Address by Linda Booth, President of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, Community of Christ, at the Affirmation Leadership Retreat in Independence, MO, May 14, 2016
The first recorded mention of Zion in the Doctrine & Covenants was made by Joseph Smith, Jr. on April 5, 1829, in Section 6.
Paragraph 1 began: “A great and marvelous work is about to come forth unto the children of men”
Paragraph 3: “Now, as you have asked, behold, I say unto you, Keep my commandments, and seek to bring forth and establish the cause of Zion.”
There was a beginning consciousness in this new faith movement of what was taking shape around them. In this revelation of Zion there is a new understanding that Zion was a “Cause,” having spiritual and social significance.
Section 27 (section 28: 8-9 in the LDS version), given in September 1830 in Fayette, New York, identified Zion as a place. “It shall be on the borders by the Lamanites.” This gathering place was later identified in eastern Jackson County, Independence, Missouri. The Saints now faced the enormous challenge of fulfilling their divinely commissioned mandate to move to Zion and prepare for the second coming of Christ. A month later in October 30, 1830, four missionaries, Oliver Cowdery, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Whitmer, Jr. and Richard Ziba Peterson, embarked on a 1,200 mile journey to Independence.
When Smith prophesied the creation of Zion, he commissioned the members to claim their inheritance there. He spoke of an inheritance with a divine promise of safety and security both in this life and the next, depending on their willing response to be God’s chosen people. “In this land which is the land of Missouri, which is the land which I have appointed and consecrated for the gathering of the Saints; wherefore this is the land of promise, and the place for the city of Zion… Behold, the place which is now called Independence, is the Center Place, and the spot for the temple is lying westward upon a lot which is not far from the courthouse… [Purchase the land that] they may obtain it for an everlasting inheritance” (D&C 57:1-5).
We know from history how this turned the Saints’ lives upside down, as they faced persecution, the Liberty Jail experience, Zion’s Camp, the expulsion from Missouri, etc.
Your understanding and my understanding of Zion has been formed by revelations given by Joseph Smith, Jr. My great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents lived in Independence. Zion was a place where people had gathered to wait for Jesus. They dreamed and hoped for the building of a temple.
My understanding of Zion has also been formed by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ and continuing revelation in the Community of Christ. I need to tell you a little about that journey because it confirms to me that you can claim your place in Zion. You can claim your inheritance in the Kingdom of God.
A revelation given by Israel A. Smith, grandson of Joseph Smith Jr., in 1947 — Section 141:5b — stated: “The work of preparation and the perfection of my Saints go forward slowly, and Zionic conditions are no further nor any closer than the spiritual conditions of my people justifies.”
This revelation was moving the understanding of Zion away from a geographic place to a spiritual condition. The language speaking about Zion was changing to reflect Jesus Christ’s references to the Kingdom of God. Section 148:5a, received by W. Wallace Smith (grandson of Joseph Smith, Jr.) in 1964, stated, “Stewardship is the response of my people to the ministry of my Son and is required alike of all those who seek to build the kingdom.”
In Section 155:8, a revelation received by Wallace B. Smith (Joseph Smith, Jr.’s great-grandson) on March 29, 1982 stated: “The call is for workers in the cause of Zion; therefore, promise if you will call upon my name, my Spirit will go before you into whatsoever place you are sent and I will continue to bless you as you have need.” Now the sense was that Zion was not about gathering in, but a sending out to join in building the kingdom wherever you live.
Section 156, given by Wallace by Smith on April 3, 1984, brought joy and turned the church upside down. Here’s the upside-down part (in paragraph 9): “I say to you now as I have said in the past, that all are called according to the gifts which have been given them. This applies to priesthood as well as to any other aspects of the work. Therefore, do not wonder that some women of the church are being called to priesthood responsibilities. This is in harmony with my will.”
We gather here in a temple built on land consecrated by Joseph Smith, Jr. as the Temple Lot, open to the world, dedicated to peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit. And I stand before you as a female apostle in the Community of Christ.
On March 25, 2007, in Section 163, Stephen M. Veazy gave this revelation: “You are called to create pathways in the world for peace in Christ to be relationally and culturally incarnate. The hope of Zion is realized when the vision of Christ is embodied in communities of generosity, justice and peacefulness.”
Indeed, the changing of our name from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 2001 to the Community of Christ reflected this faith movement’s understanding of Zion. Called to be communities, wherever we reside, that are centered in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. And the Kingdom of God is present when we become like or live like Jesus Christ.
The Kingdom of God was at the heart of Jesus Christ’s teachings. Jesus announced a new order that looked upside-down in the midst of Palestinian culture in the first century. Christians have a tendency to domesticate Jesus, to tame him to fit our culture and time. Jesus’ life reveals the very nature of God and the fullest disclosure of God’s will. This son of a carpenter, Emmanuel — God with us — stirred up the political waters so much that he got the Roman equivalent of the electric chair.
Through Jesus, God lived in a real social environment. Jesus in essence disclosed God’s social habits. In incarnation, the spiritual became social.
Christ’s vision was based in kingdom values, rooted in the deep Love and abiding Grace of God! Kingdom or Zion behavior arises from God’s love, not an impulse to withdraw from the rest of society. Indeed, if we follow Jesus Christ, the embodiments of God’s grace and love, we are sent into the world. The kingdom of God isn’t static, nor does it refer to a particular place. It’s dynamic — always becoming, spreading, and a growing vision that people live into reality. The Kingdom or Zion is whenever and wherever women and men submit their lives to God’s will.
And the Kingdom of God that Jesus lived was a network of disciples who yielded their hearts and relationships to the reign of God. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus presents the kingdom as a new order breaking in upon, and overturning, old ways, old values, old assumptions.
And no one is on the outside. In Jewish culture only few qualified for the Kingdom: priests, Levites, and others who could prove their pure lineage and who lived by the purity laws. Who was on the outside? Who was unworthy or unclean? Everyone else: Gentiles, Samaritans, women, slaves, children, etc.
But Jesus turned everything upside down. No sorting of people into social bins. Jesus ignored the social norms that spell out the who, when and what of the Kingdom. The calling of the 12 apostles includes Matthew, a tax collector. Jewish tax collectors, working for the Romans, were considered outright traitors, sinners.
The Kingdom is full of surprises. The first shall be last. All are invited, the clean and the unclean. All are loved. All persons are of worth: free and slave, women and men. Everything is upside down and no one is excluded from the Kingdom as unworthy.
If we live those Kingdom principles today, then no one is on the outside. No one is unworthy because of race, gender, ethnicity, social status or sexual orientation.
Zion or the Kingdom of God is the gathering of a distinct community of people with Christ-centered values. When you and I are faithful to Christ’s mission that values each person as worthy — no matter what — then we are a prophetic minority in a world that devalues, separates, subjugates, and marginalizes others.
Citizens of this kingdom have a different vision that:
- holds up the worth of all persons
- that proclaims that God calls all people to use their God-given gifts to do good and to share in God’s purposes
- that strives for unity in the marvelous diversity of God’s creation
- that pursues justice and peace for all people
- that finds blessings in community that shares compassion for and solidarity with the poor, marginalized, and oppressed
- that invites all people to the table
- that offers a corporate witness to God’s love and grace
The foundation — in God’s grace and generosity — extends to all people.
And so my sisters and brothers of Affirmation — according to Christ’s upside down Kingdom vision, you are called to reclaim your place in Zion, the Kingdom of God.
In the words of Jesus, proclaim tonight and every day of your life:
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.” For it is indeed God’s kingdom, God’s power, and God’s glory, forever and ever.