Exploring the gospel principles of earth stewardship

Stewardship in Action: Ralf Grünke

Ralf Grünke

Public relations professional, green city councilor

Ralf photo

Tell us a bit about your personal background.

Some may think my life is full of paradox, but it mostly makes sense to me. I come from a strong Lutheran background, but I’m a practicing Mormon. I was raised within the borders of beer-loving Bavaria, but had my first and last sip at the age of five. I value my blue-collar roots, but hold a doctorate in political science. I consider myself conservative, but was elected to the city council as an independent on the Green Party ballot. I guess I simply don’t fit in a box.

Tell us a bit about your work and interests in relation to stewardship for the earth.

My political awakening was prompted by the Chernobyl disaster back in 1986. Barely a teenager, I began questioning the way we generate electricity and, as a whole, run our economy. I started an environmental club at school and a neighborhood initiative to prevent a playground from being replaced by a parking garage. In 2002, I made an unsuccessful bid for a seat in the German national parliament on an environmental platform.

 Today, I administer a blog for the local chapter of Friends of the Earth and help with its annual plant swap. In recent years, I have organized several pickets opposing nuclear power and a cash mob in support of a very charming local organic food store.

 As a city councilor and member of the council’s building and infrastructure committee, I’ve been a proponent of sustainable community development and an outspoken critic of the city’s plans to build a strip mall on farmland and label it the “new city center.”

How has your personal and/or professional background affected your conception of environmental stewardship?

As a political scientist and, later, as a public relations professional, communicating with integrity and persuasiveness has been an object of research and a practical effort. Actions may speak louder than words, but words matter. Words form ideas. Ideas shape convictions. Convictions lead to change. And it is change we need in order to achieve a more responsible way of living.

 In particular, I have looked at how messages about environmental stewardship are delivered and received in the political discourse. My graduate thesis on environmental issue advocacy in U.S. congressional elections was published as a monograph. In the minds of some, environmental issues are inevitably linked to a leftist agenda. It seems to me that we have a long way to go. The earth is our home. Caring for the environment is a fundamental necessity and a moral mandate for all, regardless of political ideology.

 It is high time to be less partisan and more compelling as we talk of earth stewardship. We need to say what we mean and mean what we say. Stewardship is an encompassing concept and relates to our thoughts, intentions, words, and actions.

 How does the Gospel affect how you think about earth stewardship, including the recent church statement about stewardship and conservation?

 Jesus’ parables are full of imagery from the natural world. He speaks of trees, flowers, birds, and also of fields, hills, the water, the earth, and the sun. As a follower of Christ and as a human being, I stand in awe of the beauty of nature and cannot help but feel His love for mankind and all other living things when I consider the creation. “The state of the human soul and the environment are interconnected, with each affecting and influencing the other.” This sentence from the Church’s recent statement rings especially true to me.

 As a young man, I was deeply moved when I learned about an episode from Church history. During the Zion’s Camp expedition of 1834, three prairie rattlesnakes were found. While his associates intended to kill the serpents, Joseph Smith told them: “Let them alone – don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? 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.”(quoted from Gerald E. Jones, The Gospel and Animals, The Ensign, August 1972). Reportedly, his fellows took the rattlesnakes carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek.

If becoming harmless is our obligation and destiny as servants of God, then surely, this would not only relate to rattlesnakes or the pioneer experience of the nineteenth century, but to our relationship with the entire creation today. It relates to me, here and now.

What message do you have for Church members about earth stewardship?

Over the centuries, Christian thinkers have wondered and debated about whether or not animals have souls. As Latter-day Saints, we cannot claim ignorance. Modern revelation teaches with clarity that every form of animal and plant life has been endowed with a spirit. All life is sacred. There is no way around it. Let’s act accordingly.

This is the eleventh of a series of profiles of Church members that exemplify stewardship in some aspect of their lives.  We hope to show the diverse and wonderful ways that Church members show respect and wise use of the earth’s resources.  If you would like to suggest someone to highlight in the future, let us know

  • Jane Birch says:

    I LOVED this interview. Thanks Ralf. You are a shining example of the gospel in action. I love the way you express things. It touches me.