“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28)
As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have often found myself frustrated at the apparent disregard with which many members of our church treat the world we’ve been entrusted with. The general attitude seems to be twofold: “I am too busy being about the Lord’s work to be inconvenienced with caring for the earth.” Or, “Why should I spend my time on that? When the Saviour comes again, He’ll fix everything. There’s simply no point.”
Indeed, many of us are so consumed with keeping the Ten Commandments, keeping our end of the covenants we’ve made, and trying to exemplify Jesus Christ in everything we do that we neglect to remember the first charge ever given to man after his creation. In the Garden of Eden, Adam was given “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26, emphasis added.)
Let’s examine the word “dominion” for a brief moment. Those among us who hold the priesthood are no doubt familiar with the phrase “unrighteous dominion.” We are cautioned to exercise the priesthood with righteousness and love, with gentleness and caring. We are charged with providing a righteous dominion over our families. Unrighteous dominion includes emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, or neglect of our family’s basic needs. If God has also given all men dominion over the earth, should we not exercise a righteous dominion? “There is a forgotten teaching of the early Jews and Christians that the dominion that God gave to Adam in Eden over His other creatures was nothing less than the holy priesthood, the power to act in God’s stead.” (Hugh Nibley, To the Glory of God pg. 21)
My objective in writing this article is not to point out the same ten little things we’ve heard countless times that we can do to change our ecological footprint. Fixing the problems we’ve created will require more than a mere band-aid. We are now past the point where reusing our plastic bags and water bottles, and doing nothing else, will make a real difference. Rather, a shift in our attitudes is necessary in order to take the great leap from a dying world to a living, breathing world, a world of hope. My goal with this article is to outline the various duties that we have as members of this church, in possession of the whole gospel of Jesus Christ, to take care of the earth on which we stand and rely on for everything that we have.
Our first duty, as mentioned in the Doctrine and Covenants, is to “seek ye diligently, and teach one another words of wisdom, yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.” (D&C 88:118) In this scripture we are advised not to stay in a state of ignorance, but to continually learn and grow, to expand our knowledge. The first thing we must do as Latter-day Saints is to reject ignorance and look for knowledge. In this age of technology, knowledge is so easy to obtain. The internet and various other forms of media can assist us in our research. We must consecrate some of our time and energy to learning about global issues, and discovering actions we can take in order to preserve nature. To quote Joseph F. Smith, “Nature helps us to see and understand God . . . Love of nature is akin to the love of God; the two are inseparable.”
We have been told throughout our lives to have faith. Faith is an admirable quality that one possesses. Yet, is it enough alone to have faith? As mentioned earlier, many members of our church feel that it is a waste of time to care for the earth; they have faith that Jesus Christ will return and “the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.” (Articles of Faith, verse 10) Having faith is good, but as members of this church we know and understand that “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (The Epistle of James 2:17) Therefore, our second duty to the earth we’ve been given is to act.
Our third duty is to leave future generations with a world worthy of their presence. Too many of the earth’s inhabitants are concerned only with the immediate consequences of their actions. But what of the long-term? To say that “now” is the only thing that matters is probably the most selfish attitude one can possess. “We owe something to future generations and those that declare ‘plenty more where that came from’ are recklessly indifferent to the gravest responsibilities… The Latter-day Saints ought not to be governed by purely selfish motives in the use of their landed inheritances… It is a duty which we owe to ourselves and to those who have the right to rely upon us to give this matter our earnest consideration.” (Joseph F. Smith, The Juvenile Instructor, 38:466-467, Aug. 1, 1903) President Ezra Taft Benson has declared that “we are morally obligated to turn this land over to those who succeed us – not drained of its fertility, but improved in quality, in productivity, and in usefulness for future generations.” (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, pg. 645)
If we are to shun ignorance and seek wisdom, if we are to act and not just believe, and if we are to leave our children with a clean and beautiful world, we must be willing to perform the fourth duty, which is to be adaptable and willing to succumb to the prospect of change.
Change is so hard for so many. We grow comfortable in our little ruts and hate the idea of leaving them. As human beings we are creatures of habit, and to abandon our traditions and rituals is one of the most difficult things we could ever do. It is no small task to change the way we dress or what kinds of furniture we buy, what foods we eat, the way we speak, our methods of transportation, the way we dispose of refuse and trash, or how we spend our time, money and energy. When I think of the word “change” I think of humility, the willingness to admit that we are not perfect, and to be teachable. The two terms go hand-in-hand. We have been commanded to be humble, and therefore, have been commanded to change.
“Let him that is ignorant learn wisdom by humbling himself and calling upon the Lord his God, that his eyes may be opened that he may see, and his ears opened that he may hear.” (D&C 136:32) If we reject ignorance, seek wisdom, and stumble across the truth, our minds will fill with knowledge and we will be compelled to humble ourselves, to change our lives and improve the world we live in.
We are all aware that the world is in a state of ecological peril, but do we know why? Do we know what actions have led us to this point, and what we can do to stop it, to reverse the damage we’ve done? The simple answer is this: Do some research, take action, and as your knowledge changes, you need to be willing to change yourself.