Zion v. Babylon: Life in the Enclave

In his recent (and excellent) book, Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes, Paul Reeve examines the contact and interactions between the three groups mentioned in his title in southern Utah/eastern Nevada during the last four decades of the 19th century. Although Reeve uses the word “frontier” in his title, he is not using it in the same way as Frederick Jackson Turner, who saw the frontier as succeeding waves of Anglo-American civilization moving relentlessly across the continent. Rather, Reeve sees the frontier as a meeting ground of cultures, where groups come together and negotiate an existence together. In Reeve’s story, these three groups bring together three conflicting images or visions of how space and land should be used, with the different “mappings” of the terrain influencing the contacts between the groups.

J. Stapley has written an admirable review of the whole work at BCC, so I won’t bother rehashing what he wrote, but I would like to focus on Reeve’s chapter 5: “To Hold In Check Outside Influences.” The chapter examines how Mormons in the town of Hebron interacted and perceived the miners in the Nevada town of Pioche as well as Mormon images and contacts with the Southern Paiutes. Reeve has already covered some of the second half of the chapter in his earlier post on the Gadianton Robbers, so I’ll focus here on Mormon perceptions and interactions with the miners. For Latter-day Saints, the mining town represented Babylon, with allures of wealth, lust, and worldliness, the exact opposite of what Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders envisioned for Zion. In Reeve’s apt phrase, “Brigham Young defined his kingdom largely in relationship to gentiles” (86). Constructing images of the wicked was essential to maintain the boundaries of God’s kingdom. “Defending Zion’s borders, therefore, held celestial implications. Once gentiles controlled the southern region’s mineral deposits, [Erastus] Snow and Young began establishing defensive walls around the Mormon outposts closest to the mines” (92). Not only did Church leaders preach about the dangers of the mines, but they also practiced what Reeve calls “the politics of exclusion,” where dissenting insiders were disciplined for flirting too readily with Babylon (92). Perhaps the most prominent examples of the politics of exclusion were the Godbeites, who sought to open up Utah territory economically by investing in mines and other ventures and were subsequently excommunicated from the Church. Utilizing such techniques allowed Young and the Latter-day Saints to contest and challenge efforts by outsiders to Americanize Utah territory.

Although Reeve does not call it such, this is a perfect example of what scholars of religion refer to as “the enclave.” Scholar of religion Emmanuel Sivan has employed the metaphor of an enclave to describe religious groups that seek to ward off the outside world. The enclave is composed of individuals that voluntarily associate with one another and follow religious leaders. With the world outside always beckoning the individuals to leave the enclave, these leaders must reinforce boundaries between the enclave and the world.[1]

Although Young’s dream of Zion is no longer, Mormon leaders continue to guard the borders of the enclave from outside influences that are deemed destructive to the faithful. Pornography, abortion, and engaging in same-sex relations are a few examples of dangers that our Church leaders have warned us against, and in the process they have defended Zion’s borders. Those Mormons that seek to step outside of those borders to visit Babylon can expect to experience, to some degree, the politics of exclusion. And such is life in the enclave.


[1] Gabriel A. Almond, R. Scott Appleby, and Emmanuel Sivan, Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 21, 32-36.

6 comments for “Zion v. Babylon: Life in the Enclave

  1. Nice summary, David — and there’s still three more shopping days to buy Reeve’s book for Christmas! As for boundaries, it sounds like Brigham Young, in the 19th century, was still able to use geography to help create boundaries, but in the 20th and 21st centuries, the Church must rely on social and cultural boundaries to maintain the vision of being a Zion-like enclave in the midst of cultural Babylon.

    I’m not sure I like the term “politics of exclusion” in reference to the mechanics of church governance. There may be some exclusion in the mix, but calling it politics muddles rather than clarifies the analysis.

  2. Dave: That’s a good point about the shift from physical to cultural borders. Although we talk about “gathering to the stakes” today, that really is not a physical gathering out of babylon.

    I should be clear that Paul did not come up with “politics of exclusion,” but rather is using terminology developed by other scholars. The term “politics” should be read not as we use it in common parlance but in the postmodern sense of power brokering and the patrolling of cultural borders.

  3. The missionaries Brigham Young sent to South Africa encountered the enclave mentality from the other side when dealing with the Afrikaner settlers there. William Fotheringham, the second mission president, makes several references to the Afrikaners being “priest-ridden” and unwilling to leave their provincial ways to accept the Gospel.

    The missionary program has always been something of an anomaly to the enclave culture as missionaries are sent out from the confines of Mormondom into “the world” to attract converts and bring them in. In the nineteenth century, that bringing in was, of course, a physical gathering, but today’s gathering, as has been pointed out, is cultural. Today’s missionaries also face something of the enclave in reverse as they encounter tightly-knit religious communities resistant to their proselytizing.

  4. Jeffrey Cannon’s comment points out one way that enclaves and borders are only half the story. The history of Mormon engagement with the world is as old or older than the history of Mormon enclaves, and sometime our borders between Zion and Babylon take some odd twists and turns.

  5. The Celestial Kingdom has always been presented as quite an exclusive enclave, and I’ve wondered from time to time about the nature of its borders–how much they may be cultural.

    My night work in EMS gets me across borders routinely, and it’s quite startling to me how deaf, dumb and blind many people are to different enclaves whose members they regularly meet on the street and in the supermarket. If the Savior appeared at any of several churches on Sunday, these folks a few blocks away would not know of it or be touched by it. And vice versa.

  6. I see Zion and Babylon in Jungian terms. A Zion of pristine sanctity and a Babylon of indulgence free of consequence both being dangerous illusions. The reality on the ground is that they are in constant dialogue, seek a balanced integration and reflect each other’s secret aspirations and secret phobias.

Comments are closed.