Then counselor in the First Presidency, David O. McKay gave an extraordinary talk at a BYU assembly on January 29, 1935. The full text is posted here; below are excerpts and a summary.
Building on the text that “Zion shall flourish and the glory of the Lord shall be upon her,” Elder McKay invites listeners to consider a picture of the Zion the Latter-day Saints intend to build.
If we have in mind the physical Zion, then we must strive for more fertile acres; bring from the mountains gold and silver in abundance; found factories to furnish more employment; extend in length and width our concrete public highways; build banks to protect, or to dissipate, as has been the case recently, the wealth we accumulate; transform our vast coal fields into electricity that will furnish light, heat and power to every family; improve the means of communication until with radio in our pockets we may communicate with friends and loved ones from any point at any given moment.
In case you wonder whether he was inspired by pop culture, know that Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio didn’t appear in the comic strip until 13 January 1946, nine years after this BYU address.
Certainly it is difficult to picture the City of Zion without at least some – if not all – such modern necessities and luxuries. On the other hand, it is possible to have all these things and instead of reaping the blessings of Zion, suffer the very torments of hell. If the wealth, for example, from the wide acres is obtained by the oppression of the poor; if the gold and silver be obtained at the expense of human happiness and even of life itself; if in the palatial offices men sit and scheme how to prey upon their fellows, plan to extort money by kidnaping, or other unholy efforts, then all of these advantages will be but a means of making life miserable and unhappy.
Life in Zion, he said, would not be dependent upon wealth, but upon the ideals of the people who lived there: “The foundation of Zion then will be laid in the hearts of men; broad acres, mines, forests, factories, beautiful buildings, modern conveniences, will be but means and accessories to the building of the human soul and the securing of happiness.”
He outlined “four cornerstones” to the architectural plan of Zion.
1. “A firm belief and acceptance of the truth that this universe is governed by intelligence and wisdom,” not “the guidance of an irrational and random chance.”
2. A recognition that “the ultimate purpose in God’s great plan is the perfecting of the individual.”
3. Accepting that “the first and most essential thing in man’s progress is freedom – Free Agency.”
Man can choose the highest good, or choose the lowest good and fall short of what he was intended to be. The scale of human existence – starting from the lowest depths of degradation and rising to the heights of the sublime – indicates how men make use of their power of choice.
4. “A sense of responsibility toward other individuals and the social group.”
There is a destiny which makes us brothers.
None can live by himself alone;
All that we send into the hearts of others
Comes back into our own.
Elder McKay said that “with every progressive age of the world intellectual, noble-minded leaders have sought for a better way of living than that which was current,” and illustrates his point by an examination of the history of the 19th century and the restlessness that propelled nations to social and economic revolution, and of the early 20th century which was a time of political unrest.
We are just witnessing the downfall of monarchies. Rising from these monarchial ruins have come the dictatorship of the proletariat in Soviet Russia, the Fascist regime in Italy, the Nazis of Germany and Democracy as exemplified chiefly in Great Britain and her dominions and in the United States. It 8is apparent that men are seeking for a better form of government than most nations now have. Will they find it? In government by the people, in dictatorship, or in a combination of the two?
The Church of Jesus Christ, he said, was the ideal for economic, social, and political reform: “A careful analysis of the organization of the Church reveals the fact that it embodies all the strength of a strong central government, and every virtue and necessary safeguard of a democracy.”
1. It has the authority of Priesthood without the vice of priestcraft, every worthy man being entitled to a place and a voice in the governing quorums.
2. It offers a system of education, universal and free in its application, the safety valve, and the very heart and strength of a true democracy.
3. It offers a judicial system that extends justice and equal privileges to all alike, applicable to the poor and the millionaire.
4. In its ecclesiastical groupings, efficiency and progress are enhanced because every local group attends to its own affairs, and yet each is so closely united with the central government that every mode of procedure proved useful and beneficial to the people can be adopted without delay for the good of the entire group.
“The Church of Christ,” he said, “has that form of government for which the nations today are seeking. This is because it is patterned after that order which Christ himself established.”
One modern writer
looks forward to a “Great Society in which all individuals will have a fair chance for the joy of living, and personal satisfactions will blend with social responsibility and creative power.”
In the Church of Jesus Christ I see just such a Great Society.
I don’t want to make too big a deal over the prescient detail early in his talk that Zion would be built in a day when man should “improve the means of communication until with radio in our pockets we may communicate with friends and loved ones from any point at any given moment” – but where did he get that? And are we ready to “reap the blessings of Zion,” or “suffer the very torments of hell”?