Mormon Inquiry

Mormon Inquiry

The meanings of Zion

This is the third post on Richard L. Bushman’s Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2008). [See Part 1 and Part 2.] In Chapter Three, Bushman reviews the several meanings of the term “Zion” in LDS doctrine and thinking.

The Mormon sense of Zion has no real parallels in Protestant thought. In a general sense, Zion refers to Mormon community and society, a larger concept than just the LDS Church as a religious institution. Here’s how Bushman explains it.


From the beginning, Mormons have actively sought unity. They aspire to be a people, thinking of themselves as a society as much as a church. Their common ground goes beyond belief and worship to work, education, family, and business. This comprehensiveness goes back to their origins, when Joseph Smith first organized the church.

I suspect what Bushman gently terms “comprehensiveness” is what rubs some religious contemporaries the wrong way about Mormonism, giving rise to recurrent charges of being cultish or un-American. But comprehensiveness also describes the earliest religious settlers in 17th-century New England. You can’t get more American than the Pilgrims, who also thought of themselves as trying to establish a model religious community.


The early quest for Mormon unity led to experiments in economic communalism. These did not go well, and by 1839 the attempt had been quietly abandoned. While Zion or the related term “Zion society” is still applied by some to these short-term economic experiments, the terms at present are more often used to refer to principles of economic justice and compassion that are realized through service to others, sacrifice for the benefit of those in need, and modest living. At present, Zion means something like this: applying the principles of charitable communal living within the free market, private property economy of the 21st century.

But the Zion concept doesn’t simply refer to a set of principles. The LDS Church makes it a program, and a remarkably successful one. Here’s Bushman again:


Out of the early Zion principles also evolved the Mormon sense of how to care for the poor. The scriptural condemnation of inequality in the early years was less an attack on the systemic inequalities of capitalism than an admonition to watch over the needy. In the twentieth century, the consecration principle took the form of a welfare program begun during the Great Depression to provide work and sustenance for poor church members. The church now owns farms, canning plants, and manufacturing facilities where the poor work producing the goods they need to subsist.

In just the last few years, the LDS Church has also expanded the scope of its humanitarian aid efforts outside the LDS community. Again, it’s not just a wish, it’s a program: Mormon Helping Hands. The website explanation even includes a 14-page manual telling local units how to make it work.


One could cite scripture or Conference talks for a more doctrinally oriented summary of the term Zion, but I think the LDS Welfare Program (to benefit Latter-day Saints in need) and the Helping Hands program (to channel service toward worthwhile projects in local communities) are themselves the best expression of what Zion means in practice to modern Latter-day Saints.

I’ll wind up with some general comments on Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction. It is a short and very readable introduction for the non-LDS reader, but also full of insightful descriptions and observations for the LDS reader. It is certainly worth picking up and reading if you run across it at your local library or bookstore.

Comments read comments(8)
post a comment
Your Name

posted July 30, 2009 at 10:46 am

The problem with the zion concept is that doesn’t fit the rebublican ideology. Zion is more than the church welfare program; it goes much farther than that. The Helping Hands is not zion, instead it is PR for the church’s involvement in fighting gay marriage.
You see, in zion there will be no poor. Every single person will have access to health care. That is a concept that goes against republican belief.

report abuse


posted July 30, 2009 at 2:16 pm

I have studied this subject for many years and in fact have had correspondence with several G.A’s. see the study
Scripturally speaking Zion is a word that denotes something that is Heavenly, Celestial or of God. It is ‘A bit of Heaven on Earth’, or in other words the bringing of Heavenly ideals to Earth. The name Zion is literally taken from the City where God himself dwells: “These are they who are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the City of the living God, the Heavenly place, the Holiest of all.” D&C 76:66 Zion used in a general sense in the scriptures means ‘the cause of righteousness’ or ‘the work of God’ as in the following: “For thou shalt devote all thy service in Zion; and in this thou shalt have strength” D&C 24:7 “Now, as you have asked, behold I say unto you, keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.” D&C 6:6; 11:6, 12:6, 14:6, 21:7-8, 24:7, 30:11.
In this generation the Doctrine and Covenants teaches that Zion is the Pure in Heart, in the Divinely Appointed Place, living by the Law of the Celestial Kingdom.
The Essential Parts of Zion are
Zion is the Pure in Heart: “Therefore, verily, thus saith the Lord, let Zion rejoice, for this is Zion – The Pure in Heart; therefore, let Zion rejoice, while all the wicked shall mourn.” D&C 97:21
Zion is a distinct place: “And the nations of the Earth shall honour her, and shall say: Surely Zion is the City of our God, and surely Zion cannot fall, neither be moved out of her place, for God is there, and the hand of the Lord is there; and he hath sworn by the power of his might to be her salvation and her high tower.” D&C 97:19-20
Zion requires the Celestial Law: “And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the Law of the Celestial Kingdom; otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself.” D&C 105:5 (This refers to The Law of Consecration, See also v 4, 29, 34)
Hugh Nibley a great advocate of Zion stated: Zion is any community in which the Celestial Order prevails. Zion is the pure in heart, But Zion is also a real city or any number of real cities. See BYU lecture series 1971/2 ‘Our glory or our condemnation’
It is important to realize that you cannot have the fullness of Zion without the United Order. Therefore Zion in its full meaning is not yet found anywhere upon the earth. Indeed the present stakes of the church cannot be stakes of Zion in the full scriptural meaning. they are ecclesiastical Stakes which are part of the building up of the church.

report abuse

New Age Cowboy

posted August 11, 2009 at 9:28 am

Dave, I really admire the above mentioned aspects of your church! I never new that LDS folk tried economic communalism: “The early quest for Mormon unity led to experiments in economic communalism. These did not go well, and by 1839 the attempt had been quietly abandoned.” Very interesting!
Blessed be!

report abuse

Bill Kilpatrick

posted August 12, 2009 at 10:27 pm

The Mormon concept of Zion is a Christian version of what Judaism has been striving to achieve for the last four thousand years. It’s all about the creation of a community with standards, where people are supposed to care about each other, where everybody – high and low – has a job to do, a contribution to make, towards the happiness of all. I have a low tolerance for fairy tales and theological mumbo jumbo, but the concept of Zion is a large part of how Mormons make the most out of daily life. It’s a good concept.

report abuse

nettie munson

posted August 28, 2009 at 3:45 am

i am a member of the mormon church although i guessi am a outgoing member since myhusband and myself have been put on a do not call do not contact list. you are a good mormon if you have 10 children and if you fit in one of their little clicks. now the previous president of the church did not run the church this way, he did not push people out of the church like the current president and his other men do. if you live in fresno and are a mormon you might as well find another church togo to . most mormons are loving and helping but not the fresno 7th ward. that ward needs to be shut down. oh and oh course women are required to walk behind men , and have no standing what so ever in this releigion, not too christian.

report abuse


posted September 3, 2009 at 1:02 pm

I’m sorry you had this experience Nettie. Just to set it straight, this church doesn’t teach it’s members that women have to walk behind men and that you have to have a lot of kids. I’ve held several leadership callings as young women’s pres., enrichment leader and the like, and never once was I belittled by men. Also my husband and I have decided that we don’t want too many kids- 2 or 3 will do- and that is a decision only between my husband and I and the Lord. I’ve never been pressured in church to have more. Though some people in this faith may not be nice or open-minded doesn’t mean that the religion is that way too. There’s probably people like in that every church but that doesn’t mean it their religion is that way too. Actually my family is having some issues w/ a leader in our ward so we’ve started to attend another ward. Well, these are just my thoughts..

report abuse

Mark W

posted September 10, 2009 at 1:42 am

Nettie, my wife and I were in a ward like that once, and a VISITOR got up and called the congregation to repentance. One minute I was half asleep, then I hear “You people are so vain!” I sat up in my chair and whispered to my wife, “This is gonna be good!”
That’s my favorite part of church. Once a month, it’s an open mike, and so long as you frame it as “this I believe” and toss in a scripture for good measure; you’re good to go! Prep your sermon sister!

report abuse

King Neece

posted March 24, 2011 at 10:09 am

Free: Clothes, Food, Education, Travel, Mobile, Movies, Home Items and much, much more. Always Free – Click Here Please

report abuse

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Mormon Inquiry. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Most Recent Mormon Story on Beliefnet Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent ...

posted 2:21:45pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

A statistical portrait of Mormons
The Pew Forum recently issued a detailed summary of survey information about Mormons gathered as part of a much larger survey of religious life in the United States. It is a very readable summary, noting that Mormons comprise 1.7% of adults in ...

posted 12:33:08pm Jul. 29, 2009 | read full post »

July 24th: Pioneer Day in Utah
July 24th is a state holiday in Utah, designated Pioneer Day. It commemorates the entry of the first wagon train of Mormons into the Salt Lake Valley in the summer of 1847. They came down Emigration Canyon, somewhat north of the present I-80 ...

posted 5:38:50pm Jul. 23, 2009 | read full post »

Finding heretics in strange places
A very interesting post at Mormon Matters, reviewing a 1989 book titled "Will the Real Heretics Please Stand Up?" The book was written by an attorney who grew up a Jehovah's Witness, then became an Evangelical Christian. That lasted until he ...

posted 6:27:09pm Jul. 22, 2009 | read full post »

Reason and revelation in Mormonism
This is a second piece on Bushman's Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2008). [See Part 1.] Every faith and denomination has an approach for balancing faith and reason. In Chapter Two of the book, Bushman briefly outlines the LDS ...

posted 12:46:47am Jul. 17, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.