The recent announcement regarding the purchase of the area around Haun’s Mill by the LDS Church brought back memories of my visits to Jackson County and the surrounding area. I reflected on the past perspective of the lands in that area and the significance they once held to the members of the church.
The resolve that the members of the church would one day march back and claim the lands of the center stake of Zion seems to have all but faded away. It is no longer cache’ to speak of returning to Missouri as we are now told to stay where we are to build up the kingdom of God where we reside. But what of the Lord’s direction that we hold off ‘for a season’ the reclamation of this sacred land? Are we left with only a few outliers (you know who you are.) to yearn for Zion?
A number of years ago, our ward held a leadership meeting on a cool fall Saturday morning. It was quite a sacrifice for the dozen people who gathered in the Relief Society room for several hours of instruction. It was nearly Thanksgiving and everyone had a lot to do. I would ask you to visualize yourself sitting on those nice padded chairs preparing mentally for the mundane instruction of the importance of your calling to the salvation of those whom you serve.
After the opening song and prayer, the bishop stands up and announces that the wards in the stake received a letter from Salt Lake. He turns to the first counselor, hands him the letter, and asks him to read it. Under the standard letterhead is the following:
November 13, 1998
To the Stake Presidents and Bishops of Ohio:
Brethren, we want to express our sincere appreciation for the service that you have rendered in your callings. As President Hinckley indicated in a recent conference, we are enjoying an unprecedented time of acceptance and accomplishment in the Church. Your efforts have contributed to that success and will be instrumental in moving the Church forward.
One hundred and fifty-four years ago, the Church was not cast in the same light. Due to unrighteousness, the Saints had been expelled from Jackson County and conditions were difficult at best. In February 1834, Joseph Smith received a revelation from the Lord regarding the situation. Found in the 103rd section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord called for 500 men to “Gather … together unto the land of Zion” The purpose being the redemption of the centerpiece of Zion. On May 24, the group, which became known as Zion’s Camp left New Portage, Ohio for Independence, Missouri. They took with them money to purchase lands, and food and clothing to assist their destitute brethren. It was also the determination of the camp to help their exiled friends maintain their possessions when the governor of Missouri re-instated them upon their lands. But en route to Missouri the brethren did not live up to the requirement made of the camp. Some of them were disobedient, even rebellious, towards the Prophet, and the Lord was not well pleased with them. Because the Saints were not able to follow the commandments, the Lord called for Zion’s Camp to be disbanded.
In the 105th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord declared that Zion might have been redeemed by that time, had it not been for the transgressions of his Saints. They had not been obedient to the requirements made of them. They had withheld their means, and in their hearts had said concerning the Saints in Zion, “Where is their God? Behold he will deliver them in time of trouble, otherwise we will not go up unto Zion, and we will keep our moneys.” Besides these evidences of a want of faith, they lacked that unity required by the law of the celestial kingdom, and it is only through the observance of that law that Zion can be redeemed. The Lord, therefore, commanded the elders to wait a season for the redemption of Zion.
My dear brethren. That season is now upon us. The Lord has instructed us that, in fulfillment of this revelation, Zion’s Camp is to be called out from among the stakes of Zion. This vanguard company will travel to Independence, Missouri to restore Zion and prepare for the return of the Saints. We ask you to identify worthy Melchizedek priesthood holders who are willing to accept a call for a period of two to three years. These brethren will be called to establish communities in Jackson County and the surrounding areas. New Zion’s Camp will leave from New Portage, Ohio on February 24, 1999; the 166th anniversary of the revelation. We will provide more information shortly, but plans need to begin immediately.
Our hearts and prayers are with you as we embark on preparations for this monumental return to the lands set aside by the Lord as the center stake of his Kingdom.
…. G. B. Hinckley, T. S. Monson, J. E. Faust
With great emotion, the first counselor read the words and then looking across those who had gathered together that morning, handed the letter to the Bishop. An eerie silence settled in the room as all pondered the words that landed in their ears and pierced their hearts.
What would your thoughts be if you were present in this situation? Would you be ready in three short months to uproot your lives and begin a journey into an unknown and likely hostile environment? What would your family do? How could you afford to disappear from your entwined life to take on such an assignment? How would this ‘invasion’ be treated by those who live there now. What would the media think of this outlandish scheme?
As it turns out, the letter and its attendant gravity were just a test. There was no second call for Zion’s camp, no frantic soul searching needed in the face of a call to fulfill your covenants to the Lord.
This was only a test.. you can now return to your regularly scheduled programming…
What it did provide was a momentary dis-ease and fertile ground for a truly frank discussion of our ‘true’ commitment to the restoration. I would have to say that all involved in the meeting came away with a little less confidence in the material world with which we have wrapped ourselves. It provided each of us a chance to search our souls for the ‘true’ commitment to the covenants to which we agreed. It is easy to say we are willing to give all to God. It is another thing to be asked to follow through on that commitment.
We live in a material world and cling to material things. We work hard six days a week to provide ourselves and any who depend on us with, at least, the basics of life if not much more. On the seventh day, we work hard to fulfill our callings, visit our families, teach our children, and a host of other thing now used to measure our commitment to the gospel.
If the call came today to return to Zion would you be ready?
Now, take it to a more personal level. Are you ready to forsake the material and worldly influences that govern your life and give room for the establishment of a personal Zion. Are you ready to be sanctified and become the ‘pure in heart?’
We will likely not see a call to physically return to Zion tomorrow, but each of us, individually, are called upon to prepare our hearts for the community called Zion – the text, this time, being Alma, chapter 5.
What think ye?
The kids are all raised and out of the house now. They are in various stages of establishing their own families and gaining that wisdom that comes from life’s experience. We brought our children up in the church. Our Sundays found us in the embrace of the Saints. The kids were taught to dress nicely and to be quiet in Sacrament. They attended Primary and were taught to follow the prophet, pay tithing, and prepare for missions. They went to Young Men’s and Young Women’s to learn how to tie knots, to create service projects. With the help of diligent parents they got up early and regularly attended seminary where they were presented with the correlated message of the restored gospel – to be happy you must avoid sin and faithfully attend to all your church assignments. You must prepare to enter the temple where you will be taught the keys to salvation.
Our children were taught that the true church was restored through Joseph Smith and that the truthfulness continued unabated to this present day. That the leadership of the church were prophets, seers, and revelators. That they would guide the church just as Christ will do when He returns. They were encouraged to bear their testimonies that the church was true, that Joseph Smith was a prophet and (current prophet) was called by God to lead his people today.
The programmed message was repeated until the kids could recite it on demand. They learned what answers were expected of them and regurgitated them as necessary to make it through the current lesson.
There were occasional spiritual/emotional events such as a visit to Adam-ondi-Ahman or the Youth Conference testimony meeting. These seemed to be orchestrated to be inspirational and to reinforce the messages they received in their courses from Primary to seminary.
But, looking back there was something missing; something fundamental to the spiritual wellbeing of my children. They learned all the correct answers but had never been challenged to assemble the questions and seek the answers on their own. They were never given the opportunity to develop their own spiritual drive; their teachers and parents did that for them.
Today, I regret using the church programming that directed the religious upbringing of my children. I feel I missed the mark. When I was teaching them to follow the prophet, I should have been encouraging them to seek out the Savior because no religion is perfect. When they were learning to pay their tithing, I should have been teaching them the hazards of relying on the works of men as recognition of God’s assent. Instead of injecting them with pride as the ‘one true church.’ I should have taught them that God will commune with the righteous seeker, regardless of their church affiliation. The message of priesthood keys should have been wrapped in the scripure warning that pride would invalidate any man’s priesthood. When they were instructed about the continuous line of apostles and prophets, they should have been learning that they can receive revelation; that they are just as worthy of dreams, visions, and revelations as any one else.
I never questioned the program when we were in the middle of it. I, perhaps, sensed that the church had taken responsibility for the spiritual training of my children and obviated my responsibility in the matter. My children were fed a pristine view of the church and a distorted definition of the gospel that did not withstand scrutiny.
As a result, the kids grew up in the church and then grew out of it. At the time, we were so busy ‘living the gospel’ through its attendant outward ordinances and rituals that we didn’t learn to live the gospel – the message to come unto Christ.
I have to wonder if there aren’t other parents and children who have experienced the same thing. The correlated message of the church having left them with a number of answers to the requisite questions but without the spiritual backbone needed to stand up a true child of God.
What think ye?