Summarized by Rosemary Pollock
Eco-Mormons Say One Can Be Both
Salt Lake Tribune 25Apr00 N6
By Glen Warchol: Salt Lake Tribune
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- George Handley, a Brigham Young University
assistant professor, laughs as he looks down at his hands, and
realizes that the size and shape of them are closely related to the
study he is conducting on the growing "eco-theology" movement.
Handley is reviewing LDS writings and their fundamental relationship
to nature, the environment and Mormonism. His hands remind him how
intimately people were once connected to the Earth, something
Americans, especially Mormons, seem to be forgetting.
"My grandfather's name was George, which means 'worker of the earth.' He
had thick, short hands--what they call 'farmer's hands.' I'm the one in the
family who inherited the farmer's hands. And I'm a literature teacher,"
Handley said. His roots go back to a farm in Sandy, Utah, but Handley grew
up in the East and went to college in the West.
"As Mormons, we have found ourselves farther and farther removed from the
land," he says. "That makes it hard for us to understand the language of
the environmental movement." The link between the environment and religion
is not new. The connection between the theology of The Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints puts Handley in a unique philosophical
position. For political, historical and cultural reasons, Mormonism and the
environmental movement have seldom been on speaking terms.
A panel of devout Mormon environmentalists met this past week at the
University of Utah. They included former Mayor Ted Wilson and Rich
Ingebretsen, president of Glen Canyon Institute. Handley sat on the panel
but joked about the fact that he was too embarrassed to tell his BYU
colleagues that he was part of a forum on "Mormonism and Environmentalism".
The forum was sponsored by the Save Our Canyons group, and included LDS
general authority Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone. The consensus was that
within Mormon theology there is a rich vein of environmental sensitivity.
There are countless exhortations by Brigham Young and other church leaders
that support the "stewardship" for God's creations. The most common
scripture is found in The Book of Mormon in Ether 10:21. "And they did
preserve the land for a wilderness, to get game. And the whole face of the
land northward was covered with inhabitants."
Wilson, an avid climber said, "I am proud to be an active Mormon, and I am
proud to be an active environmentalist." He acknowledges that the LDS
culture may have developed anti-environmental attitudes during the difficult
pioneer days. "It was a matter of survival, they had to fight nature to
Wilson is urging Mormons to join with others to embrace a "new paradigm,"
that would require coexisting with nature. "I pray my church will see the
need for a stronger message on the environment," Wilson said. "I see an
evolution here, but we can't rush it." "It is essential that this comes to
pass. And I think it will."
"I let people know I'm LDS and that I believe in wilderness," Ingebretsen
said. "If more Mormons would take a stand, it will do far more than waiting
for the church to make a public statement." Elder Featherstone explained
that the church follows a policy of teaching principles, not dictating
actions. "We don't want to get involved in everything...It's a tightrope.
You need to walk very carefully."
There is a perceived antipathy between Mormons and the environment that
Handley sees more as an issue of semantics than philosophy. "If the
environment's problems are as serious as we think they are, it can't be
solved in ideological camps. It has to be solved across values, beliefs,
languages and countries."