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Within the Latter Day Saint movement, Zion is often used to connote a utopian association of the righteous. This association would practice a form of communitarian economics called the United Order meant to ensure that all members maintained an acceptable quality of life, class distinctions were minimized, and group unity achieved. While Zion has often been linked with theocracy, the concept of Zion did not theoretically require such a governmental system. In this way, Zion must be distinguished from the ideal political system called theodemocracy which Mormons believed would be adopted upon Christ's Second Coming. However, "Zion" maintains several possible meanings within the Latter Day Saint lexicon.
Latter-day Saint Usage of "Zion"
- Zion retains its Biblical meaning and refers to Jerusalem; (See Zion)
- Zion is the name of a physical city founded by the prophet Enoch, also known as the City of Enoch;
- Zion refers to the New Jerusalem, a physical, Millennial city expected to be located in Independence, Jackson County, Missouri;
- Zion metaphorically refers to any group of people that are unified and "pure in heart"; the City of Enoch is one example of "a Zion people"; for Zion to be fully realized, the society must be willing to live the Law of Consecration based on mutual feelings of charity, which is the pure love of Christ;
- Zion is the central physical location to which Latter Day Saints have gathered; the term has been applied to Kirtland, Ohio; Jackson County, Missouri; Nauvoo, Illinois; and the Salt Lake Valley;
- Zion is also, according to Joseph Smith, America. Joseph Smith stated that “the whole of America is Zion itself from north to south”.
- Zion is a metaphor for a unified society of Latter Day Saints, metaphorically gathered as members of the Church of Christ; in this sense any Stake of the church may be referred to as a "stake of Zion"
In one interpretation, Zion refers to a specific location to which members of the millennial church are to be gathered together to live. Stipulated by what is believed by the Latter-day Saints to be the revelation of Joseph Smith, Jr. (D&C 57:1-5), this is said to be located in central Missouri, a location believed to have been the land where Adam and Eve first settled when they were cast out of the Garden of Eden and is known to them as Adam-ondi-Ahman. The nearby area currently comprising the city of Independence, Missouri is also part of this concept of Zion, and the region remains important today to several branches and offshoots of the Restoration movement, who view it as having a crucial role to play in their Christian Millenialist theology.
The word "Zion" appears at least 45 times in the Book of Mormon, a key part of the Latter-day Saint canon, and nearly 200 times in the LDS version of the Doctrine and Covenants, a part of its canon consisting of what members believe to be modern-day revelation and written down by Smith mostly in the 19th century. Following the disappointments and strife which took place in Missouri during initial attempts to establish a "City of the Saints" in the region, the concept of Zion evolved to encompass a less geographically-specific idea similar to the orthodox Christian concept of the "ekklesia" (See Ecclesia (Church))" or community of believers regardless of location. This concept is hinted at in such scriptural passages as the following: "Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion — THE PURE IN HEART; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn." (Doctrine and Covenants 97:21, LDS version)
Esoterically considered, "Zion" as used in this context is a dualistic term connoting a sanctified group of people living according to the commandments and ordinances as revealed to them. Latter-day Saints use the name to signify a group of God's followers, or any location pertaining to where they live. As well as signifying a group and place it is also applied to more than one situation and may be fulfilled at more than one time. Thus, “Zion” has several related but not necessarily synonymous applications. These applications make reference to the following: 1) The Jerusalem of Judah; 2) The New Jerusalem in America; and 3) The Lord’s people and their gathering places around the world.
Exoterically (mundanely) considered, a gathering place in the modern Latter-day Saint (LDS) organizational context refers to Wards (basic congregational units), Stakes (groups of several Wards), homes or communities where believers are striving to live what is referred to as "the Fulness of the Gospel" in righteousness. It is a worldwide movement in which the faithful work towards becoming a pure people, willing to serve God. As noted above, the community of such faithful church members are referred to metonymically as "the pure in heart" in their scriptures.
The ancient people of Enoch sum it up by saying "the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them”
In the so-called Mormon fundamentalism movement, a dissident branch of the Latter-day Saint phenomenon, the more literal interpretation of Zion as a specific geographical location is held to more strongly and a more stringent emphasis is placed upon individual and community lifestyle requirements that are considered, by adherents of the fundamentalist movement, to be necessary prerequisites to establishing such a community. These requirements are often referred to as "the Fullness of the Gospel" and as "ordinances," specific commandments which have long set this movement apart from mainstream Christianity. The two most frequently noted requirements are the United Order (a form of agrarian communalism) and Plural Marriage, both of which are de-emphasized in the mainstream LDS churches and, in the case of Plural Marriage, expressly prohibited and denounced.
A modern-day proponent of the Mormon fundamentalist movement, Ogden Kraut, summarized the fundamentalist/dissident position on "Zion" as follows:
The Saints failed to live the higher laws in the center stake of Zion in Missouri so they were expelled. During the four years at Nauvoo, there was not even an attempt to live the United Order, for example, so they were again driven out. They became like the children of Israel in the desert with only the hope of keeping Zion's laws. But here in the valleys of the Rocky Mountains we have done worse than in Missouri and Illinois. For a few years after the pioneers arrived, an attempt was made to live the United Order and plural marriage, but both leaders and members failed to continue those important laws. Thus, the Church has gone astray from keeping all the laws of Zion, and the redemption of Zion is seldom even mentioned.
Joseph Smith, Jr. wrote of Zion even before the organization of the Latter Day Saint church. In April 1829, he dictated a revelation which urged he and his scribe, Oliver Cowdery, to "seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion." The attempt to reach that goal became a driving force in early Latter Day Saint history, and remains a powerful influence among Latter Day Saints today.
In its broadest sense, Zion is regarded by Latter Day Saints as an association of the "pure in heart." Central to Zion's philosophical underpinnings was a sense of community cohesiveness and unity, a concept which seemed to be unraveling in the world of Jacksonian Democracy. Smith taught that the people of Zion would have all things in common (see United Order), and would not allow others in their community to suffer because of the principles of love, unselfishness, and work for the common good which would be imbued in the individuals capable of maintaining such a society. Zion therefore stands in contrast to proverbial Babylon, where wickedness, disunity, and poverty prevail.
Soon after the founding of the Latter Day Saint church in April 1830, Smith designated a physical location for the Saints to start to build Zion, which he taught would be the future New Jerusalem. On July 20, 1831, Smith stated that he had received a revelation that designated Missouri as the "land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the saints.". The revelation further stated, "Behold, the place which is now called Independence is the center place; and the spot for the temple is lying westward…" Smith later envisioned the temple as being the starting point for the creation of a New Jerusalem: "Verily this is the word of the Lord, that the city New Jerusalem shall be built by the gathering of the saints, beginning at this place, even the place of the temple, which temple shall be reared in this generation."
A comprehensive plat was written up by Smith in 1833, describing the planned city as an organized grid system of blocks and streets, a type of city plan that saw widespread use in Western United States communities. Designed around Latter Day Saint principles of agrarianism order and community, the plan called for 24 temples at the city's center, reflecting the central role played by the church in the community. The temples were to be used for education, administration, cultural events and worship. The plan called for a city of 15,000-20,000 people living in a one mile square city with agricultural land to be reserved on all sides of the city, enough to supply the city "without going too great of a distance". The plan did not allow a city to become too large; once a city had reached the 20,000 limit it was envisaged that other cities would be built... "When this square is thus laid off and supplied, lay off another in the same way, and so fill up the world." While never utilized, the plat ultimately served as a blueprint for subsequent Mormon settlements.
However, mob violence forced the Latter Day Saints from the environs of Missouri by the end of 1833. The local Missourians objected to the Saints' political views (including Mormon support of abolition), their religious beliefs, and their growing population which would soon wrest political power in Jackson County from the "old settlers'" hands.
However, a later revelation through Smith states the belief that the Latter Day Saints were unable to establish Zion in "consequence of their transgressions." The revelation says that among the Saints there were "jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances." Zion could only be established by those who had spiritually prepared themselves to do so.
The Latter Day Saints were finally driven from Missouri in 1838 as a consequence of the Mormon War and Governor Lilburn Boggs' Extermination Order. After this time, Zion maintained its general definition of a society of the righteous, but the importance of Zion as a specific piece of geography (Jackson County, Missouri) began to lose its importance. Zion also became a euphemism for wherever the Saints were gathered, be it Nauvoo, Illinois, Utah, or in many congregations throughout the world.
Today, Latter Day Saints are still counseled by the scriptures and their leaders to build up the cause of Zion, and prepare themselves to be worthy of such a society.
Zion, the City of Enoch
Geographical uses of the name "Zion" are associated with references in the Book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price, where Enoch the son of Jared founds a city for the righteous descendants of Adam. This city became so righteous and pure that it was translated (taken) from the presence of the earth and brought into the presence of God, leaving behind on earth only Methuselah and his family (including Noah) to repopulate the earth with righteous people. Latter Day Saints believe that, at the Second Coming, Zion the City of Enoch will return to the earth from heaven.
- Plat of the city of Zion, by Joseph Smith, Jr.
- Building the City of God, by Leonard J. Arrington, Feramorz Y. Fox, and Dean L. May
- Revitalizing Zion: Nineteenth-Century Mormonism and Today's Urban Sprawl, by Brigham Daniels
- Nineteenth Century Mormon Architecture and City Planning, by Mark Hamilton