Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

Be a Doer of the Word and Not a Hearer Only

Scriptures don’t always succeed in reaching the hearts of believers. Doctrines and beliefs are, as James once said, like a mirror into which we look and see an image of ourselves. Unless we are willing to go and do as they scriptures direct, then, to paraphrase James, we will go forth not really knowing or understanding who we are. Belief, in other words, can become a form of self-deception unless we learn to use it not as an illusion of who we are but as a comparison to what we have yet to become.

It is generally true that most Americans, when polled, will say that they believe in environmental protection. Most Americans and even the majority of Utahns believe climate change is real, human-caused, and of serious concern. But when asked about specific ideas for addressing environmental problems, polls show that the majority of us balk. We want wilderness calendars and landscape paintings. We want family trips to national parks. We want clean air. We want animal life to thrive. But with regular consistency, we oppose or defeat policies or practices that are calculated to make a difference. Usually we reject them because they require sacrifice, lifestyle change, they don’t suit our politics, or because they require more proactive work on behalf of the well-being of the environment than we want to give. We want an easy form of environmental stewardship, something as easy as an ATM machine.

I have done a fair amount of study in the field of what is known as ecotheology, and one of the things that most has impressed me is that LDS doctrines of stewardship of nature and of natural resources are more abundant than in virtually any other Judeo-Christian tradition. We share the Bible with others, but we also have teachings in the Book of Mormon and, most relevant to the environment, in the Doctrine and Covenants and in the Pearl of Great Price. So if doctrine made all the difference, you would expect Mormons to be known worldwide for their concern for the environment. The LDS church’s recent website provides resources for members about conservation and stewardship and it specifically highlights many of these scriptural gems. You won’t find anything so strongly worded in the Bible, for example, as what we find in D&C 59: 18-20:

18 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;

19 Yea, for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul.

20 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.

Nor is there anything quite so succinctly stated as we find in D&C 49:21:

21 And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.

The church website provides many, many more. They are worth your time to peruse.

My purpose, however, is not to try to prove a doctrinal point, but simply to ask ourselves, what are we doing to understand and enact such principles as these? If you feel a measure of pride or gratitude that we have something so remarkable as the Book of Moses, for example, have you ever asked yourself what difference it makes to you to believe that plants and animals are “living souls”? Has this ever been a point of discussion in a Sunday School lesson? Why not? Does that doctrine affect the way you want to treat plant and animal life? If not, why have such a doctrine? If you are grateful for the Word of Wisdom, have you ever considered why the Lord tells us to “eat meat sparingly” and reminds us that just as there should be food for us, so too should there be food for “all wild animals that run or creep on the earth” (D&C 89:14). How are you eating, consuming, and making a living in such a way as to feed yourself and your loved ones but also so that all life may flourish, that even fowls and fishes may multiply and replenish, to fill the air and to fill the seas as they were commanded to do (Genesis 1:22)? What does it mean—to you in how you live your life and what and whom you serve—to believe that all living things and the earth itself should “fulfill the measure of its creation”? Why is so much attention given to the creation in the endowment ceremony? What difference does the endowment ceremony make in the way that you make use of natural resources, the very flesh of the earth? Is all that beauty just adornment or does it mean anything? The question can only be answered by us, in how we live outside of the temple.

I know no Mormon anywhere who isn’t capable of feeling the spirit in the presence of natural beauty. Sunsets, oceansides, mountaintops, the desert wilderness—all of these are powerful and effective means of awakening our senses, of teaching us greater humility and reverence. We are made to respond to God’s creation in this way because I believe it is one of his methods for communicating love to us. And we nod when we hear the doctrines of stewardship, affirming the theory of taking care of creation. But since these feelings are virtually universal but good and effective stewardship of the creation certainly is not, the real question is, then, when will you let such feelings change the way you live your life?