We had some wonderful discussion about Zion in the lengthy comments on Material Prosperity, and I would like to revisit the topic here. My visit to India will end this week, and I have been confronted again and again with thoughts about helping the poor. Today, we visited a government heritage park; as we walked along a path, we came upon a family — two parents and a small child — sitting atop a pile of used bricks. Our guide explained that they were employed by the park to turn the bricks into dust for use in the restoration materials. They lived on site. The mother was using a small hammer, like we would use to hang a picture in our living room. The sight of mother and child moved many of us nearly to tears.
Of course, this is but one scene among millions. By all reports India has made great strides in the past decade, but life is still grim for many people here. While many of the people we have met are confident and optimistic about India’s future, most of the people we have met are academics, business people, and government officials who have been hand-picked to entertain US academics. What would we expect them to say?
When I return home, I will visit some of the “poor” of my ward. These are people on fixed incomes (Social Security), living in subsidized housing. But housing! At least they have housing! (Prompting thoughts of Monty Python.)
So, all of this has set me to thinking about Zion. The scriptures describe Zion as a place where the people “were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” My guess is that most of us interpret this scripture in roughly the following manner: to obtain Zion, people must be spiritually united, and when people are truly united spiritually, they will have all material things in common. To make my point more pointed, most of us understand the word “poor” as a reference to the distribution of material wealth. I disagree.
The word “poor” is inherently comparative. If there are no poor, there can be no rich. Presumably, then, all of the people in Zion are equal. But what does equality mean here? Follow me to one of my favorite passages of scripture, the description of the oath and covenant of the priesthood:
“And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord; For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me; And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him. And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.” (D&C 84:35-39)
Again, in this passage, the notion of equality peeks through. Everyone who obtains the blessing spoken of in these verses will receive the same thing: all that my Father hath. I submit that this cannot be true if “all that my Father hath” is a reference to a material kingdom. If the Father gives a material thing to you, then he cannot give it to me. Unless he gives it to us, but the scripture does not speak of collective ownership.
If not a material kingdom, then what is it that the Father can give to all of us equally? That should be obvious: love. Now you should be able to see where I am going with this. If the celestial kingdom is about receiving the fullness of God’s love, then Zion must be about that, too. To describe Zion as a community with “no poor among them,” therefore, means that all members of that community had received the fullness of God’s love.
Although I expect some pushback on the foregoing thoughts, I want to proceed to my main point, which is about situating Zion. Interestingly, Enoch’s City of Zion was just that: a city. What of the people in other cities? Did the people of Zion have no responsibility beyond their city walls? If we think about pursuing Zion today, how are we to think about it? Are the people of India part of my circle of responsibility? Certainly, these people are my “neighbors” (in the Good Samaritan sense of the word), but does that imply an obligation to include them in my Zion community? If it does, then achieving Zion today would be impossible.
Perhaps we should pursue Zion in smaller units, like a Zion ward, a Zion family, or a Zion marriage. My wife and I have talked about achieving Zion in our family. This has proven more difficult than I would have imagined. And as my children get older, I realize that membership in my family is dynamic. At some point in the not-to-distant future, new people will be joining my family, both by marriage and by birth. This sort of thing complicates the pursuit of Zion to the point that I am content for the moment to focus on having a Zion marriage, that is, a marriage of in which the two of us live with one heart and one mind, having no poor among us. If we can achieve that, perhaps it will spread.