by Johnny Townsend
While the devastating effects of the climate crisis will help fulfill prophecies about the terrors of the “last days,” that’s about the only benefit the Mormon Church will receive from them. Virtually every other effect will weaken the Church.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often feel they are given special protection by Heavenly Father, despite scriptures claiming God is “no respecter of persons.” In almost every account of natural disaster, we hear about how “the chapel was miraculously spared,” “no missionary was harmed,” or some other such claim. The truth, though, is that Mormons are increasingly impacted by the effects of worldwide climate crisis, both at home and abroad.
Scientists have determined that as global temperatures rise, so does sea level. Storms become more frequent, and because upper level steering currents are disrupted by climate change, even small storms can linger over an area and cause widespread devastation. In 2017, flooding impacted roughly 1400 Peruvian Latter-day Saints.
That same year, Hurricane Harvey dumped over five feet of rain and flooded six LDS meetinghouses in the Houston area, causing minor damage to another twenty. 800 homes of church members were damaged, with 2800 members displaced. Even the Houston temple was flooded.
In 2018, Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas flooded the homes of 20 members. Cyclone Gita seriously damaged a ward meetinghouse in Tonga as well as the Liahona high school there. Over in Samoa and American Samoa, Gita flooded the LDS Service Center and damaged the stake center in Pago Pago.
Just a few years earlier, Typhoon Haiyan destroyed the homes of hundreds of church members. According to the Deseret News, “In one Mormon congregation alone, 95 percent of the members saw their homes destroyed. Scores had lost family members, many carried out to sea with the current, never to return.”
At least two ward meetinghouses were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Many displaced members in Louisiana and Mississippi moved out of the area permanently.
In 2016, an LDS stake center in Denham Springs, Louisiana was submerged when a storm stalled over the Baton Rouge area for days.
In 2008, Nauvoo was threatened by floods in the American Midwest. In 2019, the town was flooded. The Mormon Bridge connecting Nebraska and Iowa was washed away.
Extreme weather events caused by global warming are becoming more common around the world. They affect everyone, and since Mormons are part of “everyone,” they affect members of the Church as well. Even those who don’t lose their homes (or their lives) are impacted when FEMA and other government agencies use billions in taxpayer dollars to address disaster after disaster after disaster.
In 2017, members of the Mormon Church lost 150 homes in 16 California wildfires in Santa Rosa, Napa, Ukiah, Auburn, and Coffey Park. A mission home, a meetinghouse, and an Institute building were threatened. They survived the fires that year, but the Church will need to deal with more and more losses as wildfires in the west worsen in the coming years.
In 2018, 20 member families lost homes in the Carr fire near Redding, California. One can look up stark images of wildfires burning behind the Payson temple in Utah.
And who can forget the devastation wreaked upon members in Paradise that year? Two meetinghouses burned to the ground, the fire so intense that a metal beam supporting the roof of one of them melted. Almost every member in town, over 60 families, lost their homes.
These are no longer isolated incidents. This is the future of life on Earth as the climate crisis worsens and we continue to refuse addressing it.
It bears remembering that all these disasters also impact the missionaries serving there at the time and disrupt missionary work in the area for years afterward.
Of course, nothing is all bad. Even climate crisis has a silver lining for Mormons. Temple work, in those temples that survive, will receive a boost, given the increased opportunity to perform baptisms for the dead.
Kinda gives “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam” a rather different meaning, doesn’t it?