Crime, Punishment, and Forgiveness in Zion

Zion, when it is established, will be revolutionary. Little about the society, the culture, perhaps even the inhabitants, will be recognizable if viewed through the lens of our 20th and 21st century experiences. For this reason, I suspect that most of us have little idea what it will truly be like. In this post, I wish to highlight some characteristics of a Zion society that I believe need to be understood today…now…because they are very pertinent as we consider individually and as a society the possibility of a Holy covenant being offered this September.

korihor before AlmaI recently re-read the story Korihor in the Book of Alma from the Book of Mormon. In Alma, chapter 16 (RE), we read:

Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.

However, in the following story, we read of how the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, “…took him, and bound him, and carried him before Ammon, who was a high priest over that people.” So, even though there was no law against a man’s beliefs, and, I would assume, no law against a person verbalizing those beliefs, these stalwart people thought themselves justified in exercising force – physical force – on this individual in binding him and kidnapping him and carrying him before the high priest – who held NO civil authority whatsoever. WOW!

Now this was not, apparently, a truly Zion society (the scriptures do not claim such). This Nephite people, the people of King Benjamin, had only been living under the system of judges for 16 years, and the people of Ammon for barely one year, so it’s understandable that they might be feeling their way through this new system of government, both civil and spiritual. My intent is not to criticize, but to use this as an example of something that I see looming before us.

One of the concerns that I have heard expressed on the topic of the anticipated covenant associated with the restored scriptures swirls around the fear of the exercise of unrighteous dominion. There’s not a lot that is specific to point at, but there’s an undercurrent that I think needs to be addressed. The concern, which I personally share, is that the more rules, or principles, or words of wisdom that exist, the more likely it will be that these rules are used to judge and force people to do things against their will.

Denver Snuffer, in his talk, “Things to Keep us Awake at Night” from March, 2017, said:

No matter who it is you trust at the beginning, even so great a man as Joseph Smith– everything is susceptible to corruption and abuse. Any institution that permits inequality (emphasis mine) will lead inevitably to abuse. Therefore, we need to be equal. We need to be on the same footing. I have seen what result will follow if we organize ourselves into an institution led by a hierarchy. I would rather denounce that inevitable result than to help bring it about. I have taught for years against the gentile “strongman” model. My view has never changed and cannot be changed. I know even the mighty and strong can remain as a servant; for that is the example set by the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” If so great a One as He can remain a servant, then a mere servant can do likewise and shun the opportunity to “rule and reign”—instead teaching and serving alongside peers, friends and fellow-servants.

In the Nephite reign of the judges, as quoted above, it was stated that, “…it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds.”

Yet, even these righteous Anti-Nephi-Lehis, these miracle people who would rather surrender their lives to the brutal swords of their enemies rather than stain their own swords with another’s blood, when confronted with teaching that they feared might be harmful, or which they believed was inaccurate and untrue, resorted quickly to judgment and force. It was the only way they knew, and it is the only way we know, to protect themselves (ourselves) as a society from perceived threats to the individual or social welfare.

Zion cannot be that way.

Zion will be revolutionary.

It must be. If it is not; if we choose to set up a society based on what we have done in the past; we will get what we have had in the past. We will ultimately have hierarchy, judgment, punishment, use of force, and people will be on unequal ground. Strong men will arise. The society will most certainly not be of one heart and one mind, and there will most certainly not be “no poor among them”.

Of One Heart and One Mind

How many of us are totally intimidated by the idea of being of one heart and one mind? Be honest now. Raise your hands. Oh, my…so many! Just as I thought. How can we ever be of one heart and one mind when there are so many different beliefs, experiences, and expectations? How can we be of one heart and one mind when we all carry our own set of jealousies and fears, most of which we have not even learned to recognize? Well, I believe the answer to this is in simplicity and flexibility, and, of course, being in tune with the spirit.

Churches today are built upon complex doctrine – doctrine complex enough that each church can distinguish itself from the others because of their different doctrines. 3 Nephi 5 (RE), in the context of the doctrine of Christ, reads:

And whoso shall declare more or less than this and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil and is not built upon my rock, but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation and the gates of hell standeth open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them.

If all churches merely declared the doctrine of Christ, the sermon on the mount, the seeking of charity – there would only be one church. There would be no disputations among us. Oh, there could be many fellowships, but there would be no need for so many individual churches. There would be nothing to distinguish one from another. Each church’s doctrinal box would be very simple, but very large at the same time, with plenty of room for individual exploration and understanding without threatening the integrity of the box. Since the church was no longer trying to protect itself, there would be little need for doctrinal discipline.

Each box would not only be large, it would also be flexible. In Isaiah 19 (RE), we read:

Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear, break forth into singing and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child, for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord. 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, for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left, and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. (emphasis mine).

If my tent is small because I have restricted its walls, and I fear searching outside my current realm of knowledge, I will never be able to learn and understand all truth; I will be limited in my knowledge. I recently had a delightful visit with a local pastor. We had many ideas and beliefs in common, but it quickly became clear that he believed, perhaps to the point of idolatry, that the Bible is the only source for God’s word. He admitted, when challenged (gently, I might add), that the Bible does not contain all truth, but he held to the premise that if something contradicted the Bible it can’t be true. He even stated that there is only one true interpretation of the Bible. He didn’t realize it, but the length of his cords was very short, and his stakes were driven very deep. In Zion, where we theoretically have so many who are fanatically dedicated to keeping the commandments of God (this is not a bad thing), and receiving revelation from Him, there will be a great risk that we will begin to idolize the knowledge that we think we have. Whether that knowledge comes from the canon of scripture or from the traditions that will most certainly continue to develop, we will likely fall into the trap of discouraging any who might seek or teach knowledge that lies outside our tent. Of course, unless our tent already contains all knowledge, his would be a pretty damning development. We’ve seen this phenomenon before, and it will most certainly arise again unless we keep things light and simple. A glass house cannot withstand the strike of even a single stone. Rigidity is the enemy of knowledge. Such rigidity (read “correlation”) will also make it practically impossible to be of one heart and one mind, precisely because it will tend to discourage the individual quest for truth, and will not be able to tolerate the differences in individual belief. Any attempt to force a state of one heart and one mind will, ironically, have just the opposite effect.

We each learn in different ways. We each have different gaps in our knowledge, and have different needs when it comes to filling those gaps. We have each been taught by the Lord in the way we, individually, need to learn. Even in Zion…no, especially in Zion…we cannot allow ourselves to force the learning and growth process on anyone or bind the Lord’s hand in this process. Instead, we must be dedicated to the proposition that there shall be no poor among us.

No Poor Among Them

….does not only mean that we have to ensure the fulfillment of each others’ temporal needs. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those that mourn. Blessed are the meek. Learning, growth, healing, loving are all just as much part of have no poor among us as is food, clothing, and shelter. Judging someone’s behavior will make them poor – placing them,, and us, on unequal ground. Binding them over to the high priest is an exercise of force, and has no place in Zion. This is a pretty bold statement, I know. It’s pretty revolutionary. Oh wait, “Zion, when it is established, will be revolutionary”. Yes, I’m quoting myself – I realize that, but this is the premise of the paper – that we cannot continue to think the way we have thought in the past. To tell the truth, I don’t claim to know how it will work, but I can see that this is the ONLY way it can work. I trust that,, if I can claim charity unto myself, I can even help it work.

As soon as we begin to try to force people in Zion to behave in a certain way, or believe a certain way, according to certain standards, we have violated the principles of D&C 47 (formerly 121). As soon as we begin holding disciplinary councils, we open the door to unrighteous dominion. In a recent blog post, Dan Pratt proffered that if we canonize the guiding principles, then not only are they no longer flexible (for they are canonized), but we will immediately begin to open the door to enforcing them. Once we start enforcing behavior in Zion, well, then I don’t believe it can be Zion any more.

Consider this…if I enter into a Zion community, I most likely will have given all my worldly possessions, with the possible exception of personal items (essential clothing, my toothbrush, my guitar!) to the society. Under those circumstances, I have little choice but to remain in the society. If I were to leave, making a new life for myself on the outside would be very difficult. To the extent that I fear such a transition, I kind of have to stay. So, if I were to experience any disharmony within the community, whether it’s my fault or the community’s, (or, more likely both) my choices are limited. This is a form of force and control. Furthermore, if I were to be asked to leave the society, such a request would likewise constitute the exercise of force or control.

Does this mean that all behavior must be tolerated? Yeah, I know. Tough question. However, if we are to eschew the exercise of force and/or control, what choice is there? This is crazy, is it not? Revolutionary! Revolutionary, indeed! It requires a whole new mind set…the mind set of Zion; a mindset that even the miraculous Anti-Nephi-Lehi people had not discovered.

A True Miracle of Forgiveness

Can this really be brought about? Can we really conceive of a society where this is no judgment, no discipline, no enforcement? Consider with me the idea of forgiveness. If you think about it, forgiveness implies judgment. We judge, but we forego the punishment. This is the minimum definition of forgiveness required of us by the Lord.

However, there’s another possibility. What if we don’t even judge in the first place? What if we assume that an individual is doing the best they can, and that their motives are pure? What if a perceived transgression is truly viewed as an honest mistake, and thus no transgression at all. What if, as long as the person is not physically harming another or themselves, we teach only by example and encouragement? What if we refuse to be offended? What if forgiveness is simply a state of being – a person is forgiven simply because they exist and we simply forgive because God loves them as much as He loves us, and therefore they must be His perfect creation? Can we do this? I offer that, if we are to have Zion – the Zion that will invite Christ and the City of Enoch to return, this is the level of forgiveness that we must practice.

Crime and Punishment: Enforcement

As I pointed out at the beginning of this post, I have detected an undercurrent of concern about the possibility of the exercise of unrighteous dominion should there actually be a covenant people arise from this next conference in Boise. This concern is certainly based on the assumption that, if there is a covenant, there will be terms of the covenant; that such terms must be enforced within the resulting community, and that transgressors must be corrected, if not punished. If there is no punishment, there is no law, for the law must necessarily be null and void. However, if this “enforcement” of the covenant is put into the hands of men, it will most certainly be corrupted.

The laws of a civil society must be enforced by civil authority. The laws of God must be enforced by God’s authority. The laws of any covenant must be enforced by those who enter into the covenant. At this point, I see such a covenant being between me and God, and thus enforceable only by me and God, and I am personally answerable to no man or council. However, I can see that this covenant, once presented, would be not only a two way covenant, but a three-way covenant, between me, God, and you, my brothers and sisters. Honestly, such a covenant as I imagine, if I am keeping it, will include loving my brothers and sisters, so enforcement of that third dimension of the covenant should not be necessary. If I’m keeping the covenant with God, between me and God, then the relationship between me and my brothers and sisters will be filled with charity. Transgressions will be quickly recognized, repented of, and corrected.

I can also see the possibility that God’s authority will be delegated to men, or that the community will believe that God’s authority needs to be delegated to men. This, frankly, worries me. It seems to detract from the purity of the covenant, and from the purity of the Zion society…a society ruled by charity and the higher form of forgiveness described above. I fear that, if an actual enforcement vehicle exists, we will tend to rely on it rather than relying on the charity in the individual relationship between us, the lord, and our brothers and sisters. In other words, if I have a disagreement with my brother, its resolution belong strictly between me and my brother, to be resolved in the spirit of charity, meekness, and forgiveness. If I simply resort to “binding and kidnapping and bringing him before the high priest”, I have done nothing revolutionary. (I am reminded of the story of Thomas Marsh and the cream). I have, instead, built my society on a foundation of sand – the same foundation of sand that today’s babylon was built on. Just as the post-visitation Nephites prospered for a few generations, so there will be an end to our covenant society, because it is not built upon celestial, eternally sustaining principles, being built instead on telestial principles that rely on the use of force and control for their sustenance.

Traps to Ensnare Us

When I mention the use of force or control, some methods of employing such are obvious. Binding and kidnapping pretty clearly involve force. Others are not so obvious. I mentioned the fact that, just because I have consecrated my possessions to the Zion community, I have placed myself in a potential control situation. This is subtle but powerful, yet it involves no physical force. Also, just as King Benjamin said that there are innumerable ways by which we might commit sin, there are innumerable ways whereby we may exercise force or control or other forms of unrighteous dominion. Not only must we learn to recognize and reject those tendencies in ourselves, but we must also be forgiving and understanding as others learn to recognize and reject them in themselves. Even in these circumstances, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, and mercy must rule our behaviors and interactions.


Zion is described in scripture as a society where the inhabitants are of one heart and one mind, and in which there are no poor among them. If this society is to become a reality, we cannot expect to think and act upon the principles that we have been taught in babylon. Instead, such a society must be built upon revolutionary principles – principles that few of us have ever experienced, not even in our own marriage or in our own family. These principles include:

  1. We cannot resort to enforcing beliefs, no matter how true…period. Enforcement by any means at all cannot be an option. God does not use force and control, and neither can we. Persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned – these are the only methods that we can use to influence the behavior of others, and such influence can only be attempted when moved upon by the holy ghost and in the spirit of pure charity.
  2. Forgiveness without judgment is the celestial order of forgiveness. Judgment can have no place in Zion.
  3. To be of one heart and one mind, our hearts must be focused upon charity – simple charity – the pure love of Christ. The more complex and “staked-out” our tent is, the more difficult it will be for all who have the desire for Zion to be welcome underneath it.
  4. To be poor is not limited to temporal needs. To have no poor among us, we must be committed to looking after each other emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually as well as temporally. The bread and water of life are just as important as the bread and water of the table. The weight of each other’s burdens will typically not be measured in pounds or kilograms.
  5. We must be willing to seek for and welcome truth wherever it might be found. A canon of scripture cannot be used to limit the Lord’s work or our knowledge of Him. Even a canon that has been accepted by the Lord will still have imperfections, whether they be in the text or in the mind of the reader. Such a canon may serve as a foundation, but it cannot be idolized as the entire structure of the knowledge of God’s Kingdom. Such idolatry is rooted in fear. Fear is the enemy of knowledge, and it is typically a measure of a lack of trust and faith in our Savior.
  6. Perfect love casteth out fear. This perfect love is the pure love of Christ – charity. This is the ruling principle in Zion. Any time we find ourselves experiencing negative feelings toward another, we must search ourselves, fix ourselves, and pour out charity on our friend, and upon ourselves.

I have a great desire for Zion. I am reverential of the prospect of being able to harmoniously live in such a holy society. Only through Christ’s atonement will such a thing be possible. That I, that each of us, might be healed to the point where, when we enter Zion, it is still Zion for everyone else; this is the miracle…the miracle of Zion, brought about only by the pure love of Christ.

6 comments on “Crime, Punishment, and Forgiveness in Zion

  1. Have you considered the law the Nephites, including the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, were under was the Law of Moses, and that lying was illegal in that society, that both of these things were commanded by God for reasons, and that Korihor’s teaching was not stating beliefs but making assertions of fact, and that he very well may have qualified for stoning to death under the Law of Moses?

    If he did qualify for stoning, the ANLs seem merciful in merely casting him out.

  2. Deut 13:6-11 is the reference to the Law of Moses on this point, and Alma 1:17 is the reference to Nephite-specific law on lying. The applicability of the Law of Moses on this point is iffy; the law on lying is, however, applicable.

    • I understand, Log. This post is not about the ANL’s or the Law of Moses. It is that even the ANL’s – who were so committed to Christ that they readily surrendered their lives – used force as part of their “more wise” response to the perceived threat. Zion, however, will be a law – a revolutionary law – beyond any of these things. Charity, the S.O.M., D&C 47 (121) – these are the laws that will govern Zion. I was trying to emphasize the revolutionary aspect of this – that we cannot look at Zion from our current paradigm. EVERYTHING needs to change. It’s beginning to appear that I did not get my message across as successfully as I had hoped.

  3. It is , my opinion, that creeds , rules ,standards ,guidelines or laws etc all serve the same function . They are all boundary maintenance devices.Utimately their purpose is to define who or what is “in ” and who or what is “out” of the community , church ,group or nation. By their very nature they require that somebody or some group enforce the creed , rule, standard, guideline or law. Without an enforcement mechanism all of the boundary maintenance devices in the world are quite useless. If you are not going to enforce them why have them in the first place. Enforcement either by a designated individual or the group as a whole will inevitably lead to exercise of coercion and unrighteous dominion and a resultant loss of priesthood power by the individual or group tasked with enforcing the boundary . We have been down that road too many times and many reading this blog entry have been the victims of such boundary maintenance. The only solution is to write in the hearts of the members of the community and not on paper or stone those standards which we hope to attain. Aspiration rhetoric can thrill us but it rarely transforms our hearts. Obviously I completely concur with you and Dan. Bellamy

  4. I enjoyed your post, it contains much truth and makes a great point! An individual or group cannot bring forth that which has been lost by rebuilding what they just left behind them.

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