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?

14 Responses to “Zion’s Camp – The Sequel”

  • a marginalized mormon:

    I don’t know what to think. I want to believe that many of those in such ‘leadership’ positions are humble enough and spiritual enough that . . . they would grasp the true meaning of what building Zion would be–

    but if, in my recent experience, the leaders and ‘faithful’ are as many of them appear now to be, by how they treat others, I would not want to go along and work alongside them. There are many people who ‘look good’ who are not nice and whose understanding is such that I wouldn’t feel ‘safe’ with them.

    So, I remain in my safe place, feeling sad for what could have been and what might have been and dream of what I hope will come at some point–

    And sometimes I feel like the quiet ‘kid’ in the class who does everything the teacher asks and has to stay after class because others misbehaved. LOL!

    Why should all be punished for a few or even for the majority? No, the idea of community has been shattered at this time and in this space.

    • Spektator:

      There will always be times when the righteous are punished along with the wicked. Life if like that.

      I still firmly believe that one person can make a difference. Sometimes, all it takes is for one person to stand up for what they believe.


  • Joseph McKnight:

    If I had been in the bishopric when this awful idea (of deceiving the people you have stewardship over)was conceived, I would have strongly opposed it, even to the point of asking to be released from my calling. It is the epitome of pride that a bishopric would think to use such deception in trying to “motivate” members to change. In fact, it is the plan of Satan to use deception like this. It is one thing to say, “suppose Pres. Hinkcley asked us to go on a Zion’s Camp”; it is quite an awful other thing to actually pretend to write the words in a fake letter and then read it as if it were true. If I had been listening to the letter as it was read and were in the congregation upon whom this deception was being played, and the same feeling came over me that it was another one of these types of deceptions, which I’ve seen before from usually well-intentioned but not very bright leaders (some of whom treat their ward leaders “under” them as if they were Primary children), I would have got up and quietly walked out. If I had made it through the letter and then been told it was “fake”, I would then have gotten up and quietly walked out. It is leaders like this who make it much more difficult for Zion to exist right now in the here and now in our wards.

    • Spektator:


      Given your words, I have to assume you have decided to ‘quietly walk out of the deceptive manipulation of a post. Do you honestly think this exercise was intended as a deception? As I experienced this, it was not meant to ‘motiviate’ the participants as you suggest. It was done to help each of us search our heart.

      Christ taught in parables. Should we reject these teachings because they were not accurate? Should we reject God because he put Abraham through an even more striking test? He was asked to sacrifice his only son. As the knife came down, an angel stopped him. Ahhh, it was just a test.

      Wilford Woodruff described, in his journal, of the request made to John Taylor by the Prophet Joseph: I want your wife. After agonizing over this for a day, John Taylor came back to Joseph and said: “If the Lord wants Leonora, he can have her.” Woodruff concluded: “That was all the prophet was after, to see where President Taylor stood in the matter, and said to him, Brother Taylor, I don’t want your wife, I just wanted to know just where you stood.” Should we reject Joseph Smith because he engaged in what could be considered a deceptive practice?

      But alas, we are talking about God and a prophet here, not some lowly idiot of a bishop…. By the way, the bishop in this case was one of the most humble and sincere men I have ever met.

      IF Zion is to be built it has to be based on individuals who are willing to humble and submissive, as a little child. Perhaps we should all re-read the doctrine of Christ found in 3 Nephi, chapter 11. I don’t discount that there are proud leaders in the church, but this was not a description of one of them.

    • Greedy reader:

      Amen. This was a bad idea. More and more, I’m resolved to take the Levi Savage approach to everything I hear at church. (He was the guy in the handcart company who firmly but respectfully spoke up and said it was a bad idea to leave so late in the season.) Our brothers and sisters, leaders or not, are quite often feeling their way a little blindly. If an idea smells a little wrong, I’m not going along with it like I have in the past.

  • Joseph McKnight:

    Spektator: I haven’t decided to walk out of this blog, and I sincerely apologize for having only limited time to respond. I don’t doubt at all that the bishop in this case was a humble and sincere person, I just think that it was still a deceitful way of trying to get people to react a certain way, and that we, as human beings, often don’t see our actions as some others will likely see them in any given event. That is the prideful part of all of us, being human, being self-deceived that our actions are justified. In my opinion, the letter was not anything like a parable, because the parables of Jesus mostly (perhaps even all of them) start with “This certain thing is likened unto this certain.” Which is how I think it might have been better dealt with. “Suppose that a letter came from the Prophet . . .” I’m saying that if I had known about this plan, I would have strongly opposed it from the beginning even to the point of telling the bishop it was wrong and letting the consequence fall upon me whatever it be. That is how strongly I felt as I read the blog and I hopefully would’ve been true to myself and told the bishop (if I was there in the planning stages), or if later I were present at the “reading”, that I would walk out in protest and then conversed with the bishop later in private telling him it was a wrong way to go about things. I can guarantee you this, unity and “zion” is not where we all go about following someone just because they’re called as bishop. Society has evolved greatly in the past several decades with new kinds of leadership that our Church has yet to catch up to. We are too prideful to admit it, but the heirarchal way of doing things is not leading us to Zion, IMHO.

    • Spektator:

      I must then ask the question: Do you think it was deceitful how God treated Abraham when he was told to sacrifice Isaac? Similarly, do you think Joseph Smith was wrong to ‘test’ John Taylor?

      I can only say that one must follow the spirit. Walking out may have been appropraite in your case, but are you the one to determine what kind of tests the Lord sees fit to place upon you? Will He sometimes do that through other people?

      I fully agree that we cannot find our salvation in any church leader. They are placed here to help guide us in our quest for knowledge and understanding and the necessary roadmap to Zion.

      • Joseph McKnight:

        Spektator: I don’t think the historical “tests” from Abraham and even more recently from Joseph Smith can apply to us in the modern days. I think our society has changed and the Church must change with those societal changes because I believe God is helping society change for the better with improvements inspired by Him in social and behavioral sciences such that the “heirarchal” model of having to trust in a leader is no longer applicable. We have been given the law of common consent and I believe we can live it better, especially on a ward-level scale, by coming together in a Zion community and not having a “leader” who has to “test” us with deceitful practices. The Lord gives us enough of our own very personal tests; we don’t need a leader thinking for us and making up tests for us. We need more of sharing environments to make Zion in these modern days.

  • Joseph McKnight:

    On second thought, I take back the idea of Abraham not being applicable, it is. Abraham’s test was directly from God and so that is the kind of test we all have in our lives now and again (and sometimes more tests than we think we should have). I am want to disgard the mantra of “follow the leader” which is so engrained in us as Mormons and instead I want to follow God’s ever-evolving, ever-improving world, full of wonderful, inspired philosophers and thinkers and researchers. Take those inspired things of the world and add them to Mormonism, that’s what Pres. Hinckley often said, bring with you all that is good and add it to our Mormon church. That diversity will make us a Zion people, not a “follow the leader” mantra.

  • Spektator:

    I believe the correct model for leadership in the church should be that of the disciples chosen by Christ in 3 Nephi. The twelve were chosen and announced to the people with these words:

    “Blessed are ye if ye shall give heed unto the words of these twelve whom I have chosen from among you to minister unto you, and to be your servants; and unto them I have given power that they may baptize you with water; and after that ye are baptized with water, behold, I will baptize you with fire and with the Holy Ghost; therefore blessed are ye if ye shall believe in me and be baptized, after that ye have seen me and know that I am.”

    They were chosen to be ministers and servants. In other words, your hierarchal model was reversed with those holding the keys to the ordinances were considered servants. Today, we see our leaders living in million dollar penthouses and chauffered around in limosines, treated like royalty…

    Joseph, you and I must live on a different planet. On my planet the ‘ever-evolving, ever improving world full of wonderful inspired philosophers, and thinkers, and researchers’ in mostly made up of those who distain God and relish in humanism.

  • Joseph McKnight:

    Spektator: I can’t tell you how much it has raised my spirits to have you engage me in conversation. I, too, am disappointed in the current general leadership of the Church being so removed from the reality of the lay members, but, I hope you won’t give into the despair that comes from generalizing about the people of our planet. Here I am, if only one, thinker who does not disdain, but loves God, and who loves my sisters and brothers of both extremes humanist and orthodox Mormon, and I try to love everyone in between, too. As paradoxical as it sounds, you’d be surprised to see how many humanists have some faith; such humanists would be more correctly called realists with a frosting of faith. Just like in politics, I lean so far to the left that I end up being friends with those on the far right. I hope I can lean far enough left in these conversations with you that we can be considered on the same side for at least some things.

  • Spektator:

    I am always open to discussion on these topics. As you would see from my posts here, I see the church moving away from instead of toward the greater light and understanding.

    While I am pained by your quick judgement on the above topic, I can understand why you reacted they way you did. I have come to believe that we are continually in test mode. This life is designed to work through our weaknesses and refine our ability to recognize truth. Unlike you, I did not immediately reject the ‘charade’ on the theme of Zion’s camp. What I did do is ask myself: What did it learn from this event?

    I learned how easy it is to be entwined in the world and how our so-called lives could be changed in an instant. I have alway treasured the event because it caused me to ponder my commitment to Zion. I am not alway strong but recalling the feelings of that day still prompts me to remember what is truly important.


  • Joseph McKnight:

    Thank you for the conversation. I’ll continue to read and perhaps comment on your blogs. You have a talent in writing and setting forth coherent arguments and ideas. In the end, I suppose it was the theatrics involved in the letter that caused me unease. I come from a very theatrical background and have 6 wonderful kids who are very much into the performing arts, so envisioning what the actor reading the letter had to portray to the unsuspecting audience was the basics of the deceit for me. Normally, because the audience is aware that it is all a “play”, there is no deceit intended. Thank you again.

  • Spektator:

    Being in such a family, it must be a riot. My family was just the opposite. No theatrics, little conversation, but it was home. We each formulate our worldview by the things we experience. It flavors our perecption and as a wise man once said: We tend to find only that which we are looking for. If we believe in conspiracies, we can find them everywhere.


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