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Posted 24 Feb 2001   For week ended April 30, 2000
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Sent on Mormon-News: 08May00

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 stay alive."

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."


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