified how we love him: “If thou lovest me thou shalt serve me and keep all my commandments. And behold, thou wilt remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support.” So we cannot love God without helping poor people, and that means we cannot build God’s kingdom without helping poor people.
Only by eliminating poverty can we become united with one another, and only by helping the poor can we be considered righteous, provided the rest of our behavior is in tune with God’s will. This third and final criteria for creating Zion perhaps does not receive enough attention. Any discussion about Zion in our church classes is likely to lead to a discussion on unity and holiness, but how often do we focus on this last and necessary aspect of eliminating poverty? Perhaps we are often silent on the matter because we are so far off the mark and feel ashamed about it. Perhaps we love our riches and could not imagine a life where a large portion of our salaries was earmarked to help those in need. Perhaps we sense our severe hypocrisy, present company included, as we claim to be “Saints” while failing to sufficiently help the poor.
Whether we are passing or failing, these are the benchmarks of Zion: unity in righteousness among a poverty-free people. Working towards this goal will be easier as we identify and steer clear of the opposites of unity, righteousness, and charity. As Hugh Nibley notes, “Throughout the scriptures, Zion is brought into the clearest focus by placing it against a dark background.” Just as light is best understood and observed when contrasted against the darkness, we can better realize the significance and scope of Zion when we consider its opposite. To pursue unity we must avoid division and contention; to become holy we must rid ourselves of wickedness and immorality; and to eliminate poverty we must abandon our pride and selfishness. Zion is the opposite of Babylon; building God’s kingdom means that we shouldn’t be building our own, or worse, Satan’s.
Recognizing and Rejecting Gadiantonism
As Nibley said, the scriptures help us focus on Zion by first warning us about Babylon. It’s difficult at times, however, to understand the threats inherent in Babylon when they are so vaguely referenced or understood. Fortunately, the Book of Mormon highlights some of these problems in profound clarity and detail so that we, the modern readers, can better understand and avoid them. Though the Bible often refers to Babylon both as a literal place and a figurative representation of Satan’s kingdom, the Book of Mormon almost never does. Most references to Babylon in that book are in the Isaiah chapters, and refer primarily to the location. Instead, the experiences recorded in this set of scriptures use the Gadianton Robbers and their ilk as the antithesis to Christ’s followers. Gadiantons are like Babylonians on steroids, and this scriptural record offers us a number of insights into their beliefs and behavior which, when understood, will help us better recognize the contrast and therefore be more successful in building God’s kingdom.
This group began when its founder, Gadianton, united a group of assassins with a secret oath for the purpose of helping and defending one another. Whereas the Lamanites had been trying for around five centuries to defeat the Nephites militarily and bring them into bondage through direct attacks, the Gadiantons “did obtain the sole management of the government” in only twenty-six years. Whereas the Lamanites had failed during intergenerational attempts to invade and conquer, how is it that the Gadiantons could gain control so quickly? The key to their success is the driving force of every form of tyranny in our own day. It is therefore important to understand how they operated in order to recognize and combat the same strategies being used today.
Rather than attacking from the outside like the Lamanites, the Gadiantons primarily worked from the inside. This group made oaths “to help such as sought power to gain power” and to “murder, and to plunder, and to lie, and to commit all manner of wickedness and whoredoms.” Their goal was to gain power and to sin without consequence. Like with Satan’s premortal plan, the Gadiantons “had seduced the more part of the righteous until they had come down to believe in their works and partake of their spoils, and to join with them in their secret murders and combinations.” In other words, they pacified those who might have otherwise opposed their wicked deeds by offering them the opportunity to partake in their spoils and be protected while pursuing the same evil ends. Thus, the Gadianton goal “to keep [the people] in darkness” was accomplished, in part, by undermining the morals of the people—enticing them to sin without any concern for the consequence.
The Gadiantons did not only work through persuasion among the people, however. In fact, their biggest success came as a result of taking over the government. Whereas Nephite law was once “correct, and . . . given them by the hand of the Lord,” in just two decades “their laws had become corrupted” because “they had altered . . . the laws.” The implementation of illegitimate laws, which enabled evil and exempted it from any legal remedy, led to the corresponding corruption of the entire civilization:
For as their laws and their governments were established by the voice of the people, and they who chose evil were more numerous than they who chose good, therefore they were ripening for destruction, for the laws had become corrupted.
Yea, and this was not all; they were a stiffnecked people, insomuch that they could not be governed by the law nor justice, save it were to their destruction.
In the end, the Nephite civilization was destroyed not through an external enemy, but by moral decay and a corrupt legal system that ruled by “the laws of their wickedness.” The prophet at the time, Helaman, records that the Gadiantons were “letting the guilty and the wicked go unpunished because of their money; and moreover to be held in office at the head of government, to rule and do according to their wills, that they might get gain and glory of the world, and, moreover, that they might the more easily commit adultery, and steal, and kill, and do according to their own wills.” Satan’s plan to redeem all of mankind finds its mortal application in such societies and legal systems, whereby agency is undermined by detaching consequences from choices. When men feel they are able to be governed not by the laws of justice and of God, but by “the laws of their wickedness,” then they will feel emboldened to engage in evil acts that otherwise might not occur. In short, when consequence is removed from the choices that individuals make, they will increasingly make bad choices.
The Gadianton Robbers epitomize the very antithesis of a Zion society. Their false version of unity is like that of the Borg, forcefully assimilating their enemies. Remember the offer of Giddianhi, one of the Gadianton leaders: “yield yourselves up unto us, and unite with us and become acquainted with our secret works,” or we will “visit you with the sword.” This is not unity at all, but an illegitimate counterfeit that should be avoided at all costs.
Further, Gadiantons promote their immorality both through persuasion and coercion, degrading the morals of society by example and peer pressure, and by enabling laws and a government which remove consequences from evil actions, and which therefore encourage those evil actions to occur and increase.
And lastly, Gadiantons use their power to enrich themselves at the expense of others. After taking over the government, they “did trample under their feet and smite and rend and turn their backs upon the poor and the meek…” Gadiantonism works best when an elite few can dominate the masses, and the masses are most easily dominated when they are deprived of important resources.
So in the Gadianton Robbers we find a model of what not to do. To build Zion, we need to purge ourselves, our families, our communities, and our governments from anything which can be found amongst this group. The Gadiantons are the earthly manifestation of Satan’s forces in the pre-mortal realm, when Lucifer’s war against agency began, and the campaign against God’s kingdom broke out into open conflict.
The attack on agency has consisted of the same method, whether by Satan in the war in heaven or by his followers here on earth. Those who “teach after this manner, false and vain and foolish doctrines” seek to gain power, be free from the consequences of their bad decisions and evil actions, corrupt the population to make their deeds popularly acceptable, and alter the legal system to avoid any accountability. Their successes can be seen in the size and scope of the modern welfare state, the forced taxpayer bailout of banks and other companies, the legalization of torture and the denial of due process for alleged criminals, the promotion of immorality in multiple forms of media, so-called “stimulus” programs to offer money to individuals, corporations, and states, and a host of other political, social, and financial activities. The war in heaven wages on today, and the individuals employing Satan’s methods—whether they know it or not—still seek to destroy the agency of man. This core foundation underpins all of our efforts to build God’s kingdom; without the full use of our agency, Zion cannot come.
And Moroni recognized this. Summarizing the implosion of the Jaredite civilization at the hands of the Gadiantons, he conveyed to us the Lord’s commandment about learning from the mistakes of the past through reading the Book of Mormon:
Wherefore, O ye Gentiles, it is wisdom in God that these things should be shown unto you, that thereby ye may repent of your sins, and suffer not that these murderous combinations shall get above you, which are built up to get power and gain—and the work, yea, even the work of destruction come upon you, yea, even the sword of the justice of the eternal God shall fall upon you, to your overthrow and destruction if ye shall suffer these things to be.
Wherefore, the Lord commandeth you, when ye shall see these things come among you that ye shall awake to a sense of your awful situation, because of this secret combination which shall be among you; or wo be unto it, because of the blood of them who have been slain; for they cry from the dust for vengeance upon it, and also upon those who built it up.
For it cometh to pass that whoso buildeth it up seeketh to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries; and it bringeth to pass the destruction of all people, for it is built up by the devil, who is the father of all lies…
This perhaps offer some context as to why I believe the fight for liberty is so important, and why our efforts to pursue Zion are as political as they are religious. As John Taylor once said, “The elders of Israel [should] understand that they have something to do with the world politically as well as religiously; that it is as much their duty to study correct political principles as well as religious, and to see to know and comprehend the social and political interests of man, and to learn and be able to teach that which would be best calculated to promote the interests of the world.” Gadiantons work through government to promote Babylon; extricating the state from our lives through political activism therefore becomes a necessary part of our efforts. We must fight to prevent and reverse illegitimate laws which build Satan’s kingdom rather than allowing us to build God’s.
This is a collective effort, but it begins with the individual—with you and me. We need to be living in unity with our family members. We need to be righteous and purging our lives of all unholiness. We need to help the poor and consecrate our time, talents, and everything with which the Lord has blessed us to building up the kingdom of God. As we do so, our efforts will radiate to others and the collective goal of Zion can more easily be met. This was explained by Brigham Young in his day as follows:
I live and walk in Zion every day, and so do thousands of others in this Church and kingdom, they carry Zion with them, they have one of their own, and it is increasing, growing, and spreading continually. Suppose it spreads from heart to heart, from neighborhood to neighborhood, from city to city, and from nation to nation, how long would it be before the earth would become revolutionized…[?]
His predecessor, Joseph Smith, perhaps put it best:
And whilst we are thus united in one common cause, to roll forth the kingdom of God… the spirit of God will be showered down from above and it will dwell in our midst.
In conclusion, I wish to once again quote Elder Christofferson’s explanation of the three criteria for Zion which we have discussed tonight:
If we would establish Zion… 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.
I invite you to make these things happen. Be creative. Be focused. Be inspiring to those around you. Let’s rededicate ourselves to laying the foundation of Zion, and making whatever changes are necessary in our lives to reach this important goal.