Sep 5, 2011

Re-post: Is The Mormon Church Sacrificing Principle for Profit With Hunting Preserves?

It's been almost two years since I first published a post about the LDS-owned hunting preserves. That post continues to generate a fair amount of traffic to my blog. Unfortunately, however, those who post about the hunting preserves elsewhere usually miss the link to my Mormon Matters post which contained some updated information which was not included in the original post. So for the sake of clarification, here's a re-post of my Mormon Matters article from 2009. To my knowledge, it is still the most up-to-date source of information regarding these hunting preserves that very few Mormons are aware of.

Is The LDS Church Sacrificing Principle for Profit With Hunting Preserves?

September 24, 2009

“To what degree should the principle of ‘respect for life” be extended to bird and animal creations? What do the scriptures, Joseph Smith, and other early Church leaders teach about the grand design and purposes of God’s non-human creations? Does having “dominion” over the kingdom of creatures mean we are their predators and exploiters or does it suggest a “stewardship” relationship in which we become their caretakers in order to help them “fulfill the full measure of their creation?” If the scriptures teach, “woe be unto man that sheddeth blood or wasteth flesh and have no need,” and “the blood of every beast will I require at your hands,” what rationale could be used to explain Church-owned, revenue-generating enterprises such as Deseret Land and Livestock and the Westlake Hunting Preserve? Do these operations constitute sacrificing principle for profit?”

- Sacrificing Principle for Profit: Church Wildlife Enterprises and Hunting Preserves, Sunstone Magazine

I recently learned about the two Church-owned and sanctioned hunting preserves mentioned above and was stunned by what amounts to be the killing of animals for profit by the LDS Church.

Perhaps unlike other Church business enterprises, however, is the fact that missionaries were sent to “serve God in a most unusual way,” according to this July, 2000 article on Deseret News about the LDS Church’s hunting preserves.

According to the information packet from Deseret Land and Livestock obtained by the Sunstone speaker on this podcast, a guided archery hunt to bag an elk can fetch $11,500 plus tax and license, as of the year 2001. (A more detailed price list can be accessed at around the 28 minute mark of the podcast.) When asked in a letter by concerned members of the Church how the hunting preserves could be ethically justified, the Presiding Bishopric (who oversees the hunting preserves) offered no response or explanation.

Now, many Mormons own a gun and many go hunting. Millions of Americans go hunting every year and it’s a big industry. So what’s the problem with the Church getting in on the profits? Well, when we consider LDS scripture and statements by General Authorities such as the following, it’s clear that we’re not “just another hunting enterprise:”

“And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (Genesis 9:11, JST)

“I never could see why a man should be imbued with a blood-thirsty desire to kill and destroy animal life. I have known men—and they still exist among us—who enjoy what is, to them, the ‘sport’ of hunting birds and slaying them by the hundreds, and who will come in after a day’s sport boasting of how many harmless birds they have had the skill to slaughter … I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for food, and then he should not kill innocent little birds that are not intended for food for man. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong.” (President Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, Vol. 1, pp. 371-372)

“Now, I would like to add some of my feelings concerning the unnecessary shedding of blood and destruction of life … And not less with reference to the killing of innocent birds is the wildlife of our country that live upon the vermin that are indeed enemies to the farmer and to mankind. It is not only wicked to destroy them, it is a shame, in my opinion. I think that this principle should extend not only to the bird life but to the life of all animals … because God gave it to them, and they were to be used only, as I understand, for food and to supply the needs of men.” (President Spencer W. Kimball, “Fundamental Principles to Ponder and Live,” The Ensign, November 1978, p. 45)

“Killing for sport is wrong…One day, to while away the slowly passing hours, I took my gun with the intention of indulging in a little amusement in hunting turkeys… From boyhood I had been particularly, and I may say strangely, attached to a gun. Hunting in the forests of Ohio was a pastime that to me possessed the most fascinating attractions. It never occurred to my mind that it was wrong-that indulging in “what was sport to me was death to them;” that in shooting turkeys, squirrels, etc., I was taking life that I could not give; therefore I indulged in the murderous sport without the least compunction of conscience.” (Teachings of Lorenzo Snow, p.188-189)

Something happened between the days that those statements were made and the present day where sport hunting for profit within the Church was suddenly considered to be a good idea — so much so that missionaries were initially sent to tend to the grounds. How did we get from the days where the Church fostered such a high regard for animal life that Joseph Smith prevented the unnecessary killing of rattlesnakes; when the pioneers would lay their hands upon their oxen to bless them; when their animals were valued as they were the key to their survival, and hunting was done only because it was necessary to sustain their lives — to the days when they’re hunted down for recreation and profit? What does that say about our culture and our religion?

Did I miss a change in LDS teaching concerning reverence for the Lord’s animal creations? Or is the only change that we’ve put a price on their heads?

George Q. Cannon, counselor in the First Presidency under Brigham Young and editor of the Juvenile Instructor, probably wrote more concerning the humane treatment of animals than any member of the Church. In 1868 he began writing editorials advocating kindness to animals and in 1897 he founded a Sunday School-sponsored “Humane Day,” which became an annual event. Most members of the Church know nothing about it, but this program continued in the Church for the next twenty years.

It is perhaps a bit ironic that leaders of the Church — in the days of when members were more dependent on animals for their food and clothing — were so frequently vocal about the humane treatment of animals, emphasizing that we should never take their lives unless it is to save our own, whereas today — when we are much less dependent on animals for our survival, and are supposedly much more enlightened on the subject of animal intelligence, emotion, and sensitivity to pain – the leaders of the Church are mostly silent on the issue of animal welfare and see fit to send missionaries to tend to sport hunting grounds.

In the Deseret News article, referring to Elder Huff, who tended to Westlake, it says:

“Instead of knocking on doors, he spends his time bush- whacking in the thick brush along the southwest shores of Utah Lake, looking for the perfect place to nurture his birds by planting numerous stands of corn, rye and other grains….

Large holding tanks that are no longer used for farming now provide high-profile watering holes throughout the game preserve, attracting not only birds but rabbits, coyotes, deer and even antelope.”

Interestingly enough, President Joseph F. Smith made a very specific statement referring directly to hunting elk, deer and antelope, among others:

“I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for food, and then he should not kill innocent little birds that are not intended for food for man. I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong. I have been surprised at prominent men whom I have seen whose very souls seemed to be athirst for the shedding of animal blood. They go off hunting deer, antelope, elk, anything they can find, and what for? “Just the fun of it!” Not that they are hungry and need the flesh of their prey, but just because they love to shoot and to destroy life. I am a firm believer, with reference to these things, in the simple words of one of the poets:

“Take not way the life you cannot give,
For all things have an equal right to live.”

Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.4, p.48

President Smith seems to predict with amazing accuracy what is going on at places like Westlake, where ”prominent men,” (perhaps the “doctors, dentists and attorneys from Payson north to Ogden, including Park City,” that Elder Huff refers to in the Deseret News article) seem to be so “athirst for the shedding of animal blood” that they will literally spend tens of thousands of dollars to “go off hunting deer, antelope, elk, anything they can find, and what for? Just the fun of it!”

Indeed, a very elite, lucrative kind of “fun” that had (as of 2001) a six-year waiting list.

Information about these hunting preserves is very sparse, but according to Jim Catano, who contacted the Church’s public affairs department and was “told by the director that he would answer my questions, a second-tier media handler was assigned to inform me weeks later that they would not answer any of the questions I’d submitted in preparation for this article.” (The article he was referring to can be accessed here.) After deciding to drop into Westlake unannounced and being given a tour by manager Kevin Albrecht, he found out the following in 2001:

“Our efforts in bringing our opposition to the attention of the Church hierarchy have already had an impact. Not only do missionaries no longer staff the facility but “canned hunts” in which birds that have been raised in captivity are released just before the hunters go in are no longer sponsored. Kevin said he had had several meetings with upper management as a result of our activism, and canned hunts were one of the first things to be changed.

He told me that in a meeting he recently attended of commercial hunting facility managers, people from other parts of the country were surprised how low the daily bag limit is (2 per day as opposed to “as many as you can shoot for a price”) and that the facility no longer plants hatched birds but relies only on wild reproduction. He informed me how strict rule enforcement is and that members must report birds they think they’ve wounded but can’t find as part of their daily limit. He’s fairly confident that members do this although I have my doubts that all do.”

Since information about these preserves is limited, I decided to get in contact with Jim in order to ask him whether he had any new information since his update in 2001. He said that he had contacted Farm Management Corporation (wholly owned by the LDS Church to run its farm properties) sometime prior to 2003, but they “refused to talk to me and give me any more information on the subject at a certain point.”

So, while there have been positive changes as the result of protest about the initial practice of canned hunting, Jim says that it “didn’t change (his) mind about the merits of the existence of this facility.” The end result has remained unchanged: animals being hunted down for Church profit.

This isn’t about sustaining the lives of doctors and lawyers or meat going to waste. Who eats coyote? And $11,500 for a few elk steaks? This is about the number of animals being purposely multiplied by creating the perfect conditions and attracting them to the preseve for the purpose of being killed “just for fun” – not because they need the flesh to live on, as President Smith stated above.

Ironically, The Humane Society of the United States has a webpage dedicated to praising the LDS Church for its teachings about animal life. Do we deserve the praise? Or have we given nothing but lip service to our supposed respect for God’s creations and their right to life?

Despite past teachings and statements by General Authorities on the subject of hunting and the taking of animal life, many of you have no personal problem with sport hunting. Obviously, you have the legal right to hunt and I realize that I’m unlikely to change your personal views on the matter. I ask you, however, whether you would be troubled by any of the following purely hypothetical situations:

  • The Church preaches against alcohol consumption, but purchases a vineyard in California and profits from the sale of the grapes being harvested to produce wine.
  • The Church teaches that pornography is wrong, but has a stake in a popular fashion magazine featuring scantily-clothed women in sexual poses.
  • The Church opposes abortion but owns property in Florida that an abortion clinic rents.

Would you be prepared to defend these hypothetical scenarios in the same way that you defend the Church’s hunting preserves?

Of all the good ways to make a buck, is this the best we can do? Are we or are we not, as a Church, sacrificing principle for profit?

Gerald E. Jones stated the following in in an Ensign article from August, 1972 called “The Gospel And Animals:”

“The prophets have been consistent in reminding men of their duty to the animal world. As the Lord told Noah, “… the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.” (JST, Gen. 9:11.) It is our sacred stewardship to care for the earth and all the creatures on it.”

The prophets have been consistent. What about the Church?

I’ll leave you with a quote from Joseph F. Smith from an editorial published in the Juvenile Instructor in April, 1927:

“… The unnecessary destruction of life is a distinct spiritual loss to the human family. Men cannot worship the Creator and look with careless indifference upon his creations. The love of all life helps man to the enjoyment of a better life. It exalts the spiritual nature of those in need of divine favor.”

Apr 26, 2011

Mormongandhi's Easter Sunday Baptism

One of my best friends in this world, mormongandhi, was baptized this past Easter Sunday into The Community of Christ (aka Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). Unfortunately, I was unable to make the trip to Oslo to take part in his special day, but he wrote a beautiful testimony which he has shared on his blog, and which I know he won't mind that I share here. ;) It's an inspiration to me, a story of spiritual triumph.

As a married gay man with a love for the Book of Mormon and its non-violent message, and knowing what kind of person mormongandhi is and what kind of heart he has, I'm genuinely grateful for a place where he can feel at home. For him, that home is The Community of Christ and I know that its small community in Oslo, Norway is very happy to welcome him into their fold. Who wouldn't be?

Below is mormongandhi's baptismal talk, also posted on his blog, Latter-day Satyagraha.

I’ve been on a pilgrimage for the last 14 years, but I think that my
problem until recently has been that I have been looking back at what once was,
rather than looking forward to what might become. My motivation for being
baptized in the Community of Christ was the following: I wanted to symbolically
put an end to a long and painful change process and begin to look forward to a
new and better life as one of Jesus’ peaceable followers. I thought it was
rather symbolic that I had sung Mozart’s Requiem in the choir a few weeks ago,
as a requiem for the old creature I once was, a death mass for the life I once
lived and for the principles I once believed in.

I’ve been a Christian all my life. I have been willing to take upon me
the name of Christ as far as I can remember. This faith had its origin in the
church community that I grew up in (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day
Saints). But it was only as a sergeant in the military, 14 years ago, that I was
challenged to the core. A soldier asked me if I was a Christian, and when I
answered yes – he said, what on earth are you doing here? It was an important
realization – that the greatest injustice one can do to oneself is to do
injustice to others – and I am grateful that someone else was more lucid than me
at the time and got me started on this transformational process. But I’m not
going to dwell on the past so much today. The important thing for me right now
in this moment is to look forward to a new life as a member of the Community of

Jesus once said, “Without being born again, one can by no means enter
into the kingdom of God”. To me this passage of scripture means that when we are
baptized, we enter on a journey of discovering the kingdom of God within, so as
to contribute to establishing God’s kingdom in the world. Through my baptism
today I committed myself to seeing things from God’s perspective – and let the
Spirit of Christ and of His peace show me a gentler way to a better life so that
I can be a blessing to others. A peaceable disciple wants first and foremost to
serve his Master and this Master has always underlined the fact that we serve
him best by serving others.

In the Doctrine and Covenants 164:5 of the Community of Christ, it
says: “It is imperative to understand that when you are truly baptized into
Christ you become part of a new creation. By taking on the life and mind of
Christ, you increasingly view yourselves and others from a changed perspective.
Former ways of defining people by economic status, social class, sex, gender, or
ethnicity no longer are primary. Through the gospel of Christ a new community of
tolerance, reconciliation, unity in diversity, and love is being born as a
visible sign of the coming reign of God.”

It is this community that I want to be part of and as a member of the
Community of Christ, I can help bring it about: I can increasingly testify of
Jesus Christ and participate in my newfound church’s own mission of promoting
communities around the world that are built on hope, peace, love and joy.

Would I be here today unless Joseph and Emma Smith had dedicated their
lives to understanding God’s will for them? The Book of Mormon has been central
to my quest for peace in my own faith, and has convinced me like few other books
have, that war and violence are neither of God nor are they God’s will for His
children. War and violence is what we, together with God, must oppose. But still
there are many so-called Christians, to the extent I thought I was a Christian
when I was in the Armed Forces, that distort the teachings of Christ and adapt
them to serve their own purposes: this distortion has led to suffering, disaster
and death on an unimaginable scale.

How grateful am I for having found the Community of Christ that both
understands and interprets latter day scriptures in a responsible manner and
that have taken seriously the divine call to repent from the violence that has
previously defined (and still does) the Saints in the latter days. The first
Saints, who lived at the time of Jesus, must be looked upon as examples of
Christian living for the Latter-Day Saints, so that the last shall be (equal to)
the first. For the disciples in the time of Christ believed that they had indeed
beaten their swords into plowshares that they would no longer practice war – but
always seek peace. It is with them that I have chosen to lay down by the waters
of baptism (down by the riverside) my sword and my shield.

Does it mean that members of the Community of Christ do not feel
indignation at the injustice that characterizes the world we live in, that we do
not fret and grieve when nations go to war against each other or when
authoritarian regimes oppress people, or that we do not suffer when we see that
we are about to undermine and destroy the very Creation that sustains our puny
lives? On the contrary, like God, neither can we look upon sin in the slightest
and consent to it. We are called to promote good fellowship, through our
communion with the Holy Spirit that is the peace of Christ, to be a force in the
world that can transform unhealthy relationships, that we may promote God’s
peaceful reign and not the least, bring balance to and purity of

Peace I give unto you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. Do not let
your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. I have always believed that
Joseph Smith’s vision of building Zion was one of the greatest innovations in
Christianity in the 19th Century. But the scripture I now am referring to, has
always been central to my understanding of how Zion will see the light of day.
We will achieve peace, but not through the methods of the world (not as the
world gives). Mahatma Gandhi said: There is no way to peace, peace is the way.
That is, there is no way to Zion, Zion is the way. I see the connection here
with what Christ said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and that no
one comes to the Father but by him. We must dare to live as Christ suggested we
ought to in the Sermon on the Mount (is it any wonder we refer to Zion as Zion’s
Mount). Some have taken his admonition seriously and have followed Christ’s
long-suffering example in their quest for a better world.

Change does not come by itself, but it comes when we change ourselves –
and to help us along the way Jesus has given us rituals and symbols that can
help us keep to the uninterrupted and narrow path. Baptism is one of the
sacraments that can remind us of His death and resurrection, and also of his
victory over those who sought to get rid of him. He changed the course of
history in spite of opposition and persecution. Others have also tried to change
history through the same methods and all who refuse to lift up our swords
against our neighbors have become pilgrims in the pursuit of peace.

The symbolism of my baptism today, on an Easter Sunday (the day we
remember His resurrection) reminds me that I must follow in his footsteps
through all the days of my life on earth. The fact that I’m the same age as
Jesus was when he died on the cross and was reunited with his body, says a lot
about his ability to embrace His Divine calling in a relatively young age. 33 is
a good age in a modern world to take up the call I have received to testify of
Christ and the need to continue to admonish others of the importance of
nonviolence both as a believer in the Community of Christ, but also as a
committed member of the global world community.

Maybe that’s what I need to do as a newly baptized member, to see how
the principles taught in Doctrine and Covenants 164 can be implemented in other
contexts. Perhaps one day the world community will become a whole new creation,
a Community of Christ, a new society where we increasingly view ourselves and
others from a changed perspective, where former ways of defining people by
economic status, social class, sex, gender, or ethnicity no longer are primary.
Through the gospel of Christ a new community of tolerance, reconciliation, unity
in diversity, and love is being born as a visible sign of the coming reign of

Mar 25, 2011

Parallel Journeys

It's been a while since I've written here, but I'm working on a third anniversary post that I hope to release in the coming days. In the mean time, you can check out a guest post that I've done for Doves and Serpents, entitled "Parallel Journeys," about some of my experiences of the past year. You can read it here.