Friday, August 10, 2012
Over the last few years, I have taught a seminar on Law, Religion, and Environmentalism. The seminar grew out of my own interest in how cultural value systems impact our collective mark on the natural world, and was spurred on by the growing involvement of churches and faith traditions in environmental advocacy. It’s a fascinating subject to spend a semester on.
The last few times I have taught the course, we divided it into three segments: (1) an introductory section, in which we take an overview of the historical roots of environmentalism and environmental law, including parsing Lynn White’s argument that the Judeo-Christian tradition caused the environmental crisis; (2) a middle section, in which guest speakers from different faith traditions help us explore a variety of philosophies of the environment; and (3) an end section, in which we attempt to reweave the strands of the semester by asking whether and, if so, how environmentalism and environmental law should change as a result of religious activism.
I plan to teach the seminar again this year and, as with any intellectual exploration, it is certain to evolve. My law school’s environmental program, the Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment, will also focus its eighteenth annual symposium this year on religion and the environment. In addition, I have found myself becoming increasingly active in exploring the intersection of these ideas, not just from an academic perspective but also from one of trying to put theory into action. Last year, I accepted an appointment to the board of directors of Utah Interfaith Power & Light, our local chapter of the national Interfaith Power & Light group—one of the clear leaders in helping bring the religious and environmental communities together. Earlier this year, I also gave a speech to the local chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Society explaining why Mormons should be some of the strongest environmental advocates of any Christian tradition.
Stemming from these interests, I plan to make a series of posts this year exploring different angles on the religion and environment topic. With the Olympics winding down and the election season about to heat up, however, I thought it might be appropriate to begin with a brief note on something certain to be on many people’s minds this autumn: With Mitt Romney, an active Mormon, apparently the inevitable Republican challenger to President Obama, what role might the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints play in shaping how Romney sees environmental issues? As a devout Mormon myself, I think the theological answer to this question is abundantly clear. At multiple turns, Mormon doctrine teaches emphatically that members of the church should value God’s creation, find God in it, and protect and care for it. Of course, how that unambiguous doctrinal directive mixes with policy decisions is certain to be more complicated, especially when Romney’s own personal views are translated through the matrix of representational politics.
Still, recognizing that this may be a topic for conversation throughout the election season, there are two resources that may be of interest at the outset. The first is an excellent scholarly exposition of Mormon environmental theology by George Handley, a humanities professor at Brigham Young University and the current chair of the Utah Interfaith Power & Light board of directors. The second is a recent post from the Yale Climate Media Forum on Mormon views on climate change.