During my first four decades as a member of the LDS Church, the only thing I could remember about President John Taylor was that he was in the room when Joseph Smith was martyred. Nothing else stood out for me about him until I started studying the early Brethren’s teachings about building a Zion society in Utah. That’s when I discovered that John Taylor was a tireless advocate for building Zion in the here and now.
From the first General Conference after Brigham Young’s death to his last public discourse, President John Taylor gave exactly 80 sermons. In those, he mentioned “Zion” 98 percent of the time. In 81 percent of his talks, he either spoke about building Zion in the present or about Enoch’s Zion being the example for the Saints of Taylor’s day.
One of his most-repeated teachings was some form of his 1883 General Conference statement, “We are here to build up the Zion of God.” In fact, he began speaking on that topic 10 years before becoming the prophet. In July of 1867, he stated, “We have come out from among the world, for the express purpose of serving God and keeping His commandments, building up Zion, and establishing His Kingdom upon the earth.”
Then, in one of his last three public discourses, President Taylor said, “We are here really to build up and purify the Church of the living God. We are here to build up and establish the kingdom of God. We are here also to build up a Zion unto our God….”
Remarkably, John Taylor frequently taught that not only does the Priesthood obligate us to build Zion, but, in fact, establishing Zion is the whole point of having the Priesthood at all! His briefest quote to this effect was given in January of 1881 when he stated, “What is this Priesthood given us for? That we may be enabled to build up the Zion of our God.”
Early LDS Church leaders, including Taylor, saw cooperatives as a preparatory steppingstone to Zion’s United Orders. In 1878, he spoke of cooperation as a preparatory effort to building Zion saying, “What was the principle of cooperation intended for? Simply as a stepping stone for the United Order, that is all, that we might be united and operate together in the interest of building up Zion.”
After Brigham’s efforts to organize the Saints into United Orders generally failed, Taylor, as president, launched the Zion’s Central Board of Trade with a board of trade in every stake. As mentioned before in this column, President Taylor had seen the success of the Cache Valley Board of Trade and saw it as vehicle to prepare the people for voluntary economic unity. The long-run purpose of that association was “to prepare the way for a more completely cooperative society”.
Today, more than his presence at Joseph’s martydom, I think of John Taylor as a grand champion for Zion.
More at BuildingZion.org.