Heaven on earth: Religion returns to the environment

Published: Sunday, April 21 2013 1:50 p.m. MDT

“When I preached that first sermon, I was scared to death. I went to the Lord and said, ‘I’m afraid, but I’m going to do it.’”

The entire congregation gave him a standing ovation and he went on to write the book “Saving God’s Green Earth: Rediscovering the Church’s Responsibility to Environmental Stewardship.”

“They’d just been waiting for someone to say, ‘It’s OK to care about the environment.’”

Today, Robinson’s ministry focuses on Isaiah 61, a nearly 2,800-year-old messianic prophecy that says the Lord will come to set captives free, heal broken hearts and turn ashes to beauty.

It also includes a striking metaphor: the previously downtrodden shall be called “the trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” They are those who “shall build the old wastes … the desolations of many generations.”

“He will reform, renew and revive all things,” Robinson said. “Isaiah 61 is really all encompassing of a humanity that has lost its way.”

He believes that “creation care” requires a holistic approach, tackling myriad thorny problems ranging from polluted air and soil to poverty, human trafficking, illiteracy and broken homes.

“It’s a sanctity of life issue. You can’t just take one of these issues, you have to take them all.”

The key to that, he believes, is to change the environment of people’s hearts.

“If you get the toxic waste out of somebody’s heart, it will change their thinking and their thinking will start affecting their actions.”

Mormon theology

Elder Marcus B. Nash of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gained a love of the outdoors in his youth while hiking the North Central Cascades not far from his hometown of Seattle.

“To me, it’s a profoundly spiritual experience,” he said in an interview. “Sitting at or above timberline at night wrapped up in a sleeping bag, you just lay there and look up at the stars and you’re gazing into eternity.”

Speaking a few minutes after Robinson at the Stegner Symposium, Nash focused his remarks on Mormon theology.

He began with the meditations of King David and Moses on the majesty of God and the smallness of man (Psalms 8:45, Moses 1:7-10), and then moved into a narrative in which God created the Earth as a proving ground for his children in order to carry out his overarching purpose of “bring(ing) to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Abraham 3:24-25, Moses 1:39)

Nash said that all things were created spiritually before they were created physically, and cited Joseph Fielding Smith, the 10th prophet of the LDS Church, saying, “Every creature has a spirit.”

“We are all stewards — not owners — and we will be accountable to God for how we use his creation,” Nash explained.

Repeating the words of the church’s 15th prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, he said, “When we make the earth ugly, (God) is offended.”

Turning to the Pearl of Great Price, he told of the prophet Enoch, who heard the Earth mourn its filthy state and cry out for rest and cleansing. Witnessing this, Enoch wept and asked God to have compassion upon the Earth. (Moses 7:48-49)

“Unbridled, voracious consumption is not consistent with God’s plan,” Nash said, urging meekness, humility and care for the poor. “Despoiling nature is almost always a result of selfishness.”

Quoting the counsel Brigham Young gave to early LDS settlers of the Salt Lake Valley more than 150 years ago, he said, “Keep your valley pure; keep your towns pure as you possibly can; keep your hearts pure.”

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