Articles/Essays – Volume 06, No. 1

Zion Building: Some Further Suggestions

I would like to respond to Gary Hansen’s excellent article “Wanted: Additional Outlets for Idealism” in the Autumn 1970 Dialogue. First, I must say that it serves as a very useful and welcome supplement to my own article on “Mormons as City Planners” in the Autumn 1968 Dialogue. In my article I tried to make the point that Mormons should become increasingly involved in efforts to improve the quality of urban life. I limited the scope of my article to the domestic scene, whereas Mr. Hansen outlined the need for an outreach program to make the blessings of health, education and prosperity more readily available to people in other lands. I couldn’t agree more that, as individuals and as a corporate body, Mormons can and should play an effective role in such efforts. 

However, there are several constraints. An obvious one is money; we simply cannot do everything we know is needed to rehabilitate the world’s needy. On the other hand, we can and should do more than we are now do ing. As Mr. Hansen suggested, a technical assistance program might well be sponsored by B.Y.U. This would provide a splendid outlet for the idealism of returned missionaries and natives of certain countries who would be en abled, after acquiring useful skills, to return to those countries and make a significant contribution to their upbuilding. Their knowledge of the language would certainly give them an advantage over most Peace Corpsmen and other technical advisors. Probably the most appropriate immediate field for such endeavors would be Latin America. I like Mr. Hansen’s suggestion that Zion can be built in Brazil as well as in North America. If we are to take seriously our tenet which says that all of the Western Hemisphere is Zion, we should develop some vehicle for encouraging greater dispersal of our people. If, despite their protestations of love for their mission fields, the bulk of missionaries flee to the bosom of Zion (i.e., the West) and spend the rest of their lives there, it will take a very long time to redeem the entire hemisphere.

There is one very hopeful sign in connection with this matter of building Zion in other lands and that is the policy decision which has been reached by the General Authorities to hold off on the building of new junior colleges in the United States. According to Elder Spencer W. Kimball, a recent visitor to our stake conference, the Church is now channelling almost all available funds that can be spared for educational facilities to those areas where we have found it necessary to set up our own schools to supplement the ofttimes inadequate efforts of foreign governments. The idea is, of course, to train the natives of those countries so that they can obtain better jobs and there fore be more useful to their families, the Church and their countries. Another appropriate trend is the redirection of limited general church missionary funds to natives of countries other than the United States and the encouragement of more self-sufficiency on the part of American young men and women. In other words, there is an attempt underway to begin sharing more of our North American wealth and opportunities with members in less advantaged lands.

The second point to which I feel obliged to respond is Mr. Hansen’s claim that present-day church work is somehow different in nature than that of, say the 1800s, that it has little to do with the concept of “building up Zion.” This is undoubtedly true if you think primarily of a physical, geo graphic Zion, whether contiguous or not. San Bernardino, California, and Fort Lemhi, Idaho, were certainly not contiguous to “Zion” at the time they were settled; but those who were called there felt that they were “building up Zion.” Did the fact that they were “called” make all or most of the difference? How can one feel today that he is “called” to live where he is living and to pursue the type of work he is pursuing? Perhaps it is merely that personal revelation is now more important than a call from some higher priesthood authority in determining where we live and serve.

Another rejoinder would be that “Zion is the pure in heart” and that we build Zion today by building testimonies and character in individuals. This answer is obviously true to a large degree, but it begs the question which Mr. Hansen raises, namely “How can the Church capitalize on the latent idealism of its members?” He implies, as I read him, that there is much idealism (and energy) going to waste because little is being done to harness it. I agree whole-heartedly. I have seen many highly motivated and capable returned missionaries (and converts too) vegetating in church jobs which do not begin to call forth all of the talents and enthusiasm which they possess. One hesitates to give examples of such jobs because all church jobs have their raison d’etre; however, it must be admitted that some jobs do not require as outgoing people as do others. Waste of time and talent, by oneself or by others, is inexcusable in these Last Days. 

It might even be profitable to take a hard look at our “millions of meetings” to see which of them offer the richest opportunities for the cultivation of idealism and genuine participation. My own favorites are baptismal serv ices, fast and testimony meetings (especially those at youth conferences), priesthood advancement seminars, and good classes (whether institute or auxiliary) where there is plenty of class participation and issues pertinent to modern life are examined. As a stake high councilman I also thoroughly enjoy the opportunity that is mine to visit and speak at a different ward or branch each month. I enjoy the experience because I am participating; those on the listening end probably enjoy it much less. Other kinds of planning and leadership meetings seem to range in quality from deplorable to delight ful. A lot depends on whether or not there are activities to be planned or whether the intent is motivation and “leadership training.” Many of the latter type of meeting have a very low “participation quotient” and therefore fail in their intent. One wonders occasionally why it is that we Mormons are thought to need such an excruciating amount of “leadership training” when we are supposed to be guided by the Holy Ghost. 

Activities, including socials and church work which involves real physical or mental exertion—home teaching, missionary, genealogy and welfare work—are better. These programs are the “standard works,” the real outreach activities of the Church. As such, there is a great deal of satisfaction to be derived from doing them conscientiously. Unfortunately, there is not much time left to do them at all after we have attended all the requisite meetings in the regular schedule. There are now so many meetings and outings on Saturdays that it is next to impossible to get a group together to work on the chapel or its grounds, to put a new roof on a widow’s home or help someone move, or to engage in a fund-raising project. These essentially un selfish projects are more reminiscent of old-style “Zion building” than are such staples of the modern church as report-making and leadership meetings. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we need both internal administrative and outreach activities, both physical and mental work, to remain balanced and relevant. Good teaching is certainly “Zion building,” but should we not also play a role in upgrading housing and environmental conditions in our communities (and, as Mr. Hansen recommends, in foreign lands through some vehicle)? Building chapels and working on the welfare farm are certainly “Zion building” endeavors, but should we not also have some time for private study and contemplation, to say nothing of genealogy? Hopefully, we will not have to do what one good brother did in order to have time to work on his genealogy—he was inactive.