The Gospel and Animals


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.) A proverb observed that “a righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” (Prov. 12:10.)

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 [Rev. 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 massasaugas or 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.)

George Q. Cannon, a counselor in the First Presidency under Brigham Young, probably wrote more concerning the humane treatment of animals than any other Latter-day Saint. As editor of the Juvenile Instructor, he began in 1868 writing editorials advocating kindness to animals. In 1897 he announced the inauguration of the Sunday School-sponsored Humane Day, to be commemorated during the month of February. This program continued in the Church for the next twenty years.

President Lorenzo Snow related in his journal the change of heart he had concerning hunting shortly after his baptism: “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 Joseph F. Smith, who succeeded George Q. Cannon as editor of the Juvenile Instructor, expanded the emphasis on Humane Day. In February 1912 in a two-page editorial entitled “Kindness to Animals,” he wrote:

“Kindness to the whole animal creation and especially to all domestic animals is not only a virtue that should be developed, but is the absolute duty of mankind. … It is an unrighteous thing to treat any creature cruelly. … It will be a blessed day when mankind shall accept and abide by the Christ-like sentiment expressed by one of the poets in the following words: ‘Take not away the life you cannot give, For all things have an equal right to live.’”

An editorial published in the Juvenile Instructor in April 1918 was considered of such significance 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?

“Our sense of appreciation should be quickened by a desire to understand divine purposes, and to keep the balance of animal life adjusted to the needs of creation. Man in his wanton disregard of a sacred duty has been reckless of life. He has destroyed it with an indifference to the evil results it would entail upon the earth. Birds have been uselessly slaughtered, and pests have sprung up as a consequence to plague the people of the world. Animals in the providence of the creation have been intended as a prey upon one another. They preserve a safe balance for the benefit of man.

“… 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 which makes criminals injure and destroy life. Men who are unsympathetic toward the life of domestic animals entrusted to them usually receive the reward of their cruelty by the dumb animals which they maltreat. 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.”

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.)

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.

Dr. Jones is director of the institute of religion at Berkeley, California, and has taught seminary for fifteen years. He teaches Sunday School in Pleasant Hill Ward, Walnut Creek (California) Stake.