Environmentalism is a Christian Issue

Bridal-Veil-Falls-2-_304529a2-5056-a36a-0b62b30cae6d83cb

Bridal Veil Falls (taken from utahvalley.com)

I remember growing up thinking that one of the worst possible things you could do was litter. I recall many times when my parents would vocalize their disgust witnessing people throw trash out of their car windows or seeing garbage littered across the park. It was ingrained in me not to litter from such a young age.

My family also started recycling when I was younger. We started by having to divide up the cardboard, plastics, glass, and paper and drop it off at recycling bins behind our local grocery store. When recycling become more commonplace, my parents paid to have it picked up with our trash. My grandparents composted much of their waste as well. I grew up knowing there were simple steps to limit the waste being put into landfills or oceans.

I also grew up thinking that these were things that good people just did. Good people care about the earth right? And in my mind, my little midwestern Mormon community was full of good people.

Now, I don’t know about the sustainability practices of this particular group of people. But as I have witnessed a larger scope of what the Mormon world is like (read: I’ve lived in two other states now, which is still a truly small scope), I have realized that this image of environmentally conscious good Christian folks was something I concocted from my own experience with my family. A lot of us are not environmentally conscious at all.

I find this odd since we talk frequently of the wonderful earth God has created for our temporal (and eternal) use. What glorious mountains and waters! What incredible stars witnessing each night of the divine and eternal nature of the universe! We should be grateful, and we are, but often only to the extent that it is convenient for us. Maybe being an environmentalist is just too hard.

But for some Mormons, aversion to environmentalism goes beyond mere inconvenience. I’ve heard and seen the sentiment that if our mortal existence is going to end anyway, there is no point in taking steps to conserve the earth. Though I don’t think this mindset is common, I am appalled that it would exist at all. It shows a lack of gratitude and recognition for the responsibility of mortal existence.

Even regarding these views as extreme, there is still a general lack of discussion in Mormon communities about the importance of environmental conservation. There are few teachings from leaders, little acknowledgement in General Conference, minimal environmentalist efforts shown by congregations. There are a few grassroots groups (Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance [1] or LDS Earth Stewardship [2]). But generally, we need to do so much more.

I don’t know what the general outlook on environmentalism in most Mormon communities. From what I know, even if it is important to most individual members, it is not something we discuss outside of making sure whatever campsite the youth groups are using aren’t left a mess. It would make sense, that each of us, as believers in God and as grateful earth-dwellers, would want to do as much as possible to preserve our planet, but we aren’t really talking about or doing anything.

Hugh Nibley, though known for many things in the Mormon community, was also a noted environmentalist. He believed that “as God’s appointed caretakers of creation, . . . we should labor to improve our environment” (Ball, 2011 [3]). We have been entrusted with the maintenance of this planet by our and its Creator. To support or participate in practices that destroy the earth or its inhabitants is to support the destruction of divine creation.

So how do we work to prevent this destruction? I am nowhere near perfect at it. I try to recycle as much as I can. I try to limit my use of single use plastics. This year, I chose to adopt a vegetarian diet in order to decrease my personal carbon footprint and water usage. I encourage everyone to find changes they can make in their own lives as well. We all need to do more.

But I do want to provide a list of ideas to implement in your wards or in your personal interaction with the church:

  • Encourage the reuse of paper plates, cups, and utensils at activities with meals or refreshments
  • Or one step further, ditch the paper and plasticware altogether for washable dishes and cutlery (and make a group effort in the washing, don’t just burden the women)
  • Or maybe even have each member/family bring their own dishes and have extra available for members who are unable to bring their own or forget
  • Avoid using plastic water bottles for activities and camping trips
  • Provide bins reserved for recycling at meetinghouses and at activities
  • Provide vegetarian options at meals and BBQs
  • Find an alternative for sacrament meeting programs, flyers, and handouts or provide recycling for these items
  • Walk to church or take public transportation if possible
  • Make sure you are using paper sacrament cups (then recycle those too!)
  • Teach lessons on environmental protection and the importance of conservation
  • Organize service activities focused on environmental issues, even as small as gardening or picking up trash at a local park

This is not a comprehensive list and we’re not gonna reverse pollution or end-deforestation by making any of these changes. However, in making small changes in our personal and congregational behavior, we will show God or gratitude for this earth just a little bit more. Environmentalism is inherent in our beliefs and doctrine. It is time that we more fully embrace these notions in our behavior as well.

[1] Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance: http://mesastewardship.org/about-mesa/

[2] LDS Earth Stewardship: http://ldsearthstewardship.org/

[3] Terry B. Ball, 2011. Nibley and the Environment in Journal of the Book of Mormon and Other Restoration Scripture. https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1489&context=jbms

Comments

  1. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    The anti-environmentalism of American Mormons is largely a result of political tribalism. Most American Mormons are more interested in being Republicans than they are in being Mormons, and the Republican Party has in recent decades made anti-environmentalism one of its core values.

  2. I can tell you it goes beyond Mormons. I live in the middle of the Bible belt and work as a park ranger – and it’s extremely disconcerting how little Christians of all sorts of denominations care about creation and conservation. You are both right, that it is often linked to their affiliation to political party over God’s Kingdom and often linked to their misguided ideas that God will burn it all up anyways so why should we care?
    A great read that is related is “The Rapture Exposed” by Barbara Rossing. It’s a very scholarly work and delves into how misunderstanding passages about the end times make Christians fail to be the peace keepers and leaders in preserving the environment God intended us to be – we are not salt or light, we are the leaders in decay instead.

  3. bodensmate says:

    I once saw someone throw a plastic bottle out of their car. I had my 12 year old with me (this was several years ago). We stopped and picked it up.

    I live in a neighborhood where for some reason a lot of trash ends up on the sides of the road. There is a lot of space between the houses and lots of trees and other areas where it seems people just like to throw trash from their cars. For years my family had a monthly tradition where my wife and I and our four children would walk the streets of our neighborhood and pick up trash. I mostly just saw it as a good opportunity to teach some really good lessons to my kids.

    Those two stories are both true. So am I to understand that the people in that car are Republicans?, and my neighbors are Republicans?, and me and my family are Democrats?

    Is that what I am supposed to take from this?

  4. bodensmate says:

    In a less sarcastic tone, I like the idea of local wards engaging in activities to promote a cleaner environment. I think that would teach some good lessons to youth and adults alike. I think I’ll bring that up to my bishop.

  5. bodensmate- Thank you. These comments are not only sarcastic but unkind. There are plenty of Latter-day Saint Republicans who care deeply about the environment. I go to the temple every week. How can anyone not feel the sacredness of the earth with the understanding of who the earth was created by, for whom it was created, and the purpose of life with all its creations. Overall, we know we have a stewardship and care to do something.

  6. Kristine says:

    Worth knowing that lds.org has an official statement: https://www.lds.org/topics/environmental-stewardship-and-conservation?lang=eng

  7. Thanks Kristine…excellent link.

  8. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    bodensmate: that’s a willfully obtuse interpretation. Care for the earth is about more than just picking up litter; it’s about regulating (restricting) activities that, while they may be profit-making for the entity engaging in them, inflict costs on other people, or other living things.

    A Latter-day Saint who picks up bottles from the gutter but writes letters to the DN railing at proposed automobile emissions restrictions as incipient Communism (even as the Wasatch Front’s winter air quality approaches L.A.-in-the-’60s levels) does not, in fact, care for the earth.

  9. bodensmate says:

    My intention was to write a brief comment about my personal experience, not a lengthy comment describing my daily activities, my efforts, how i would vote on certain issues, or whether I’ve written letters to anyone about vehicle emissions. My comment was meant to point out how easily we all tend to label and judge people because of some characteristic, including political affiliation.
    One does not need to be an activist to care about the environment. In addition, I didn’t reveal whether I’m a republican or democrat in my comment.

    This blog so often has such a deep thought provoking impact on me, and I marvel at the education and intelligence that so many here have about history, ancient language, philosophy, and other things like that. But then someone makes a statement so shallow and thoughtless as to imply that an entire group of people can be described in such a simple caricature. And unfortunately, many of the thought provoking bloggers will support said shallow comment rather than challenge it.

    I have some traditionally conservative values, and I have some traditionally liberal values (the real conservative in my family is my wife). I have conservative republican friends and I have liberal democrat friends. I know some republicans that I don’t want to be too close to, and I know some democrats that I don’t want to be to close to.

    I teach at the community college in my area, I work in the field of electrical engineering with an engineering consulting firm that works for local governments, and I come into contact with lots of various students, politicians, and all kinds of other people in my work and church activities. And one thing I know for sure is that it is weak and lazy to support one’s argument by labeling an entire group of people as either good or bad in one particular area based upon membership in said group.

    I really wish the inspired bloggers here would continue to inspire my soul with truly thought provoking content. Please do not succumb to the temptation of taking the easy road of blaming all of the worlds bad on a group of people you don’t know.

  10. bodensmate, I think the original comment you are complaining about was specific in suggesting the problem with the ‘Republican Party,’ not all Republicans. There is a difference, and that comment suggests there is. I think that is the reason you don’t see the pushback. Also, you fall into the same trap by ending your own comment full of assumptions by writing, ‘a group of people you don’t know.’ Truthfully, though, I appreciate your pushback and call for nuance. There is a significant portion of traditional republicans (those directly tied to the land–farmers, regular hunters, etc.) who are very worried about the changes in the environment and are more or less environmentalists. That their party isn’t–and how they respond–is what that comment is referring to.

  11. Bodensmate, also I do cringe at that comment’s claim that most American Mormons are more interested in being Republicans than being Mormon. I don’t did that comment either helpful or true. I think there’s something behind that comment that is true. But it’s also true about Democrats, etc. we have a difficult time self-analyzing and discovering out own dissonance. Anyway, there’s my pushback, though I’m not a blogger here.

  12. bodensmate says:

    Brian, thank you for the response. This is the statement that prompted my response.

    “Most American Mormons are more interested in being Republicans than they are in being Mormons”.

    Unfortunately, I believe I have seen other similar statements in other posts. I think this does a disservice to BCC and the objective of having thoughtful discussions. Those kinds of statements are not productive, not to even mention that they are full of assumption and provocative. Does the person who made that statement know most American Mormons? That kind of statement should get pushback from everyone.

  13. bodensmate, unfortunately it is pretty much a decades long lds blog tradition to,

    1. take something you feel passionate about
    2. write a spiritual humble brag about it
    3. observe that some church members don’t care about your issue like you do
    4. extrapolate from that that the church and all of its members are therefore not Christian

    It’s almost irresistible to humbly proclaim your righteousness and then elevate that superb righteousness by comparing it to the debased state of everyone else in the church. It’s a buy one get one free coupon for making yourself look good on the internet.

  14. Jack Hughes says:

    I won’t draw connections between environmentalism (or opposition to it) and any political party, but I do see a streak of anti-environmentalism running through certain Mormon circles, especially in Utah. I think it has more to do with the never-ending public land debate, combined with the pioneer attitude of “the government can’t tell me what to do on my own property”. The Bundys personify it to an extreme, but they are not unique. A couple years ago there was a Utah politician who organized an illegal mass ATV ride on restricted public land, specifically to protest environmentalism and what he viewed as government overreach. When I first visited southern Utah in my late 20s, I was a bit shocked by the large number of privately owned ATVs around, especially seeing people drive them around town in the streets, even driving them to church on Sunday. The environmental impact of ATVs is not insignificant (little to no emissions regulation, lots of noise, and physical damage to terrain) but they are such a big part of the culture many parts of Utah.

    Though not exclusively Mormon, I also see a connection between anti-environmentalism and false (read: toxic) masculinity. In the city where I live, the pastime of “rolling coal” still enjoys popularity among a certain subculture. In the past year I’ve been rolled on twice while bike commuting to work. Not fun. I believe these turds who modify their oversized pick-up trucks to spew black clouds on command to harass cyclists, pedestrians and hybrid vehicles are mainly trying to compensate for deficiencies in other areas of life. Same goes for guys who engage in armed occupation of federal wildlife reservations and use their religious beliefs to justify their actions.

    I miss paper sacrament cups, especially because they don’t make noise when dropped into the tray. I’m not even sure if the Church still makes or distributes them.

  15. My father was in a large EQ meeting in Utah when the issue of environmentalists came up. “Is anyone here an environmentalist?”

    My father raised his hand. He was the only one.

    My experience has been that that’s pretty standard in the Mormon corridor. Lots of smaller towns still don’t have recycling, ATV use is rampant and does horrible damage to fragile ecosystems, water and air is polluted, and very few Mormons out this way care. We certainly have a lot to improve on.

  16. Franklin says:

    On your list, you forgot to mention voting against Republican candidates who deny climate change and support loosening regulations on polluters.

  17. The temple films have long seemed to be pro-environment to me. The earth we have been given is “glorious and beautiful”, and we are commanded to “take care of it.” I don’t understand how you can see the earth any other way.

  18. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Tim and Franklin: this is exactly what I’m talking about.

    FWIW, though, recycling is kinda broken right now since China announced its ban on importing plastic waste with numbers higher than 2. (Single-use soft drink and water bottles are #1, so they can still get recycled.) As a result, a very large percentage of plastic collected through recycling programs in the US right now goes into landfills; it can’t even be burned safely.

  19. Dick Cheney (whom I’m sure many of you don’t like) once said that environmentalism is a personal virtue but not necessarily a sufficient basis for a sound energy policy. I think that mirrors my thoughts. I would NEVER litter or knowingly harm the environment in any way but I don’t want public policy dictating my personal behavior.

    I get it that I’ve over-simplified the issue. For example, how do we regulate bad actors? But the point is my anti-government sentiment is just as strong as my anti-pollute personal philosophy and I suspect I’m not alone.

    The fact that the Left seems to embrace the environment more than the right certainly affects conservatives like me. But believe me I detest anyone who knowingly harms the planet.

    I’m torn on the states’ rights issue. I think Senator Mike Lee, for example, represents the majority of Utahans pretty well on this but I’m having my doubts. I’m wondering if he’s selling out to industry at the expense of what makes Utah so unique.

  20. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    I’ve noticed that many, perhaps most, people who have strong anti-government sentiments have difficulty wrapping their heads around the idea of externalities: the idea that activities that are privately beneficial can be either beneficial or costly to others. (Usually the latter, although you sometimes get pleasant exceptions like the candy factory in Chicago that makes the Loop smell like chocolate when the wind blows right.) Part of this may be that so many of them have rural backgrounds; rural population densities in the US are considerably lower than they are in Europe (ex Russia).

    There’s an entire tradition of environmental law and economics that seeks to frame environmental questions as ones of property rights. To put it another way: an electric utility in Utah burning coal is contributing to increasing sea levels, which are already eroding the land of Pacific Island nations and exacerbating coastal flooding in low-lying areas of the US, for starters. In a world of frictionless litigation and negotiation, the owners of property harmed by the activities of others can be made whole without involving government in anything except the enforcement of a legal judgment. (This is what economists sometimes call “Coase’s World,” after the massively influential economist Ronald Coase.) We of course don’t live in that world, and those who engage in externally harmful activities can buy politicians like Dick Cheney to try to prevent claims from being brought against them.

  21. Aussie Mormon says:

    Heptaparaparshinokh’s China comments are what I was going to raise too.
    see https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/waste-crisis-australia-isn-t-recycling-we-re-just-collecting-20180504-p4zdau.html
    I just checked the lds store, and it only offers plastic sacrament cups at the moment. The page does specifically say “Sacrament cups may be placed in recycling bins after use”, however if the the recycling isn’t actually being recycled it’s kind of pointless. Unfortunately when we have to rely on others to process our waste, it greatly limits what we’re able to do. Especially in situations where hygiene is important.

  22. Herkermer says:

    Back in 2010 and 2011 the LDS Church built a couple LEED-certified, solar-powered meetinghouses as an experiment:

    https://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/second-solar-powered-meetinghouse-mesa-arizona

    They seem to have given up on the experiment, unless I just haven’t heard of it. That’s too bad. Very conservative Mormons are often—not always—very loyal to the Church, and if the Church would take more steps like this to send the message that environmental stewardship is an important spiritual duty, it might go a long way toward countering the mindset that because God’s in charge, we don’t need to worry about the environment or climate change.

  23. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    Herkermer: the mindset that “because God’s in charge, we don’t need to worry about X,” where X is any real-world problem, is a stupid one that the Church ought to counter.

  24. jaxjensen says:

    I’m very “conservative” in my politics. Raised Mormon in UT. This post and comments are correct to say that Mormonism has a strain that thinks “environmentalist” is a dirty word, and so does the GOP. It is said with derision and scorn.

    However, those same GOP-ites are also some of the most careful with the environment/land/water. Farmers, hunters, shooters, fisherman, and those who use those ATV’s … they all have vested interests and are the ones who also most often enjoy the outdoors. They provide a substantial amount of money/energy trying to protect it, keep animal herds healthy, keep forests alive, etc. They WANT those places/animals to survive and thrive. (Loggers are the MOST interested in keeping forests healthy and alive.) The get lambasted for opposing “environmental” legislation though. They just don’t want forests/mnts/lakes inaccessible (like banning ATV’s/horses/etc) on those lands, and largely don’t think much of the proposed legislation will offer real protections.

    Every person ought to be concerned with keeping their environment (their home, car, neighborhood, state, parks, etc) clean, safe, and healthy. Mormons ought to be chief among them given our previously mentioned beliefs. We can do better than we do.

  25. Heptaparaparshinokh says:

    jax: Banning horses is excessive. Banning motorized vehicles is not, because ATV/UTV users have a tendency to go off of existing trails and tear up vegetation that, in the deserts of the American West, may not grow back for decades.

    As you allude to, though, it’s usually out-of-state interests involved in extractive industry who are least careful with the environment. Brigham Young was right to warn the Saints against getting involved in mining; it has always attracted unsavory types who leave destruction in their wake. Which is not to say that it’s not absolutely necessary, merely that digging wealth out of the ground is morally corrupting in a way that agriculture and manufacturing are not. It’s often been said that the two best things that ever happened to Texas were 1) air conditioning and 2) the easy oil running out.

  26. Something that I think bears consideration is the often extremely gendered division of labor within LDS families and by extension, the broader church. To whom does most of the cooking (and therefore composting) fall? To whom does the dishwashing (and therefore decisions around disposable dishes and cutlery)? Who washes (and dries) the clothing, bathes the children? The fact of the matter is that being environmentally responsible requires more planning, effort, and work than being wasteful in today’s world, and I have come up against either nonchalance or hostility especially from women in the church who feel like this is just one more way they can feel inadequate or like they are failing, since nearly the entire responsibility falls on their shoulders. I think some of these underlying structural/gender dynamics have to be addressed first before we will see any real change in our environmental stewardship.

  27. Using words like conservation, stewardship, and sustainability go much father in the church and you’ll get much more agreement than environmentalism which can conjure up population control, or other things that might unnecessarily scare off your average conservative latter day saint.

  28. Aussie Mormon,
    In my “emerging nation” country, where it’s extremely difficult to find or import traditional sacrament cups, the branches carefully wash the little plastic cups that they do have so that they can be reused the following Sunday,. I think that my friends in my previous ward in the U.S would be appalled at such a suggestion.
    It reminds me that sometimes the reason we are wasteful or irresponsible is simply because we have been lulled by the ease with which, in our state of a sense of plenty, things can be replaced and so we opt for tossing out. We opt into buying new, instead of caring for and re-using what we have.
    A sense of constant plenty almost always moves a society out of gratitude and into wastefulness and taking the easy, but less responsible way to do things.
    So I suppose that we can add those to the sins of the “pride cycle” and the sins of being lulled into an “all is well in Zion” mentality.
    Though both the nations I refer to above struggle with enviornmental issues, I sense that In our lds congregations, teaching and understanding gratitude and stewardship, keys to our care of any resource we have, is more difficult in a more affluent society.

  29. Kristine says:

    Mary B–this reminds me of the beautiful sacrament sets that wards had in the early 20th century, until the polio epidemic scared everyone and plastic and disposable paper became ubiquitous. The aesthetic loss is sad to me as well as the environmental impact. And I think allowing more people to participate in the anticipation of the sacrament–baking bread, washing the delicate lace tablecloths, washing the cups, etc., has some blessings that we miss in our desire/need to make labor-saving choices. Erika is right to point out that (too) much of this labor fell/falls on women, but I wonder if, with the benefit of hindsight and feminism, we could be more creative about it–in our ward, the high priests bake the bread; it would be kind of great if the teachers were in charge of washing cups…

    https://goo.gl/images/rGPQe6

  30. I think we should not look at the Creation as an event that is over, but as an on-going process: a Creating not just a Creation. That makes us co-creators of the Earth with God. This places the responsibility of an evolving Earth squarely on us. I think this idea is theologically sound and provides an important foundation for Mormon environmentalism.

  31. When discussing political candidates recently my mother-in-law told my wife not to factor in which one was more pro-environment, because God would never let things get bad enough for us to worry about that.
    If my mom owns a piece of property she is all about tending it. Land becomes green and thrives under her care. She also loves getting out into nature with hiking trails. But all of her environmental concern ends at her property line. I don’t know why, but in talking with her the only “other” are environmentalists. They out to get her, or make her life pointlessly more guilt ridden, or something like that. Environmentalists are the enemy. She also taught me, growing up, that the ice caps are a blemish on the Earth and that they need to melt before Christ comes back. I never have figured out where she picked that one up from.