Spiritual Ecology
February 1975

“Spiritual Ecology,” New Era, Feb. 1975, 35

Spiritual Ecology

We are in an age that is surfeited with causes. In the Book of Mormon there is a verse that says it all: Jesus “advocateth the cause of the children of men.” (Moro. 7:28.) In the midst of misunderstanding and difficulty it is so crucial for us to keep our perspective in terms of the message we bear and the crucial concepts we have to share with mankind, for how relevant that message really is!

One of the things the gospel of Jesus Christ tells us is that our brotherhood with men on this planet is not a mere biological brotherhood but a kind of brotherhood that lets me know that I have an accountability, for my relationships will be perpetuated far beyond today, far beyond here, and far beyond now.

Several years ago a good friend in Washington, D.C., a member of the Church, came home and found his house being burglarized and ended up tussling with the burglar. The burglar shot him, almost completely severed his spinal cord, and he is now paralyzed from the waist down. As I visited with him in a hospital in Washington, D.C., he told me movingly and tearfully, and with a sense of gratitude, how he had now, as a matter of prayer and great reflection, been able to forgive this man, his unknown assailant, for the great tragedy that he had inflicted upon him.

I would submit to you that we cannot really forgive each other if our brotherhood is simply a biological brotherhood in which we share the same planet at the same time; the only kind of forgiveness that can operate effectively in the human family grows out of a sense of brotherhood that the gospel of Jesus Christ makes pervasive and persistent.

In an age when people deny the existence of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ tells us not only that he exists, but also that God, as we understand him through the revelations, is a loving and wise Father. And loving us, he will, if necessary, insist that we deal with the harsh realities of life and of our personal defects to further our personal growth.

Too many Christians believe in God as a “kindly Grandfather,” who indulges us, who is indifferent when we sin. The God of the gospel is a loving Father, who in loving us is willing for us to endure pain if that is necessary for us to grow. He is not a mere “Life Force”; he is the kind of Father who is committed to our growth and who loves us enough to trust us to each other, knowing the harsh consequences of that decision.

The message we bear is one in which there is a spiritual ecology. We hear a lot today about ecology in the world of biological and physical things. We are learning that some of its laws are inexorable, that when we violate them we pay a penalty; we pay a price. There is an ecology that pertains to spiritual things, to human nature, which, when violated, brings a series of consequences—just as inexorable and just as automatic as the ecology that is born of the cluster of laws governing nature. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a collection of principles woven together in the fabric of immutable law; this is the romance and the high adventure of orthodoxy: these principles, bound together, not only give us salvation, but they also give us balance, depth, and happiness in our lives.

The doctrines of Jesus Christ are so powerful that any one of these doctrines, having been broken away from the rest, goes wild and mad, as G. K. Chesterton observed. The principle of love without the principles of justice and discipline goes wild. Any doctrine, unless it is woven into the fabric of orthodoxy, goes wild. The doctrines of the kingdom need each other just as the people of the kingdom need each other.

Spiritual ecology operates in many ways. There is, for instance, an analogy between the kind of heedless destruction that occurred with strip mining in states like West Virginia [where the “get and gouge” theory prevailed and where we now have a kind of vast wasteland that is scarred and the floods come and the economic anguish occurs] and unchastity. There is a spiritual counterpart to strip mining and that is the violation of the law of chastity; this violation of moral law brings floods of anguish, brings harsh consequences inevitably and inexorably, just as surely as the violation of those principles of natural conservation did in West Virginia.

As the Book of Mormon indicates, there are transcendental implications bound up with the doctrine of chastity, for as Jacob wrote so descriptively in a time of gross unchastity, “many hearts died, pierced with deep wounds.” (Jacob 2:35.)

We do not fully understand all these laws that operate in the world of spiritual ecology, but they are there. We worry about pollution and rightfully so, but a home in which there is not adequate love pollutes society just as surely as we pollute the air and streams around us, and people further “down stream” pay a price. If we were to versify modern scripture, we might say, McKay 1:1: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home,” for this is a spiritual law of the first magnitude. When we sing that song, “Love at Home,” as trite as it may seem to us, we happen to be verbalizing concepts that deal with a most sublime concept in the gospel.

When there is not “love at home,” when there is scarring and emotional deprivation, society pays a price just as inexorably as society pays a price for the other forms of pollution.

We probably paid, to be perfectly blunt, a presidential price for the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald did not experience enough love and self-discipline in his life. A family in Kansas paid a total price when they were killed “in cold blood” by young murderers, one of whom had witnessed maternal unchastity and was indelibly scarred by accumulated hostility from many social “shortfalls.” When there is no love at home, the deprived then punish others by passivity or hostility, and society pays a price, just as we pay it when we pollute in other ways the world in which we live.

The young are rightly concerned about violence in terms of war. What the gospel does, if one understands its ecology, is to help us balance considerations. The violence of war is tragic! So is the violence of alcoholism! We killed 40,000 Americans in Vietnam in nine years. During those same nine years 250,000 Americans lost their lives in highway accidents that were caused by alcohol. If we are against violence, then alcohol is obscene in terms of its harsh consequences for the human family. Seeking to escape the burdens of agency whether by drugs or alcohol violates spiritual as well as secular law.

My sister teaches, and occasionally she has children who come from homes in which there is alcoholism. Once she taught two or three children who were apparently beaten periodically by their parents; the children came to class bruised and abused. I am not sure there is enough active love in the world to reach those children now.

These are the kinds of concerns that are a part of the gospel and are what we refer to when we say that Jesus “advocateth the cause of the children of men.” Whatever it is in the gospel that Jesus tells us to do is productive of happiness here as well as salvation in the world to come. The sum of human misery is less because some Mormons live their religion; the sum of human happiness is greater for the same reason.

We are rightly concerned with reforming and improving our institutions in society. The gospel says we begin at home. If we fail there, it matters much less about the form and content of our other societal institutions. We can do the one and still not leave the other undone. We reportedly have in New York City over a million people on welfare. It is a situation that is almost out of control. We know from the gospel that when we use a dole system, it doesn’t work; the world is just learning this truth.

I admire those outside the Church who frantically search for remedies to the major, massive social problems of our time. I admire their heroism and their sincerity. The gospel tells us what the essential insights are, and if we fail to recognize these kinds of laws, we will pay a price as a society. To help our brethren “outside” in their search for remedies, we must be better able to articulate the insights we have been given!

In addition, the gospel rightfully reminds us, in terms of the ecology of the things of the spirit, that when, in fact, we adopt a life-style that partakes of the “eat, drink, and be merry” philosophy in any way, we are then doing the same basic things as those who exploited those West Virginia hills so heedlessly, leaving the consequences for others to deal with. We are not going to solve the problem of aid to dependent children in America—which costs us billions of dollars—until fathers are placed at the head of the home and stay there, out of love and duty, leading by example and kindness. We can practice preventive medicine in avoiding the recurrence of the problem of the thousands of young men and women in Japan and Vietnam who were sired by unchaste American servicemen and then abandoned. Some of these individuals and others have a sense of inner rage, deprivation, bitterness, and cynicism. We all pay a terrible price when those among us violate these spiritual laws.

May I suggest to you further that what the gospel gives us that is so precious, in terms of perspective, is also the balance that avoids fads, the fads that sweep across our society. The gospel gives us a sense of balance and a sense of proportion about the things that matter most. We can avoid the problems C. S. Lewis describes, when an anxious society runs around with fire extinguishers in times of flood; we are put on guard against the very things that we least need to be put on guard against when we listen to secular prophets.

I suppose that in the Middle Ages Christians didn’t need quite as much reassurance about the resurrection. Most believed in the teaching or accepted it. They needed other kinds of emphases from the gospel. In our time the need for hope, for belief in immortality, and for the belief in God is very pervasive. The gospel of Jesus Christ is prepared to address those very needs in any society, in any age!

Our youth are the seed-bearers of that kind message. The seed-bearers are the culture of the kingdom. On your shoulders these burdens rest; your shoulders are able to bear them.

The rising generation within the Church become “idealists without illusions,” prepared to cope with the world as it is, prepared to bring the message of the Master to bear on the world’s problems, with the inner confidence that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the answer to human problems, able to say this (not condescendingly or with false pride) but humbly and with a sense of certitude born of their own experience. Man can produce enough food for mankind. But man cannot produce the secular delivery systems, in terms of political and social systems, because we don’t really believe in brotherhood. We can produce documents full of high hopes and expectations about our concern for others, but they are hard to act on unless we believe—in fact, as we do—that we are begotten sons and daughters of a Father in heaven.

Every social and potential problem of any significance that I know about can be solved, and solved only by the application of the teachings and the insights of the Master. That is almost trite to say, and yet, experientially, this is borne in on me with a truthfulness and impact as never before.

One of the things the Church does for each of us (even though the Church is perfect in its doctrine and its divine leadership, it is filled with imperfect people like you and me) is to avoid this kind of problem: “The more often a man feels without acting, the less he will ever be able to act, and in the long run, the less he will ever be able to feel.” (C. S. Lewis.) I am grateful that the Church helps me to feel, prods me to act, and keeps me feeling and acting in a way that I would not do if the kingdom did not “lean” on me and also create opportunities for me to participate. The gospel moves us to action through the institution of the Church in a concerted and effective way that, left to ourselves, many of us simply would not undertake.

My testimony came in three ways: early in life came the witness of the Spirit, then the intellectual conversion, and then the experiential conversion, with the three “witnesses” flowing together, resonating together in terms of the validity of the message of the Master. The witness of the Spirit is more sure, but the other witnesses corroborate increasingly the relevancy of the gospel for our time. So I can say to you humbly, sincerely, and soberly, that when the Book of Mormon says Jesus “advocateth the cause of the children of men,” indeed He does! Every dimension of the gospel is relevant to one or more of our social and political problems in our time.

It is your generation, more than any preceding generation, that must make this application, that must articulate the message! Be articulate disciples in terms of facing, loving, and serving a doubting and skeptical world, a lonely world filled with fear, difficulty, and turbulence. You cannot do this without the inner peace that the gospel brings.

I salute you as a generation that matters. You are much like the Spartans of ancient Greece who, it is written, were gathered along with all the other tribes of Greece in the great amphitheater. An old, bent man came into the theater looking for a place to sit down. There was no seat left. No one rose to offer him a seat as he moved first from one tribe to another until he came to the Spartans, and they rose, as one, offering him a place to sit down; and the old man in a quiet voice said, “All Greeks know what is right, but only the Spartans do it.”

Most young people know what is right. Be the young Latter-day Saints who do it and who lead the way. You have my confidence and my witness as to the truthfulness of the work in which we are engaged, that in your life it will prove increasingly evident that the gospel is relevant to every social problem you see in the headlines today, and that there is a spiritual ecology. May God bless you to that end.

Illustrated by James Christensen