My editor (spouse) is yet to review this post. Proceed with caution.
I started Latter-Day Sustainability with the intention that this blog would be a place where my fellow members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (AKA Mormon Church, AKA LDS Church) could come to learn about our theology as it pertains to sustainability, consumption, and the environment. Another intention was to gently persuade Mormons to live a little “greener.” These intentions haven’t changed. I just offer this as an explanation why my posts have been geared towards a Mormon only audience.
Earlier this week Latter-Day Sustainability reached a much broader audience after being featured by Andrew Sullivan and other bloggers (Grist, Evaneco, Rumromanismrebellion). Perhaps this new attention is because of my engaging and eloquent writing style? A more likely reason for the attention is the apparent novelty of a Mormon environmentalist. Whatever the reason, I assume that this broader audience includes at least some people who are unfamiliar with Mormon theology. I have observed that many people’s understanding of Mormons is based on outrageous claims and stories (some of which are probably true). If you will indulge me, I’d like to use this post to branch out and explain a portion of the Mormon environmental ethic to those with only a limited knowledge of Mormon theology and practice. Before diving in, I have a few of disclaimers:
1. I am not an official spokesperson for the LDS Church.
2. I am only an amateur theologian.
3. I am only an amateur environmentalist, and a mediocre one at that.
4. This is a huge topic for a single post.
Enough bla-bla-bla, let’s dive in. A twelve-word explanation of the Mormon environmental ethic: God made the earth and we are commanded to care for it.
And here is a much longer explanation:
To the best of my knowledge, the LDS Church has not issued an official statement that explicitly and directly addresses the environment. Still, one can glimpse the Church’s environmental stance by gleaning from its canon of scripture and secondary texts. The scriptural gleanings teach why we should be good environmental stewards, but they do not specify how. The secondary texts, especially recent articles in the Church’s magazines, do however give some commentary on the “hows” of environmental stewardship. You can find links to many of these articles on the Green Mormon Architect Blog.
Generally speaking, the absence of a direct and official statement by the LDS Church should not be taken as an endorsement or a rejection, of particular environmental positions. I speculate that the lack of an official statement could be in part because of the political nature of many environmental issues. The LDS Church doesn’t often weigh-in on political issues because of a commitment to political neutrality. On a side, I have always taken this neutrality to mean that heaven is big enough for Republicans and Democrats. Maybe Mitt Romney and Harry Reid will be heaven’s ultimate odd couple?
To some, environmental stewardship may be considered beyond the traditional religious scope of saving souls. However, the Mormon environmental ethic has roots in our theology of salvation. Our theology directly links care for the soul with care for the body. An 18th century Mormon leader said it this way:
"There is no distinction between spiritual salvation—of course, with some qualifications—and temporal salvation. Our bodies are as dear in the sight of God as our spirits. Our spirits cannot be separated from our bodies to have us perfect. The body and the spirit are the soul of man—not the spirit alone, not the body alone, but the body and the spirit. And God gives revelations for the temporal salvation of His children—that is, for the salvation of their bodies—and they are as important in their place as His revelations concerning their spirits" (George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth , 518).
By extension, care of the body must include care of the environment. Perhaps the most direct statement on the environment comes from The Doctrine and Covenants (one of the books in the LDS canon of scripture):
"Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. 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." Doctrine and Covenants 59:18-20
Simply put, Mormon theology teaches that God created the earth to house and bless humankind, and that the earth’s resources are to be used wisely and not exploited. Our mandate to use resources wisely is amplified by the link between spiritual and temporal salvation. Thus, the Mormon environmental ethic has a strong theological base. However, the Church chooses to let the members decide how to best act on this ethic.
Another face of the Mormon environmental ethic is our bent against conspicuous consumption and materialism. From the Bible (yes, the Bible is also part the LDS canon of scripture) we read:
“For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” 1 Timothy 6:10
From yet another of our books of scripture, the Book of Mormon, we read:
“But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.”
Jacob 2: 18-19
In addition to addressing the appropriate use of money, Mormon texts also encourage thrift and modest consumption. From our late President, Gordon B. Hinckley:
“I deplore waste. I deplore extravagance. I value thrift." (Rise to a Larger Vision of the Work, General Conference 4/90)
To Mormons, materialism causes people to “[err] from the faith and [be] pierced with many sorrows.” In other words, happiness and spiritual enlightenment follow a freedom from materialism. Reducing environmental strain happens to be an implicit benefit of rejecting conspicuous consumption.
It would be a stretch to say that the LDS Church totally embraces the agenda of the stereotyped environmentalist movement. Still, Mormon theology does have a strong environmental ethic. The trick is getting Mormons –and others- to act on our environmental ethic. Encouragement to action is the intention of Latter-Day Sustainability.
I could go on and on…and I’m sure I will in future posts.
For those familiar with Mormon theology, please comment on the accuracy and tone of this post. And for those who are new to Mormon thought, please tell me if lost you.