Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

Addressing Hunger through Consecration and Conservation

If you aren’t aware that over one billion people will go to bed hungry tonight, it’s time to become aware. With the world’s population recently passing seven billion people, many have wondered if the world can continue to support the burgeoning population of the world. Books such as The Population Bomb in the 1960s warned that worldwide agricultural production could not keep pace with global population growth. For Paul and Anne Ehrlich, the authors of this book, doom seemed imminent. They suggested radical tactics such as starving countries that refused to implement population control measures. Yet even today, with a global population double the size of the population at the time The Population Bomb was published, many organizations insist that there is still enough food to feed everyone. The Ehrlichs were certainly right about one thing, however: hundreds of millions of our brothers and sisters around the world are malnourished and each year, many of whom end up dying as a result. Even among the Latter-day Saints, it is estimated that 80,000 children are malnourished, and of those roughly 9,000 will die each year.
So what is to be done? Latter-day Saint revelation seems to indicate that population may not be the primary cause of such problems, but rather how things are distributed:

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 (Doctrine and Covenants 104:14-18).

This passage of scripture captures the essence of the Law of Consecration: that people own nothing apart from the God-given gift to choose. Even our own bodies belong to the Lord; therefore, we should all strive to do what He would have us do with the things over which we have stewardship. Imagine if we truly sought to do what the Lord wanted us to do with our homes, our bodies, our minds. What difference could we make if exalting the poor were consistently on the top of our “to-do” lists? How much could we improve the environmental conditions of this planet if we used its resources only as needed, and “imparted our portion” to the rest of God’s children? The aforementioned verses seem to suggest that the Law of Consecration, if adhered to, sufficiently provides for the needs of the Latter-day Saints. But I believe in a God of miracles who loves all of His children and wants us to care for each other. In a statement which seemed to echo this revelation given to the prophet Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young said:

The earth is here, and the fullness thereof is here. It was made for man; and one man was not made to trample his fellow man under his feet, and enjoy all his heart desires, while the thousands suffer. We will take a moral view, a political view, and see the inequality that exists in the human family. . . . The Latter-day Saints will never accomplish their mission until this inequality shall cease on the earth (Young, in Journal of Discourses, 19:46–47).

What a challenge! I for one want to do more. Who’s with me?!

  • Jessicabrimley

    I very much agree with you, but when I have made this a subject of personal prayer and meditation, I get no direction. I have of course tried to make my own efforts in the absence of divine instructions, for I am aware that it is not needful for the Lord to command in all things, but my personal efforts are not getting very far. What else have you got to recommend?

    • Anonymous

      I will try to flesh out my ideas a little better in subsequent posts. Right now I am really trying to delineate between the consumer culture and the gospel culture. I know I can’t escape the capitalist society in which we live, but I can try to frame things within a gospel context. I think there are plenty of scriptures related to wealth, riches, and consumption that can steer us in the right direction. I am probably not the best person to take advice from on this matter, however. I feel the need to do so much more to exalt the poor and the needy.

  • Rachel Hunt Steenblik

    I am with you. And: this was a very nice and thoughtful post. Thank you, David.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Rachel. I enjoyed your post on The Exponent.

  • Ron Madson

    Dave, I am with you, well done.  One step would be to send out tithes and offerings directly to charitable relief.   If we did what an impact that would have.  We have enough Rameumptons for now

    • Anonymous

      Ron, the whole time I was writing this post I thought of you and Josh. You guys really challenged my notions on this topic. Thanks for your knowledge and passion.

  • Peter

    Nice post, and potentially the beginning of a very constructive conversation.  I’d like to get your reaction to a few of my thoughts. 

    First, hunger isn’t a global problem so much as a constellation of local problems.  I don’t say this to diminish the importance of hunger, or our moral obligation to alleviate it, but to help us focus our efforts most constructively.  We should recognize that the reasons for hunger or starvation in one place might be very different than the reasons in another.  Comparing the global amount of food produced to the caloric needs of the global population seems a bit of a misguided exercise.  People don’t go hungry because global agricultural output is inadequate; they go hungry because they personally can’t get enough food where they are.

    Second, many of the root causes of hunger are the same as the root causes of environmental degradation.  For example, greed, selfishness, over-consumption, and political or economic systems that are driven by money and what can be monetized.  In most cases, I dismiss the canard that alleviating human suffering is incompatible with protecting the environment.  Even if my focus is environmental protection, I believe that I am working in parallel with those who are focused on human suffering. 

    Third, although individuals certainly need to be more virtuous (unselfishly sharing their wealth, considering the impact of their actions on others, etc.), I don’t think that good intentions will be sufficient by themselves.  I think we’ll also need bold and creative institutional changes.  Here’s a thought question.  Suppose wealthy people decided to share of their abundance in order to alleviate hunger.  How would we direct them to accomplish that?

    • Anonymous

      Peter,
      Very thoughtful critiques. You are absolutely right that hunger is “constellation of local problems.” In a sense, I think that Latter-day Saint communities could be well-equipped to address this problem because our church is made up of a constellation of congregations across the world. We certainly do not have congregations everywhere where there is malnutrition, but we are experiencing growth in many developing areas of the world. I think practical applications could include community gardens on church property, or adding urban or rural farming to the Humanitarian Aid program. We already do work with wells in the Church, it only seems logical that “living water” should be followed by the “bread of life.” I saw Will Allen talk to Stephen Colbert about the success his organization has with urban gardening http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/415198/june-12-2012/will-allen. When I think of all the resources–including property–the Church owns, it seems that we could make a significant impact in this regard. How to implement such a program, I do not know. But there are Mormons taking matters into their own hands through organizations such as http://www.careforlife.org/, http://www.liahonachildren.org/, and others. I have no idea how to sell or even approach church leadership about these ideas. Perhaps people could try to implement community gardens through bishops and relief society presidents and go from there. Anybody else?

      • marginalizedmormon

        I appreciate this, and I wonder how many of us LDS see our vast lawns and wonder why there can’t be a ward garden?  *sigh*
        The fact is that many of my fellow members don’t care about:  fresh vegetables, growing their own, anything being organic–
        and I cannot change that–
        but I think of all that ground wasted in grass–LOL!

  • marginalizedmormon

    this is one of the reasons I try to grow as much of my own food as possible and use local sources; I don’t want to exploit people in other places who are impoverished–
    I am one Mormon who refuses to ‘invest’, because I fear that I won’t be able to control how the money is earned, and I don’t want to exploit.
    I read a book many years ago that helped me understand what is happening, what has been happening for many decades–
    Food First, Beyond the Myth of Scarcity–by Frances Moore Lappe; it’s only one opinion, but I appreciated what she had to say and agreed with almost everything she said–
    Even documentaries like Food, Inc. help those who haven’t yet become aware of the ‘real’ problems to understand; it is very complicated, and it has a lot to do with greedy and powerful people who control most of the earth’s resources, BUT–I think there ARE things *we* can do; one of the most important things is to donate to places like Kiva (sp?)–