The Gospel and Animals
By Gerald E. Jones
from “The Gospel and Animals,”
Ensign, August 1972



Current ecological concern has raised the question of the status of animal life in the universe. The treatment of animals by man has ranged from worship to cruelty. What is the will of our Heavenly Father in regard to animals? The prophets, past and present, have said much that is relevant on this subject.

When animals were placed upon the earth, our Heavenly Father said that it was good. (See Gen. 1:25) Since the creation of the earth, man has been given dominion over the animals. The seriousness of this charge is indicated in Joseph Smith’s inspired revision of Genesis:
“Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. . . . 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.” (JST, Gen. 9:9-11)
That animals are to be treated with kindness is indicated in the law of Moses. The Lord enjoined the Israelites to show kindness to the ox by not muzzling it when it was treading the corn during the harvest threshing. (Deut. 25:4) Undue strain on unequally yoked animals was forbidden as well. (Deut. 22:10) The ancient Israelites were also to avoid destroying birds’ nests while working in their fields. (Deut. 22:6-7) The Lord instructed the Hebrews to help the overburdened animal, even if it belonged to an enemy. (Ex. 23:4-5 Even animals were to be spared labor on the Sabbath. (Ex. 20:10)

The prophet Isaiah revealed that during the millennial reign, cruelty to all living creatures would be abolished:
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

“And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

“And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa. 11:6-9)
The Lord further explained to Hosea concerning the millennial state of animals:
“And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely.” (Hosea 2:18)
Again the Lord’s concern for animal life is revealed in Luke 12:6, where he states that of the sparrows that are sold, “not one of them is forgotten before God.”

The first reference to animal life in latter-day scripture is in the Doctrine and Covenants. In March 1831, it was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith that though vegetarianism was not to be enforced as a doctrine for mankind, men were still responsible for their killing of animals.
“And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;

“For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth, is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have in abundance.

“And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.” (D&C 49:18-19, 21)
While revising the Bible, the Prophet desired further understanding concerning the four beasts mentioned in Revelation 4:6. Section 77 of the Doctrine and Covenants contained the response from the Lord. The answer revealed that “heaven, the paradise of God,” contained beasts, creeping things, and fowls of the air, and “every other creature which God has created.” (D&C 77:2)

The exact status of animals in the resurrected state is unknown except as revealed in verse four, where they are credited with being “full of knowledge” and having “power to move, to act, etc.” (D&C 77:4)

During the Zion’s Camp expedition in the summer of 1834, an incident occurred that allowed a practical application of concern for animal life. As related by the Prophet Joseph Smith in his history:
“In pitching my tent we found three prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I said, ‘Let them alone—don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.’ The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger.” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 2, pp. 71-72)
That the brethren implemented the Prophet’s teachings is indicated in two events that occurred about a month later on the trip:
“As Hyrum Stratton and his companion were taking up their blankets this morning, they discovered two prairie rattlesnakes quietly sleeping under them, which they carefully carried out of the camp.”
And again,
“While the brethren were making their beds in Captain Brigham Young’s tent, one of them discovered a very musical rattlesnake which they were about to kill. Captain Young told them not to hurt him but carry him out of the tent, whereupon Brother Carpenter took him in his hands, carried him beyond all danger, and left him to enjoy his liberty, telling him not to return.” (DHC, vol. 2, pp. 101-102)
Further explaining John’s vision in the book of Revelation and the place of animals in the afterlife, the Prophet Joseph explained that John probably saw beings in heaven of a “thousand forms” that were “strange beasts of which we have no conception,” and that all animals “might be seen in heaven.” He also stated: “John learned that God glorified Himself by saving all that His hands had made, whether beasts, fowls, fishes, or men." (DHC, vol. 5, p. 343)

He further taught the resurrection of animals:
“Says one, ‘I cannot believe in the salvation of beasts.’ Any man who would tell you this could not be, would tell you that the revelations are not true. John heard the words of the beast giving glory to God, and understood them. God who made the beasts could understand every language spoken by them. The beasts were four of the most noble animals that filled the measure of their creation, and had been saved from other worlds, because they were perfect. They were like angels in their sphere. We are not told where they came from, and I do not know; but they were seen and heard by John praising and glorifying God.” (DHC, vol. 5, pp. 343-44)
Brigham Young also showed concern for animals. For example, in a sermon preached in Salt Lake’s old Tabernacle, he said,
“Let the people be holy, and the earth under their feet will be holy. Let the people be holy, and filled with the Spirit of God, and every animal and creeping thing will be filled with peace. . . . The more purity that exists, the less is the strife; the more kind we are to our animals, the more will peace increase, and the savage nature of the brute creation will vanish away.” (Journal of Discourses, vol. 1, p. 203)
President Young also warned that the Latter-day Saints would “never inherit the Celestial Kingdom” until they learned to take proper care of the things on this earth entrusted to them by the Lord. Specifically referring to livestock, he said the people should “take care of their cattle and horses” and the man who did not do it would “lay himself liable to censure in the eyes of justice.” (JD, vol. 11, p. 141)

President Lorenzo Snow related in his journal the change of heart he had concerning hunting shortly after his baptism:
"Killing for sport is wrong. In Adam-Ondi-Ahman, while gradually recovering from the effects of a malignant fever, I was unable to either do or read much. 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, with which that section of the country abounded.

Hunting in the forests of Ohio was a boyhood pastime that to me possessed the most fascinating attractions. It had never occured 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 back. Therefore, I indulged in the murderous sport without the least compunction of conscience.

“[But now,] while moving slowly forward in pursuit of something to kill, my mind was arrested with the reflection on the nature of my pursuit - that of amusing myself by giving pain and death to harmless, innocent creatures that perhaps had as much right to life and enjoyment as myself. I realized that such indulgence was without any justification, and feeling condemned, I laid my gun on my shoulder, returned home, and from that time to this have felt no inclination for that murderous amusement.”
President George Q. Cannon, councilor to several presidents of the church, is quoted in Gospel Truth, Vol. 1 as saying:
"We should be 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 practrice of hunting and killing game merely for sport should be frowned upon and not encouraged among us. God . . . does not justify men in wantonly killing those creatures which He has made."
President Joseph F. Smith, who succeeded George Q. Cannon as editor of the Juvenile Instructor, wrote an editorial in April 1918 that was considered so significant that it was repeated in April 1927. It stated:
“What is it to be humane to the beasts of the fields and birds of the air? It is more than to be considerate of the animal life entrusted to our care. It is a grateful appreciation of God’s creations. It is the lesson of divine love. To Him all life is a sacred creation for the use of His children. Do we stand beside Him in our tender regard for life?

“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.

“The wanton destruction of life reacts upon the human family. There is something in the law of compensation [inevitable when] criminals injure and destroy life. . . . Love begets love in all creation, and nature responds bounteously to the tender treatment of man.

“Nature helps us to see and understand God. To all His creations we owe an allegiance of service and a profound admiration. Man should be kind to the animals which serve him both directly and indirectly. An angry word or a brutal blow wounds the heart from which it comes. Love of nature is akin to the love of God; the two are inseparable.”
President Smith also stated, in a general conference address:
"With reference to the killing of our innocent birds . . . it is not only wicked to destroy them, it is abominable in my opinion. I think that this principle should extend not only to the bird life, but to life of all animals.

"When I visited, a few years ago, the Yellowstone National Park, and saw in the streams and the beautiful lakes, birds swimming quite fearless of man, allowing passers-by to approach them as closely almost as tame birds, and apprehending no fear of them, and when I saw droves of beautiful deer herding along the side of the road, as fearless of the presence of men as any domestic animal, it filled my heart with a degree of peace and joy that seemed to be almost a foretaste of that period hoped for when there shall be none to hunt and none to molest in all the land, especially among all the inhabitants of Zion.

"These same birds, if they were to visit other regions inhabited by man, would, on account of their tameness, doubtless become more easily a prey to the gunner. The same may be said of those beautiful creatures - the deer and antelope. If they should wander out of the park, beyond the protection which is established there for these animals, they would become, of course, an easy prey to those who were seeking their lives.

"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, and day after day, during the season when it is lawful for men to hund and kill them (the birds having had a season of protection and not apprehending danger).

"You may hear their guns early in the morning on the day of the opening, as if great armies had met in battle, and the terrible work of slaughtering the innocent birds goes on.

"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. 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 hunding deer, antelope, elk, anything they can find, and what for? Not that they are hungry and need the flesh of their prey, but just because they love to shoot and to destroy life."
As President of the Church, David O. McKay spoke several times in general conferences of kindness to animals. In October 1951 he commented that “a true Latter-day Saint is kind to animals, is kind to every created thing, for God created all.”

The tenth President of the Church, Joseph Fielding Smith, has also expressed concern for animal welfare. In 1928, as an apostle, he stated in a general conference of the Church:
“So we see that the Lord intends to save, not only the earth and the heavens, not only man who dwells upon the earth, but all things which he has created. The animals, the fishes of the sea, the fowls of the air, as well as man, are to be recreated, or renewed, through the resurrection, for they too are living souls.” (Conference Report, October 1928, p. 100)
Later, as President of the Quorum of the Twelve, he wrote, in the Improvement Era:
There is no inference in the scriptures that it is the privilege of men to slay birds or beasts or to catch fish wantonly. The Lord gave life to every creature, both the birds in the heavens, beasts on the earth, and the fishes in the streams or seas. They also were commanded to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. It was intended that all creatures should be happy in their several elements. Therefore, to take the life of these creatures wantonly is a sin before the Lord.
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.

(edited and augmented by David Van Alstyne)
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