Opinion: We cannot continue to defile the Great Salt Lake

The good news about this problem is that it’s human-caused, which means we humans have the power to fix it.

As the participants in the Great Salt Lake Interfaith Action Coalition (GSLIAC) representing the Latter-day Saint faith community, we share a belief in divine heavenly parents that oversee the cosmos, including human and non-human life. Our creator calls us to care for creation, with particular emphasis on the most vulnerable, including children, the poor and the sick.

As Latter-day Saints, we believe that humanity can commune with the divine and work in partnership with our Heavenly Parents to create a better world, by acting on the best human virtues of love, caring, generosity and compassion.

Our traditions emphasize cleanliness and purity as a path to communion with the divine. We see that principle manifest in the organization and cleanliness of our church meeting houses, temples, gardens, parks, groves, farms, ranches, monuments, universities, seminaries, historical sites, homes and other sacred spaces, as well as in our personal thoughts and behavior. Our faith traditions honor sacred physical spaces and emphasize the importance of the purity and cleanliness of those spaces.

The Old Testament emphasizes cleanliness and care of the land as prerequisites for God’s presence. God tells Moses, “You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.”

In the New Testament, John the Revelator writes of a New Jerusalem where God dwells and “no unclean thing can enter.” John the Disciple writes of Jesus Christ who came to “save the world,” with “world” a translation of the Greek word “kosmos” or “all creation.” In other words, Jesus came to save all of creation, not just people.

Today, we defile our sacred land with our poor water management habits and practices. Restoration movement scripture reads “The earth, lovingly created as an environment for life to flourish, shudders in distress because creation’s natural and living systems are becoming exhausted from carrying the burden of human greed and conflict. Humankind must awaken from its illusion of independence and unrestrained consumption without lasting consequences.”

The decline of the Great Salt Lake is leading to the catastrophes of toxic dust storms, wildlife extinctions, accelerated evaporation of our mountain snowpack and a host of other issues. These effects negatively impact the natural world, but also severely impact our human flourishing with increased health problems, economic decline and spiritual and social conflict. These effects have the greatest impact on the most vulnerable among us — the poor, the sick and children.

The collapse of the Great Salt Lake is an existential risk. Uncorrected, our grandchildren will simply not be able to survive here. If you are skeptical of that risk, research the Aral Sea, Owens Lake or any number of other inland saline seas that have vanished due to poor water management practices, with devastating human consequences.

The good news about this problem is that it’s human-caused, which means we humans have the power to fix it. We can implement better water management practices in agriculture, commercial and residential uses. In March of last year, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints provided an example with a permanent donation of 20,000 acre-feet of water to help restore the lake, declaring “We are committed to be part of the solution to help the Great Salt Lake and have made some initial efforts to contribute.”

Everyone is called to do their part. In Latter-day Saint scripture, the Lord tells Joseph Smith, “I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.” In restoring the Great Salt Lake, ranchers, farmers, suburban homeowners, commercial property managers, public land managers, industry, community leaders, faith leaders and elected officials all have a role to play.

Unlike the Aral Sea and other lakes that have vanished, leaving social, economic and environmental devastation, we still have the opportunity to save the Great Salt Lake. We believe that this act of faith, to save the Great Salt Lake, is to cleanse this sacred space, make it worthy of the Divine, and a healthy place for our grandchildren.

Marsha Maxwell

Marsha Maxwell, PhD, is a visiting faculty member at Brigham Young University, where she teaches science and technical communication.

Mike Maxwell

Mike Maxwell is chair of the Salt Lake Area Chapter of Latter-day Saint Earth Stewardship (LDSES), a global 501(c)(3) non-profit with chapters in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, promoting our mission to honor God by learning and living Latter-day Saint principles of creation care.

Giles Florence

Giles Florence is a board member of Mormon Environmental Sustainability Alliance (MESA), a 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to answering the call to be good stewards of Earth and all Creation by building a faith-based movement of environmental stewardship and conservation action.

Brittany Mangelson

Brittany Mangelson is pastor of the Salt Lake City Community of Christ. Community of Christ is a global restoration movement denomination with congregations in 59 countries. It has also been known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

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