Commentary: Protecting the environment is not an extremist cause but a divine mandate

A demonstrator holds a placard during a Claim the Climate march in Brussels, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. The climate change conference, COP24, will take place in Poland Dec. 2-14. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

During my generation’s lifetime, environmental protection has seemingly been the sole province of the far left. They are the ones we see on television ranting about environmental problems. They are the ones we pass on the street screaming their alarm about environmental impacts. They are the ones we see on the internet advocating policy solutions.

History books tell me that there was a time, not too long ago, when Americans engaged in reasonable and effective conversations on this very topic. Leaders across geographic and political divides searched for solutions that would support the environment and enhance the economy. One organization leading the charge was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Under the direction of then-President Spencer W. Kimball, the church highlighted the fact that the environment is a creation of God and it is our responsibility to protect that creation.

But then this productive environmental movement came to a halt. Extremist groups co-opted the issue and very quickly turned the word “environmentalist” into a radical term. These extremist groups likely had pure motives — to help the environment — but proved to be an impatient lot. Their tactics were aggressive, and their “solutions” would have effectively shut down the U.S. economy. As a result, all of the groups that were effectively pushing for reasonable solutions to U.S. environmental policy, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, quickly distanced themselves from this now radical environmental movement.

It is fascinating that, through all of this change, the church’s doctrines on environmentalism have remained consistent. In contrast to the screams of the outside world, its teachings have been based on common-sense understandings of humanity’s divine purpose on this planet.

Many years ago, now-President and then-apostle Russell M. Nelson wrote, “As beneficiaries of the divine Creation, what shall we do? We should care for the earth, be wise stewards over it, and preserve it for future generations. And we are to love and care for one another.”

This is more than a nice thought. It is a command from God regarding humanity’s responsibilities over God’s creations.

Fast forward to today, and the church’s current statement regarding environmental stewardship is virtually the same and only strengthens the church’s commitment to our being wise stewards over the environment:

“As beneficiaries of this divine creation, we should care for the earth, be wise stewards over it, and preserve it for future generations. The earth and all things on it are part of God’s plan for the redemption of His children and should be used responsibly to sustain the human family (see 1 Nephi 17:36; Moses 1:39; Abraham 3:24–25). However, all are stewards — not owners — over this earth and its bounty and will be accountable before God for what they do with His creations (see D&C 104:13–15).”

Latter-day Saints have been consistent and steadfast in recognizing that we must actively protect this Earth from harm. So, what does that mean in this increasingly tribalized and hyperpartisan culture? First, we must not take reactionary positions that do nothing more than oppose proposals from extremists. That will get us nowhere.

The church’s doctrine on environmental stewardship is a call to action for members to reject false solutions from the right and left and remain focused on sound policies that improve the environment while allowing all of Heavenly Father’s children to flourish. The church is clear that we have an obligation to protect the Earth as God’s creation.

Second, we must craft proposals ourselves. The sad reality is that there are too few reasonable, fact-based environmental solutions in this country. The church and its members have an opportunity to serve as bold leaders on this issue by demonstrating what it means to be wise stewards of the Earth. This requires identifying, developing and implementing actual solutions to real problems facing our planet. These reasonable solutions will not only honor our faith and our country but will preserve this world’s resources and beauty for future generations.

Steven T. Collis chairs the nationwide religious institutions and First Amendment practice group of Holland & Hart LLP and is a fellow of The Western Way, a nonpartisan organization focused on sound solutions to environmental challenges. His book “Deep Conviction” will be released in June 2019 from Shadow Mountain Publishing.

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