Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #46
We continually seek to build Zion in our hearts, our homes, our communities, and our stakes through good works, caring for the poor, and unity of spirit. This lesson looks at the broad meaning of Zion as a place and as a way of life.
"Zion Gained and Lost: Fourth Nephi and the Quintessential Model," Andrew C. Skinner, in Fourth Nephi, From Zion to Destruction
What is Zion? Of all the descriptions of Zion found in holy writ, none is as singularly instructive as the one presented in 4 Nephi. It not only teaches us about the social and religious characteristics of Zion in a more detailed way than other descriptions, but also illuminates in unmistakable terms the root causes of the demise of a Zion society.
A Zion community requires that individuals experience a purity and unity of heart. Brent Webb, a vice-president at BYU, tells of a friend's heart transplant: the young man underwent a physical change of heart and was spared from premature death. Alma preached of our need for a symbolic change of heart, with the certain safety from spiritual death.
Building Zion through the United Firm in the 1830s
The United Firm was a business management company established by Joseph Smith (founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) that oversaw both the Church's economic pursuits, such as maintaining properties, and some spiritual matters, such as publishing revelations and planning the city of Zion. Its board of managers essentially fulfilled roles later taken on by Church leaders when quorums were created. The term "United Firm" does not appear in the scriptures, and therefore the organization's role has been misunderstood and underestimated. One of Joseph Smith's pseudonyms for the United Firm was the United Order, but the United Order of Utah later started by Brigham Young functioned differently. This article sheds light on the enigmatic and vital role of Joseph Smith's United Firm in early LDS Church history.
Zion City Planning
As settlement in the United States progressed beyond the Appalachians, establishment of cities became the focus of intense speculative activity. From the 1790s until the land had been settled there was a "city-mania" among Americans, contemporary observers noting that nearly every person in the Ohio-Mississippi Valley had in his pocket a grandiose plan for a city that he wanted to sell in whole or part. The claims for these newly established, proposed, or imagined cities were eloquent. All maintained the advantages of city life with its opportunities for education and social interaction. Some of these cities—Cincinnati, St. Louis, Louisville, Pittsburgh—prospered. Others, such as the Town of America, New Lisbon, Port Lawrence, and Palermo, were not so fortunate.
As with the founding of Plymouth Colony, distinctive historical circumstances and theological beliefs converged to motivate early Latter-day Saint community builders. While the historic roots of Salt Lake City are well known to virtually every grade school student in Utah and to Church members around the world, aspects of our remarkable legacy of urban and transportation planning remain obscure. The physical design and community values underlying early attempts to build Zion provide useful perspective and inspiration at today's community leaders now grapple with managing urban growth along Utah's Wasatch Front (from Brigham City to Nephi and Grantsville to Kamas) and elsewhere.