Lesson 61: The Center Place of Zion

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual, 2013


In the summer of 1831, some of the Saints who had gathered in Ohio began their journey to settle in the area of Jackson County, Missouri. In a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith on July 20, 1831, the Lord designated Independence, Missouri, as the “center place” of Zion (D&C 57:3). The Saints were to begin purchasing land in the area, and they were also to keep the Lord’s commandments in preparation for the building of Zion. Over time, however, contentions arose between the Saints and many of the citizens of Jackson County, Missouri, which led to mob violence against the Saints. The Saints were forced to leave Jackson County in November and December 1833.

Suggestions for Teaching

The Lord designates Independence, Missouri, as the center place of Zion

Before class write Kirtland, Ohio on a sign and place it on one side of the room. On the other side of the room, display a sign that reads Independence, Missouri. Or, if you prefer, you could draw on the board a simple map of the midwestern United States, with Kirtland, Ohio, and Independence, Missouri, clearly marked (see Church History Maps, Map 6, “The Westward Movement of the Church”). Refer to the map as you teach the lesson.

Begin by asking students to imagine they are camping and they learn that a storm is approaching.

  • What are some ways you might find refuge from the storm? How might a tent be helpful in this situation?

Explain that the prophet Isaiah portrayed Zion as a very large tent. He said, “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes” (Isaiah 54:2). In fulfillment of this prophecy, the Lord continues to guide the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in establishing stakes of Zion throughout the world.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 64:41–43 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for blessings the Lord promised to the righteous who gather to Zion.

  • What blessings did the Lord promise to the righteous who gather to Zion?

Explain that in July 1831, the Lord declared that the land of Missouri was the promised land of Zion and that Independence, Missouri, was the “center place” of the city of Zion (see D&C 57:1–3).

Invite a student to stand or sit next to the Independence, Missouri sign. Invite a student to draw a picture of a tent on the board. (If the classroom is large enough, you might consider bringing a tent to class and inviting one or two students to spread it out to represent the Saints beginning to build a city of refuge.)

  • Have you ever set up a tent incorrectly or attempted to set one up without all of the parts? What happened?

Invite students to read Doctrine and Covenants 105:5 silently, looking for how the “tent” of Zion must be built for the Lord to accept it. Ask students to report what they find.

Write the following principle on the board: Zion must be built on principles of the law of the celestial kingdom. Explain that after the Lord revealed the location of the land of Zion in 1831, He gave multiple revelations over the next two years describing the principles upon which the Saints should build Zion.

Write the following scripture references on the board:

Divide students into four groups, and assign each group one of the references listed on the board. Invite the groups to read the passages assigned to them, looking for principles of righteousness or commandments the Saints would need to follow to successfully build Zion.

After students have studied their assigned passages, invite them to report what they found. Invite a student to list their responses on the board. (Students’ answers should include the following: live the law of consecration and seek the well-being of others [D&C 82:17–19]; build a temple and receive instruction there [D&C 97:10–14]; be pure in heart [D&C 97:16, 21]; observe the commandments [D&C 97:25–26]; and become sanctified and “go … out from Babylon,” which means to turn away from worldliness [D&C 133:4–5].)

  • In what ways might living these principles of righteousness have helped the Saints build Zion and be protected from spiritual storms? How might living these principles help protect us today?

You might consider inviting several students to bring their scriptures and stand or sit next to the Kirtland, Ohio sign, and ask one or two of these students to go to the Independence, Missouri sign and stand or sit there. Explain that after the Lord revealed the location of Zion in July 1831, many of the Saints traveled the nearly 900 miles to Independence, Missouri, to settle and build Zion. Others remained in Kirtland and in other areas in the east. A stake would be organized in Kirtland on February 17, 1834.

Point to the picture of the tent (or to the tent you have brought to class). Explain that as the Saints worked together to build Zion, the protective blessings of Zion extended to all of them, even those who did not live in Independence, Missouri. The Saints worked together to contribute funds and resources to lay the foundation of the city of Zion. Ask students to imagine an extension of the tent of Zion covering the Saints in Kirtland.

Contention arises between the Saints and other Missouri citizens

To help students understand the events that took place in Ohio and Missouri between 1831 and 1833, ask a student near the Kirtland sign to read aloud the following explanation of how the Saints in the Kirtland stake of Zion supported the building of the center place of Zion in Missouri. Invite the class to listen for what some of the Saints in Kirtland did to help establish Zion.

Kirtland, Ohio: During a series of conferences held in November 1831, Joseph Smith and other Church leaders compiled the revelations that had been received up to that point and planned to print copies in book form. Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer received the responsibility to take the revelations to Missouri so William W. Phelps could print them as the Book of Commandments. During 1831 to 1832, Joseph continued receiving revelations and translating the Bible. In the spring of 1832, Joseph took a trip to Missouri to visit the Saints in Zion, to warn them that Satan was seeking to “turn their hearts away from the truth” (D&C 78:10), and to coordinate the efforts of the bishops’ storehouses in Kirtland and Independence. Some Church members in Ohio contributed money to help purchase land and supplies in Missouri. Many of the Saints continued to move to Zion, and by the end of 1832 about one third of the members of the Church lived in Jackson County.

  • How did Joseph Smith and other Saints in Kirtland help the Saints in Missouri begin to establish Zion?

Ask a student to read aloud the information about the Saints’ efforts to build the city of Zion. Invite the class to look for what the Saints did correctly and incorrectly as they began to build Zion.

Independence, Missouri: Parley P. Pratt described the settling of the Saints in Zion by declaring that “peace and plenty had crowned their labors, and the wilderness became a fruitful field” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. [1938], 93). The Church leaders in Missouri worked to meet the needs of the incoming Saints. This included purchasing land and setting up a store and a printing press. By July 1833, the population of Latter-day Saints had increased to almost 1,200. But the leaders and the Saints were not without their problems. Some members allowed their selfishness and greed to prevent them from living the law of consecration.

In addition to the problems the Saints caused by their own disobedience, they faced conflict with the original inhabitants of the area. Missourians became increasingly concerned about the rapid growth of the “Mormons” and their influence on the local economy and politics. Local religious leaders disagreed with the Saints’ beliefs. One religious leader spread lies about the members of the Church and encouraged the citizens to commit acts of violence against them. And in July 1833, W. W. Phelps published an article titled “Free People of Color,” which cautioned missionaries about proselyting among slaves. The Missouri citizens, who were advocates of slavery, incorrectly concluded that the Saints were inviting freed slaves to Missouri. This added to an already tense situation in the state. On July 20, 1833, a mob threw the printing press into the street, leveled the printing office, destroyed most of the unbound sheets of the Book of Commandments, tarred and feathered Bishop Partridge and convert Charles Allen, and terrorized the town. Hostilities continued and the Saints were forced to leave Jackson County in November and December of that year.

  • How do you think you would have felt to be one of the righteous Saints, hoping for protection from the Lord but being forced to leave Jackson County?

  • If someone were to ask you why the early Saints were not able to build the city of Zion, what would you say? (To help students answer this question, you may want to invite them to read Doctrine and Covenants 101:6–7; 103:2–4; 105:3–4, 9.)

If you have not already asked students to return to their seats, invite them to do so now.

What is the future of Zion?

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 97:21 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how the Lord described Zion. You may want to suggest that students mark the words that teach the following truth: Zion is the pure in heart. Refer to the list of principles and behaviors on the board and ask the following questions:

  • In what ways do these righteous principles help a people to become pure in heart?

  • What is our role in building Zion today? (We can live righteously and encourage others to live righteously. As we live and share the gospel, Zion’s borders are enlarged, its stakes are strengthened, and God blesses the Saints with protection.)

Invite students to consider the principles of righteousness listed on the board. Encourage them to write a goal in their class notebooks or scripture study journals to live one of the principles more faithfully.

Commentary and Background Information

Zion must be built on principles of righteousness

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke about the requirement to build Zion on the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom:

“Much of the work to be done in establishing Zion consists in our individual efforts to become ‘the pure in heart’ (D&C 97:21). ‘Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom,’ said the Lord; ‘otherwise I cannot receive her unto myself’ (D&C 105:5). The law of the celestial kingdom is, of course, the gospel law and covenants, which include our constant remembrance of the Savior and our pledge of obedience, sacrifice, consecration, and fidelity.

“The Savior was critical of some of the early Saints for their ‘lustful … desires’ (D&C 101:6; see also D&C 88:121). These were people who lived in a non-television, non-film, non-Internet, non-iPod world. In a world now awash in sexualized images and music, are we free from lustful desires and their attendant evils? Far from pushing the limits of modest dress or indulging in the vicarious immorality of pornography, we are to hunger and thirst after righteousness. To come to Zion, it is not enough for you or me to be somewhat less wicked than others. We are to become not only good but holy men and women. Recalling Elder Neal A. Maxwell’s phrase, let us once and for all establish our residence in Zion and give up the summer cottage in Babylon (see Neal A. Maxwell, A Wonderful Flood of Light [1990], 47)” (“Come to Zion,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 38–39).

Bishop Keith B. McMullin of the Presiding Bishopric listed some of the principles Zion is to be built on:

“The covenant of consecration encompasses sacrifice; circumscribes love, work, and self-reliance; and is fundamental to the establishment of God’s kingdom. ‘Zion cannot be built up,’ the Lord said, ‘unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom’ [D&C 105:5.] The covenant of consecration is central to this law. We shall one day apply it in its fulness. This covenant embraces the ‘giving of one’s time, talents, and means to care for those in need—whether spiritually or temporally—and in building the Lord’s kingdom.’ [See Ensign, Aug. 1984, 4; Tambuli, Dec. 1984, 7.]

“These principles of love, work, self-reliance, and consecration are God given. Those who embrace them and govern themselves accordingly become pure in heart. Righteous unity is the hallmark of their society. Their peace and harmony become an ensign to the nations. Said the Prophet Joseph Smith:

“‘The building up of Zion is a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight; … it is left for us to see, participate in and help to roll forward the Latter-day glory [of Zion] … a work that is destined to bring about the destruction of the powers of darkness, the renovation of the earth, the glory of God, and the salvation of the human family.’ [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 231–32; emphasis added.]” (“Come to Zion! Come to Zion!” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2002, 96).

Why did the early Saints fail to build the holy city?

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:

“Under the direction of the Prophet Joseph Smith, early members of the Church attempted to establish the center place of Zion in Missouri, but they did not qualify to build the holy city. The Lord explained one of the reasons for their failure:

“‘They have not learned to be obedient to the things which I required at their hands, but are full of all manner of evil, and do not impart of their substance, as becometh saints, to the poor and afflicted among them;’

“‘And are not united according to the union required by the law of the celestial kingdom’ (D&C 105:3–4).

“‘There were jarrings, and contentions, and envyings, and strifes, and lustful and covetous desires among them; therefore by these things they polluted their inheritances’ (D&C 101:6).

“Rather than judge these early Saints too harshly, however, we should look to ourselves to see if we are doing any better.

“Zion is Zion because of the character, attributes, and faithfulness of her citizens. Remember, ‘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 7:18). If we would establish Zion in our homes, branches, wards, and stakes, we must rise to this standard. It will be necessary (1) to become unified in one heart and one mind; (2) to become, individually and collectively, a holy people; and (3) to care for the poor and needy with such effectiveness that we eliminate poverty among us. We cannot wait until Zion comes for these things to happen—Zion will come only as they happen” (“Come to Zion,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 37–38).

The creation of stakes is like founding cities of Zion

Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained that stakes are gathering places for Saints living throughout the world:

“A stake has geographical boundaries. To create a stake is like founding a City of Holiness. Every stake on earth is the gathering place for the lost sheep of Israel who live in its area. …

“Each one of us can build up Zion in our own lives by being pure in heart. And the promise is, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.’ (Matt. 5:8.) Each one of us can extend the borders of Zion by gathering our friends and neighbors into the fold of Israel” (“Come: Let Israel Build Zion,” Ensign, May 1977, 118).

Joseph Smith’s return trip to Kirtland from Missouri

Joseph Smith wrote the following about his return journey to Kirtland after he had visited the Saints in Missouri:

“On the 6th of May [1832] I gave the parting hand to the brethren in Independence, and, in company with Brothers Rigdon and Whitney, commenced a return to Kirtland, by stage to St. Louis, from thence to Vincennes, Indiana; and from thence to New Albany, near the falls of the Ohio river. Before we arrived at the latter place, the horses became frightened, and while going at full speed Bishop Whitney attempted to jump out of the coach, but having his coat fast, caught his foot in the wheel, and had his leg and foot broken in several places; at the same time I jumped out unhurt. We put up at Mr. Porter’s public house, in Greenville, for four weeks, while Elder Rigdon went directly forward to Kirtland. During all this time, Brother Whitney lost not a meal of victuals or a night’s sleep, and Dr. Porter, our landlord’s brother, who attended him, said it was a pity we had not got some ‘Mormon’ there, as they could set broken bones or do anything else. I tarried with Brother Whitney and administered to him till he was able to be moved. While at this place I frequently walked out in the woods, where I saw several fresh graves; and one day when I rose from the dinner table, I walked directly to the door and commenced vomiting most profusely. I raised large quantities of blood and poisonous matter, and so great were the muscular contortions of my system, that my jaw in a few moments was dislocated. This I succeeded in replacing with my own hands, and made my way to Brother Whitney (who was on the bed), as speedily as possible; he laid his hands on me and administered to me in the name of the Lord, and I was healed in an instant, although the effect of the poison was so powerful, as to cause much of the hair to become loosened from my head. Thanks be to my Heavenly Father for His interference in my behalf at this critical moment, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Brother Whitney had not had his foot moved from the bed for nearly four weeks, when I went into his room, after a walk in the grove, and told him if he would agree to start for home in the morning, we would take a wagon to the river, about four miles, and there would be a ferry-boat in waiting which would take us quickly across, where we would find a hack which would take us directly to the landing, where we should find a boat, in waiting, and we would be going up the river before ten o’clock, and have a prosperous journey home. He took courage and told me he would go. We started next morning, and found everything as I had told him, for we were passing rapidly up the river before ten o’clock, and, landing at Wellsville, took stage coach to Chardon, from thence in a wagon to Kirtland, where we arrived some time in June” (in History of the Church, 1:271–72). (See also Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 116.)

Hostilities in Jackson County

“Before April [1833] had ended, the spirit of persecution manifested itself. At an early stage, local citizens warned Church members that they were displeased with the arrival of so many Latter-day Saints, who, they feared, would soon overwhelm them at the voting polls. The Saints were primarily from the northern states and generally were against black slavery, which was then legal in the state of Missouri. …

“A circular, sometimes referred to as the secret constitution, was passed around by the opposition to obtain the signatures of those willing to eliminate the ‘Mormon scourge.’ These feelings of animosity culminated on 20 July 1833 when a mob, numbering some 400 men, met at the courthouse in Independence to coordinate their efforts. Written demands were placed before the leaders of the Church calling upon the Saints to leave Jackson County; to cease printing their newspaper, the Evening and the Morning Star; and to not allow any additional Church members to come into Jackson County. When the mob found that the Church’s leaders would not agree to these illegal requirements, they attacked the newspaper office, which was also the home of the editor, William W. Phelps. The attackers stole the printing press and demolished the building. …

“The mob came again on 23 July [1833], and Church leaders offered themselves as ransom if they would not harm the people. But the mob threatened injury to the whole Church and forced the brethren to agree that all Latter-day Saints would leave the county. As the actions of the mob were illegal, running counter to the constitutions of the United States and the state of Missouri, Church leaders sought the aid of the governor of the state, Daniel Dunklin. He advised them of their civil rights and directed the Saints to get legal counsel. …

“In late 1833 the majority of the Saints crossed the Missouri River north into Clay County and found temporary refuge there” (Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [1996], 40, 42, 43).