Community Life

(This commentary is one in a series of brief summaries written in 2005 for the 200-year commemoration of Joseph Smith’s birth. Drawing from Joseph Smith’s writings and teachings, these summaries, though far from comprehensive, provide a brief overview of Joseph Smith’s ideas and beliefs relating to theological, religious and social topics.) 

Community life is by definition a life of cooperation and responsibility.  Private life and public life, without the disciplines of community interest, necessarily gravitate toward competition and exploitation.
                                                                                                             Wendell Berry [1]

Throughout earth’s history, humans have always organized themselves into communities of one kind or another. Joseph Smith understood that communities not only provide essential protection from danger, access to vital resources, and opportunities to develop human potential but also help define the core values and central identity of their respective members.

Creating an ideal earthly society was, for Joseph Smith, “the most important temporal object in view” [2] of the Latter-day Saints during his eventful 14-year ministry. “That same sociality,” he said, “which exists among us here [in mortality] will exist among us there [in the afterlife], only it will be coupled with eternal glory.” [3]

Although his lofty social ideals were not fully realized during his lifetime, community building was one of the central enterprises of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for its first century.

  • From 1830 to 1930, Latter-day Saints founded more than 700 separate settlements.  Adapted for their own application was the term “Zion,” which originally referred to the ancient City of Holiness, founded by the Old Testament patriarch Enoch, whose residents “were of one heart and mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them. 
  • The Church had two overriding objectives for establishing Zion on earth: to create a setting in which the divine potential of mankind could be realized, and to prepare the earth and its inhabitants for the second coming of Jesus Christ and the millennial kingdom of God.

Supporting these spiritual objectives was an array of social programs designed to inspire residents to replace the individualistic, materialistic, competitive and commodifying tendencies of secular society with cooperation, humanitarian service, mutual respect, the wise use of resources and other social values central to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In the 1830s, the Church was headquartered in Kirtland, Ohio, numbering only a few thousand members.  Though the Church was struggling to survive organizationally, demographically and financially, Joseph Smith nonetheless instituted a program called “the bishop's storehouse” that enabled the Church to redistribute material resources donated by generous Latter-day Saints to those in greater need. This was the small but auspicious beginning of the Church's worldwide humanitarian and welfare enterprises.

At the same time, he instituted an adult education program — one of the nation's first. Church leaders and members received instruction in a variety of subjects that helped them with their daily lives, family duties and Church responsibilities. From this initial school, held in a 10-by-12-foot room in the Newel K. Whitney store, grew the Church's vast program of educating its members in religious, professional and practical subjects.

In addition, Latter-day Saint congregations from the beginning have implemented a concept of worship that includes not only formal Sabbath day services but also community service, recreational and social activities, personal and family study and physical education. Thus the whole soul, of itself and in relation to others, becomes the object of lifelong improvement.

Latter-day Saints believe that any society established on these principles of community life will result in happiness, unity, prosperity and peace.


[1] Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community (New York and San Francisco: Pantheon Books, 1993), 121.

[2] See Joseph Smith, History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B.H.Roberts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1951). 1:207. 

[3] Doctrine and Covenants 130:2.

[4] Pearl of Great Price, Moses 7:18.

© 2005 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

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