The Mormon leaders in the 1800s were focused on building a Zion society here in the Mountain West, not in some ephemeral way, but in a very real here-and-now, brick and mortar kind of way.

The doctrine of building a Zion society was central to the Gospel message being preached. We see in an 1852 Conference talk that President Brigham Young mentions three primary doctrines being taught to converts. He said, “If I lay down the Book of Mormon, I shall have to deny that [1] Joseph is a Prophet; and if I lay down the doctrine and cease to preach [2] the gathering of Israel and [3] the building up of Zion… I might as well go home as undertake to preach without these three items.”

President Young then shows these doctrines were being widely taught, “When you had obeyed the first ordinances of the Gospel, then you discovered that the Lord [had] set his hand to gather Israel, that Zion might be built up and Israel gathered from the four winds. These doctrines have been taught and re-taught again and again.”

Apparently some of the missionaries got carried away describing Zion. Apostle Jedediah M. Grant noted, “I am aware that some Elders who go forth and preach long and pious sermons, frequently represent Zion as one of the most delightsome places in the world, as if the people in Salt Lake City were so pure and holy that the flame of sanctity would almost singe the hair off a common man’s head. Others suppose when they come here, that they are to be fed, clothed, and housed independent of their own exertions.” He then said, “I would tell them the first things they might expect to meet in Zion, viz: to leap into the mire and help to fill up a mud hole, to make adobies with their sleeves rolled up, and be spattered with clay from head to foot; and that some would be set to ditching in Zion… and that they might expect to eat their bread by the sweat of their brow, as in their native country.”

That last statement shows how Apostle Grant saw the building of Zion as a temporal endeavor. In fact, President Young apparently saw it as his primary task when he stated, “We have no business here other than to build up and establish the Zion of God.” So, what’s our business?