The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called the Mormon Church) has received a lot of positive press in recent years. That comes, in part, from the church's consistent and generous participation in disaster relief efforts throughout the world. Often, the LDS (Latter-day Saint) Church is among the first to respond with flown-in emergency supplies, and it stays around during recovery and clean-up efforts providing vital volunteer labor.
So, what's the emergency that puts the Mormons on the receiving end? Well, hunting season is coming up in the United States, and recent developments show that the church could use a hand rediscovering the position of many of its former leaders on the issue of killing for fun.
In the early 1800's, Church founder Joseph Smith demonstrated vision not commonly shared with many of the other Christian teachers of his day. He taught that even animals have eternal souls and that humans should show compassion and refrain from killing them unless absolutely necessary. Several of Smith's successors emphasized similar principles and labeled sport hunting as an activity unworthy of church members. As recently as 1978, the president of the LDS Church taught in a solemn worldwide church general conference to avoid needless killing as a form of recreation.
Unfortunately, things have changed in recent years and financial considerations have pushed church leaders to not only drop any criticism of sport hunting but to actively promote it. The Church now benefits financially by running big-ticket, private, hunting preserves on some of the same agricultural lands that provide foodstuffs used in its relief efforts.
Two years ago, we reported on one such facility. See http://www.vegsource.com/articles/catano_hunting.htm . We also requested that readers who disapprove of a religious organization making money by promoting bloodsport send their feedback to the church's Public Affairs Office. Enough of you did that it convinced the Church to make some changes. "Canned" hunts (the releasing of captive animals as easy prey for hunters) were eliminated. The facility also stopped assigning LDS Church missionaries to staff the hunt clubs.
Unfortunately, we've recently learned that other steps maintain the status quo and allow the continued earning of profit while giving the appearance that the church has distanced itself from the hunting operations. For example, at Westlake Farm near Elberta, Utah, the church has leased the sport hunting operations to a private party. At first glance, that seemed like a positive step. After closer examination, it appears that no significant changes were made. A spokesman for the church disclosed that the church still intends to profit from the new arrangement, and a church-owned corporation continues to develop artificial habitat to lure more game animals onto its land.
On other LDS Church-owned properties the hunting operations remain unchanged. The mammoth Deseret Land and Livestock ranch in Northern Utah continues to operate a big-ticket hunting and fishing operation. Killing a bull elk there can cost wealthy hunters over $11,000. There are other fee-based sport hunting facilities, but the Church's First Presidency and Presiding Bishopric have informed us through a Public Affairs official that they will not disclose locations or provide any further information about them.
One irony is that the LDS Church is often quite strict about the things people can or can't do on its real estate. A Public Affairs official commented, "It is common knowledge that the Church imposes restrictions on property that it leases." For example, businesses that sell products discouraged by the church's health code, like tobacco and alcohol, cannot lease space in church-owned commercial and office buildings nor can those items be consumed there. Restrictions even cover what types of movies can be shown at theaters in church-owned shopping malls.
Hunting purely for fun, on the other hand, apparently does not carry any moral stigma in the LDS Church today. The church does enforce a "no drinking, no smoking, and no Sunday hunting" policy on its facilities, but, on the other six days, the killing of animals for fun-once considered morally wrong by at least five past presidents of the church-continues for the sake of revenue.
Previously, we communicated directly with the church's agricultural management firm, Farm Management Corporation, on this matter, but now a gag order has been established to funnel all discussion of the hunting facilities through the church's Public Affairs Office. E-mail from the general public is not accepted, but the phone, fax and mailing address are below.
Please give the church the benefit of your views on church-sponsored bloodsport. The LDS Church does many marvelous things like helping all people during times of crisis, so please take a few minutes to help the church see that the older, more compassionate position of its former leaders regarding sport hunting might be rediscovered and pulled down from the shelf.
Direct your comments to:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Public Affairs Office
Joseph Smith Memorial Building
15 East South Temple
Salt Lake City, Utah 84150 USA
(toll-free telephone) 800-453-3860 ext. 22205
(outside USA telephone) 801-240-2205
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