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   Jim Catano | VegSource Interactive, Inc.

A Cruel Mission
The Mormon Church Goes Hunting for Profit
by Jim Catano

 


New LDS Logo?

You've probably seen them before; mostly young men in their early twenties traveling in pairs and wearing white shirts, ties and black name tags. They're the missionaries of the Mormon Church or, to use the preferred official name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

If you've listened to their message, you know it's a unique one. The Latter-day Saint (LDS for short) Gospel has some pronounced differences from the doctrines of other Christian denominations. I should know. I've been a Mormon since age nine and completed an LDS mission in 1972.

One unique LDS teaching is that the church was founded by a modern prophet who was called by God like Moses and others in ancient times. A central belief is that in 1820 Joseph Smith, Jr., started receiving visits from heavenly beings. He then began the work of restoring the original gospel of Jesus Christ that had been corrupted following the martyrdom of his apostles and the splitting of Christianity into factions that followed.

The presidents of the LDS Church who succeeded Joseph Smith have also been considered prophets who lead the church through inspiration from God. Through them, Mormons have received several non-traditional doctrines. One example is the rejection of a single heaven and a single hell into which all humanity is assigned after death. Instead, Mormons believe that Paradise and Hell are temporary states that will be followed by a broad spectrum of eternal dwelling places. This includes a concept of Eternal Progression in a Celestial Kingdom for those who fully commit to God even if circumstances force them to make that choice in the next life.

Joseph Smith also edited some Bible passages to correct inaccuracies he said occurred because of mistranslations throughout the centuries. One of particular interest is found in the ninth chapter of Genesis. Today's biblical versions seem to suggest that the vegetarian diet practiced for 2,500 years by Adam and the other patriarchs up to the time of Noah was replaced by God with an omnivorous diet. Joseph Smith added a cautionary warning to the text. It reads, "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."


 



My personal decision to become a vegetarian was prompted in large measure by the fact that Joseph Smith established a detailed health code he said he received through divine revelation in 1832. The dietary guideline stresses primary reliance on grain, fruit and vegetables and teaches that animals may be killed for food only in dire circumstances like "times of winter or of famine." For more information please refer to a detailed article at http://www.vegsource.com/articles/catano.htm.

Although my vegetarian journey began mostly as an effort to improve physical health, I gradually developed concerns for animal welfare as well. Again, I found wisdom and inspiration in the words of several Mormon prophets. I had in the past been involved with recreational hunting but started to understand the darker aspects of that "sport." Lorenzo Snow who presided over the Church in the late 1800's also underwent a similar metamorphosis as a youth. He described his change of heart as follows:

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

Joseph F. Smith was a nephew of church founder Joseph Smith and, in the early 1900's, also led the church as its president. Regarding sport hunting he said:

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...I do not believe any man should kill animals or birds unless he needs them for food... I think it is wicked for men to thirst in their souls to kill almost everything which possesses animal life. It is wrong...
                  Answers to Gospel Questions, Vol.4, p.48

Another high official of the church who eloquently preached the sanctity of life was George Q. Cannon who served in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the late 1800's. He wrote:

We should by every means in our power impress upon the rising generation the value of life and how dreadful a sin it is to take life. The lives of animals even should be held far more sacred than they are. Young people should be taught to be very merciful to the brute creation and not to take life wantonly or for sport. The practice of hunting and killing game merely for sport should be frowned upon and not encouraged among us. God has created the fowls and the beasts for man's convenience and comfort and for his consumption at proper times and under proper circumstances; but he does not justify men in wantonly killing those creatures which He has made and with which He has supplied the earth.
                    Gospel Truth, Vol. 1, p.30

Despite these and many other strong and clear statements by past leaders of the LDS Church, its members have held diverse opinions about sport hunting since the church was formed in 1830. As recently as 1978, however, President Spencer W. Kimball pleaded with the Latter-day Saints in a worldwide conference to avoid killing animals merely for pleasure, but many Mormons still engage in recreational hunting. I understand and appreciate the church's position to allow the free exercise of personal conscience in this matter, but I was absolutely stunned to learn recently that the church has now begun to make a financial profit by actively encouraging sport hunting.

On July 8, 2000, a Salt Lake City newspaper, The Deseret News, ran a feature article about a relatively new Church business venture (see http://www.desnews.com/cgi-bin/libstory_reg?dn00&0007100178). The article describes how Farm Management Company (the wholly-owned subsidiary of the church that operates its agricultural facilities) has established private hunting preserves for wealthy hunters on certain Church-owned lands to generate additional revenue.

The LDS Church is experiencing the fastest growth among Christian denominations, and membership now exceeds 11 million. To fund its rapid expansion and aggressive building program, the church operates businesses that supplement the tithes and offerings collected from members. Over the years, the church has owned such enterprises as an insurance company, a chain of high-end department stores, a newspaper, and network TV and radio stations. In recent years, however, it has moved to sell off those businesses that no longer play a central role in its mission. For example, the department store chain was recently sold.

The church does continue to own extensive tracts of land on which it maintains agricultural operations. These farms produce foodstuffs for the highly respected, worldwide, LDS welfare system that aids both needy church members and non-Mormons during natural and other disasters.

The volunteer missionary corps often participates in those emergency efforts in addition to its normal work of sharing a Gospel message or assisting chronically destitute populations through medical and other forms of relief. It was shocking to read that the Church has now assigned some of its missionaries to staff and manage the hunting preserves. The missionaries plant grain fields to attract larger numbers of animals and function as hosts for hunters who pay up to $8,500 to use the facilities.

It's hard to imagine the church owning hunting preserves under the leadership of the those quoted above, but Gordon B. Hinckley, the current president, has either authorized the creation of the hunting preserves or at least tolerates them. I wasn't able to determine which is the case because the church is being very quiet on the matter. I contacted its public affairs office, and, after first being 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.

There is one approach that may yield results. During his many years of service to the church, Pres. Hinckley has functioned in a public communications role even prior to becoming president and has brought a professional's awareness of media relations to the church's top position. Pres. Hinckley has appeared on potentially controversial national news shows like 60 Minutes and Larry King Live in an effort to bring the church into a more positive light. Because he is keenly aware of good public relations and image, I believe he would respond to public disapproval of a church owning game preserves for wealthy hunters as a money making scheme. Here's how you can help:

1. To let the LDS Church know your thoughts, contact:

LDS Church Public Affairs
Attn: Bruce Olsen, Director
Joseph Smith Memorial Building
15 E. South Temple
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150 USA

(tel) 800-453-3860 ext. 24377
(fax) 801-240-1167
email: olsenbl@ldschurch.org

2. If you know or meet LDS people, ask them to find out from their leaders why the Church is attempting to profit from killing for amusement and report back to you what they learn. Tell them you're aware that one of their responsibilities is to help build the Kingdom of God on the Earth (or Zion as it's commonly called), and Joseph Smith stated in Doctrine and Covenants 105:5 that, "Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the Celestial Kingdom." Since, according to established Mormon doctrine, sport hunting is not a Celestial activity (meaning one that pertains to the highest order of heaven), for the LDS Church to own hunting amusement parks is in conflict with its goals.

3. If you are LDS, ask your bishop, stake president and other authorities to find out how the church can operate such facilities in light of strong anti-sport hunting statements of past leaders. As you discuss this with them a typical answer may be, "The hunting preserves are merely business operations owned by the church but run separately from it." That response is shallow and intended to divert attention from the two real central issues which are, "Can a church operated through divine inspiration ignore the clear condemnation of sport hunting by several of its past presidents who were considered spokesmen for God?" Finally, "Is it really proper for any religious group to raise money by promoting bloodsport?"

I've heard a rumor that the church is considering hiring paid staff rather than using volunteer missionaries to operate its hunting facilities. That would be a step in the right direction but would be more of a public relations maneuver than a real solution. A business that the church owns and can completely control would still be operating in disharmony with the church's long and honorable spiritual tradition.

Please help communicate this message, and feel free to distribute this article at your discretion. If possible, please forward copies of the correspondence you send and any answers you receive to Jim Catano, jimc@vegsource.com

Update Aug 1, 2001:

I finally had the time yesterday to take a tour of the Church-owned hunting facility at Westlake Farms north of Elberta, Utah. I dropped by unannounced but was welcomed most cordially by Kevin Albrecht who's the paid manager there. Almost a year ago, he and his wife replaced the missionary couple who had had that assignment.

I was sincerely impressed by Kevin. I told him up front who I was, and he already knew who I was. He volunteered to give me a tour, so we took a half hour drive around the facility viewing stands of mixed grains that have been created as an attractive habit for birds. I saw doves, geese, pheasants, and hawks which he says are abundant in the area along with a large population of bald eagles due to the large population of game birds and jack rabbits which the habitats attract. Game bird hunting occurs 3 months out of the year.

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.

He didn't change my mind about the merits of the existence of this facility, but I am somewhat gratified to know that this facility may be the "best of the worst." It wouldn't hurt to keep the heat on and contact those in authority with your opinions if you've not yet done so.

He did say that some stakes in Payson, Utah send volunteers to help on work projects. He didn't know the details, so I need to find out if this is being done as a Church welfare assignment. I also forgot to ask if the facility is open on Sundays and if it's financially self-sustaining based on current membership fees. More later, JimC

 

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