RS Teaching for Our Times Lesson

After reading Kisikilli’s post on Babylon (which I wholeheartedly agree with), I feel a little sheepish posting this RS lesson I gave on Elder Stone’s General Conference talk. But, when I tried to take out the Zion and Bablyon references, it turned out nothing like the lesson I gave. Zion and Babylon are such convenient archetypes. My apologies for perpetuating Bablyon’s evil image.

Excerpts from Elder Stone’s talk are in regular font; my comments and questions to the class are in italics. (Note: I’m much more of a discussion teacher than a lecture teacher, so hopefully this will work as a blog.)

Teaching for Our Times: Zion in the Midst of Babylon
April 2006 General Conference

Elder David R. StoneOf the Seventy

Elder Stone uses D&C 1:16 to define Babylon: “They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world” (D&C 1:16).

What are some of the key elements in this verse that define Babylon?
What are elements of Babylon that you see in your daily life?

One of the greatest challenges we will face is to be able to live in that world but somehow not be of that world. We have to create Zion in the midst of Babylon.

Where the idea of Zion in the midst of Babylon comes from?

It can be hard to see Babylon when you live in it.
Define culture.
What are some aspects of culture that can take away from the feeling of Zion?

My involvement with the building of the Manhattan temple gave me the opportunity to be in the temple quite often prior to the dedication. It was wonderful to sit in the celestial room and be there in perfect silence, without a single sound to be heard coming from the busy New York streets outside. How was it possible that the temple could be so reverently silent when the hustle and bustle of the metropolis was just a few yards away?

The answer was in the construction of the temple. The temple was built within the walls of an existing building, and the inner walls of the temple were connected to the outer walls at only a very few junction points. That is how the temple (Zion) limited the effects of Babylon, or the world outside.

What’s the analogy here?

Let’s define Zion.
Where is it?
What is it?

If Babylon is the city of the world, Zion is the city of God. The Lord has said of Zion: “Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom” (D&C 105:5) and, “For this is Zion—the pure in heart” (D&C 97:21).

How can we create Zion?

A few weeks ago we talked about what we loved about being members of the Church. I thought it was really fun and community-building to talk about what we all share and why we love those aspects.

I think this Zion in the midst of Babylon topic is a little more complicated. On the one hand, we need to keep ourselves and our homes pure, but I can limit myself if I become too zealous in this endeavor.

I still need to know about Babylon in order to protect myself and others from it. A few years ago, I was in Young Women’s at the same time I was working as a counselor at a home for troubled teenage girls. Some of my Young Women were actually in situations similar to my girls at the counseling center.

Sometimes I wonder if I was placed in both of those situations at the same time so that I could learn about aspects of culture that my girls in both places should not have been exposed to at such young ages. Initially, I didn’t want to be seen as the morality police. But, the more I realized how I felt when I was exposed to crude images, words, or music, the more I realized that I had a duty to protect these girls. So, when we would go places as a Young Women’s group, the other leaders didn’t know when a rapper was talking about oral sex, but I did.
If I hadn’t been immersed “in the world,” I wouldn’t have been able to be as vigilant in my calling as I was.

I don’t think Zion=Mormon. I don’t think Babylon=everyone else. In fact, I think it’s really dangerous to start thinking that way. I really appreciate the fact that Elder Stone doesn’t try and define Zion; he leaves it up to us.

As I spent so much time with those girls from different racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, I got to learn about the beauty in cultural groups very different from my white, Mormon, upper-middle class upbringing. While I saw “Babylon” in the lives of my Young Women and the teenagers I counseled, they showed me parts of Zion that I never would have seen without their help. I often take their influence for granted until I give someone a ride in my car, and they comment on the rap or hip hop that is playing.

Sometimes, it can feel easier to make Zion=Mormon. But, it limits me. If I only see Mormonism as containing what will uplift my family and me, then, I miss out on other lovely things that I can learn from and that I think Heavenly Father wants me to experience.

How do you find Zion in the world?
What are some aspects of culture (books, music, etc) that represent Zion for you?

EmilyCC

EmilyCC works for a national non-profit and lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her spouse and three children. She is a former editor of Exponent II and a founding blogger at The Exponent.

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  1. Caroline says:

    Emily, this is a great lesson. I love how in the end you complicate the archetypes and talk about finding Zion in other cultures/faiths and Babylon in your own. That’s exactly what I would have done if I were teaching the lesson.

    Sometimes I really worry about the Us vs Them rhetoric that we seem to hear so often among church members, so anything to close the gap and nuance this dichotomy resonates with me.

  2. Lynnette says:

    I really like the way you approached this. I have to admit that the title “Zion in the Midst of Babylon” made me cringe when I saw it in the book, because it so easily morphs into “us vs. them,” as Caroline said. But in my ward we actually had a discussion somewhat similar to this, with people talking about things they’d learned from non-Mormons and why they were reluctant to equate Zion with Mormons, and it was a lively (and interesting!) discussion.

    Another way I sometimes think about Zion/Babylon is on a kind of internal level. I like the idea that grace/sin, good/evil aren’t necessarily zones in the external world–they might also be a way of describing human existence, because we all live somewhere in between them. None of us can complacently see herself as being securely in Zion, but neither can anyone give up on herself as entirely lost.

    (Except for the evil Babylonians, of course. And those who study them. 😉

  3. JKS says:

    I like this talk because it makes us take a step back and think about why we have certain attitudes. We are influenced by our culture whether we notice it or not! Even our willingness to find good things in “other cultures or faiths” is part of our culture!
    I think it is good to realize that cultural values are not necessarily bad. If you are middle class America, it isn’t really a bad thing to want your child to go to a good school and get a good education. Or have a good job. Or go on a nice family vacation. These aren’t “bad” things, but you should be willing to admit that God’s “culture” should take priority over your own.
    And if we can’t even differentiation between what is truly what God wants for us vs. what is our race or our country or our family or our socioeconomic culture that are influencing us.
    I reiterate, these cultures that influence us are not all bad. But if we can’t even see that we are a product of them, how can we be strong and break away when these cultures do influence us negatively?

  4. Kiskilili says:

    Nice thoughts as always, Emily. I do think Babylon and Zion are fun archetypes, whatever the historical Babylonians were really like. 😉

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