Note: Over ten years ago, three students and I determined to write a book called Men and Women Working Towards Zion. The students were Alixandra Lewis Adams, Kaylie Clark, and S. Matthew Stearmer. The book never came to pass, even though we wrote about five of the envisioned seven chapters. I still really like those extant chapters. In fact, Chapter 2 of the book, written by Alix, was eventually published in SquareTwo here. I’d like to someday get them all online, though I don’t know if that will ever be possible. However, given that I wrote the first chapter of the volume, I offered it to SquareTwo in the hopes that readers might be interested. The purpose of the chapter was to point out that pretty much none of the most influential writings about Zion talk about women, or even about how male/female relations should be structured to be compatible with Zion (though that theme is only begun at the end of the chapter for it was to serve as a transition to the remaining chapters of the book). As it stands, the chapter remains, I think, a solid analysis of the works of Hugh Nibley and James Lucas/Warner Woodworth concerning how to approach a more Zion-like existence here on earth—and why the omission of women remains a serious lacuna in both the works and the larger quest. Since the essay was written over decade ago, please note that it retains the old style, including the use of now outdated acronyms such as LDS. Enjoy!

One of the principal tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that we are enjoined to build the kingdom of God on earth in order to bring again Zion (D&C 6:6; Article of Faith 10). Zion is the community structure and organization that every group of Saints, in whatever dispensation of time, has been commanded to form, patterned after the structure and organization of the community of heaven (D&C 105:4,5). While its roots are to be found in the heart of every individual, Zion’s full expression is societal. Zion, then, is both ideal and real. It is an ideal because we understand that those who live according to celestial law, or the highest order of heaven, live in Zion. Since we know our aim is to live as the inhabitants of the heavenly family live, we seek to emulate their manner of living as our ideal. At the same time, Zion has been established in several times and places on this earth, including Enoch’s Zion, and the Zion in the Americas for three generations after the coming of Christ, among others mentioned in scripture. Zion has been achieved; it has been periodically created anew by mere mortals on this very planet.

Furthermore, we know that the Zion that has “fled” is coming back to this very earth (Moses 7:69, 63-64). In the end of days, Enoch’s Zion will come down from where it has fled, and be among us once more. Those living the celestial law when Zion returns will fall upon the necks of the citizens of Enoch’s city, and they upon ours (Moses 7:63). And Christ himself will live in his Zion on this earth (Moses 7:21, 63; AF 10). Any citizen of one Zion is a citizen of all Zions, no matter upon which world they are established (Moses 7:64), for the requirement to be a citizen of Zion is a simple one: to be completely pure in heart, with all that that entails (D&C 97:21).

Thus, while most of us in this century live as if Zion were only an ideal for which to strive, whose arrival may be centuries or millennia in the future, it is also true that Zion is no fantasy. It could be among us today, we are told, if only our hearts and our hands are focused on it beyond any other aspiration. That tension, between believing Zion is far off and on a higher plane than that which mere mortals are capable of achieving, and believing it is here and now for those who receive these teachings and act upon them, is a principal tension for all who profess the LDS faith. In 2009, we have not Zion in its full societal form, though there are certainly Saints, and groupings of Saints such as families, who are “pure in heart.” Indeed, we may feel we do not currently understand how the full societal manifestation of Zion could possibly be formed in today’s world. And yet the commandment to build Zion, and the covenants associated with its building, have not been lifted.

In the last twenty [thirty—ed. update] years, two books have shaped LDS understanding of this tension more than any other: first, a collection of essays by Hugh Nibley entitled Approaching Zion (1989), and second, a book by James W. Lucas and Warner P. Woodworth entitled Working Toward Zion (1996). We will explore what each book adds to our understanding of this tension and this quest for Zion, suggest what is missing from the accounts of each, and then add to our understanding through the exploration of important themes not found in these works.

Nibley on Zion

The compilation of Hugh Nibley’s essays relating to the concept of Zion, was a great contribution given to the LDS community by FARMS and Deseret Book. Nibley, though never a general authority, was a scholar and a teacher in the truest sense of the word: Nibley aimed to provoke us to greater understanding through his teaching. He wanted us to make the transition from milk to meat, even though meat is so much harder to digest. Though Nibley, like every one of us, was not perfect—and we will challenge some aspects of his account later in this chapter—his insights and his provocations are worth the attention of every Latter-day Saint.

And Zion is certainly not a milquetoast topic, as Nibley himself pointed out in his essays. How fitting, then, that Nibley’s writings on Zion are still either hotly debated, or, alternatively, purposefully ignored today as too outrageous and immoderate to discuss seriously among the Latter-day Saints.

Nibley defines Zion simply: “Zion is a code word that denotes a very real thing: Any community in which the celestial order prevails” (AZ 317). Zion is “the perfectly pure in a perfectly pure environment” (AZ 27). He quotes Brigham Young as saying, “We are trying to be the image of those who live in heaven; we are trying to pattern after them . . . to walk and talk like them, to deal like them, and build up the kingdom of heaven as they have done” (AZ 32). Indeed, for Nibley, “[T]his life becomes a special test of probation set before us in this world—it is an economic one” (AZ 434). This makes more sense if we remember what the term “economic” signifies for Nibley.

Our economy reflects our purpose, and our purpose reflects our heart. Nibley, states, “The test for this life is not for knowledge, it is not for intelligence, or for courage, or for anything like that. That would be a huge joke. None of us knows very much, none of us is very brave, none of us is very strong, none of us is very smart. We would flunk those tests terribly. As Alma said, we are only to be tested on one thing—the desires of our heart (Alma 41:3); that is what we are really after. And in that way we betray ourselves completely” (AZ 300–1). But how are the desires of our hearts revealed by our activities in the economy of our society? Nibley says, “No one is more completely “of the world” than one who lives by the world’s economy, whatever his display of open piety” (AZ 248). This is a proposition worth further investigation.

Nibley teaches that there are two and only two economies: the economy of Babylon (though it appears in many forms) and the economy of Zion (which is of one, unchanging form). He asserts, “There is an unbridgeable gap between Zion and Babylon. We cannot compromise on the two ways, because the two ways lead in opposite directions. . . . When we try to mix Zion and Babylon, Babylon has already won the game” (AZ18–19). And this is no metaphysical discussion: “We are being asked even at this moment to choose between the peculiar economy that God has prescribed for us and what we have always considered the more realistic, convenient, and expedient economy by which the world lives [i.e., Babylon] and in which at the moment it is convulsively gasping and struggling to survive” (AZ 249).

According to Nibley, Babylon is a code word for a very ancient economic order: “[Satan and all historical empires] sought dominion over others, over all others, and to achieve it in only one way—by force. The code name for such an order of things and such a program is Babylon” (AZ 13–4). Such an order immediately introduces haves and have-nots as the fundamental classes of society, which rich and poor have come to be.

For the haves, the party is on-going, though it brings much less joy and contentment than could be imagined. “It was all free competitive enterprise where ‘every man prospered according to his genius, and . . . every man conquered according to his strength; and whatsoever a man did was no crime’ (Alma 30:17)” (AZ 59). Willing to do anything for a buck, even make their fellow beings suffer, the rich have mastered the Mahan Principle: it is possible to turn the blood of life into gold, and in doing so, one becomes “free” to do anything one pleases. We create concepts to justify our covetousness: “[T]he idea that there is no limit to what money can represent is necessary to implement the equally outrageous idea that there is no limit to what an individual can own” (AZ 520).

Babylon quickly becomes an iron straitjacket: “It is Satan’s master stroke—all must set their hearts on riches or become the servants of those who do” (AZ 373). Noting the fate of the Jaredites, Nibley asserts, “[Babylon leads to] the point of no return, beyond which it becomes impossible to change, and only one solution to a problem remains possible. You simply have to play out the play to the end the way you’ve been doing it” (AZ 18). Babylon locks you in, and if the only rules you know are Babylon’s, then there is no possible escape.

And what of the have-nots, upon whose labor and penury the haves live? “[T]he iron law of wages . . . forces a worker to accept the lowest possible pay from you because he is desperate for work—as long as his labor brings you a profit, you will continue to hire him; when it doesn’t, you let him go. An in all this, you pose as his benefactor” (AZ 194). As Nibley puts it, “[W]hat could be more base or depraved than to use the gifts and advantages God has given us as a club to deprive others of the lesser gifts which God has given them? (AZ 141). Nibley again turns to Brigham Young, who observed in his missionary travels to England this club in use: “In Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, or anywhere else in England, [workers knew] that their employers would make them do their work for nothing, and then compel them to live on roots and grass if their physical organization could endure it, therefore, says the mechanic, ‘If I can get anything out of you I will call it a godsend,’” and does what he can to rip off the boss. If he gets caught, he is punished, yet he is only playing the same game as his employer” (AZ 207).

Nibley invokes the metaphor of “the free lunch”—Babylon preaches there is no free lunch, though that preaching is hypocritical as far as the rich are concerned. For the poor, however, the scenario looks like this:

“Let us say the lunch is equally distributed one day, and soon one man because of his hustle is sitting daily on 70,000 lunches while many people are going without. He generously offers them the chance to work for him and get their lunches back—but they must work all day, just for him and just for lunch. Lunch and the satisfaction of helping their generous employer to get hold of yet more lunches (for that is the object of their work) are all they get out of it. Is this an exaggeration?” (AZ 243).

Of course, an entire superstructure of law and belief and preaching are built up around this iron straitjacket. The law, of course, is a willing accomplice: “The defense of immorality is legality; if it is legal, all is well, even though the law has been contrived under pressure of interest groups” (AZ 52). But the rhetoric of philosophers and preachers is anesthetizing as well: “[The rhetoric of Satan] has invested the ways of Babylon with an air of high purpose, solid virtue, and impeccable respectability” (AZ 45). Not just respectability—piety is in play: “The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders, with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism . . . Babylon is always there: rich, respectable, immovable . . . with its bullet-proof glass. . . . Keeping her orgies decently private, she presents a front of unalterable propriety to all” (AZ 54-55).

Babylon’s virtues are twisted and distorted mirror images of the real ones: “It is as if we were to pronounce blessed a man who keeps a thousand expensive suits locked in his closet and proves his humility and modesty by never wearing one of them—or letting anyone else wear one. This sentiment is marked by an undisguised contempt for anyone without money” (AZ 479). In reference to “the owners of the earth,” Nibley states, “[T]heir only obligation to society was to get richer, so that in the long run everybody would benefit. Indeed, anything that would diminish their holdings in any way was considered morally wrong as damaging to the well-spring of the economy” (AZ 141).

Nibley opines that the philosophies of Babylon are as twisted and as subservient as its religion:

“[According to Darwinists], lunch is the meaning of life . . . Malthus had shown that there will never be enough lunch for everyone, and therefore people would have to fight for it; and Ricardo had shown by his Iron Law of Wages that those left behind and gobbled up in the struggle for lunch had no just cause for complaint. Darwin showed that this was an inexorable law of nature by which the race was actually improved; Miall and Spencer made it the cornerstone of the gospel of Free Enterprise—the weaker must fall by the way if the stock is to be improved . . . In this divinely appointed game of grabs, to share the lunch-prize would be futile, counter-productive, nay immoral. Since there is not enough to go around, whoever gets his fill must be taking it from others—that is the way the game is played . . . President Young saw it was the economic and political rather than the scientific and biological implications of natural selection that were the real danger and most counter to the gospel” (AZ 207).

Nibley is aghast at the lengths to which our culture has embraced Babylon, which claims, a la Ivan Boesky, that greed is “healthy.” He states,

“Our society has gone out of its way not to do what could be done to solve the problem [of human suffering]. Why? A community which can at tolerable expense eliminate human distress but refrains from doing so either must believe that it benefits from unemployment or poverty, or that the poor and unemployed are bad people, or that more important values will be impaired by attempts to help the lower orders—or all of these statements. “No other civilization has permitted the calculus of self-interest so to dominate its cultures,” writes the eminent economist and historian Robert L. Heilbroner. “It has transmogrified greed and philistinism into social virtues, and subordinated all values to commercial values” (AZ 515).

Quoting Carolyn Lewis approvingly, he concludes, “Something inside of me says that I will die if I accommodate to this way of living” (AZ 516).

But Nibley’s greatest astonishment is reserved not for Babylon itself, but for Latter-day Saints who approve its charms: “[T]hose who embrace Babylon in its stark reality do not renounce Zion. They don’t need to . . . From the very first there were Latter-day Saints who thought to promote the cause of Zion by using the methods of Babylon” (AZ 20). He quotes at length Brigham Young, Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff and others who lamented the speculative ventures of certain Latter-day Saints, which brought the whole community under judgment. And yet, “[The LDS] want to be good and rich at the same time, and so they reach a compromise called respectability, which is nothing less than Babylon masquerading as Zion.” (AZ 46). Quoting Wilford Woodruff, “[The early Saints] like Israel of old associated certain worldly successes with their ideas of right, and misfortunes with their ideas of wrong;” Nibley opines, “that, of course, would make them morally obligated to get rich,” (AZ 353), a true perversion of all morality.

How could becoming rich be a perversion of morality? Can we not help the cause of the Church more when rich than when poor? Nibley disagrees: “The Saints were warned at length against interpreting the invitation to independence as a franchise to individuals for seeking private gain and thereby endowing the church with independence (D&C 78), a bit of sophistry that soon became and ever remained very popular . . . Self-justification, that was the danger—the exhilarating exercise of explaining why my ways are God’s ways after all” (AZ 344). After all, the scripture plainly states, “The laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish” (2 Ne 26:31). Nibley condemns the rich for being idle, in a twist that has been unappreciated since its original writing:

“An idler in the Lord’s book is one who is not working for the building up of the kingdom of God on earth and the establishment of Zion, no matter how hard he may be working to satisfy his own greed . . . [T]he idle rich shall not eat the bread of the laboring poor, as they always have. “To serve the classes that are living on them,” Brigham Young reports from England, “the poor, the laboring men and women are toiling, working their lives out to earn that which will keep a little life in them. Is this equality? No! What is going to be done? The Latter-Day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth.” But the institute director [with whom Nibley was conversing at this time—ed.] was amazed, because he had always been taught that the idle poor should not eat the bread of the laboring rich, because it is perfectly obvious that a poor man has not worked as hard as a rich man” (AZ 241).

The mischief wrought among the Saints by embrace of the Babylon economy extends also to the spiritual realm: “[We give our people awards] for sitting in endless meetings, for dedicated conformity and unlimited capacity for suffering boredom. We think it more commendable to get up at five A.M. to write a bad book than to get up at 9 o’clock to write a good one—that is pure zeal that tends to breed a race of insufferable, self-righteous prigs and barren minds” (AZ 75).

Nibley invokes Brigham Young’s sad conclusion, “We look forward to the day . . . when we will be prepared to build up Zion. Are we prepared now? No, we are not. We are only professedly Latter-day Saints” (AZ 269).

Nibley hopes that his treatment of these subjects will awaken in us a desire for more: “With experience, our growing revulsion to this mad world is matched by a growing yearning for another that can become very real for us” (AZ 597). What is that other? It is the economy of Zion; the economy of the celestial realm, and it is to that subject that we now turn.

The economy of Zion could not be more different than the economy of Babylon. It is so different that it seems like utter foolishness to those who have been raised in the shadow of Babylon. As Nibley puts it, “However impractical and unrealistic these rules and precepts may seem to the world, you are not of the world, but wholly withdrawn from it, a people chosen, set apart, removed . . . Israel is under a special covenant with God that has nothing to do with the normal economy of men; they are forbidden to do some things and required to do others that may seem perfectly absurd to outsiders” (AZ 213).

But this impracticality, as we shall see, is actually illusory: “But is it impractical? Which of the two [systems] makes the real mischief? . . . Lots of things aren’t convenient, though it’s very interesting that at the same time, we praise the importance of the work ethic, of work for its own sake—talk about inconvenient . . .Which program is the more convenient?” (AZ 446, 456).

A complete change in mindset characterizes the difference between Zion and Babylon: as Brigham Young states it, “The underlying principle . . . is that there should be no rich and no poor, that men’s talents should be used for the common good, and that selfish interests should make way for a more benevolent and generous spirit among the saints” (AZ 440). Babylon, on the other hand, tricks us into thinking that what supports us is all-important; Nibley suggests that what supports us is only that—support to enable us to accomplish something much more important than our support:

“The abundance of supplies is not placed here as the reward for which we are all striving—that is Satan’s decoy trick . . . To take the test we must all stay alive, but we have made staying alive the test itself, as if we had come to this earth to spend our days of probation grabbing more and more stuff or sweating to get enough lunch. Like medicine, the stuff of this earth is to preserve life; too much of it is unnecessary and dangerous and so is not enough. Without the law of consecration men have set themselves up as judges of who is worthy to live and have joy on the earth” (AZ 403).

Brigham Young says it this way: “One that places his affections upon [property and possessions] does not understand that they are made for the comfort of the creature, and not for his adoration. They are made to sustain and preserve the body while procuring the knowledge and wisdom that pertain to God and his kingdom, in order that we may preserve ourselves, and live forever in his presence” (AZ 212).

The mindset of Zion is that all should equally see salvation and exaltation, if that is their desire. For Nibley, equality in the things of support, then, is the objective of the economy of Zion, so that the equality of opportunity for salvation and exaltation is assured. Equality in the things of support is no more and no less than that the temporal need of every person is met: “So that is where the offense lies; some are taking more than they should and using the power it gives them over others to make them do their bidding . . . The one criterion for taking is need . . . He wants us all equal . . . And he wants to make us co-workers in the project, which is all for our benefit” (AZ 239).

Nibley continues: “You take all you need—it is provided in abundance—but never more than you need. Above all, “it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin” (D&C 49:20). More than enough corrupts us with his gifts; he will not allow us to take more. How then can anyone who has more than his fellows claim that God has given it to him, when God has declared in the strongest terms that that inequality is the basic cause of evil in the world today?” (AZ 139).

Just as equality is a major theme of Zion, so dependence—not independence—is another, according to Nibley. Because Zion does not play the security games of Babylon, it is utterly dependent on the Lord, which is the truth of things as they really are. Commenting on the final address of King Benjamin, Nibley notes, “It is dependence that is important for Benjamin, total dependence on God” (AZ 229). But this dependence is not a cause for fear, for the Being on whom we depend is all-powerful: “What makes this a practical and working scheme is that God himself guarantees the bottom line” (AZ 196).

In this system, strength and talent are given us to bless others, not ourselves and our own coffers. This is in similitude of God Himself, whose extraordinary talents and powers are placed at the disposal of those who have not yet attained the same level: “We cannot be equal, as the Lord commands, and live on different levels of affluence. True, some are stronger than others, some are smarter than others, but our gifts and talents were given us to be put at the disposal of our fellowman, not to be put at our disposal in the manner of Nimrod. ‘This is my work and my glory’ to see to it that others get a full share of the glory and the work—to bring about eternal life and exaltation (Moses 1:39)” (AZ 397). In a strange way, then, our talents—which in secular society may distinguish us by ranks—in Zion help us bring about equality!

The system of Zion brings us much closer to the manner in which celestial inhabitants live; we begin to live more like our heavenly relatives. Thus, this economy is no temporary and mortal means, but rather an unchanging, eternal order, because in the end it isn’t about material goods at all, but about spirituality. Nibley quotes Brigham Young on this score:

“The doctrine of uniting together in our temporal labors, and all working for the good of all is from beginning, from everlasting, and it will be for ever and ever. No one supposes for one moment that the angels are speculating, that they are building railroads and factories, taking advantage one of another, gathering up the substance there is in heaven to aggrandize themselves, and that they live on the same principle that we are in the habit of doing. No Christian . . . believes this: they believe that the inhabitants of heaven live as a family, that their faith, interests, and pursuits have one end in view—the glory of God and their own salvation, that they may receive more and more . . . We all believe this, and suppose we go to work and imitate them as far as we can” (AZ 52).

Indeed, Nibley believes that one reason it is imperative to build Zion is that from prophecy we know that these are the latter days, and that in the last days, Zion will come again to the earth. He fears that if we are not anxiously engaged in building Zion, we will have a heart attack when it comes, because its culture will be so foreign to us: “Zion is the great moment of transition, the bridge between the world as it is and the world as God designed it and meant it to be . . .We must be prepared to receive this glory; we don’t produce it ourselves. We must be ready, so that we won’t die of shock when we get it” (AZ4).

Nibley continually reiterates that the “economic test,” the test of Zion, is really a test of the deepest desires of our heart. He states, “It is not sound business sense, obedience to orders, compliance with custom, or recognition of duty that are being tested, but the feelings of the heart, the capacity for compassion . . . [M]eanness of spirit . . . offends God more than anything else . . . For the strong to take advantage of the weak is the standard pattern of meanness . . . ingratitude is meanness . . . To make merchandise of another’s necessity is an offense to human dignity (though it is the basic principle of present-day employment practice)” (AZ 218-9). At one point, he exclaims, “[T]he whole law is validated when carried out in the right spirit . . . it is empathy—remember how you felt when you were down and out, put yourself in their place, and do something about it!” (AZ 432).

Yes, there will be economic transactions in Zion: we will not be waiting for manna to fall from the skies. Nibley expressly rejects the renunciation of the world present in certain ascetic creeds: “You always do have to handle things. But in what spirit do we do it? Not in the Krishna way, by renunciation, for example. I have never visited Calcutta, but the reports are utterly heartbreaking. If you refuse to be concerned with these things at all, and say, “I’m above all that,” that’s as great a fault. The things of this world have got to be administered; they must be taken care of, they are to be considered. We have to keep things clean, and in order. That’s required of us. This is a test by which we are being proven. This is the way by which we prepare, always showing that these things will never captivate our hearts, that they will never become our principal concern” (AZ 336). Posing the rhetorical question,” Shouldn’t [any man] have worked for lunch at all, then? Answer: He should neither have made it the goal of his labors nor got it by manipulating others” (AZ 234).

Indeed, following Brigham Young, Nibley does not believe that we will be working many hours a day in Zion: “If we all labor a few hours a day, we could then spend the remainder of our time in rest and the improvement of our minds” (AZ 49). After all, if we are working only for our needs, our needs are very few, indeed. Nibley is no fan of the work ethic—work for the sake of work. Whatever makes work lighter and faster is wonderful—but only if it shortens the workday, instead of being a justification for lengthening it. There are much more important things to be doing than working for our temporal support. Quoting Sir Thomas More approvingly, Nibley notes, “Greed, theft, and envy are all caused by fear of not having enough. But utopia always has super abundance, and people’s time belongs not to the economy but to the free development of the mind, for in that they find the blessings of life” (AZ 503).

But won’t such an approach to work make us all idlers, uninterested in any work? Nibley does not believe so, if we are sincere in our religious belief: “For without a sincere religious awareness, the free lunch corrupts rich and poor alike. It is the recognition of divine law that both sanctions and requires the free lunch for everybody” (AZ 223).

Some amazing things result from this acceptance of Zion’s economy. Our priorities become straight; we do things that are worth doing in the sight of God; we do things that bring us closer to the heavenly family. Furthermore, we begin to create a society that is incapable of declining. For Nibley, this is crucial, for it prepares us for everlasting life: “The law of consecration is that of a stable society; the law of the marketplace is that of an expansive, acquisitive, brittle, untrustworthy, predatory society. . . . the bubble grows and grows and inevitably bursts” (AZ 448, 458) Further, “The genius of stable societies is that they achieve stability without stagnation, repetition without monotony, conformity with originality, obedience with liberty” (AZ 458). And again, “People upon this earth have enjoyed a society of such nature that could go on forever and ever without anybody getting bored, or worn out, or tired” (AZ 319). And assumedly, in a Zion community, we will never become “self-righteous prigs with barren minds,” either!

It is true that in Zion, people may have more challenges than the rich have in Babylon (though fewer than the poor in Babylon). But there is a good reason for that, as well, according to Nibley: “[Mammon] promises everything in this world for money, the other [God] a place in the kingdom after you have ‘endured the crosses of the world, and despised the shame of it,’ for only so can you ‘inherit the kingdom of God, which was prepared for them from the foundation of the world’ and where your ‘joy shall be full forever’ (2 Ne 9:18). Need we point out that the main reason for having money is precisely to avoid ‘the crosses of the world, and . . . the shame of it’?” (AZ 593).

In sum, the difference between Babylon and Zion is that in Babylon there are masters and servants, rich and poor—but in Zion, all are loving friends. Quoting Pythagoras, Nibley states, “Friends have all things in common, for friendship is equality” (AZ 492).

It is the double-mindedness of the Saints, as we have seen, that prevents them from leaving Babylon. And as long as they have a toehold in Babylon, they cannot build Zion. Nibley notes with irony, “What many Latter-day Saints are saying is that they are perfectly willing to put the law of consecration into practice just as soon as the rest of the world is ready to receive it . . . ‘How will the world take it?’ How strange this sounds coming from Mormons, of all people” (AZ 467–8). The Saints may linger in double-mindedness, but God has bigger plans for them, and will discomfit them sorely to that end: “Whenever the Lord prepares for Zion, there must be a division among the people . . . God is constantly driving wedges between the Church and the world” (AZ 33, 34). As Brigham Young puts it, “We have been called out of the world, therefore the world hates us. If we were of the world, then the world would love its own, and we should have no trouble with them” (AZ 32). Bitter times lie ahead for the double-minded Saints, as God pushes us toward Zion, with the world hating and mocking us for it. Those Saints with a foothold in Babylon will weep that they have lost their pious respectability in the eyes of . . . the world.

Hugh Nibley has given us many important and bracing insights on Zion, many of which we embrace. But there are some important omissions in his work, some of which are addressed by a second book by James Lucas and Warner Woodworth, Working Toward Zion, and others—unaccountably missing not only from Nibley but also from the Lucas and Woodworth—which we will discuss near the end of this chapter.

Lucas and Woodworth, Working Toward Zion

Lucas and Woodworth, a lawyer and a professor of organizational behavior, respectively, are also interested in moving the Saints towards Zion—a goal that they believe, with Nibley, has been dropped from the to-do lists and day planners of most Latter-day Saints. However, they reject Nibley’s sentiment that the Rekhabite principle must apply—that principle that Zion must disengage itself completely from the economy of the world to exist. In past times, that often meant fleeing into a wilderness to set up a new order that was not dependent on the old order of Babylon.

Lucas and Woodworth interpret the modern LDS mandate to mean we are to live among the members of our larger society, being a leaven, a salt, a light to those who live in darkness. We are not to disengage from society and retreat into a wilderness, physical or social—though there may come a time when Babylon will force that upon us, it is not meant to be our aspiration as Latter-day Saints. Instead, we are to build Zion now, where we are.

Quoting Elder Jeffrey R. Holland they state, “We may not yet be the Zion of which our prophets foretold and toward which the poets and priests of Israel have pointed us, but we long for it and we keep working toward it. I do not know whether a full implementation of such a society can be realized until Christ comes, but I know . . . that the gospel of Jesus Christ holds the answer to every social and political and economic problem this world has ever faced. And I know we can do something, however small that act may seem to be” (WTZ 1).

The purpose of Lucas and Woodworth’s book is to open our eyes to the “small acts” all around us that we could undertake to “abandon the economics of competition and inequality” (Nibley quoted in WTZ, x), or at least to move away from it. They feel that deep within each Latter-day Saint, there is a yearning that whispers, “there must be a system that can combine economic reality with religious principle” (WTZ 12).

In a sense, then, Lucas and Woodworth reject one of Nibley’s principal assertions, that there can be no mixing of Zion and Babylon economies. Indeed, WTZ is a handbook of how to add Zion touches to the economy of Babylon. They note, “Both of us have been approached by numerous Latter-day Saints wanting to discuss how to practice temporal righteousness, given the structure and demands of the modern world economy. How can one truly be a Christian in today’s difficult economic environment? What do the economic principles of Zion mean today? How can we build a truly Saintly community?” (WTZ 18). The purpose of Lucas and Woodworth is to aid us in practicing temporal righteousness in an economy that is purposefully and fundamentally at odds with that goal.

We pause to ask whether such a goal is ultimately infeasible. For Nibley, it would be infeasible on principle alone, as we have seen. For many economists, it would also be infeasible: after all, how can a business be successful unless it embraces, not abandons, “the economics of competition and inequality”? Who will buy a $70 fleece jacket whose price enables the manufacturer to pay a living wage to those who made it, when the same jacket can be had for $30 from a rapacious company whose employees were not paid a living wage and who suffer from that fact?

Yet we feel in our hearts that the argument of Lucas and Woodworth cannot be summarily dismissed. First, we have cause to believe that God will bless any effort to relieve human suffering. As Nibley himself put it, “God guarantees the bottom line” of “impractical,” but benevolent economies. Second, economists also tell us that “niche markets” can be created for all sorts of things that would not be competitive in the main market. Why can’t there be a successful niche market for the products of businesses that relieve human suffering? We have already seen successful niche markets for “green goods,” “fair trade coffee,” and “organic food,” pricey as those are. Why not a niche market for Zion goods? Third, to believe that Zion is always and at all times an all-or-nothing proposition forces Latter-day Saints into the position that they must leave their societies and move into the wilderness. This is precisely the opposite of the counsel our General Authorities have given us today, and following such advice would then leave us utterly hopeless that we can build Zion in our communities. Frankly, we cannot believe that God wishes us to be hopeless on that score. No, we must give Lucas and Woodworth the room to make their argument, even if there is also room for disagreement about the ultimate viability of their project.

Lucas and Woodworth start by reminding us that nothing in this life is actually temporal alone. “The restored gospel does not differentiate between temporal and spiritual. Brigham Young once said, “In the mind of God there is no such thing as dividing spiritual from temporal, or temporal from spiritual; for they are one in the Lord’” (WTZ 13). Furthermore, our religious belief enjoins us to mesh what appears temporal and that which we acknowledge to be spiritual: “We cannot be whole Christians without both the temporal and the spiritual dimensions functioning in our lives . . . The restored gospel sees this temporal world as a setting for this highest spiritual concerns. Thus our calling, indeed our life’s mission, is to integrate these two major divisions of mortality into a congruent whole” (WTZ 16). This is so because these two divisions, temporal and spiritual, “are interwoven, each building up or pulling down the other” (WTZ 156). In a way, rather than exercise our right to say “no” to the secular economy, as Nibley might advocate, perhaps there is a way to create a new, more Zion-like meaning within the secular economy without being overcome by Babylon.

To bring about Zion, then, both the level of individual salvation and the level of community salvation are of interest to the Church—each level can either stymie or facilitate the other:

“As with the false differentiation of spiritual and temporal, the restored gospel cuts through the false dichotomy between individual and social action . . . [The] Book of Mormon showed that one could not focus only on reforming either the society or the individual. Mosiah counseled against monarchical government because a wicked king could lead the entire society into much iniquity (Mosiah 29: 13–36). Yet even under the government of the judges, personal iniquity and pride could arise, leading one righteous judge to resign to pursue the preaching of personal moral reform and social and economic equality (Alma 4:11–19). Society and the individual interrelate. One cannot have a good society without good individuals. A good society does not necessarily make good individuals, but an evil society can have a profoundly evil influence on individuals. The restored gospel seeks both good individuals and a good society. In the words of David O. McKay, ‘The betterment of the individual is only one aim of the Church. The complete ideal of Mormonism is to make upright citizens in an ideal society’” (WTZ 16–17).

The mission of the Church, then, is four-fold, not three-fold. Yes, preach the gospel, perfect the Saints, and redeem the dead—but also establish Zion, an ideal society. Lucas and Woodworth assert, “Establishing Zion is what the Church is about now” (WTZ 49). Individuals cannot be perfected unless their society enables them to become such. The form their society takes determines the horizon its citizens see. Again quoting David O. McKay, “The mission of the church is to prepare the way for the final establishment of the kingdom of God on earth. Its purpose is, first, to develop in men’s lives Christlike attributes; and second, to transform society so that the world may be a better and more peaceful place in which to live” (WTZ 181).

How, then, to get from point A to point B? How to begin to establish Zion within an economy that is all Babylon? Lucas and Woodworth advocate small steps at the beginning: “Living the gospel principles of temporal righteousness is a part of developing the spiritual righteousness that empowers us to advance the divine enterprise of immortality and eternal life. Journeys begin with the first step, and every step along the way is progress” (WTZ 170). Furthermore, “We see temporal righteousness as a continuum along which we can progress line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little, there a little, in a continuing effort to work toward the full celestial ideal . . . Further, the benefits of this working toward are not limited to some future millennial time” (WTZ 20).

We do know what won’t lead to Zion: inequality and emphasis on profit maximization to the exclusion of all else.

Concerning inequality, Lucas and Woodworth say, “This equality [spoken of in D&C 78:4–6] is not just a vague social notion—treat everyone with decency and politeness. The Book of Mormon resonates with denunciations of economic inequality as one of the great evils of any society. That some children of God should enjoy comfortable consumption when others languish in despair and need is an outrage to him” (WTZ 94). Indeed, they quote Brigham Young as saying, “The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth” (WTZ 78).

Yet this equality is not some formulaic one; it is a thing of the heart, not a thing of numbers: “The equality in earthly things sought by the united order is more complex and realistic than a crude arithmetic division of assets . . . The united order principle of equality is achieved not by mechanically dividing up assets, but by changing the human actions and attitudes that make economic life happen” (WTZ 95–97).

Part of this change concerns our economic goals: our eye must not be on profit maximization to the exclusion of everything else. Lucas and Woodworth state: “Brigham Young taught that simple profit maximization was not the only objective of economic activity and that economic rationality (charging the highest price that the market can bear) was not the only criterion by which economic decisions were to be made. He said [our merchants] ‘do not ask what they can afford to sell an article for, but what they can ask the people to pay; and as much as the people will pay, so much will the merchants take—a hundred, or a thousand percent, if they can get it, and then thank God for their success . . . hell is full of such Christians’” (WTZ 133).

Since we know in general what we must reject, we must search for affirmative efforts that will move us along the road to Zion. While we are well aware of what we should not do, what we should do often remains a mystery to us. Lucas and Woodworth suggest, “Like any other principle of righteousness, the united order principle of equality is not fully realized if it is only approached in the negative. ‘Thou shalt not’ only goes so far. Commandments in the negative are guideposts on the road to exaltation, but they are not the road itself. To say that one must not commit adultery, or lust after another in one’s heart is to alert us to the soft shoulder and gully beside the road. To actually travel the road, we must work toward the eternal union of companions contemplated by the temple marriage covenants. Similarly, the warnings against power, gain, and class differences alert us to the dangers that prevent us from traveling the road to Zion. To actually travel the road toward the united order, we must work toward the sense of fraternal solidarity that permits us to regard our brother’ and sisters’ interest as our own” (WTZ 98–99).

Lucas and Woodworth see the united orders of the early Church as an example of how to begin to turn things in a more Zion-like direction. They acknowledge that the united orders were, in the end, failures, but blame the covetousness of individuals for those failures. While bringing back united orders is not now possible, Lucas and Woodworth believe their examples can be studied for principles that could be applied, even in small measure, today. They remark, “[Marion G. Romney] noted that the united order has ‘a practical value as an ideal by which any proposed economic system may be tested for the degree of its worthiness. The nearer any scheme for economic betterment conforms to the principles of the United Order, the more likely it will be to assist mankind in their efforts to attain material happiness’” (WTZ 19–20). Also, “While Brigham [Young] personally preferred a vision of the united order that came as close as possible to an extended family [as Brigham Young thought the celestial family operated], he advocated any method that would promote greater equality, united, and cooperation among the Saints” (WTZ, 47). We need to think outside of Babylon’s straitjacket; “To accomplish [change], however, requires that we not simply try to do things differently. Rather we need to begin doing different things” (WTZ, 22). And some of these different things were tried in the early days of the Church.

What principles, then, can be extracted from the united orders of the past? In the times of Brigham Young, most households were self-employed, making it possible to work one’s land or business, and submitting the excess profits (profits above one’s needs) to the Church. However, in this day and age, Lucas and Woodworth note that less than 10% of people in the United States are self-employed. Almost all are given wages by employers (WTZ 103). This means that the centerpiece of a Zion society in this contemporary contest is full employment, regardless of profit margins. “[T]he united order calls for building up the poor by devoting the resources of the well-to-do to the development of economically viable employment for all . . . the Christian united order principle of equality through full employment” (WTZ 99).

Indeed, Lucas and Woodworth take this a step farther: “In the united order, creation of productive jobs would be the principal criterion for investment decisions. Given a choice between extending funds to two businesses, say a new factory and a real estate speculation, a financial institution operating on united order principles would choose the job-producing factory, even if theoretical investment criteria suggested a larger, or even more secure, return on the real estate” (WTZ 124). They echo John Taylor, who in 1879 advised local ecclesiastical authorities, “The presidency of this Stake ought, and all ought to unite with them . . . in finding employment for every man and woman and child within this Stake that wants to labor” (WTZ 93). Why is employment so vital? “The virtue of work, of supporting oneself, is a gospel principle applicable to all” (WTZ 151).

While Lucas and Woodworth cannot thereby ensure that there are no rich in Zion, they hope by this means to ensure there are no poor in Zion. Quoting Joseph F, Smith, they note, “It has always been a cardinal teaching with the Latter-day Saints, that a religion which has not the power to save people temporally and make them prosperous and happy here, cannot be depended upon to save them spiritually, to exalt them in the life to come” (WTZ 13). If not prosperous, then at least Lucas and Woodworth’s plans would make it so people are not teetering on the poverty line, which, according to researchers, makes a highly significant difference in one’s level of happiness.

Yet it cannot be overlooked that in making these changes in favor of universal employment, the rich would temper the snare in which they are caught. “Rather than the competitive and antagonistic relation that exists between capital and labor in the worldly economy, the united order principles of care for the poor, work, and self-reliance are interconnected duties which bind Haves and Have Nots in a mutual godly spirit and purpose. This godly purpose is the equality of God’s children” (WTZ 152). According to Lucas and Woodworth, we would conduct “ourselves in the gospel spirit of cooperation, cheering others’ progress, rather than in the worldly spirit of competition measuring our success by our defeat of others” (WTZ 153).

Lucas and Woodworth believe that this one change would cut several Gordian knots created by the economic perversions of Babylon: “We can transcend the world’s rigid, left-to-right, ideological model. Under the united order, defenders of economic freedom can promote equitable, morally founded free enterprise without having to justify the repulsive spectacle of the painful desperation of the poor, hard beside the vain ostentation of the wealthy. Those who love economic justice can implement it without having to resort to the crude and stultifying load of bureaucracy and regimentation that comes with attempts to achieve economic justice through state controls” (WTZ 352). The polarizing debates between the left and right in American politics would become a thing of the past under this vision.

In sum, then, in many ways, Lucas and Woodworth give us encouragement that we can work toward Zion now—and so they urge us to move forward in confidence, changing small things that will amount to that which is very large.


It is no coincidence that Hugh Nibley wrote the preface to Lucas and Woodworth’s book. All three men are absolutely serious about the establishment of Zion, and the need of the Saints to understand the importance of moving in that direction. Yet we have already noted at least one point on which they differ: the need to disengage completely from the economy of Babylon. Nibley sees the necessity and inevitability of disengagement; Lucas and Woodworth do not believe it is necessary or feasible to completely disengage at this stage in the history of the Church. In this, Lucas and Woodworth are probably more realistic.

But there is another point on which Nibley is quite firm, but on which Lucas and Woodworth are quite silent: the need for a living wage. A living wage is defined as the amount of money necessary for a worker to meet their needs, however the society defines those needs. Surely it includes food, clothing, shelter, and urgent medical care—whether it includes education, transportation, support for dependents (and if so, which), and many other things, are matters of contention. Can an employer feel justified in not paying a living wage if the employer is maximizing the number of jobs he sustains?

According to Nibley, the answer is no. Commenting upon the book of Deuteronomy, Nibley states, “’Thou shalt not oppress an hired servant that is poor and needy’ (Deut 24:14). What is more, you must not only pay him a living wage, but you must pay him every day before sundown: ‘Because he is poor, and setteth his heart upon it’ (Deut 24:15). Everyone has a right to his daily bread. In a word, the right to life supersedes the right to profit . . . Indeed, “anyone stealing an Israelite to make merchandise of him or sell him outright must die” (Deut 24:7) . . . [this includes] slavery. . . . pimping, enlistment of workers for unknown jobs that turn out to be sweatshops or labor camps . . .” (AZ 194–195). Remember Nibley’s use of Brigham Young’s critique of capitalism in England: “In Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, or anywhere else in England, [workers knew] that their employers would make them do their work for nothing, and then compel them to live on roots and grass if their physical organization could endure it, therefore, says the mechanic, ‘If I can get anything out of you I will call it a godsend,’” and does what he can to rip off the boss. If he gets caught, he is punished, yet he is only playing the same game as his employer” (AZ 207).

Paying less than a living wage invites all the greed, envy, desperation, and competition of a full Babylon economy to reassert itself with a vengeance, even if there is full employment. (We note, Nibley-esque, that Utah law explicitly forbids any state or local government contract from requiring that the bidders pay a living wage to their employees.)

How odd, then, that Lucas and Woodworth are so silent on such an important issue. We might attribute it to their working primarily in less-developed countries, where any wage lessens the life-or-death desperation of the lowest level of the poor class. Perhaps they would say that a living wage is step two on the road to Zion, after universal employment. If so, that second step should follow hard on the heels of the first among the Saints, in our opinion.

An Omission of Great Significance

We originally saw the need for this book because of how inspired we have been by Nibley, Lucas, and Woodworth. We see their points; our hearts burn within us when we ask whether the building of Zion is something to which we should be more attentive and thoughtful. We rejoice at the thought that there might be things we can do here and now to turn things in the direction of Zion. And yet . . .

And yet we see a stunning omission in both of these works. And it is that omission that causes us to write this book.

Can you see the omission, gentle reader?

Think carefully.

Where are the women, Brothers Nibley, Lucas, and Woodworth?

More specifically, is it not true that every community is comprised of men and women, with about half of humanity being male and half being female? If so, how does this bear upon Zion? These authors provide no clue.

On the other hand, philosopher Alma Don Sorensen suggests what has been omitted is foundational to the very concept of Zion,

“The central contrast between Zion and the carnal world involves the relations between men and women. This contrast is central because the first purpose of earth existence is to prepare a people for eternal life, and eternal life centers on the relationships between exalted men and women, who live and serve together as gods and are joined together into an eternal family by everlasting covenants of marriage. Becoming a people of Zion is how a people prepare for godhood and eternal life, so Zion also centers on the relations between purified women and men who possess all things, including all power, as if they were joint heirs. More than any other inequalities between persons in the carnal world, those between men and women prevent the coming forth of Zion (WOZ 262, emphasis added).

If Sorensen is right, then an account of Zion that is not rooted in an account of the relations between men and women is simply not a viable account. Is it not true that the bulk of the poor in every human society—including LDS society—are women with children? And that the greatest risk factor for being poor in one’s old age is to have been a mother—not a father? And that the councils of power in Babylon are councils dominated almost exclusively by men? When we speak of the inequality that poisons human communities, is that inequality not in the first place between the men of those communities and the women of those communities?

If we are going to talk about Zion, we had better be prepared to talk about the fundamental unit of Zion: the man and the woman, the married couple with all who are dependent upon them. In the Restored Gospel, the very first society is that married couple. And society writ large, earthly or heavenly, is comprised, first and foremost, of those married couples, for it is that unit that supports both the young and the old, and lays the foundation for the future of the family of humanity. The foundation of all human societies is, before anything else, the organization of affairs between the two halves of humanity: men and women. Are not marriages self-contained economies themselves, making them a crucial first location in which to apply the words of Nibley, Lucas, and Woodworth?

Our thesis can be stated simply: You cannot establish Zion unless the temporal and spiritual affairs between the men and the women of the community are in accord with celestial principles. And those temporal and spiritual affairs between men and women, if rectified according to celestial principles of equality, will do more to help establish Zion on earth than any other course correction. That rectification has ramifications not only for individual men and women, but will affect the structure and organization of the workplace, as well as the entire society and its social policies. A society in which Zion principles establishing the equality of men and women are fully implemented, is a society that looks nothing like any in this world—because it is of Heaven.

Nibley states we would all die of culture shock if Zion were to come to earth again today: we assert that what most people would die of shock from is how different relations between men and women are in Zion from how they are in the here and now. Pace Nibley, Lucas, and Woodworth, you cannot get to Zion along a womanless road, though that is what their writings paint for us. But with an understanding of the centrality of male-female relations to Zion’s economy, the insights of these writers can be of great use and value. Our book is dedicated to that vision of “men and women working toward Zion”—for it cannot be had in any other way.


Lucas, James W. and Warner P. Woodworth (1996) Working Toward Zion: Principles of the United Order for the Modern World (Salt Lake: Aspen Books).

Nibley, Hugh (1989) Approaching Zion (edited by Don E. Norton) (Salt Lake: Deseret Books and FARMS).

Sorensen, Alma Don and Valerie Hudson Cassler (2004) Women in Eternity, Women of Zion, Springville, Utah: Cedar Fort.

Full Citation for this Article: Cassler, V.H. (2019) "The Road to Zion: Nibley, Woodworth, and a Lacuna," SquareTwo, Vol. 12 No. 2 (Summer 2019), http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleCasslerZion.html, accessed <give access date>.

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