Recently, our ward has been discussing the idea of building Zion. It was brought to the attention of the bishopric that some in our church congregation feel they cannot speak openly without ridicule. Others feel they are not educated enough to contribute to gospel discussions.
Our ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a diverse mix, both professionally and politically. It is one of the most dynamic and engaging wards I’ve attended. It is also one of the most service oriented. But clearly there is room to grow.
The recent underlying tension we’ve seen in our congregation is a microcosm of what is happening all over the country in communities, states and families. We see deep disparity in our ideologies. We can’t understand why others don’t share our viewpoint.
I don’t believe God created us in his image so that we would turn out like clones. To witness his creations is to recognize that God loves diversity. He finds beauty in both the giraffe and the zebra, the birch tree and the red maple. Variety is what makes the world a beautiful and interesting place. It is only natural that the church would include people with vastly different opinions and backgrounds, cultures and personalities.
I look to Adam and Eve as an example of two people who saw God’s commandments in different ways, yet walked side by side. Adam was a rule follower. He obeyed with exactness the commandments of his father. Eve was willing to ask more questions. She took a risk because she understood what was on the other side of that garden.
We need both the Adams and the Eves in the church, those willing to hold the line and those willing to look outside the prescribed boundaries. We need many other kinds of people: those who have a grasp of deep doctrine and those who understand with their simple faith, the lifelong members and those that bring the fire of new conversion to our meetings. There is room in this vast church for everyone.
The question then is, how can we make a unified whole out of so many varied pieces? How do we go about building Zion?
There are only a few times in scriptural history when God’s people achieved Zion. In the Book of Mormon, we read about the time after Jesus Christ came, when races and tribes dissolved until there were no more Lamanites or Nephites. The scriptures say, “they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God” (4 Nephi 1:17). The ite-less people had “no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people.”
In modern terms, abandoning the “ites” would mean abandoning the labels we affix to ourselves and others: Republican and Democrat, white-collar and blue, lower class and upper, liberal and conservative.
These labels are a worldly fixture. They say nothing about our spirits or our commitment to Christ. In the Americas, the people of Christ only fell out of their Zion state when they began again to distinguish themselves as separate groups.
In the Book of Moses, we read about the people of Enoch, a group so righteous that God lifted them to the heavens because they were too good for this world.
It is said of the people of Enoch that “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).
There are three things going on here: First, the people were of one heart and mind. This doesn’t mean they were the same, that they all voted down the party line. However, they had the same purpose, the same end goal. For a ward congregation, that goal should be to come unto Christ and build up the kingdom of God on the Earth.
Two, the people of Enoch were a righteous people. They walked the walk and obeyed the commandments.
Finally, there were no poor. This is a key to building Zion: no poor in heart, no poor in spirit, and all temporal needs were shared among them.
If we want to build that same kind of Zion in our congregations, we must ask ourselves: What do we bring to church on Sunday? Do we come with a willing heart, to teach and be taught? Do we come with eyes wide open for those who might need help?
We all bring our faults, ready to lay on the altar. Are we willing to bring our humility as well, to say “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief”? Help thou my short-sightedness, my inability to understand people who voted for ____, who believe in pro ____, who make uncomfortable comments about ____.
To do so requires an incredible amount of love. We simply cannot get to that point on our own. It is not human nature. But Christ was there — he was always there — and we can look to him. Christ broke bread with the minority party, the outcasts and sinners. He called tax collectors to be his disciples. Who would that be to you — those who support President Donald Trump or the pro-choice feminists?
Recently, a friend gave a talk in sacrament in which she talked about a new bipartisan group called Better Angels. Better Angels was formed in 2016 to help bridge the divide between Republicans and Democrats. It calls on groups to create the type of environment in which conflict isn’t avoided, but transformed. The name for the group comes from Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address, on the eve of the Civil War when the country was ready to crack in half. These are his concluding words from that address:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
As church members, we must call upon the better angels of our nature. We cannot expect our country, community or congregation to change until we are willing to change. We must allow Christ to transform us. We know that it is possible.
Only then can we build Zion.