The Summer issue of Dialogue, ably guest-edited by BCC’s own Steven Peck, contains a nifty little piece by the only person I’ve ever heard of with a joint degree in Forestry and Divinity, Jason Brown. Jason has kindly agreed to talk about his article a little bit here. Being the aging curmudgeon that I am, I will encourage you to READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE before opining based on the synopsis below.
‘Whither Mormon Environmental Theology?’ was written in its current form during the last few months before
I graduated from graduate school in May of this year. The piece is an attempt to organize my reflections on
approaches to Mormon ecological theology that I have observed in my cursory review of the steadily increasing
literature. While the article is guilty of classically academic simplifications of reality, I think the traditions I
delineate are a good way to think about the past, present and future of Mormon and Christian ecological theology.
The question remains: is Mormon theology equipped to provide a “deep” ecological theology that imbues non-
human life with intrinsic value? Or, is stewardship, while ecologically less accurate, the needed language to
communicate our duty toward the earth to lay members of the Mormon faith who might otherwise be turned off by
more eco-centric approaches?
Regardless of the framing paradigm through which we interpret Mormon earth-teachings, in the article I
challenge us to engage Mormon theology not only in acts of retrieval (collecting Mormon earth-teachings as
discrete ahistorical theological units) but also to engage in what Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim call acts
of reconstruction and reevaluation. These are big-ish words for asking the question, how can we go beyond
acknowledging our earth-teachings and weave them into our cosmology, ethics and practices?
This summer I will be working in Eastford, Connecticut as an Apprentice Forester. I am also trying to practice what
I preach by thinking through a single element of Mormon theology in a series of blog posts on Our Mothers Keeper
(Post 1, Post 2). Because I am working hands on in the forest as a manager, I have decided to think about Joseph
Smith’s Sacred Grove. The small forest parcel in upstate New York has become the Garden of Eden of Mormon
mythology. The place where our story begins and our founder faced his own fall from grace and redemption. I am
interested in the nature of sacredness and to what extent this founding place could be shaped into a meaningful
eco-theological archetype, applied to our own spiritual questions, our own sacred places. Another question that
guides my writing is whether or not sacredness in regards to forests implies separation in the classical definition of
sacredness as something set apart. Must humans be outsiders in order for the forest to be sacred? Must nature be a
separate domain for its sacredness to be apparent?
Personally I am optimistic about the future of Mormon ecological theology. The tradition has a rich store of
cosmology, theology and history that could help us contribute to the wider Christian approaches to solving the
ecological crises we face. With Thomas Berry I believe that human beings are an essential part of the cosmological
story and that it is through stories that we can begin to repair the damage that has been done, and move humanity
toward a more mutually beneficial relationship with our earth and our God.