Stewardship and Creation: Subverted doctrines

I see this post as related to the photos of the ancient pine and hemlock of Cook Forest (my previous post). The 350 year old trees are preserved because of the foresight of a man who made a fortune cutting trees but wanted to save one area so future generations could experience the woods — that there was value in preserving as well as using Creation.

Excerpts from an essay by Thomas Alexander,  Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr. Professor of Western American History at Brigham Young University.

"The Mormon view—as taught by Joseph Smith and reinforced by Brigham Young and his colleagues—bore little relationship to classic American agrarianism or to nineteenth-century capitalism. The earth and its animal and vegetable inhabitants were living organisms with souls—not possessions, much less commodities. Every living thing occupied a place in God’s domain, and while each creation—the earth, the animals, the plants, and human beings—relied on one another, none owned the earth. As a living creation of God, the earth belonged only to Him, and it had an end in itself."

 "The Mormon settlers’ need for timber, which they satisfied by cutting free timber on the public lands, subverted doctrines of stewardship, the living earth, and the sanctity of life. Increasingly after the first decade, the prophets seemed unable to infuse the membership and the concepts of the unity of all living things that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had taught, and Brigham Young seems to have become less conscious of it himself."

Thomas outlines the negative impact of excessive timber logging, grazing of herds, farming of sugar beets, smelting mined ores, and the burning of coal all of which led to environmental destruction.  He also briefly explores the positive response of later generations to counter this led by LDS Church President Joseph F. Smith and others in the early 1900s:

"Relinking the wanton destruction of living things with personal morality while relying explicitly on the theological position that animals had eternal souls, President Smith condemned the needless destruction of fauna."

" In practice, Mormons seemed unable in many cases to follow the dictates of the most environmentally creative tenets of the prophetic teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young: ecological stewardship, sacralized entrepreneurship, and the fellowship of all living things under the fatherhood of God. On the other hand, the commitment of the second generation to the values of stewardship that derived from these teachings, coupled with the progressive sentiment in the community, facilitated the attack on some of the worst damage."

Though Alexander's essay extends only to 1930, his insights apply to us today.  The cleft he describes remains between LDS theological teachings of ecological stewardship and our culture's destructive creed of consumerism.  But the scale of consumption and destruction has expanded to include the entire earth.  We can return to the theological roots of our faith for inspiration in responding to the ecological crises of our time.

 

Thomas G. Alexander, “Stewardship and Enterprise: The LDS Church and the Wasatch Oasis Environment, 1847–1930,” in Stewardship and the Creation: LDS Perspectives on the Environment, eds. George B. Handley, Terry B. Ball, and Steven L. Peck (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center), 2006.

Read the entire essay here: https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/stewardship-and-creation/stewardship-and-enterprise-lds-church-and-wasatch-oasis