"Men cannot worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon his creatures....Love of nature is akin to the love of God; the two are inseparable."
-Joseph F. Smith
“What we do about ecology depends on our ideas of the man-nature relationship. More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one. . . . Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious.”
I cannot speak to the issue of whether the Church has a clean environmental record or not. I can't even say I know much about Utah's environmental record, though I gather it is not a very good one. I am one of those Eastern Saints, and know little about the politics of the intermountain West. It's unfortunate that, because of the predominantly Conservative political culture among Mormons, many people inside and outside of the Church wrongly assume that Mormonism and Environmentalism are incompatible. I have to admit that even in the East I have heard little more than lip-service to the cause of environmentalism. And what's worse, I have also heard a fair amount of anti-environmentalist rhetoric when specific issues have been raised. I know I should speak up about it, but I often don't know how to do so without starting a fight... and so I blog. Let's set the record straight here and now, for all three people that will likely read this. There is an abundance of material (readily available from official Church resources) which refutes certain attitudes which are hazardous to humans' physical and spiritual health (not to mention the hazards we leave behind for future generations).
"Some Mormons dismiss the political causes of environmentalists as being the fears of faithless hedonists, just as otherwise responsible environmental scholars and activists sometimes perpetuate myths and inaccuracies about what they perceive to be the anti-ecological stance of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But Mormon belief has more than enough in common with environmentalism to promote genuine and productive change in our environmental behavior."
-George B. Handley, "The Environmental Ethics of Mormon Belief" (187)
This is one subject that doesn't require much digging. Just search the keyword "environment" on the official Church website (lds.org). In your search results, you will be provided with a link to some excellent resources on the website which serves as "the official resource for news media, opinion leaders, and the public"(mormonnewsroom.org). Once you are in the Newsroom, I would start with the fantastic official Church statement entitled "Environmental Stewardship and Conservation," which reads, in full:
"All humankind are stewards over the earth and should gratefully use what God has given, avoid wasting life and resources and use the bounty of the earth to care for the poor and the needy.
"God created the earth to provide a place for the human family to learn, progress and improve. God first created the earth and all living things spiritually, and all living things have great worth in His eyes.
"The earth and all things on it should be used responsibly to sustain the human family. However, all are stewards — not owners — over this earth and its bounty and will be accountable before God for what they do with His creations.
"Approaches to the environment must be prudent, realistic, balanced and consistent with the needs of the earth and of current and future generations, rather than pursuing the immediate vindication of personal desires or avowed rights. The earth and all life upon it are much more than items to be consumed or conserved. God intends His creations to be aesthetically pleasing to enliven the mind and spirit, and some portions are to be preserved. Making the earth ugly offends Him.
"The state of the human soul and the environment are interconnected, with each affecting and influencing the other. The earth, all living things and the expanse of the universe all eloquently witness of God."
What a beautiful and powerful, yet brief, statement! In addition to the above statement, this Mormon Newsroom article also provides almost a dozen and a half links to various articles, talks, videos, and other resources relating to the theme of environmentalism. You can find EVERYTHING I've cited in this blog post by simply following the links provided alongside the official statement above. I tell you this because I know many Mormons would be tempted to think that I am making this stuff up. I beg you, see for yourself!
VIDEO: Probably the Best Talk On Mormon Environmentalism Ever Delivered:
One of those links was this fantastic video of an excellent talk given by Elder Marcus B. Nash of the Quorum of the Seventy, entitled, "Righteous Dominion and Compassion for the Earth." The Newsroom also provided the full transcript of that talk. I can say without hesitation that this is the best articulation of Mormon doctrine regarding environmentalism that I have ever come across. No matter how well you think you know Mormon doctrine on this subject, PLEASE, watch this video, or read the talk, or both. If you didn't read any more of this post, I would still consider it a success if you only watched this:
An Outline of Mormon Environmental Theology:
A great BYU Studies article called "The Environmental Ethics of Mormon Belief" by George B. Handley lays out the basic principles of Mormon Environmental Theology. I will share just a few highlights from this noteworthy article, but I encourage my readers to read it in full.
1. We Are Stewards: We Do Not Own God's Creation:
"…it is precisely because we are at the center of God’s creation and because we are given stewardship over the earth that we are held morally responsible and accountable to God for our interaction with all living things." (196-197)
"Joseph F. Smith has said: 'We have eyes and see not, for that which we cannot appreciate or admire we are largely blind to, no matter how beautiful or inspiring it may be. As children of God, it is our duty to appreciate and worship Him in His creations. If we would associate all that is truly good and beautiful in life with thoughts of Him, we would be able to trace His handiwork throughout all nature.'" (195)
"As God’s children, we bear a heavy moral responsibility to act as stewards of all God’s physical creations and to treat them with respect and sustaining love." (206)
2. The Earth is Sacred and Alive (In Some Sense):
"We are also told of the following experience, although whether it is symbolic or literal is not revealed:
"'He [Enoch] heard a voice from the bowels [of the earth], saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?'" (Moses 7:48; see also D&C 88:18–19, 24–25) (194)
"As Brigham Young explained, 'The earth is very good in and of itself, and has abided a celestial law, consequently we should not despise it, nor desire to leave it, but rather desire and strive to obey the same law that the earth abides.' He later added, 'We are for the kingdom of God, and are not going to the moon, nor to any other planet pertaining to this solar system. . . . This earth is the home he has prepared for us.'” (190)
3. All Things Were First Created Spiritually and Deserve Our Compassion:
"One of the chief reasons for the profound moral relationship between human beings and other creations is that, as Joseph Smith taught, all things are composed of both physical and spiritual matter." (D&C 131:7) (193)
"Latter-day Saint scriptures adamantly oppose the traditional notion that the body and the spirit—and earth and heaven—are dualities that are permanent and irreconcilable." (190)
"Joseph F. Smith taught, 'Take not away the life you cannot give, for all things have an equal right to live.'” (198)
"George Q. Cannon similarly taught that 'the time will come when man and animals which are now wild and ferocious will dwell together without hurting each other. The prophets have foretold this with great plainness. But before this day comes men will have to cease their war upon the animals, the reptiles and the insects.'" (199)
4. We Are Inseparably Connected With the Rest of Creation:
"Because of the Mormon conception of our premortal life and its suggestion that we witnessed and may have participated in the very creation of the world under Christ’s direction, we have a unique opportunity to always remember our intimate relationship with creation." (195)
"…we have a kinship with all other living souls. The link that connects us to the physical world is the light of Christ, our mutual creator, who enlightens and enlivens all creation:
"'The light of truth . . . is the light of Christ. As also [Christ] is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand. And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space—The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.' (D&C 88:6–13)
"All creation, then, although various in form, is united by Christ." (194)
5. The Anticipated Millenium Is A Poor Excuse for Enviromental Abuse/Neglect:
"…it would seem that even Mormons themselves have not always fully appreciated the relevance of their doctrines to environmentalism. As a result, the valuable environmental implications of Latter-day Saint doctrines have languished. They have been replaced in the popular imagination with myths of a great millennial cleanup of environmental waste that justify inertia and inaction…" (204)
"Hence the logic that concludes, What need is there for urgent action to save the planet when we all know that the earth is going die? Why bother trying to preserve earthly life when we know it is God’s prophesied plan to have it obliterated?" (189)
"...the fact is, as global warming trends seem to suggest, we have already affected creation to such a degree that its very life (as we know it) may depend on future corrective action on our part. We simply cannot afford to do nothing." (200)
6. Stewardship Involves Caring for Fellow Humans:
"The environmental ethics of Mormonism go beyond our responsibilities toward nature; they also include our most basic duties toward our fellow beings. As much as it is concerned with nature, environmentalism is essentially a field that concerns itself with how we manage the use and distribution of the world’s resources in order to feed and sustain over time all sectors of the human community on a planet of limited resources." (201)
"Unequal distribution of earthly resources or excess consumption directly inhibits our spiritual progress: 'For if ye are not equal in earthly things ye cannot be equal in obtaining heavenly things' (D&C 78:6). Brigham Young insisted that 'it is not our privilege to waste the Lord’s substance.' Excessive consumption at the expense of others or of our environment is therefore never justified since such behavior violates the tenets of Christ’s governance that requires strict adherence to the care for the needy, careful resource management, and a profound disavowal of materialism. The proper and equitable distribution of wealth means that the earth will be able to provide for us sustainably, as demonstrated in Latter-day Saint scripture." (See D&C 104: 13-18 below; 202)
Scriptures and Statements by LDS Leaders Regarding Environmentalism:
Another one of those links provided with the Church's official statement is a pretty substantial list of scriptures and statements by LDS Church leaders regarding the environment. I will quote just a few:
D&C 104: 13-18
"For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.
"I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine. And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine. But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low. For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves."
"Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment."
“Men must become harmless before the brute creation, and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety”
“It is our privilege and our duty to search all things upon the face of the earth, and learn what there is for man to enjoy, what God has ordained for the benefit and happiness of mankind, and then make use of it without sinning against him.”
Joseph F. Smith:
"Things upon the earth, so far as they have not been perverted by wickedness, are typical of things in heaven. Heaven was the prototype of this beautiful creation when it came from the hand of the Creator, and was pronounced ‘good.’”
Spencer W. Kimball:
“We recommend to all people that there be no undue pollution, that the land be taken care of and kept clean to be productive and to be beautiful.”
“When I pass through the lovely countryside or fly over the vast and beautiful expanses of our globe, I compare these beauties with many of the dark and miserable practices of men, and I have the feeling that the good earth can hardly bear our presence upon it. ... The Brethren constantly cry out against that which is intolerable in the sight of the Lord: against pollution of mind, body and our surroundings.”
Russell M. Nelson:
“As beneficiaries of the divine Creation, what shall we do? We should care for the earth, be wise stewards over it, and preserve it for future generations. And we are to love and care for one another.”
More from the Scriptures on Ecology:
In a similar vein, the Newsroom provides a link to this 1972 New Era article: "What the Scriptures Say About: Ecology," by Robert J. Matthews. Among his several interesting observations about LDS scripture was this still fresh look at a rather uncelebrated Book of Mormon reference:
"A type of conservation is described among the Nephites when those living in the land of Desolation took great pains to 'suffer whatsoever tree should spring up upon the face of the land that it should grow up, that in time they might have timber to build their houses … and all manner of their buildings.' (Hel. 3:9.) Earlier there had been timber, but much of the area had been rendered desolate and without timber 'because of the many inhabitants who had before inherited the land.' (Hel. 3:5.) It appears that the earlier inhabitants had not practiced proper environmental science."
Then, after referring to the Lord's promise to humans in D&C 59: 16-20 that "the fulness of the earth is yours," Matthews reminds his readers of "a caution and a warning," which follows that promise, "that the bounties of the earth are not to be exploited:
“And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.” (D&C 59:20. Emphasis added.)
A Couple More Resources:
There are a few more resources, cited in the margins of the Church's official statement, that I think are worth mentioning here:
One article on lds.org suggests 10 Tips for Energy Conservation. Another article from the New Era entitled "What It Means to Be Green" celebrated a group of Laurels who had become environmental activists in their community and had "decided to put on special ecological firesides for the entire stake and town." That same article, written in 1992, also noted the alarming rate to which humans are consuming the earth's resources:
"in other parts of the world trees, which are essential oxygen producers and CO2 eaters, are dying fast. For example:
The average American uses the equivalent of seven trees per year.
Between mid-1980 and now, the earth’s forested surface was reduced more than 25 percent.
Twenty-eight million acres of tropical rain forest are destroyed each year."
Again, the article noted a couple other "scary statistics":
"Americans generate about 154 million tons of garbage every year, and nearly 50 percent is recyclable.
"When you throw away an aluminum can, you’ve wasted as much energy as if you’d filled it half full of gasoline and poured it on the ground."
In closing this New Era article recommended a number of sensible living adjustments such as carpooling, composting, reusing, recycling, and volunteering to start recycling programs in our own communities (if there aren't any). But it was the last suggestion that really grabbed my attention:
"Put on an ecologically-oriented fireside to help make everyone more aware."
I wonder how that would go over these days in my stake or ward. Considering what we just reviewed about Mormon environmental doctrine, is it asking too much to expect that environmental concerns be given a warm reception and thoughtful consideration? Do I have less courage than those Laurels featured in the New Era article? Probably. Then again, that was in the early 90s. Has our political culture swung so far to the right that environmentalism is less fashionable in Mormon culture in 2014 than it was in 1992 (even as environmental concerns have become increasingly urgent)? As George Handley put it, "Unfortunately, Mormon culture is at the point where even simple environmental ethics, as opposed to politics, are rarely mentioned over the ward house pulpit" (205). Handley continued:
"Our languished environmental doctrines have somehow made it possible for some Mormons—whose scriptures declare trees and animals to be living souls—to forget such restored doctrines and scoff at the idea of 'tree huggers'…" (204)
My sincere hope and earnest prayer is that we will be stirred up to a remembrance of these deep, powerful, and truly fundamental Mormon doctrines (even more fundamental than our supposed right to accumulate property and wantonly consume resources) about our connection to all of God's creation, and to our fellow human beings. As we grow more caring and responsible in our relationships with our fellow creatures, we cannot help but to develop a deeper connection to our Creator. And we and our children will be blessed with improved physical and spiritual health, for generations to come.