How is it possible for a whole society to be righteous?

“How is it possible for a whole society to be righteous?” Ensign, Sept. 1977, 42–43

How is it possible for a whole society to be righteous? Can we in the Church become such a righteous society?

Max Waters, professor of business education, Brigham Young University We know of three times in the earth’s history when a Zion society existed—or will exist—on the earth. The first was Enoch’s Zion: “And 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.) The second time was with the residue of Lehi’s descendants after Christ’s visit to America: “The people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another.

“And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.” (4 Ne. 1:2–3)

The third time such a society will exist will be during the Millennium, when peace and righteousness will prevail throughout the world. However, prophecies seem to indicate that the development of this Zion society will immediately precede the Millennium: “The glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion. …

“It shall be the only people that shall not be at war one with another.” (D&C 45:67, 69.)

What are the basic elements of a Zion society? Although the characteristics are simple enough to list, rarely has a large group of people been found who could live them!

First, a Zion society is entirely at peace among its members: Enoch’s Zion was made up of people who “were of one heart and one mind”; the righteous society among the descendants of Lehi had “no contentions and disputations among them”; and the latter-day Zion will be “the only people that shall not be at war one with another.”

Second, a Zion society is utterly committed to obeying the commandments of the Lord: Enoch’s people “dwelt in righteousness”; the perfect society in America, “as many as did come unto them, did truly repent of their sins. … They did walk after the commandments which they had received from their Lord and their God” (4 Ne. 1:1, 12); and the modern Zion will be made up of “the righteous,” who “shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy” (D&C 45:71).

Third, a Zion society is not divided into rich and poor: in Enoch’s day the Lord called his people Zion in part because “there was no poor among them”; likewise, in ancient America “they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor”; and in the early Latter-day Saints’ attempt to establish Zion the Lord attributed their failure in part to the fact that “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 Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom.” (D&C 105:3, 5.)

There are doubtless other essentials of Zion societies, but the above three points are clearly stated by the Lord: Zion people dwell with each other without contention; they obey the commandments of the Lord; and they have all things in common, sharing of their substance with the poor.

Throughout history, the majority of the people of the world have not lived according to this pattern. Mankind seems to go from war to war, while civil law seems to be man’s constant attempt to settle contention between neighbors. The term world has become synonymous with wickedness, with extremes of wealth and poverty being universal among human societies. The few times when a Zion has existed on the earth the righteous were isolated and kept safe from the hostility of the wicked by the “terror of the Lord” (D&C 45:67; see also Moses 7:17) or by the oceans separating the descendants of Lehi from the Old World, or by destruction that left only “the more righteous part of the people.” (3 Ne. 10:12.) Only during the Millennium will righteousness be universal, and then only after the wicked are “hewn down and cast into the fire” (D&C 45:57), leaving the righteous to receive the earth “for an inheritance; and they shall multiply and wax strong, and their children shall grow up without sin unto salvation” (D&C 45:58).

A whole society can be righteous only as long as all the people who dwell in it want to be righteous. Obviously, those who do not want to be part of a Zion society will not join it—or will leave it, if they cannot abide its law (which is, essentially, to love the Lord and to serve him). When a righteous society ceases to obey the law, it is no longer a Zion—which is what happened to the ancient American people: after nearly 170 years, some of the people “were lifted up in pride. … And from that time forth they did have their goods and their substance no more common among them.

“And they began to be divided into classes.” (4 Ne. 1:24–26.)

When a people choose to live the law of the celestial kingdom, the Lord pours out great gifts upon them: in Enoch’s Zion “the Lord blessed the land, and they were blessed upon the mountains, and upon the high places, and did flourish” (Moses 7:17), and in fact Enoch’s Zion was so righteous that “the Lord came and dwelt with his people,” and the Lord said to Enoch, referring to Zion after it had been taken up, “Behold mine abode forever” (Moses 7:16, 21).

The righteous society in ancient America was blessed constantly by great miracles wrought by the Lord’s disciples, and they “were blessed according to the multitude of the promises which the Lord had made unto them. … For the Lord did bless them in all their doings.” (4 Ne. 1:11, 18.)

Of the latter-day Zion the scriptures promise, “the glory of the Lord shall be there” (D&C 45:67), and during the Millennium “the Lord shall be in their midst, and his glory shall be upon them, and he will be their king and their lawgiver” (D&C 45:59).

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that the Lord has never created a Zion society from nothing: Zion societies only come when a whole group of people heed the call to repentance—the same call that the Lord has always given to all people—and persist in their righteousness. We children of our Father in heaven cannot wait for Zion to be bestowed on us as a gift: we must prepare ourselves to be a Zion by learning to live the “law of the celestial kingdom”; unless the Lord’s people does this, the Lord says, “I cannot receive her unto myself.” (D&C 105:5.)

The place to start preparing for such a society is in our own hearts, in our own homes, among our own neighbors, becoming pure in heart so that the Lord can say of us as he said of Enoch’s Zion: “And Enoch and all his people walked with God, and he dwelt in the midst of Zion.” (Moses 7:69.)

When Christ came to America he established one of the three “Zion societies” of which we are aware. (Painting by Ron Crosby.)