Professor George Handley discusses the intersection of theology and environmentalism.
“What do Mormons believe about the environment?” When a colleague asked Professor George Handley (Literature of the Americas, Ecotheology) this question, it stumped him initially. But that question led him to a lifelong study of how theology and environmental concerns overlap.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have access to three restored versions of the creation story in addition to Genesis: Moses, Abraham, and the temple endowment. In his Education Week address on August 22, 2023, Handley shared how the clarified doctrinal points in these additional accounts increase our understanding of the creation and our role as environmental stewards.
- Creation out of organized matter versus creation ex nihilo
Handley noted that it may be more accurate to refer to God as an organizer rather than a creator, which implies that the Earth’s behavior is independent from God in some ways. This accounts for accidents and their associated suffering. Handley said, “This also amplifies the meaning of Christ’s Atonement. Christ is no longer the sufferer only for the sins of humanity, but he is the sufferer of the sorrows and the tribulations and pains and afflictions of physical life itself.” Handley argues that this means that Christ suffers when we do harm to the environment.
2. Word of Wisdom versus eat as you please
When it comes to the Word of Wisdom, Church members tend to focus on the prohibitions on coffee, tea, and alcohol; however, the Lord’s instructions to eat meat sparingly and to eat in season guide us towards more conscientious use of the resources around us. Handley said, “God is interested in His natural economy. He’s invested in making sure the squirrels have something to eat, and that the birds have something to eat.”
3. Law of consecration versus biocentrism
Biocentrism prioritizes nature over human life, which Handley rejects. “The scripture of the restored gospel doesn’t give us the freedom to say, ‘I choose humans over nature, or I choose nature over humans,’” Handley said. “The law of consecration says you choose both, always.”
Handley concluded by quoting Bishop Gérald Caussé, saying, “The divine gift of the creation does not come without duties and responsibilities.” Handley testified of the divinity of the creation and the importance of preserving the earth for future generations.
More about Education Week.
More about the Church and environmental stewardship.
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