Elder Marcus B. Nash
18th Annual Stegner Center Symposium
Friday, April 12, 2013
It is an honor to participate in this symposium with those who represent many of the great faith traditions of the world. I am grateful to be among you. We share a common concern for the environment and a common desire to draw others unto the Creator of heaven and earth. Prior to my call as a General Authority for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—which from here on out I will refer to as LDS, I practiced law in the city of Seattle, Washington, where I was born and raised, a place where nature’s splendor is abundantly displayed.
One of the first clients I represented as a young lawyer was a berry farmer near Mount Vernon, Washington. This farmer raised and sold certified nursery strawberry stock, which could be sold as such only if it was not infested with nematodes, small ground worms that can damage the productivity of the plant. The proven way (at the time) to rid the plant of this pest and to achieve “certified” status was to fumigate the soil. According to the fumigant manufacturer, the fumigant agent would gasify upon application and evaporate through the soil into the air; the nematodes would be killed and the soil and groundwater were said to be unaffected. Well, neighbors began to notice an odor in their water, had tests performed, and it seems that not all of the fumigant evaporated into the air, but some portion had leached into the groundwater, rendering it unusable.
This story shows the inherent complexity of human interaction with the environment: the farmer was making an honest living; the only way to achieve produce nursery stock not infested with nematodes was to fumigate; yet, the fumigation polluted the earth; and as a result, the neighbors lost the use of the groundwater. Although the farmer was eventually dismissed from the case, he had to endure significant stress and some economic repercussions; and the fumigant manufacturers (whom we did not represent) dealt with some financial repercussions. And, what of future generations who must grapple with groundwater contamination of an unknown duration? I find it interesting, if not mildly ironic, that it is likely that the very families that sued my client had at some point during the litigation periodically enjoyed fresh, delicious strawberries grown from certified nursery stock!
I will not try to unravel these complexities, but they do help us to remember that our approach to the environment must be prudent, realistic, balanced, and consistent with the needs of the earth and of current and future generations. In an effort to go to the root of the issue (no pun intended), I suggest,
- that it cannot be reasonably disputed that we depend upon this earth to sustain life, and
- that the quality of the earth and its environment will directly affect the quality of our life—and that of future generations.
Despite what I believe to be almost universal agreement on these postulates, they have been (by many) ignored, unappreciated, and/or simply seen as too costly or inconvenient. I believe that if we understand who we are, the purpose of our existence, and the reason the earth was created—and keep these things in mind—our conduct would rise to a higher, nobler level. And, that is where religion and faith play a major role.
I have been asked to represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in this symposium on faith and the environment. I have considered several different approaches to this topic and have decided the only unique thing I could contribute to this symposium would be to explain the doctrine of the LDS Church—as I understand it—pertaining to this earth and all life thereon. I have broken this presentation into eight different sections, organized around a verse of scripture. The first three will provide a doctrinal context for the next five sections, which will address more directly what the Church believes about the environment.
“What is man that thou are mindful of him?” (Psalms 8:4).
In this psalm, David of the Old Testament considers the majestic creations of God and wonders aloud why—amongst such wonders—God is mindful of man. David concludes that the fact that God cares and gives humankind a dominant role on this earth is evidence that humankind is special, “a little lower than the angels.” What we understand of who we are and why we are on this earth can (and should) have a profound effect upon how we choose to relate to the earth and all life thereon. For that reason, I will go into some detail on the doctrine of the LDS faith on the purpose of the creation of this earth.
One of the prophets we revere with much of Christianity is Moses of the Old Testament. According to the Pearl of Great Price (a book of scripture unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Moses saw in a vision all of the creations of God, worlds without number in a limitless expanse, and then declared: “Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed.” In Moses’ humility before the magnificence of God’s creations he failed to comprehend a great truth that the Lord wanted him to understand. So, in the scriptural account, the Lord returns to Moses and shows him again His vast and limitless creation and drives a point home to Moses by declaring that he—God—has made these creations “for [His] own purpose,” which is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” In short, according to LDS doctrine, God desires that humankind progress, improve, and receive eternal reward—and He created this earth for that purpose. This simply-stated, yet stunning, truth seems natural to those of us of faith who accept at face value the apostle Paul’s description of our parent-child relationship with God set forth in the New Testament, namely that “We are the offspring of God.” The importance of this is better appreciated by the next item of doctrine I will attempt to explain.
“And we will prove them herewith” (Abraham 3:24).
We read in the Pearl of Great Price (again, scripture unique to the LDS Church) that before this world was created God explained in practical terms why he would create this world for His children to live on as mortal beings: “…we will make an earth whereon these [meaning us] may dwell; and we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them,”and added that those who choose to follow and serve God in this life upon this earth will “have glory added upon their heads for ever and ever.” In short, the creation of this earth affords us the opportunity to choose to seek and someday receive all that God offers. However, one cannot, and should not, be forced to follow God; indeed, real growth and development in an individual occurs only when one has the opportunity to choose for him or herself, and for this reason we read in the Book of Mormon that “the Lord God gave unto man that he should act for himself.”
So the earth was created to provide a place for the children of God to be tested, to learn and gain necessary experience in a place where they would have the opportunity to choose whether they will, or will not, do all things that the Lord commands. Once the process of the creation of this earth was completed, God was pleased, and He stated: “Behold, all things that I had made were very good.” He was pleased, for He saw that this earth would serve His purpose for us, His children.
According to the Biblical account, once the earth was created with plant and animal life, the stage was set and Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, were placed upon this earth. God’s plan was—and is—that His children come to this earth through marriage between a man and a woman, who are to procreate, form a family, and teach children to choose the good part in a world with real moral choices and consequences. According to a revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Almighty so designed in order that “the earth might answer the end of its creation; and that it might be filled with the measure of man according to His creation before the world was made.” Consistent with this, a Book of Mormon prophet of ancient America recorded: “the Lord hath created the earth that it should be inhabited; and he hath created his children that they should possess it.” We can then see that, according to LDS doctrine, men and women are not mere interlopers or a side-show on this earth; rather, they and the children they bring into this world are central to its purpose.
“For I, the Lord God, created all things…spiritually, before they were naturally upon the earth” (Moses 3:5).
I am (finally) almost to a point where I have laid down sufficient doctrinal context to begin to talk about what the LDS faith directly teaches about this earth and how we should treat the environment. But, first I will explore a bit more the process of the creation of this earth, as a last piece of doctrinal context for a discussion on how we should treat this planet. Not only did God create a beautiful world of mountains, valleys, rivers, streams, seas, sunsets and sunrises, but He also adorned it with plant and animal life. According to LDS scripture, each form of plant and animal life has a spirit. In LDS scripture we read: “I, the Lord God, made the heaven and the earth, And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew. For I, the Lord God, created all things…spiritually, before they were naturally upon the earth. Further, He declared: “Out of the ground made I, the Lord God, to grow every tree, naturally, that is pleasant to the sight of man….And it became also a living soul. For it was spiritual in the day that I created it.” Then with regard to animal life we read: “Out of the ground I, the Lord God, formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air…and they were also living souls.”
Since both plant and animal life are living souls, they are capable of experiencing happiness as they fulfill the measure of their creation. As one of the presidents of the Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, taught, “the Lord gave life to every creature…[and] commanded [them] to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. It was intended that all creatures should be happy in their several elements.” Not only is animal life capable of happiness, but it is also included within the scope of His redeeming power, as taught in this uniquely LDS scripture: “And the end shall come, and the heaven and the earth shall be consumed and pass away, and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth. For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fullness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea; And not one hair, neither mote, shall be lost, for it is the workmanship of mine hand.” Plainly, all forms of life identified in this verse have great value in the eyes of God, for they are the workmanship of His hand, and will be blessed by His redeeming power. This doctrine leads one to view plant and animal life differently, as living souls created by God.
“Ordained for the use of man” (Doctrine and Covenants 49:19-21).
As we have discussed, according to LDS doctrine, this earth, as well as the plant and animal life thereon, were provided for the use of man. However, we believe that God has commanded that the earth and all things thereon be utilized responsibly to abundantly sustain the human family. Joseph Smith received the following revelation: “Behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.” Nevertheless, LDS doctrine is clear: all humankind are stewards over this earth and its bounty—not owners—and will be accountable to God for what we do with regard to His creation. In another revelation received by Joseph Smith, who we revere as a modern-day prophet, the Lord rightfully asserts His ownership over this earth and all things thereon: “For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures. I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.” So, how we care for the earth, how we utilize and share in its bounty, and how we treat all life that has been provided for our benefit and use is part of our test in mortality. Thus, when God gave unto man “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth,” it was not without boundaries or limits. He intends man’s dominion to be a righteous dominion, meaning one that is guided, curbed, and enlightened by the doctrine of His gospel—a gospel defined by God’s love for us and our love for Him and his works. The unbridled, voracious consumer is not consistent with God’s plan of happiness, which calls for humility, gratitude, and mutual respect.
In other words, as stewards over the earth and all life thereon, we are to gratefully make use of that which the Lord has provided, avoid wasting life and resources, and use the bounty of the earth to care for the poor. In another scripture given by Joseph Smith, we read: “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin. And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need…” “For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves. Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.” Yes, as we have already discussed, the Lord gave to men and women agency, or the capacity to choose; however, we must bear in mind that he cares deeply for all life and especially for His children, and will hold us accountable for what we choose to do (or not do) with the bounties of His creation.
“It pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man”
(Doctrine and Covenants 59:20).
In another revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, humankind is promised that if we choose to follow the Lord and judiciously use the resources of the earth with thanksgiving and respect, “the fullness of the earth is yours, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which climbeth upon the trees and walketh upon the earth; Yea, and the herb, and the good things which come of the earth, whether for food or for raiment, or for houses, or for barns, or for orchards, or for gardens, or for vineyards; Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; Yea for food and for raiment, for taste and for smell, to strengthen the body and to enliven the soul. And it pleaseth God that he hath given all these things unto man; for unto this end were they made to be used, with judgment, not to excess, neither by extortion.”
Yes, we have been provided this beautiful and bountiful world, teeming with life and resources to bless and strengthen and enliven mankind, and we are to use them joyfully—but we must do so as careful, grateful stewards over God’s handiwork. We are to use these resources with judgment, gratitude, prudence, and with an eye to bless our fellow man and woman and those of future generations, and in that way help Him to accomplish His purpose to help humankind progress, improve, and receive His blessings in time and eternity.
“The God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept” (Moses 7:28).
As we have discussed, we live in a world in which individuals may choose to reject God and treat His creation with disdain. When this occurs, God and creation are pained. LDS scripture contained in the Pearl of Great Price relates a vision in which Enoch of Old Testament times saw that the God of heaven wept on account of the poor choices and suffocating selfishness of humankind—His children. In the Book of Mormon, it is prophesied that in the latter-days there would be “fires, tempests, and vapors of smoke…and…great pollutions upon the face of the earth,” and that such conditions would be coupled with “murders, and robbing, and lying, and deceiving, and whoredoms, and all manner of abominations; when there shall be many who will say, Do this, or do that, and it mattereth not.”According to LDS scripture, there is a corollary between the selfish, materialistic man out to hoard money, material possessions, and/or the man with irreverence for life—and pollutions (spiritual or temporal) upon the face of the earth. As President Ezra Taft Benson (a former president of our Church) stated: “Irreverence for God, of life, and for our fellowmen takes the form of things like littering, heedless strip-mining, [and] pollution of water and air. But these are, after all, outward expressions of the inner man.” Gordon B. Hinckley, another former president of the Church adds: “This earth is his creation. When we make it ugly, we offend him.”
According to LDS scripture, when man pollutes this world spiritually or temporally, not only God, but nature also suffers! In the Pearl of Great Price we read: “Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face?” After hearing the earth mourn (which may be metaphorical), Enoch “wept and cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, wilt thou not have compassion upon the earth?”Many of you have seen the spiritual and temporal pollutions, scars, and damage wrought by man upon this earth and well may we all chime in with Enoch and ask ourselves: will we not have compassion upon the earth? Or are we too caught up in our personal pursuits and desires?
“Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:19).
In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord stated that His aim in organizing His church was to create a society in which every man “sought the interest of his neighbor, and to do all things with an eye single to the glory of God.” Faith and religion should have the capacity to stretch, enlarge, and change the human soul beyond self, and to inspire love of God and His creations, to think of others, and to consider the needs of future generations, even to the point of sacrificing personal desires. We need that soul-stretching, for the state of the human soul will directly impact the condition and health of the environment—which, in turn affects our quality of life. Thus, the late Neal A. Maxwell (a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles in the LDS Church) invited followers of Christ to live lives of moral integrity: “True disciples [of Christ]…would be consistent environmentalists—caring both about maintaining the spiritual health of a marriage and preserving a rain forest; caring about preserving the nutrient capacity of a family as well as providing a healthy supply of air and water.” Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to live lives of internal consistency, true to God, true to his present and yet-to-be born children, and true to the purpose of his creations. To the degree that it enlarges our understanding of who we are, why this earth was created, and inspires us to respect this earth as the handiwork of God and to think of others (including future generations), religion can change how we will treat the earth and all things thereon.
Ezra Taft Benson (former President of the Church) expressed it this way: “The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in….The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment.” As the human soul is thus changed, the environment is better cared for. The doctrine and commandments of God lead us beyond the suffocating, self-limiting weight of selfishness, the blinding press of self-gratification or aggrandizement. The gospel of Jesus Christ helps us think beyond ourselves, to think of the earth and all life given by God and to think of others now and in future generations, rather than pursue the immediate vindication of our personal desires or avowed rights. If I pursue a selfish, irreverent course, I pursue a course that gives license to despoil the earth, for pollution, damage, and waste are almost always the product of selfishness or irreverence. To the degree that religion teaches reverence for God, for His creations, for life, and for our fellowman, it will teach us to care for the environment. In short, the state of the human soul and the environment are interconnected, each affects and influences the other.
Brigham Young, who led the persecuted members of the LDS church in the mid 1800s from the eastern states to this desert on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, stated: “In the mind of God there is no such a thing as dividing spiritual from temporal, or temporal from spiritual; for they are one in the Lord.” When the early pioneers arrived, this valley was mostly uncultivated desert, but with fertile soil and water from mountain runoffs. So, they went to work to carve a civilization out of the wilderness. Brigham understood the doctrine of which I have spoken, and told those early pioneers: “Keep your valley pure, keep your towns as pure as you possibly can, keep your hearts pure.” He added the need to study and reverence the Lord’s creations: “Fields and mountains, trees and flowers, and all that fly, swim or move upon the ground are lessons for study in the great school [of] our heavenly Father….in the great laboratory of nature.” He enjoined those pioneers to care and not waste nature and its bounty, stating that “it is not our privilege to waste the Lord’s substance.”
The LDS Church continues to seek to care for this earth and judiciously utilize its resources. In so doing, the LDS Church makes real effort to conduct itself by what it should do, not just what is legally required. Speaking some years ago to members of the legal profession, the late James E. Faust (a member of the First Presidency—the leading council of the Church) stated:
In our own standards of personal conduct we must remember that the laws of men are the lesser law. I cite to you that the laws of many jurisdictions do not require or encourage being a Good Samaritan. There is a great risk in justifying what we do individually and professionally on the basis of what is “legal” rather than what is “right.” In so doing, we put our very souls at risk. The philosophy that what is legal is also right will rob us of what is highest and best in our nature. What conduct is actually legal is, in many instances, way below the standards of a civilized society and light years below the teachings of the Christ. If you accept what is legal as your standard of personal or professional conduct, you will deny yourself of that which is truly noble in your personal dignity and worth.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints desires to do what is right in its temporal affairs including environmental practices—even if it is something more than the requirements of the law.
The LDS Church believes in sustainable design strategies for its facilities. The LDS Church wants to be good stewards of the environment, conserve energy and water resources, minimize pollution, create and maintain cost effective properties and be a good neighbor. The LDS Church has built several projects that are certified under the US Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building program. Some of these facilities include the City Creek Center development, the Church History Library, and several meetinghouses. The LDS Church is developing its own green building program for meetinghouses based on LEED models plus the International Green Construction Code (IGCC). This self-enacted and self-enforced green building program will create sustainable properties and achieve green building objectives at a reduced cost.
The LDS Church employs sustainable agriculture best practices on farms and ranches. Examples include:
- Integrated pest management (IPM) for pesticide application.
- Use of pheromone traps at orchards as a means of pest mating disruption.
- No till dry farming to reduce erosion and retain moisture.
- Good range management practices to avoid overgrazing.
- Community gardens are sponsored to give people an opportunity to grow nutritious foods and reduce costs.
Significant recycling efforts are employed at 42 Deseret Industries thrift stores. Over 66 million pounds of materials were recycled in 2012 including clothing, shoes, household goods, books, metal, and electronics. Recycling programs for materials such as cardboard, paper, aluminum, and plastic are practiced at major locations including the Church Headquarters campus, printing operations, distribution centers, and apparel manufacturing locations.
“All things which come of the earth…are made for the benefit…of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart…and to enliven the soul” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:18-19).
Now, in conclusion: the earth and all life thereon are much more than items to be consumed and/or conserved; some parts and portions thereof are also to be preserved! As we nurture and appreciate nature, we will become better acquainted with our God, for unspoiled nature is designed to inspire and uplift humankind. Nature in its pristine state brings us closer to God, clears the mind and heart of the noise and distractions of materialism, lifts us to a higher, more exalted sphere, and helps us to better know our God. In a revelation through the Joseph Smith, the Lord declares: “The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth his light by day, and the moon giveth her light by night, and the stars also give their light, as they roll upon their wings in their glory, and in the midst of the power of God…Behold…any man who hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God moving in his majesty and power.”
I am an avid hiker; I grew up hiking the North Central Cascades in Washington State where I was born and raised, and have hiked in various parts of the country, and in various places of the world. I loved in my childhood to be in the woods, and to sense, to feel, the silent, eloquent witness the towering evergreen trees bore of the Creator. As I grew older, my wanderings in wilderness took me beyond the woods, to climb the magnificent granite rocks and peaks rising above the timberline, where the only sound is the wind moving through rock and some scrub trees fighting to survive in a harsh alpine environment. These high peaks, humble in their magnificence before the God who designed and made this earth, touch the blue vault of the heavens. Although silent, they speak of the power and majesty of God—and of His matchless genius for beauty. The prophet Alma agrees; said he: “All things denote there is a God, Yea, even the earth and all things that are upon the face of it…do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.”
There is a spirit among the trees—are they not living souls? And, even more so for me above the timberline, amongst the mountain tops, where I feel a closeness to God. I love to sit or stand under the sky where heaven and earth meet, the high alpine peaks around me and to gaze at the stars at night, trying—always unsuccessfully—to wrap my mind around the eternity within my gaze, an eternity of both time and space (imagine, for example, the hundreds, or millions of light years it took for some of the light of the stars to reach this earth). Yet, I always marvel at the quiet knowledge that settles upon me in those solitary moments of tranquility that, despite the vastness of the cosmos, the Lord of the universe knows puny me. And He knows you, and each of His children. This creation, every aspect of it, was created for the purpose of giving each of us the opportunity to be blessed now and in eternity. This creation witnesses of the Creator, and if we preserve these special places in their unspoiled state, they will silently, eloquently witness of our God and inspire us onward and upward.
This earth is provided to help each of us to return to Him, having grown through testing and experience to become more like Him, and enjoy eternal felicity with Him. Our test on this earth is whether we will choose wisely and follow God, treat His creations with respect, and use them to bless our fellow man and woman. The better we care for this world and all in it, the better it will sustain, inspire, strengthen, enliven, and gladden our hearts and spirits—and prepare us to dwell with our Heavenly Father with our families in a Celestial sphere, which members of the LDS Church believe will be the very earth upon which we stand today, but in a glorified state.
May we care for this earth—our present and future home—well.