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Allison Pond

Use Gifts to Build Zion and Community

Good morning, and thank you for that lovely music and for the kind introduction. I’m thrilled to be here with you today at LDS Business College. I’ve been really touched by your spirit this morning, and I’ve loved hearing about the growth of this educational institution and am very flattered to have the opportunity to share with you a few of my thoughts today.

I work, right through that window across the way, up a couple of floors, and so I have sometimes looked out my window and wondered what was going on over on this side, and now it’s really exciting to catch a glimpse of it. As part of my remarks today, I will try to pull the curtain back a little bit on what happens over where I work as well.

I would like to begin my remarks by talking about the idea of Zion. In the Scriptures, the name “Zion” is sometimes used to refer to a particular place—for example, the city of Enoch or Mount Zion—where Solomon built his temple, or even in the Doctrine and Covenants, Jackson County, Missouri. But today we also understand it to mean a community of like-minded people. As it says in Doctrine and Covenants 97, “This is Zion—the pure in heart.” (verse 21)

Similarly, in the book of Moses: “And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:18) This is a startling description when you stop to think about it. An entire city of people is described as being one in mind and in heart. And there are two things that made that possible. First, they dwelt in righteousness—that is, they obeyed God; and second, there were no poor among them. They took care of one another.

I find it interesting that these two attributes of Zion mirror the two great commandments given by the Savior, to love God and to love our neighbor.

An earlier verse also says that God dwelt with that people of the city of Zion, which reminds me of the book of John, where Christ talks about abiding in us and us abiding in God and being one with Him. (See chapters 15 and 17)

The Prophet Joseph Smith says the building up of Zion is “a cause that has interested the people of God in every age; it is a theme upon which prophets, priests, and kings have dwelt with peculiar delight.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [Melchizedek Priesthood and Relief Society course of study, 2007], 186) It’s also something on which the Prophet Joseph himself dwelt with peculiar delight. The idea of gathering and building Zion was an animating idea behind many of his teachings and each city he planned. And his emphasis on community is still with us today.

The concept of Zion is one that has always resonated with me. I’m intrigued with the idea that our salvation is tied to the salvation of those around us in some way. Zion takes the abstract ideas of love and charity and makes them concrete. It gives us an avenue for living out these core teachings of Jesus Christ.

In part because of our teachings about Zion, and perhaps in part because of other teachings and factors like geography, the Church today has grown into a tight-knit organization, with wards, stakes, and programs that strive toward those twin ideas of dwelling in righteousness and ensuring that there are no poor among us. We invest a great deal of time and money nurturing each other physically and spiritually in the Church. Of course, we’re still human, and there’s always room for improvement, but being a contributing member of a community in a ward and a stake is part of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint.

At the same time, the Mormon people have not had as much practice engaging with the external community. Those who study the idea of community talk about two ways of connecting that they call “bonding” and “bridging.” Bonding means building strong connections among people with a common background, while bridging means connecting people of different backgrounds.

Sociologists David Campbell and Robert Putnam wrote in their book American Grace, which is a comprehensive study of religion in America, about bonding and bridging. They asked a sample of Americans about the religion of their friends, extended family, and their neighbors. What they found was that Americans, by and large, have religiously perse families and neighborhoods. Nearly all Americans have a neighbor of a different faith than their own. And two-thirds of Americans have at least one family member of another faith.

Only about a quarter of Americans said that their five closest friends shared their same faith.

This means that people in our country are regularly interacting with members of other faiths, and this is a good thing. Having a friend of another religion, studies show, makes a person feel more warmly toward that religion in general.

Putnam and Campbell also found some fascinating differences between members of different religions. Members of some religious traditions are more likely to have bridges—that is, friends, family, and neighbors of different religions—than are members of other religious traditions. Mormons, as you might guess, are one of the faiths in which people are most likely to have a high number of friends, family, and neighbors who are of their own faith. In fact, researchers have noted that Mormons resemble an ethnic group in this regard. Mormons have a strong identity, have a distinctive culture and even vocabulary.

The bottom line is that Latter-day Saints are very good at bonding, better than they are at bridging. So I want to talk a bit today about building community through bridging. I don’t mean missionary work, though that is a distinctive and important part of our faith. But some members of our Church do not have any other way of thinking or talking about non-Mormons, other than through the lens of missionary work. The bridging I’m talking about is creating meaningful relationships and learning about and working together with people of other religious backgrounds, without any other motive.

If you’ve been following the news, and even if you haven’t been following the news, you’re probably aware that America is having what journalists are calling “A Mormon moment.” It isn’t the first Mormon moment, but it’s the biggest one that I remember. I remember when it used to be a big deal when a major U.S. publication ran something on Mormonism. When Newsweek did a cover story on the Church in 2005, an LDS coworker of mine got a copy of it and passed it on to me, and we marveled that there was an image of Joseph Smith on the cover. We analyzed everything in the article. These days, though, I can barely keep up with all the coverage of Mormonism on a daily basis. Just this morning, a Google News search on the word “Mormon” returned articles in the mainstream media on everything from food storage to anti-Mormon billboards to an increase in the number of missionary applications to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s tour to the use of the word “cult” in the media to the racial persity of Mormons in Sacramento, California.

This can be a little bit disconcerting. Because we’re a relatively small religion and because we’re so good at bonding, we’re used to hearing stories about ourselves that we tell each other, not those that others tell about us. As LDS historian Richard Bushman put it, it can be “like looking [into] a fun-house mirror” and seeing ourselves, seeing our face warped and distorted. (Hal Boyd, “LDS scholar Richard Lyman Bushman talks ‘Mormon’ musical,” Deseret News, pub. Aug. 28, 2011,

If I’m completely honest, as a person working in the media world during this Mormon moment, there are times when I wish it would just all stop. It’s easy to be defensive or critical, or just plain tired of seeing your face splashed across the headlines. But I also believe that this moment presents us with an unprecedented opportunity and call to “bridge.”

President [Gordon B.] Hinckley was a natural bridge builder. He engaged with the press and the wider community outside of Mormonism differently than any other prophet before him. When he was sustained as president of the Church in 1995, he said this: “I plead with our people everywhere to live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies. We must not be partisans of any doctrine of ethnic superiority. We live in a world of persity. We can and must be respectful towards those with whose teachings we may not agree. We must be willing to defend the rights of others who may be the victims of bigotry.” (“This is the Work of the Master,” April Conference, 1995,

There are undoubtedly many people working to build bridges between Mormonism and the wider community. I’d like to share a little bit about the Deseret News and our goal to produce news and information that reaches what we’ve come to call “like-minded believers.”

Like-minded believers are people who share a devotion to religious faith, a commitment to family, and a strong desire to help others and be an influence for good in their community. They make up roughly half of the United States’ population, by our calculations. Most Mormons are like-minded believers, but they account for only a small portion of this group. Most of our national target audience is made up of members of other faiths.

In addition to the need to bridge, another reason for our strategy has to do with the reality that in the modern digital news age, it’s difficult for a publication to do everything. The Deseret News has chosen to specialize by focusing on like-minded believers, and has also developed six areas of editorial emphasis in which we specialize. These areas are care for the poor, excellence in education, faith in the community, family life, financial responsibility, and values in the media.

We have a team of reporters that focuses closely on these areas of emphasis, and we gather their work into a weekly national edition of the Deseret News—the national Sunday edition that highlights our best work in each of these six areas. I won’t go on too much longer about the Deseret News, but I want to share with you a statement that we use that describes the audience that we’re serving, that guides us as we put together our coverage. It reads: “When I am well-informed, I feel more confident living my beliefs so that I can make a difference in my family and in my community.”

I find this to be a powerful and inspiring statement that says a lot about the process of creating bridges. Let me say it again: “When I am well-informed, I feel more confident living my beliefs so that I can make a difference in my family and in my community.”

I’d like to talk a little more specifically about a couple of parts of this statement. First, being well-informed: I believe that knowing what is going on in the world is the first step to being able to engage and make a difference in it. It’s hard to come up with solutions or get involved with solutions already happening if we don’t know what the issues are in our communities.

This even applies to children. We recently ran a story about a young girl named Olivia Bouler, who was inspired by what she saw in the news. I want to read to you a little bit from this article:

“Olivia [Bouler, age 12,] who lives in Islip, New York, was inconsolable when she heard about the oil spill in the Gulf Coast in 2010. She had spent many vacations there with her grandparents, watching the birds. She knew it was nesting season. She knew the birds were going to suffer.

“Her parents felt helpless, watching their little girl sob.

“ ‘How could we comfort her?’ said the little girl’s mom, Nadine Bouler. ‘There is no comfort. We knew it was true.’

“So they prayed together.

“ ‘Please let us find a way to help,’ they prayed.

“Olivia lit up like a light bulb. She scampered upstairs and penned a letter to the National Audubon Society. The society authored the dog-eared field guide she toted around on her bird watching adventures, and she had recently taken a tour of the nonprofit environmental organization’s Florida location. If anyone could help, she was sure the Audubon Society could...

“[As] an aspiring artist, Olivia offered to hand draw pictures of birds in exchange for donations to the clean-up effort. She signed the letter, ‘11 years old and willing to help.’

“After several national and international news outlets got wind of Olivia’s project, requests for bird drawings started rolling in. She pledged to make 500 paintings. They were all called for within three weeks.

“Olivia spent the next three months filling the orders. Using watercolor, she painted pelicans, ducks, hummingbirds and red-breasted robins. She painted when she got home from school until she went to bed at night. She painted on the weekends while her friends were swimming and making brownies.

“‘At times I just wanted to play,' Olivia said. ‘But ultimately, I knew this was an amazing opportunity to make a difference and have my voice heard.’

“She's no longer passing out paintings for donations, but Olivia hasn't given up her environmental activism. Last year she wrote and illustrated a book about birds to raise money for conservation efforts. This year, she has a traveling art exhibit and an environmental column in the Huffington Post.

“So far, she's raised more than $200,000.

“‘Every one of us has a great gift we can use to help the earth,' she wrote. 'Everyone, at any age, can do something, whether it is picking up trash along the side of the road, filling a bird feeder, or bringing reusable bags to the grocery store. For me, I used my artwork.’” (Elizabeth Stuart, “Three children raise $350,000 for charity and improve the world,” pub. Apr. 30, 2012,

Knowing what’s happening in the world enables us, like Olivia, to act and not be acted upon. This is true when it comes to volunteering, but also when it comes to voting and participating in political issues. We all have a responsibility, as our Church leaders remind us every election season, to study the issues and vote for leaders who represent our values and will build the kind of community that we want to live in. Reading and learning for ourselves, rather than simply believing whatever our friends post on Facebook or being influenced by political advertising, allows us to act and not be acted upon.

In some ways, being well-informed is a lifelong project of collecting truth. We often repeat this phrase regarding people of other faiths: “Bring what you have and see if we can add to it.” I would add that we can also take what we have and see what the world can add to it. I encourage you to discover, explore and collect truth wherever you go. Let the gospel be your framework for collecting truth, and what you gain will benefit you and your Church and the world.

Brigham Young preached on this topic many times. He said, “Be willing to receive the truth; let it come from whom it may.” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe, 14:136) In another place he said, “ ‘Mormonism,’ so called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it…. The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. ‘Mormonism’ includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel.” (Discourses, 3)

He continued: “If you can find a truth in heaven, earth or hell, it belongs to our doctrine. We believe it; it is ours; we claim it.” (Discourses, 2)

“It is our duty and calling…to gather every item of truth and reject every error…to gather up all the truths in the world pertaining to life and salvation…to the sciences, and to philosophy, wherever it may be found in every nation, kindred, tongue, and people and bring it to Zion.” (Discourses, 248)

Sometimes members of the Church use language that pits us against the world, defining the world as a wicked and dangerous place. It’s true that there are dark people and dark places in the world. But the world is also an exciting and beautiful place, full of good people doing good things. We miss out on so much of this if we cloister ourselves or approach the world with only fear or suspicion. Instead, we should develop the ability to discern what in the world is valuable and good, and what is degrading.

A good friend of mine once said, “The world is a safe place because of the Atonement. The knowledge that God can and will forgive and redeem should give us courage to approach the world ready to explore and learn. There are magnificent people, books, ideas, and beliefs waiting to be discovered.”

President Hinckley has said, “I hope that you will take from [your education] the habit of seeking knowledge and that this habit will never leave you for as long as you live. A truly educated man never ceases to learn. He never ceases to grow…. I hope that you will read to your children. They will be blessed and you will be blessed if you do so. I hope that you will even read to your [spouses]. They need to be read to. I hope that you will read to yourselves.”

President Hinckley also told the story of his father, who was an example to him of lifelong learning. I’ll share it with you now, because his father was at one time the president of the Church’s Business College, so it is a part of your history and maybe even one that you have heard before. President Hinckley tells of his father in his later years, after he had retired, living in a simple but comfortable home in a rural area. He had an orchard; he loved giving away the fruit, and the yard in his home included lawns and shrubs and trees.

“It had a rock wall about two feet high separating one level from another,” President Hinckley said. (This is from a devotional that he gave at Brigham Young University in the late 1990s.) He said, “Whenever the weather was good [my father] would sit on the wall, an old hat on his head to shade his eyes from the summer sun. When we went to visit him I would sit beside him. With a little prompting he would talk of his life—of the time when as a boy he lived in Cove Fort. He would smile as he told of the time that his brother found a loaded pistol in the telegrapher’s office. The boys began fooling around, the pistol fired, and his brother shot my father in the leg.

“His father sent to Beaver for the doctor. The doctor arrived hours later and tried to remove the ball with a darning needle. He only made the pain worse. Father, sitting on his wall, would lift his pant leg, feel the flesh of his leg, and say that the ball was still there.

“The family moved from Cove Fort to Fillmore, and when Father was in his late teens he came here to Provo and enrolled in the Brigham Young Academy….From here he went East to school. He then came back and taught [at Brigham Young University] until the First Presidency of the Church asked him to move to Salt Lake City and preside over the business college, for which the Church had great plans.

“He was an educator. He was a successful businessman. He presided over the largest stake in the Church, with more than 15,000 members. He served as a mission president and in many other capacities. And now he was retired, and he sat on his wall. He was a great reader with a wonderful library. He was an excellent speaker and writer. Almost to the time he died, just short of the age of 94, he read and wrote and contemplated the knowledge that had come to him.

“I discovered that when he sat on the wall, hours at a time on a warm day, he would reflect on the things he had read from his library.

“I think he grew old gracefully and wonderfully. He had his books with the precious treasures they contained of the thoughts of great men and women of all the ages of time. He never ceased to learn. As he sat on the wall he thought deeply of what he had read the night before. He acquired [that] habit as a student.”

President Hinckley finished this story by saying, “Now, you are young, and why am I telling you of an old man and the wall on which he sat? I am telling you because I think it has a lesson for each of us. We must never cease to learn. We believe in eternal progression and that this life is a part of eternity to be profitably lived until the very end.” (“The BYU Experience,” BYU Devotional, 4 Nov. 1997,

Being a lifelong learner who pays attention to what is going on in the world and the community can be overwhelming in today’s media environment. There’s so much information available and so many voices crying, “Lo here!” and “lo there!” (See Luke 17:21) Becoming well informed requires learning to sift information, figure out how it fits together, and to determine who to trust. It may require wrestling with conflicting information or information that challenges your assumptions. It will probably test your faith and may shift your beliefs a little. You’ll have to choose what to believe, and the choice will not always be easy. It will require hard honesty and self-examination. But it will help you become someone who acts, and not someone who is acted upon. Do not be afraid of the process of gaining knowledge. Be confident in your ability to use it to act.

This brings me to the second part of the Deseret News brand statement: “When I’m well-informed, I feel more confident living my beliefs so I can make a difference in my family and my community.”

Part of our goal, part of my goal in my job is not to simply describe problems in society but to highlight people who are finding solutions to those problems. I’d like to share with you a few stories we’ve recently published about people who are making a difference in their community.

Cynthia Packard is an LDS woman from Gilbert, Arizona. She was a Relief Society president in 1999 with two teenagers still at home when one of her friends approached her with some disheartening facts about infant mortality in the country of Mozambique in Africa. Her friend said to her, “Have you ever thought of going to Africa?” I’m going to read a little bit from this article about Cynthia Packard:

“Of course she hadn’t [thought of that]. In fact, she had become quite adept at ignoring Africa. A compassionate woman, so pumped full of love it leaks out the corner of her eyes, Packard doesn’t empathize with people; she internalizes their pain. So, as a matter of self-preservation, she breezed right over the headlines about toil and strife on the world's poorest continent. 'I couldn't stand to look at those heartbreaking pictures when everything seemed so hopeless," she said. When she prayed about the idea — something she agreed to do only to get her rather persistent friend off her back — she did so halfheartedly.

“‘God?’ she asked, kneeling down next to her bed one day. ‘You don't want me to go to Africa do you?’

“Within four months, Packard was bumping along an ill-kept road in Mozambique, dodging women balancing 50 pounds of water atop their heads and potholes big enough to swallow a small car.”

"She didn’t have a plan; she just knew she was supposed to go and help. She ended up getting to know the minister of health in the country, and asked if she could use her midwife training to help deliver babies at a refugee camp. He actually sent her on a tour of the country to find out what people in the rural areas needed the most, which was really overwhelming when she heard of so many needs she didn’t know if she could fill.

"She said, 'I was silly to come. I am just one woman.'

“But in a school's humble request for pencils, she found hope. 'Pencils?' she thought, perking up. 'I can do pencils.'

“From there, for the next six years, she continued to [find ways to contribute to the people in need in Mozambique].” She used her connections with the LDS Church back home to mobilize people to put together birthing kits and to volunteer to come to teach. And eventually, she came to the realization that, rather than providing all of these things for people in need, she needed to find a way to train them to do it for themselves.

Today, the nonprofit organization that she and her husband founded, Care for Life, is active in many different villages in Mozambique, and it’s pided people into what they call zones, with zone leaders, where they teach them how to set goals and—this might sound familiar to some of you who have served missions—teaches people how to make and to bring about the changes that they want to see in their communities.

The statistic that I wanted to share with you is that the death rate in the villages where her nonprofit has taken root has improved by an average of 77 percent, due to increased knowledge and sanitation. (Elizabeth Stuart, “Seeds of Hope: How one American woman is helping Africa help itself,” Deseret News, pub. 23 Oct. 2011,

That’s one story of one woman and her experience. I could tell you other stories of people who have done interesting things in exotic places, like a woman who went to Haiti to adopt a child and realized that many of the children in the orphanages actually had parents who just couldn’t afford to keep them. And so she found a way to start a small business to help women to earn money to be able to support their families so they wouldn’t have to give them up for adoption. (See Jesse Hyde, “An American woman helps keep Haitian families together,” Deseret News, pub. 25, July 2012,

And there are many other stories about things that LDS and other people are doing throughout the world. But you don’t have to do something in a foreign country to have an impact. The story about Olivia Bouler drawing pictures of birds is a great example, and there are lots of other examples about children doing similar things, too. We recently published another story about refugees who have come to the United States after being displaced by wars, and many of them who were still so mindful of their friends and family back home that, even as they were struggling, while they were getting their education here in the United States, they put away a little bit of money and over time were able to send that back to their families and even to start their own nonprofit organizations designed to help people in the countries from which they had come.

I believe that, no matter what our situation, there’s something, there’s some connection, some knowledge that we have about people who are in need, and some way that we can apply our gifts to make a difference for them.

One last story that I’d like to mention is one that we published several months ago. We called it “The War on Boys.” I’ll read you a little part that summarizes it:

“Recently dozens of experts shared research on what’s happening to boys in America. They’re doing worse in school. They have fewer male role models because of the rise in fatherless homes and the lack of men in the classroom. They’re more likely to get involved in crime or become depressed than girls. Research shows girls develop faster, [becoming] sexualized sooner, while the maturity gap between the genders is growing. Boys have more substance abuse and mental-health issues and a suicide rate that's five times that of girls between ages 15 and 19. They are not as healthy, their employment prospects seem to be dwindling and their delinquency rates outpace girls' three-fold. A self-formed commission of experts, academics and policymakers wants the president to create a White House Council on Boys and Men, similar to one that targets well-being of girls and women. It would identify areas where males struggle and offer solutions.” (Lois M. Collins and Jamshid Ghazi Askar, Deseret News, “The war on boys: Sex, media and violence,” pub. 20 Feb. 2012,

I bring up this story for two reasons. One is to tell you about a class of students in the Salt Lake area whose teacher read this story in the newspaper and brought it to class and had them read it. They discussed it. They talked about how they saw that playing out in their own lives, whether that was a reality for them. And they each took time to write a letter to the reporter with an observation about the article and a question. I think that was one fantastic way for a teacher to contribute to the knowledge and awareness of her students and to finding solutions for this problem, which is one that our country is still wrestling with right now. And it’s one that touches everyone in this room and one that, I’m sure, many of you have had thoughts about or could have inspiration on the way to contribute to solving this problem in our community and our country today.

There are other examples in other areas. I could talk all morning about people coming up with creative ways to help people find jobs, finding avenues to bridge religious differences, discovering innovative ways to improve education. In each case, someone used information to act and to make a difference in his or her community or in the world.

In closing, I would like to say just a few more words about the idea of community. The American writer Wendell Berry has said, “A community is not something that you have, like a camcorder or a breakfast nook. No, it’s something you do. And you have to do it all the time.” (posted at The Beanery at 25th Avenue & Hilyard)

In another place, he wrote, “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” (Wikiquotes, “The Loss of the Future,” in The Long-Legged House [1969] )

Mormons are experts at creating internal community. And I believe that “The Mormon Moment” is yet another call to reach out and participate more in the external community, where there is much for us to learn, discover, and contribute.

I’d like to share one last story, again from President Hinckley’s devotional talk. He said, “Mr. Shimon Peres called on us last Wednesday in the Church Administration Building. He is one of the elder statesmen of the world, the former prime minister of Israel. He has seen much of conflict and trouble in his time. He is a wise and able man who speaks with the spirit of a sage.

“I asked him whether there was any solution to the great problems that constantly seem to pide the people of Israel and the Palestinians. He replied that of course there is. He said an interesting thing. As I recall, he said, ‘When we were Adam and Eve, we were all one. Is there any need for us to be pided into segments with hatred in our hearts one for another?’

“He told a beautiful story that he said he got from a Muslim. The Muslim told of a Jewish rabbi who was conversing with two of his friends. The rabbi asked one of the men, ‘How do you know when the night is over and the day has begun?’

“His friend replied, ‘When you look into the distance and can distinguish a sheep from a goat, then you know the night is over and the day has begun.’

“The second was asked the same question. He replied, ‘When you look into the distance and can distinguish an olive tree from a fig tree, that is how you know.’

“They then asked the rabbi how he could tell when the night is over and the day has begun. He thought for a time and then said, ‘When you look into the distance and see the face of a woman and you can say, “She is my sister.” And when you look into the distance and see the face of a man and can say, "He is my brother.” Then you will know the light has come.’

“Think about that story for a minute. What a wonderful truth it tells.”

I encourage all of you to empower yourselves through knowledge and to commit now to building Zion and building community wherever you find yourself in the future. My belief is that as we build bridges in whatever community we find ourselves, we truly realize what it means to be a follower of Christ. I believe that as we find oneness with others, we find oneness with God and we fill the measure of our creation. I believe that we are saved as individuals and as communities, whether as communities sealed together through ordinances or communities made up of the pure in heart in various places. In short, I believe in the ideal of Zion.

I promise to use my gifts to build Zion and to build community, and I thank God for that privilege, for the meaning and purpose I have in my life because of the teachings of the Savior, and I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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