Opinion: It’s time we all discovered Great Salt Lake’s sacred significance

We call on Utah’s leaders and its residents to join us in recognizing the interconnectedness of all life and the importance of the Great Salt Lake in our ecosystem.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A pair of American avocet fly over the Great Salt Lake on Wednesday, April 12, 2023, near the outflow of the Weber River where some signs of improvement to bird habitat can be seen following a record snow fall year. Critical shallow wetlands that were dry just weeks before have slowly come back, as much attention is paid to how much the shallow lake will recover.

“Treat the earth well: It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.” — Tasunke Witko

In 2009, members of Utah’s diverse religious communities developed a statement in which they wrote, “Despite differences in the beliefs and practices that define our traditions, we share a common experience and conviction that wilderness is a place of profound spiritual inspiration, renewal, connection and nourishment. The astounding beauty, utter vastness and enveloping silence of wild places awaken our sense of awe and connect us to something larger than ourselves — God, Allah, the Divine, spirit, the unnameable mystery of life.”

Building on this effort, some of these same communities formed the Great Salt Lake Interfaith Action Coalition (GSLIAC) in 2022. Our purpose is to “take action together to save Great Salt Lake while respecting each of our unique spiritual and faith-based traditions.”

By working collaboratively, we hope to increase exponentially our power to bring about change. The GSLIAC now includes individuals from 11 unique religious and spiritual traditions. We invite you to join us. We speak as one when we affirm that to harm the environment is to desecrate the sacred.

Our spiritual commitment to restoring Great Salt Lake is based on our common belief that the natural world holds inherent value and significance beyond its utilitarian or economic worth. It is our way of acknowledging a shared responsibility to protect and honor the Earth and all its inhabitants as a sacred, interconnected web of life.

It is our obligation to act as guardians and stewards of the Earth, not as its masters. It is time to rekindle our wonder, awe and reverence for Great Salt Lake. Indigenous communities have lived around Great Salt Lake for 13,000 years and continue to have a deep spiritual connection to water, especially Great Salt Lake. Yet many Utahns who find their spirituality and sense of awe in nature have never visited the lake. It’s time we all discovered Great Salt Lake’s sacred significance.

By doing nothing, we not only imperil our own health but that of future generations and the entire ecosystem “triggering a long-term cycle of environmental, health, and economic suffering.” Millions of migratory birds will suffer or die if we do not act. Neurotoxins are already being released into the air from the dry lake beds. Worldwide, vital wetlands are disappearing, and expansion of the Utah Inland Port Authority has been identified as a major factor in their future demise locally. As Stop the Polluting Port says, “We cannot save the lake if we sacrifice its wetlands.”

The primary goal of GSLIAC is to take action to get water to GSL. Experts have warned that emergency measures are needed to rescue Great Salt Lake from ongoing collapse. The 4,200 Project, Grow the Flow, FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake and other groups have outlined priorities for change. We are organizing our communities to express their opinions about recommendations like these. In February 2023, we held a press conference after which we delivered Call to Action letters to our legislators signed by faith leaders and more than 1,000 individually signed postcards.

We also support activities organized by individual spiritual and faith-based communities. We participated in an Antelope Island State Park work project that was planned by LDS Earth Stewardship’s Salt Lake Area Chapter. Our communities joined together for a tree planting day organized by the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation who are leading the ecological restoration at the Bear River Massacre site to heal the land, the Bear River (which supplies nearly 60% of all Great Salt Lake’s water) and their own people.

With environmental justice at the heart of many traditions, we are speaking out about the dangers impacting the well-being of westside communities and the entire Intermountain West, as a result of the drying lakebed.

We call on Utah’s leaders and its residents to join us in recognizing the interconnectedness of all life and the importance of the Great Salt Lake in our ecosystem. Let’s work together to support the vitally important and sacred mission of ensuring Great Salt Lake’s survival at this critical time!

Join us at the Rally to Save Our Great Salt Lake at the Utah State Capitol at 3 p.m. on Jan. 20 and at the Vigil for Great Salt Lake during the 2024 legislative session.

To learn more about the Great Salt Lake Interfaith Action Coalition and get involved, contact us at gsliacinterfaith@gmail.com.

The Great Salt Lake Interfaith Action Coalition (GSLIAC) works together to save Great Salt Lake, while respecting each of our unique spiritual and faith-based traditions. The group takes action on behalf of Great Salt Lake as individual spiritual and faith-based communities; collectively as a coalition of spiritual and faith-based communities; through educational outreach and advocacy; and by reaching out into the community. Its steering committee includes:

  • Rebecca Burrage, Member, Holladay United Church of Christ

  • Helene Cuomo, Member, Congregation Kol Ami

  • Giles Florence, Member, Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance (MESA)

  • Joan M. Gregory, Member, First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City

  • Eileen Vestel, Attendee, Christ United Methodist Church

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