Cover of Working Toward Zion, by James W. Lucas and Warner P. Woodworth.

Cover of Working Toward Zion, by James W. Lucas and Warner P. Woodworth.

We’re not there yet.

As much as we on the Wasatch Front believe that Zion is here at last, and even though we have one of the lowest poverty rates in the country, still one in ten people who live in our community is living in poverty.  Where Zion is a people who are of one heart and mind, and there is “no poor among them,” even we have a way to go yet (Moses 7:18).

But can we have Zion?  Can we get there in our world today?  There are some who think that we can’t, at least not without force and coercion.  Just yesterday I heard,

If your point is, “wow what a shame it is that some people earn millions and others struggle to get by,” yes I would agree with you, and I look forward to the day in the Millennium when this doesn’t happen anymore. Your point appears to be that we need to change things now in our Fallen world, and if you believe this you need to think about how it would come about. It cannot come about without force, so you indeed want to compel other people to act the way you think they should. This is not good… Should people, especially latter-day Saints, consecrate themselves and help others? Definitely. But unfortunately it will not happen before the Millennium.

If we have this mindset, that we won’t make it to Zion until Zion comes to us (in the Millennium), then we have missed the boat.  The only way that we will have Zion is if we build it.  Zion will not magically appear one day when we least expect it.  There must be a people who begin to live by its laws and statutes, who become of one heart and mind, who eliminate poverty and inequality in their surroundings, and who are then ready to welcome Zion into their midst because they have built it.  They will find Zion when they find themselves in it.  That is how Enoch and his people did it, and it is how we will do it today.

The Lord declared, “And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself” (D&C 105:5).  Do we believe the Lord?

Unfortunately, even among the Latter-day Saints, we seem to have a love affair with capitalism. This may be a residual effect from the latter twentieth-century era of the Cold War and McCarthyism, the dreaded fear of socialism and communism, that has driven us to embrace capitalism with a vigor and enthusiasm never seen before.  And we LDS have gone all the way.  Our Marriott School of Management at BYU has been ranked in the top five best business schools in the country. We love our business prowess; reading The Mormon Way of Doing Business will demonstrate that.

But it may come as a shock to some that capitalism is not ordained of God.  It is not the Lord’s way.  He has a better plan for the economic well-being and prosperity of mankind. In Lucas and Woodworth’s Working Toward Zion, Hugh Nibley wrote a foreword where he made this point crystal clear.

Building off the articles and speeches collected in Approaching Zion, this new book traces the problems of both capitalism and socialism from the rise of the Industrial Revolution to the present day. It shows how these twin economic systems diametrically oppose scriptural ideals of Zion. (Foreword, Working Toward Zion. Emphasis added.)

Yes, both capitalism and socialism “diametrically oppose scriptural ideals of Zion.”  Socialism nor capitalism is the way we work toward Zion.  They are not the bus that will get us there.  There is a better way.  And we can begin today in doing what the Lord has asked us to do to prepare for and build up Zion. We don’t need to erroneously wait until the Millennium for the magic elixir, for someone to tell us to begin to consecrate and succor the poor and needy.  We’ll never get there if that is our belief.

Economic Equality

This is the hardest for most, even Latter-day Saints, to wrap their minds around.  Zion is a place where there are “no poor among them” (Moses 7:18).  The only way that this occurs is when there is economic equality among the people.  There are no super rich, and there are no super poor.  In fact, there are no rich or poor at all.  There is an economic equality where everyone has sufficient for their needs.  The Nephites and Lamanites achieved this after the visitation of Christ in the Americas:

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. (4 Nephi 1:3)

There have been times when an economic equality was obtained, but then was lost. The reason was that the people were splintered into various economic classes.

And now, in this two hundred and first year there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world.

And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.

And they began to be divided into classes; and they began to build up churches unto themselves to get gain, and began to deny the true church of Christ. (4 Nephi 1:24–26)

Some cry foul at this point, that this is nothing other than pure socialism-communism, where there is a forced leveling of the population and state ownership.  What we find, however, is that the means by which an economic equality develops among a Zion people are far different than those used in a communistic state, and with far different results.  But it is still an economic equality.  In our fear of socialism, we often throw the baby out with the bath water.

But don’t take my word for it.  Consider the word of the Lord.  The call to equality resounds loudly, such that it cannot be missed.

And 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. (Moses 7:18)

But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin. (D&C 49:20)

And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. (Acts 4:32)

Wherefore, let my servant Edward Partridge, and those whom he has chosen, in whom I am well pleased, appoint unto this people their portions, every man equal according to his family, according to his circumstances and his wants and needs. (D&C 51:3)

And you are to be equal, or in other words, you are to have equal claims on the properties, for the benefit of managing the concerns of your stewardships, every man according to his wants and his needs, inasmuch as his wants are just. (D&C 82:17)

Nevertheless, in your temporal things you shall be equal, and this not grudgingly, otherwise the abundance of the manifestations of the Spirit shall be withheld. (D&C 70:14)

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; (D&C 78:5–6)

But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low. (D&C 104:16)

When a Zion people is prosperous, they share their abundance, one with another, not withholding their substance.  That is why there are no poor, and neither are there rich.  Those who are blessed with more than enough give to those who have less than their needs.

And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need—an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth. And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need. (Alma 1:29–30)

Unfortunately, most people who have an abundance do not share it, and are met with strong warnings from the Lord.

Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment. (D&C 104:18)

There is even now already in store sufficient, yea, even an abundance, to redeem Zion, and establish her waste places, no more to be thrown down, were the churches, who call themselves after my name, willing to hearken to my voice. (D&C 101:75)

Wo unto you rich men, that will not give your substance to the poor, for your riches will canker your souls; and this shall be your lamentation in the day of visitation, and of judgment, and of indignation: The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and my soul is not saved! (D&C 56:16)

And my people must needs be chastened until they learn obedience, if it must needs be, by the things which they suffer… But I speak concerning my churches abroad—there are many who will say: Where is their God? Behold, he will deliver them in time of trouble, otherwise we will not go up unto Zion, and will keep our moneys. Therefore, in consequence of the transgressions of my people, it is expedient in me that mine elders should wait for a little season for the redemption of Zion. (D&C 105:6, 8–9)

These are poignant scriptures, the word of the Lord, that we should not take lightly.

Modern prophets and apostles have strongly warned of the great danger and evil of having a large gulf separating the rich from the poor, and which might ultimately lead to our destruction.  In 1875 an Apostolic Circular was issued that was signed by all members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, which read:

One of the great evils with which our own nation is menaced at the present time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations… If this evil should not be checked, and measures not taken to prevent the continued growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the nation is likely to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin… Years ago it was perceived that we Latter-day Saints were open to the same dangers as those which beset the rest of the world. A condition of affairs existed among us which was favorable to the growth of riches in the hands of a a few at the expense of the many… The growth of such a class was dangerous to our union… Then it was that the Saints were counselled to enter into co-operation. (Edward J. Allen, “Appendix A: Apostolic Circular of July, 1875,” in The Second United Order, 129-30)

King Benjamin taught the principles of economic equality among his people, as they sought Zion.  They did not wait until the Millennium to do so.

And ye will not suffer your children that they go hungry, or naked; neither will ye suffer that they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another, and serve the devil, who is the master of sin, or who is the evil spirit which hath been spoken of by our fathers, he being an enemy to all righteousness…

And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need; and ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—

But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same 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.

For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind?

And behold, even at this time, ye have been calling on his name, and begging for a remission of your sins. And has he suffered that ye have begged in vain? Nay; he has poured out his Spirit upon you, and has caused that your hearts should be filled with joy, and has caused that your mouths should be stopped that ye could not find utterance, so exceedingly great was your joy.

And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another.

And if ye judge the man who putteth up his petition to you for your substance that he perish not, and condemn him, how much more just will be your condemnation for withholding your substance, which doth not belong to you but to God, to whom also your life belongeth; and yet ye put up no petition, nor repent of the thing which thou hast done.

I say unto you, wo be unto that man, for his substance shall perish with him; and now, I say these things unto those who are rich as pertaining to the things of this world. (Mosiah 4:14–23)

Many other examples could be given from the scriptures which demonstrate these principles (see Alma 1:29–31, 32:4–5; 3 Nephi 6:12).

But How?

As my colleague yesterday voiced, many of us throw up our hands in desperation and proclaim that it can’t be done, that any degree of seeking Zion today will result in more government programs, coercion, taxes, handouts, force, welfare, compulsion, socialism, communism, i.e. Satan’s plan.  We must wait for the Millennium, we say.

Yet the scriptures are replete with principles, teachings, commandments, and the word of the Lord to us today in how we can go about building Zion, some noted above.  It doesn’t start by running to the government for help.  In fact, that might very well cause the problems noted above.  It starts with each of us, individually.

You’ll note that the scriptures that teach us about Zion communities talk about each person seeking the welfare of their neighbor (D&C 82:19).  These are not global systems or bureaucracies that throw the hammer down proclaiming that “one soul shall not be lost” (Moses 4:1), instituting programs, departments, services, regimes, councils, and managers to ensure totalitarian economic equality.  It is far from it.  Zion comes when a people are inspired by the Lord in the blessings of Zion to such an extent that they willingly give to one another, share with one another, cooperate together, each person seeking the welfare of their neighbor.  And it starts with each of us, and our next-door neighbors.

One thing that we can do immediately and individually is recognize that our purpose for living in this world is not to make money.  That is what capitalism teaches us, and it is simply wrong.  The ultimate goal of capitalism is to gain more capital, i.e. profit.  You don’t often hear for-profit companies that are comfortable with their current size, their current level of revenue and income.  No.  It is all about growing larger, earning more, owning more assets, maximizing the bottom line, and sending the stock ticker through the roof.  Any business that simply maintains has a real problem.  They are viewed as deficient, broken, and out of touch.  The real goal is to grow larger, and make more money.  Why?  Because you can buy anything in this world with money, and so people want more of it.  It is power and gain.  It is also the difference between God and Mammon.  When we work simply for money, for power and gain, we are working for Mammon.  We are doing exactly what Mammon wants us to do.

I find it disheartening to see so many of our Latter-day Saint brothers and sisters who are so fixated on earning money that they can focus on nothing else.  Every day is an endless exercise of making more money – selling more, earning more, growing more, buying more, being promoted, getting a bigger bonus, saving more, investing more, building more, and the cycle repeats.  They can’t even go home and work on hobbies or be with their families.  They continue to hammer out work email, and pounding out new methods to grow their businesses.  Business becomes an obsession.  This is what capitalism has taught us to do with our time.  It’s what everybody does, it seems.  So few realize that there is an alternative in our lives to seeking more and more money.  And that is to do good.  How much of what we do every day actually does good in the world?  How much brings people together?  How much seeks peace with one another?  How much lifts people out of poverty?  How much is based on improving our individual character and mind rather than promoting materialism and getting the next best thing?  ”But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish” (2 Nephi 26:31).

There’s a great article in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies by Lindon J. Robison entitled “No Poor Among Them,” where he gives examples of real-world applications of consecration principles, and how we might seek the at-one-ment that is found in Zion.  Simply letting the free markets do their thing will not work, as “the outcomes of free markets do not necessarily produce economic equality.”  ”The only successful effort,” Robison continues, “to reduce economic inequality while maintaining economic prosperity appears to be a result of voluntary redistributions that depend on at-one-ment, the same characteristic required for economic prosperity.”

More alarm bells ring wildly when we hear the term “redistribution,” even worse when we hear the more specific phrase “redistributions of wealth.”  It is true that forced redistributions of wealth (i.e. taxation) are an extremely bad way of attempting to bring economic equality in a society.  Very little good comes of it, and usually a lot of bad.  But the systems employed in the Law of Consecration, particularly the United Order or United Firm, and more recently the Church welfare and humanitarian aid programs, are essentially redistributions of wealth.  The key difference, as noted by Robison, is that these redistributions are based entirely on voluntary free-will offerings.  The people determine how much they will give, when, and where.  In the days of the United Order, the Saints gave all of their possessions by deed to the Church, which then redistributed them according to the Saints’ wants and needs and circumstances.  Many times, the giver would receive back by deed everything they had consecrated, and then some.  Others would receive back most, and any surplus would be kept in the storehouse for others.  The stewards were responsible to the Lord for their properties, but they were their properties; which highlights another key difference that these stewards owned their property, rather than being communally owned or even owned by the Church.  Nowadays we do not have a method of consecration and stewardship of properties, yet we can still choose how much we want to give of our surpluses to the Lord, for the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth, and the establishment of Zion.

President Marion G. Romney, while member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, later serving as First and Second Counselor in the First Presidency, and President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, once taught:

[We] should live strictly by the principles of the United Order insofar as they are embraced in present church practices such as the fast offering, tithing and the welfare activities. Through these practices we could as individuals, if we wished to do so, implement in our own lives all the basic principles of the United Order…. What prohibits us from giving as much in fast offerings as we would have given in surpluses under the United Order? Nothing but our own limitations. (Improvement Era, June 1966, p. 537.)

And so it is placed upon us, individually, to do what we will with regard to the law of consecration.  We reach towards Zion one individual at a time.

Of course, there are many more things we can do besides giving of our wealth to the poor and needy to consecrate ourselves to the Lord, and to help bring Zion.  Here are a few ideas mentioned by Robison:

  • Protect and obey laws that organize trade and protect our freedom to choose.
  • Have the love of God in our hearts, such that we seek out opportunities to help our fellow man.
  • Eliminate social distinctions based on riches, learning, genealogy, or status.
  • Work towards the elimination of poverty in our neighbors and our communities.
  • Keep only what is sufficient for our most important needs and justified wants, giving surpluses to those who stand in need.
  • Believe you can live the law of consecration.
  • Be governed by equitable and just laws.
  • Give voluntarily of your abundance.
  • Provide the training needed to support and defend one another.
  • Teach useful skills and crafts that will help build the community.
  • Invest in public goods, goods that provide public services and that generally benefit people without requiring private ownership (public roads, public education, public water and sanitation systems, publicly provided protection, etc.).
  • Agree to live together as neighbors.  Love thy neighbor as thyself, one of the great commandments taught by Jesus Christ.  Who is our neighbor?  Christ gave the parable of the Good Samaritan in reply.
  • Protect the rights to specialization and trade.
  • Unite together in our mutual defense against oppression and attack.
  • Eliminate our love of things (material possessions).
  • Be concerned about the well-bring of our neighbors.
  • Do not think you are better than your neighbors, or that they are better than you, especially because of one’s possessions.
  • Do not think that the poor deserve their poverty, either because they are not as smart, don’t work as hard, or have committed some act for which poverty is their prize.
  • Do not create social classes or divisions based on riches.
  • Honor the law.
  • Do not pervert the law.
  • Do not deny people access to education because of poverty or lack of riches.
  • Do not withhold food and clothing from them that need it.
  • Do not exchange life for material gain (Mahan principle).  (“Grinding the faces of the poor” could mean taking advantage of them in their poverty for your own material gain.  Can minimum wage workers even earn a living while adding to the coffers of their employers?)
  • Keep the institution of the family and marriage strong.
  • Encourage a unity among communities and nations, not divisions, which hinder trade.  The more we split, the more we are not at-one with each other.  (North Colorado is the latest that wants to secede to form their own state.  There were some in Texas not too long ago that wanted to secede from the USA.)
  • Encourage peace and the elimination of war.
  • Consider the happiness and well-being of others to be as important as our own.

These are just some ideas, from just one article.  I mentioned Woodworth and Lucas’s book Working Toward Zion: Principles of the United Order for the Modern World.  Such a volume is saturated with ideas of how to implement consecration principles in our lives, and get away from being drowned in the ocean of capitalism that surrounds us.  In one review of the book, Don Norton notes:

[The book] assembles a large body of scripture (canonical and other) on the uses of wealth; it gives perspective on how to think about the great contrasts in affluence and poverty in a world all but obsessed with economic issues; it obliges us to deal individually with the temptation of covetousness, and counsels us on how to view and use personal and collective assets. In a world in which economics has become a fetish, Working Toward Zion invites us to reconsider our economic behavior: to assume both individual and collective responsibility for our own and others’ “real needs.”

Lindon J. Robison, whose article was mentioned earlier, also reviewed the book, where he says:

There must be a spiritual law of inertia that suggests we are resistant to change if our current conditions are comfortable. So one’s first response to Lucas and Woodworth’s book is likely to be: aren’t the payments of tithes and fast offerings enough? The answer I read inWorking toward Zion is, not if you can do more.

I will be interested to reread this book.

What do you think?  Are there ways in which we can implement the principles of consecration in our lives today, and work toward Zion?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Working Toward Zion

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