This is a guest post by Peter, a long-time member of the LDS Earth Stewardship group.
How do members of the LDS Church regard stewardship for the earth? One window on LDS perspectives comes through an online survey of hundreds of respondents conducted between October 21 and November 15, 2008. Over that period, 573 active members of the LDS Church from across the United States responded to a questionnaire to register their opinions on a range of environmental issues.
Before getting to the implications of this survey, there a few essential points to remember. Foremost, the respondents to the survey were self-selected, and therefore may not represent the larger population. (People who volunteer to answer an online survey may not be typical of the rest of the population.) That’s a big caveat. Moreover opinions may have shifted in the three years since the survey. With those warnings in mind, here’s what we found:
Overall, there was very strong agreement with the statement: “Stewardship for the Earth is a gospel principle.” In fact, an astonishing 94 percent of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement. The results get even more interesting when we break them down to see how different groups answered. The survey collected demographic information like age, sex, education, geographical and political data from all the respondents. Among all those demographic factors, only one significantly affected how people responded to the stewardship question, and that factor was political self-identification. (Region of the country had a marginal influence.) This histogram shows the survey responses sorted by political self-identity:
To recap, the most significant predictor of agreement with the principle of Earth stewardship was political orientation, but even in that case there was overwhelming agreement with the statement that stewardship is a gospel principle. In other words, even the demographic that was most cautious about the principle of Earth stewardship (those who self-identify as politically conservative) overwhelmingly supported it.
This is a tremendously heartening finding on many levels. Fundamentally, these results suggest that the principle of Earth stewardship is deeply and broadly embedded in the LDS community. LDS women and men of all ages, educational levels, and political perspectives strongly concur that stewardship is a gospel principle. Despite whatever other differences people may have, it should be possible for Latter-Day Saints to work together to promote the principle of stewardship.
Our responsibility for Earth stewardship often seems overwhelming. Finding solutions to daunting challenges of water quality and quantity, energy production, ocean protection, and atmospheric pollution will require tectonic societal shifts from business-as-usual. Such momentous shifts can only be supported by broad public consensus. It is almost impossible to imagine the divisive and hyper-partisan American political process ever being able to supply the solutions that we so badly require. Perhaps a broadly shared commitment to stewardship – a commitment that transcends partisan political divisions – can provide the paths forward that traditional politics has not.
I hope that the common ground of Earth stewardship may be the beginning of solutions to other societal challenges as well. On issue after issue, the American political process has been shown to be broken. While entrenched parties struggle for short-term tactical advantages, long-term problems (whether environmental, educational, social, or economic) are left unresolved. Over time, the public has become disheartened and disgusted with a political system that seems divorced from real-world needs. Perhaps the shared principle of stewardship can be a foundation upon which to begin to build political consensus that eventually extends even beyond how we treat the Earth.