“Lesson 61: The Center Place of Zion,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013)
“Lesson 61,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual
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.
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.
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. , 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.
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.