This lesson provides an overview of a few of the events in Church history that occurred in Jackson County, Missouri. 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 in July 1831, the Lord designated the town of Independence, Missouri, as the “center place” of Zion (D&C 57:3). The Saints began building up the city and endeavored to live according to the laws of God. Over time, however, contentions arose between the Saints and other citizens of Missouri, which led to mob violence against the Saints. The Saints were forced to leave Jackson County in November and December of 1833.
Imagine you are camping and you learn that a storm is approaching. What are some ways you might find protection from the storm? How might a tent be helpful in this situation?
In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah used the analogy of a tent to represent Zion being built up in the last days as a protection for the Saints (see Isaiah 54:2). The Israelites used tents for their shelter and rest when they were living and traveling in the wilderness. President Ezra Taft Benson taught about the symbolism associated with tents:
“Picture in your mind a great tent held up by cords extended to many stakes that are firmly secured in the ground.
“The prophets likened latter-day Zion to a great tent encompassing the earth. That tent was supported by cords fastened to stakes. Those stakes, of course, are various geographical organizations spread out over the earth. Presently, Israel is being gathered to the various stakes of Zion” (“Strengthen Thy Stakes,” Ensign, Jan. 1991, 2).
Read Doctrine and Covenants 115:6, looking for the kind of protection the Lord promised to those who would gather to Zion in the last days. You may want to mark what you find.
The early Saints thought of Zion as a place of peace, safety, and protection from the wicked (see D&C 45:66–71). They had been anxiously waiting for the Lord to reveal the location of Zion so they could begin building His holy city. 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).
Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:
If you had been an early Church member, how might you have felt after learning where the city of Zion would be built?
When would you have wanted to begin building the city? Why?
Have you ever set up a tent incorrectly or tried to set one up without all of the parts? What happened, or what do you think would happen?
Just as a tent must be set up in a particular way and with all the right parts, Zion must be built up according to a specific pattern. Read Doctrine and Covenants 105:5, looking for how the “tent” of Zion must be built for the Lord to accept it.
Notice that Zion must be built upon principles of righteousness. 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.
Read the following scripture passages, looking for the principles of righteousness and commandments the Saints would need to follow to successfully build Zion. In the space provided, write some of the principles and commandments you find.
Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:
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?
After the Lord revealed the location of Zion in July 1831, many of the Saints traveled the nearly 900 miles from Kirtland, Ohio, to Independence, Missouri, to settle and build Zion.
Look back at the illustration of the tent at the beginning of the lesson. Ancient tents were often expandable in order to accommodate growing families. In partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that the borders of the tent of Zion would be enlarged, the cords lengthened, and the stakes strengthened, Kirtland, Ohio, was designated as “a stake to Zion” (D&C 82:13) after the center place of Zion was established in Independence, Missouri. Both in the early Church and in the Church today, Saints who gather to stakes of Zion receive the protective blessings of Zion. This means that Saints living in stakes of Zion can enjoy the same blessings and protection as those who live at the center place of Zion.
Read the following information about how the Saints in the Kirtland stake of Zion supported the building of the center place of Zion in Missouri. Look for what the Saints in Kirtland did to help establish Zion. You may want to mark some of the insights you find helpful.
Kirtland, Ohio: During a series of conferences held in November 1831, the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders compiled the revelations that had been received up to that point and planned to print them 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 1831–32, Joseph continued receiving revelations and working on his inspired translation of the Bible. In the spring of 1832, he 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 bishop’s storehouses in Kirtland and Independence. 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, Missouri. In the early Church, the Saints in Ohio and the Saints in Missouri worked together to contribute funds and resources to build the city of Zion.
Ponder the ways in which the Prophet Joseph Smith and the other Saints in Ohio helped the Saints in Missouri establish Zion.
Read the following information about Independence, Missouri, looking for what prevented the Saints from building Zion. You may want to mark some of the insights you find helpful.
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 Parker Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt , 93). The Church leaders in Missouri purchased land, set up a store and a printing press, and provided for the needs of the incoming Saints. By July 1833, the population of Latter-day Saints there had increased to almost 1,200. But the Church 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. Additionally, other settlers in the area 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 Church members and encouraged the citizens to commit acts of violence against them. The conflict finally exploded over different political views, including the issue of slavery. After W. W. Phelps printed an article entitled “Free People of Color,” the Missouri citizens, who were largely advocates of slavery, incorrectly concluded that the Saints were inviting freed slaves to Missouri. On July 20, 1833, a mob went to Independence, threw the printing press into the street, demolished the printing office, destroyed most of the unbound sheets of the Book of Commandments, tarred and feathered Bishop Edward 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.
Imagine how it might have felt to have been one of the Saints who was hoping for the Lord’s protection but was forced to leave Zion.
Based on what you have learned, write in your scripture study journal why the early Saints struggled to build the city of Zion. What can you learn from their experience?
Have you ever hoped for or expected something to happen that did not occur? How did you feel?
Imagine the disappointment and confusion the early Saints experienced when the members of the Church were expelled from Jackson County, Missouri. In Kirtland, Ohio, the Prophet Joseph Smith wrote a letter to the exiled Saints shortly after they fled Jackson County. In it he wrote, “When we learn your sufferings, it awakens every sympathy of our hearts; it weighs us down; we cannot refrain from tears” (in History of the Church, 1:454).
In that same letter the Prophet wrote about his inquiring of the Lord about why the Saints’ expectations for Zion had been dashed: “I know that Zion, in the due time of the Lord, will be redeemed; but how many will be the days of her purification, tribulation, and affliction, the Lord has kept hid from my eyes; and when I inquire concerning this subject, the voice of the Lord is: Be still, and know that I am God! All those who suffer for my name shall reign with me, and he that layeth down his life for my sake shall find it again” (in History of the Church, 1:453–54).
What did the Lord tell Joseph Smith to do when he inquired about why the Saints had failed to build Zion? Think about how the Lord’s answer to the Prophet’s question could be helpful when things in your life do not go the way you hope or expect them to.
Later, the Lord gave more insight into why the Saints’ attempt to build the city of Zion failed. Read Doctrine and Covenants 105:5–6, 9–10, 23–24, looking for what the Lord requires of His people before Zion can be established.
So far in this lesson, Zion has referred to a place where the Saints will build a holy city, a New Jerusalem. But the concept of Zion includes more than a specific location where the Saints can find protection. The early Saints may have thought they were only to build a city, but the Lord intended to build a righteous people as well as a city. The protective “tent” of Zion can be found wherever people are obeying the laws of the celestial kingdom (see D&C 105:5).
You may remember from you study of Doctrine and Covenants 97:21 that the Lord explained that Zion is the pure in heart. Review again the principles of righteousness and commandments you listed earlier in today’s lesson. Think about how these righteous principles help a people to become pure in heart.
Elder David R. Stone of the Seventy explained how we can build up Zion in our day:
“Wherever we are, whatever city we may live in, we can build our own Zion by the principles of the celestial kingdom and ever seek to become the pure in heart. Zion is the beautiful, and the Lord holds it in His own hands. Our homes can be places which are a refuge and protection, as Zion is.
“We do not need to become as puppets in the hands of the culture of the place and time. We can be courageous and can walk in the Lord’s paths and follow His footsteps. And if we do, we will be called Zion, and we will be the people of the Lord” (“Zion in the Midst of Babylon,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2006, 93).
In your scripture study journal, summarize what you have learned in this lesson about Zion. What is your role in building Zion where you live?
Consider the principles of righteousness you listed earlier in this lesson. In your scripture study journal, write a goal that will help you live one of them more faithfully.
Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:
I have studied the Center Place of Zion lesson and completed it on (date).
Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: