“…we are Mormons. We do not kill people or animals.”

“Shem, we are Mormons. We do not kill people or animals,” said Geneva (7) to her brother Shem (11) as we passed a creepy gun shop near our new home in Las Vegas which invites all to come and try out machine guns on the shooting range.

We laughed at the super-serious tone which Geneva took. She is prone to lecturing her brothers on a range of issues. However, it warmed my heart to hear her begin to develop a social outlook which emphasizes non-violence.

Now if only she applied this when it came to hitting her brothers when she finds them to be irritating.

My wife recently asked me,”What happened to the pacifist Christopher?” I am trying to rediscover that Chris, if anything, for Geneva, Shem, and Todd.

Do Mormons oppose the killing of people and animals? Well, not in the stark terms with which Geneva said we do.

Of course, we sustain the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” Murder is bad. This is something which is quite easy to find consensus on, at least at a theoretical level, across a wide variety of philosophical and religious divides.

But how committed are we to not killing people and animals?

Let’s start with animals. While Utilitarians from Jeremy Bentham to Peter Singer have taken animal suffering and death seriously, Western thought has not given serious weight (as a moral consideration) to the killing of animals. Mormons are not different on this matter.

I am not a hunter. This is not because I do not eat meat. Hunting is just an activity that I have never felt the slightest inclination towards doing. In fact, on the day that Geneva chastised her brother about killing animals, our family went to a buffet at a local casino. That buffet included prime rib. Did Geneva make the connection between the eating of that prime rib (by her brother and father) and the killing of animals? Well, yes she did. No fooling my girl!

I vividly remember a Sunday night fireside that I attended as a teenager. The speaker was a daughter of the the famous, and infamous, journalist Jack Anderson. I do not remember her name, but I remember that she specifically emphasized an aspect of the Word of Wisdom which we do not normally give much focus to. We do emphasize aspects of the Word of Wisdom which prohibit tobacco, coffee, tea, and alcohol.

The Word of Wisdom is found in Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Verse 12 addresses the consumption of meat:

12. Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

Eating meat is ordained by God, but what about this “sparingly” stuff? Clearly, they had not realized the wonders of all you can eat prime rib!

The fireside speaker I heard 20 years ago came flat out and said we violated the sciptural admonition to eat meat sparingly. I was unsettled by this. This sounded like hippie talk to me (I was quite conservative as a teen). Yet, she was preaching scripture rather than cultural norms. In some ways, this sister was channelling Hugh Nibley by using Mormon scripture to challenge Mormon culture and practice.

Lyndee, my wife, is a much better example. She is not a vegetarian, but she is not a fan of meat. She was unsure about my low-carb diet because she worried that I would have a diet too heavy in meat. She was pretty grossed out by the prime rib Shem and I consumed at that buffet.

Lyndee is also not a fan of insects, but she does not like the children squashing them. Instead, these living creatures should be humanely removed to the backyard. We are not animal or pet people in anyway, yet we have a strong commitment to humane treatment of animals. Of course, I am rather selective in my application of this humaneness.

What about the killing of humans? Theologically, as Mormons, we are strong in our commitment to the sanctity of life. But we often turn a blind eye to the death and violence plaguing some of our urban communities. As the likes of Hugh Nibley and Joshua Madson have pointed out, we as a culture are sometimes among the most vocal champions of war and empire.

Do Mormons oppose the killing of people and animals? Not in any way that sets them apart from the rest of Western civilization.

However, what has become clear to me is that Geneva strongly opposes the killing of people and animals. In our discussions over the last week, she has restated in strong terms that conviction.

I am proud of my little Mormon Peter Singer.

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About Chris Henrichsen

Chris Henrichsen has moved Approaching Justice off of Patheos. Find his latest posts and the new Approaching Justice. Thanks!

  • http://www.hotpepper.ca Kim Siever

    My interpretation of verses 12 and 13 is that it does not include non-waterfowl poultry or seafood. I eat all kinds of meat (although not frequently) during the winter months and cooler weather (most of spring and autumn), but eat only chicken, turkey, and seafood meats other times. I feel that this interpretation allows me to live it as best as I can.

    I took a Mormonism class in university, and when we discussed the Word of Wisdom, it all of a sudden seemed hypocritical to me that we ignore this section of it. I vowed then to be more diligent at trying to live it.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/approachingjustice/ Chris Henrichsen

      Kim, I am not sure if I have really tried because of the Word of Wisdom. We have viewed and interpreted the Word of Wisdom in many different ways over the years since Kirtland.

  • CiderMan

    “But we often turn a blind eye to the death and violence plaguing some of our urban communities.” Sending our sons and daughters to preach the gospel of Christ to many of those urban communities, you allude to, is not turning a blind eye. Neither is donating hundreds of thousands of service hours nor hundreds of millions of dollars to humanitarian projects turning a blind eye. Perhaps more Mormon families should move into those urban communities to live, worship and teach -is that what you mean? Many of our friends are on service missions to the inner city, though, they don’t live there, they worship and teach and love among the people of the urban communities you speak of. No we don’t (“turn a blind eye to the death and violence”), we are making headway communities are rallying and lives are being changed for the better. The result of good people trying to live by example the gospel of Christ by serving others.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/approachingjustice/ Chris Henrichsen

      All of those activities are good things.


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