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LDS Church stays neutral on Earth Day issues

Published April 22, 2006 12:41 am

Climate change? Some other denominations are tackling environmental activism from the pulpit
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mormons won't be among the religious leaders bounding onto their pulpits today, Earth Day, and talking about climate change as a matter of faith.

Dale Bills, spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, noted last week that church leaders seldom take positions "on matters of public policy."

"The church has not taken a position on this issue," he said, "and I don't expect any new developments in the near future."

With faith leaders of other denominations passionately urging parishioners to take climate change to heart, and with the LDS Church's prominence in Utah culture, its silence on global warming lately has been hard to miss.

It is a quiet that has disappointed LDS church member and environmental activist Richard Ingebretsen.

"This is something they have to look at because, ultimately, this is a life and death issue," said the Salt Lake City doctor.

Ingebretsen, also an advocate for draining Lake Powell, said global warming is no different a moral issue than storing nuclear waste or locating MX missiles in the Utah desert - both proposals that LDS leaders have weighed in against. Ingebretsen suggested the that political undertones of what to do about climate change may make LDS leaders uneasy but that quality-of-life is an issue close to heart for Mormons across the spectrum.

"Ultimately, I think they will" take a position, Ingebretsen said. "But they need to get their collective thoughts together on it."

Rich Cizik, vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, was on the Earth Day circuit last week talking about climate change. On Friday, he was part of a national telecast involving faith leaders.

"First and foremost, it's a moral and spiritual issue," Cizik said, adding scientists have reached a broad consensus that a dramatic shift in climate is occurring and that human activity is behind it.

Yet, because climate-change science is complex and solutions are not obvious, many are turning to religious leaders for answers, he said. "Faith leaders are now the translators of truth for their constituencies on these issues."

In February, 86 evangelicals challenged the Bush administration on its resistance to tackling global warming. And, in 2004, Cizik's group released a white paper on the issue, "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Action."

The position not been embraced by all evangelicals. But to many it signals an important new alliance between the traditionally conservative religious movement and liberal-leaning environmental groups.

Cizik said Thursday he is not trying to tell LDS leaders what to do, and his group did not press LDS leaders on the subject. Still, he foresees a time when the Salt Lake City-based church joins the cause.

"I would hope there is a conversation that would occur in the faith community there about their role. They [LDS leaders] can verify the science and outline the risks of not addressing global climate change," Cizik added. "I don't think they can afford not to."

George Handley, a professor of humanities at Brigham Young University, said it would be unfortunate, though not uncommon, for people to conclude from the LDS leadership's statement about climate change policy that Mormons dispute whether climate change is occurring or do not care about it.

Handley is co-editor of a new book, Stewardship and the Creation: LDS Perspectives on the Environment, that reaffirms the deep ties between the LDS culture and the Earth. And he cites LDS doctrine, in the Word of Wisdom and the Law of Consecration, for instance, as examples of how pro-environmental ideas are built into the faith.

"Religion is a very effective way of helping understand the connection between individual actions and larger consequences," he said.

"Mormons have the doctrine, the practices and the teachings," he said, "but we don't connect the dots."

fahys@sltrib.com

Earth Day events today

* The annual Earth Day Electronic Recycling Event continues today from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Rice Eccles Stadium parking lot at the University of Utah. Bring electronic waste, which includes computers, monitors, printers, televisions, cell phones, but no microwave ovens or refrigerators.

* Admission is free to Earth Day events today at Library Plaza, 400 S. 200 East, Salt Lake City, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Topics presented include recycling, water conservation, tree planting and clean energy. Activities include cereal-box notebooks, paper bead jewelry, planting seeds and the Recycled Fashion Show. More information is at http://www.recycle.slco.org.

* The Earth Jam 2006 Spring Earth Festival is today from noon to 9 p.m. at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. Activities will include art exhibits and booths with environmental information. There also is an area for children and three stages with music. Liberty Park is between 500 East and 700 East and 900 South and 1300 South.