For many Mormons, ‘environmentalist’ is a dirty word. Stewardship is a concept that we usually limit to financial management. But I believe our religion–both doctrine and culture–support the call for all saints to act as stewards of the earth and its environment. Because terms like “environmental’ and ‘green’ have strong political overtones, in order to have a conversation about the potential for Mormons to recognize their positive role of earth stewardship, we must start at the beginning. To that end, I will simply argue that Mormons do care about the earth. We care about preserving, protecting, and maintaining it. We care about the earth because 1) We love God, 2) We care about other people, and 3) We believe in the intrinsic value of the earth.
1. If we love of God, we will care about the earth
- We believe that God created the heavens and the earth, and declared all that He had created “good” (Genesis 1:31, Moses 2:31).
- We believe that all things were created spiritually before they were created physically (Moses 3:5,7) which indicates two things: divine forethought in creation and the belief that all things have a spiritual as well as a physical component (more about that in #3). It seems to be incredibly disrespectful to be blasé about wastefully destroying something that God put thought and care into creating.
- We believe that God speaks to us in the wild places of this earth–mountaintops (Old Testament patriarchs), wilderness (Christ and John the Baptist), groves of trees (Joseph Smith). God’s people throughout time have sought refuge from the din of society and inspiration in the holy places God himself has provided.
- We believe that we are given the divine responsibility to be stewards of this earth, beginning when God placed Adam in the garden of Eden to dress and keep it (Genesis 2:15).
- Christ taught in the parable of the unjust steward that we must exercise our stewardship wisely, to make our portion more profitable, not for us, but for God, who is the Master (Luke 16). How to best to do this is open for interpretation, but I would propose that any activity that poisons, sterilizes, and otherwise destroys the productivity and viability of the land and makes it an uninhabitable or hostile environment for people, animals, and plants is unrighteous dominion. As stewards, we do not own the earth. We are its caretakers. The earth belongs to God.
- We believe we each received our physical body in order to grow in experience and knowledge through this mortal probation, and the physical world is the stage where we grow. If Alma was right, and all things denote there is a god (Alma 30:44), then this world is His testimony of Himself to us.
2. If we love of humankind, we will care about the earth
- We believe that we have a divinely mandated mission to preach the gospel to all the world, to bring everyone that will unto Christ. We believe that God loves all people, and as we serve others, we come to love them too. But inasmuch as societies, conflicts, and greed have created scarcity out of natural abundance, people are suffering and dying (See the Somalia series). If we are to fulfill our mission to share the hope of the gospel with these people, we need to first address their basic needs for safety, shelter, food, and opportunity to work on both a social and environmental level.
- The land that is ravaged by war, drought, deforestation must be restored so these people can live and have an opportunity to serve God.
- If we our wasteful consumption creates scarcity for other people living on the earth now and in the future, we are in the wrong. Consideration for others is one reason to be modest in our wants and wise in our use of shared and finite resources.
- We believe in the law of consecration, that everything we do and have must be given to the building up of the kingdom of God on the earth. If we can stop looking at our work and property as building up our own means, and see them instead as contributions to building Zion, we will attempt to work cooperatively to improve the world and the conditions of all people who live in it.
3. The earth (including environment, resources, and all living things on the face of it) has intrinsic value
- According to the John Locke, you have a natural right to property once you have mingled your labor with; your field is your property if you have worked it, and therefore, its fruits are also your property. The value is determined by the human labor exerted. This definition carried over into the convention of money. So the idea of economic value was first based on a human capacity for work. Now we have abstracted the idea of money from work and assigned it solely to purchasing power. We still assign economic value to natural resources, but that value is based on the price an end product will fetch. In this paradigm, the earth has value only inasmuch as we can sell it.
- But this narrow view is obviously too limited. It ignores aesthetic value, sentimental value, and intrinsic value. Other than being a beautiful place that has fostered fond memories for us, the earth (and all that is on it) is valuable in its own right, even the parts of it that man has not claimed as his property through his labor and the parts that he has not yet managed to sell. It has a spiritual dimension. It was good as God created it, before we ever began dressing it and shaping it around our needs and desires.
Having established here that we do care about the earth, my next step will be to review the specific counsels and practices we live by that demonstrate our stewardship. But that will have to wait until another day.