By: Steve Reed
I wrote most of this back in 2014 but haven’t published it until now. In fact there was a lot more history before and after this, but I feel like this one experience was a big turning point for me. Few people know about this experience, and even fewer know the details which I’m going to attempt to convey. This event happened about 15 years ago while I was a full-time missionary.
After I share this story, I want to wrap up by exploring what doctrine, principles, and applications relate to this subject.
Winter of 2000
My companion and I were trying to reach out to a less active young man on a small Idaho farm. We got on the conversation of animals and he mentioned that they would be cooking some goat soon for Christmas dinner. My companion, who was Fijian, mentioned that he was an expert at killing pigs and could kill the goat in seconds. The young man and I were impressed with the claim and decided to put my companion to the test.
The day came and we met out at the farm, I was anxious to witness this spectacle of my companion slaying a goat with the skill and finesse that he claimed. I came from Texas where hunting is a big deal and I wanted to see how they did things island-style. We walked out to the goat pen and a large goat was selected. I volunteered to take the rope and lasso the goat, and nailed him perfectly right around the horns. My companion had a habit of calling me “Texas Ranger” and my apparent skill with the lasso caused him to excitedly exclaim, “You ARE the Texas Ranger!”
We pulled the goat out of the pen as it struggled against us. I yanked him around like the dumb animal he was while his fellow-goats cowered away.
We pulled the goat down to the ground and my companion straddled it while I held its head to the ground. A medium-sized knife was handed to my companion. I watched as he took a deep breath, while aiming the instrument and sincerely whispering the words, “Sorry, goat.” With a swift jerk, he thrust the knife into the chest of the animal and it let out a disturbing cry of pain while fiercely fighting against us. The cry was jarring, and although this was just an animal in my mind, I couldn’t help but imagine the exact same sound and physical reaction from a person being stabbed in the same way. I held the goat’s head down firmly and looked into its eyes.
The initial thrust of the knife had missed the heart and hit a lung instead. The goat coughed blood and as I strengthened my grip on its head, the cries of panic and pain were constant. I tried to avoid the eyes while the pain continued to be inflicted. My companion adjusted and stabbed again causing the goat let out a horrific gargling howl which melted away the simple perception that this was ‘just an animal.’
I was a missionary. In my mind I was a person who had grown to value peace, kindness, and goodwill. My hands had blessed, baptized, and served and now this scene was before my eyes – it didn’t fit. I heard frantic breathing and cries now impeded by blood that was quickly seeping into pierced lungs. It wouldn’t be long, but it wasn’t over yet.
“Why were we doing this?” I thought. “What is the purpose? It isn’t like we are starving to death and need food.” Words I had pondered before drifted into my mind, “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 Genesis 9:11) D&C 49 also flashed in my mind, “And wo be unto man that sheddeth blood or that wasteth flesh and hath no need.” (D&C 49:21) Is this what these scriptures are talking about, or am I just being over dramatic? Why did they pop in my head?
Again my companion stabbed; he had his other hand up inside the goat’s chest now, searching for the heart and blindly stabbing. The goat’s cries were terrible, and at this point the young man and I encouraged my companion to hurry up and end the suffering. By now the suffering was apparent to all and it didn’t sit right with anyone. My companion didn’t seem to be as skilled with killing as he claimed. Soon, however, the goat was dead and as it lay there, I pondered what we had done.
I imagine that this all sounds over-dramatic to some. Some people grew up on farms or hunt frequently and this sounds like a simple fact of life blown way out of proportion. Before that time I would have said the same thing and would have read this very post and laughed. Blood and gore never bothered me, and I had witnessed animals being killed.
At that precise moment in time and under these circumstances, I felt like I was allowed to see something with new eyes. I wasn’t that kid who sat for hours playing first-person shooter video games anymore, I gave that up and was pursuing a higher path. I had found myself in a paradox where what I was doing clearly did not match where I knew I wanted to go.
It wasn’t my first experience with death, I had seen animals die before but this was different, there was a clarity that I had not experienced before. Never before had I felt the weight of death and the frailty of life until I watched it disappear under my own hands on this particular day. I began to see life differently and realize how little I valued it. There were many thoughts that materialized on that day that would take years to begin to reconcile.
Time goes by…
This event haunted my thoughts from time to time. I didn’t know what it meant or what I should do. Life went on, we were served meat in virtually every meal throughout the rest of my mission. I continued to barbecue when I came home to Texas and as I fell back into the culture, this experience was pushed to the back of my mind, but it never disappeared.
As time went on, I felt compelled to reconcile several verses of scripture and quotes from church leaders left me in a state of confusion with what I should do. I took to doing some deep study and soul-searching with a willingness to accept whatever the results were, even though I feared that I already knew what those answers might be. The results of those 6 months or so I spent digging through information and thoughts resulted in an article that I posted in October of 2011.
Since then, I have continued to learn, and soon I will publish some of those things. I don’t feel like I see it all clearly yet, but I have learned enough to feel mostly at peace with the paradoxes. I’ve had to change quite a bit in my life, and these changes came as I began to see things with new eyes.
The following words, some might say, are not ‘canonized scripture’ and can be set aside, but the truth in them rings clear to me:
George Q. Cannon:
We should by 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 practice of hunting and killing game merely for sport should be frowned upon and not encouraged among us. God has created the fowls and the beasts for man’s convenience and comfort and for his consumption at proper times and under proper circumstances; but he does not justify men in wantonly killing those creatures which He has made and with which He has supplied the earth. (Gospel Truth, Vol. 1, p.30)
Joseph Fielding Smith:
Why do we feel that we do not have a square meal unless it is based largely on meat. Let the dumb animals live. They enjoy life as well as we do. In the beginning the Lord granted man the use of the flesh of certain animals. See Genesis 9:1-6, but with so many fruits of the soil and from the trees of the earth, why cannot man be content? (In a letter to a member sister in El Paso, Texas, dated 30 Dec. 1966, quoted in “Health Is A Blessing: A Guide to the Scriptural Laws of Good Health,” by Steven H. Horne, advance publication copy [Springville, Utah: Nature’s Field, 1994], p. 34.)
What a thing it must have been to live in the days where the Law of Moses was in effect. To the ancient Israelites, sin and death were closely linked. Imagine watching the life of something pure and innocent become extinguished by your own hand. Not because you were hungry, but because you made a choice that you knew was wrong and an atonement was required.
I suppose many never comprehended the impact of their own selfishness more than at that moment.
For everything God does you can trace it back to a doctrine or a principle. I would suggest that a doctrine associated with this subject is intelligences – that they exist and are the spark of all life. Many might be familiar with this verse:
And the spirit and the body are the soul of man. (D&C 88:15)
However it seems that it isn’t just man that has a soul or a spirit:
And out of the ground I, the Lord God, formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and commanded that they should come unto Adam, to see what he would call them; and they were also living souls; for I, God, breathed into them the breath of life, and commanded that whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that should be the name thereof. (Moses 3:19)
This doctrine is good to ponder as it reflects an important truth about reality. It should cause us to question how we treat all life and how our actions in relation to them either pleases or displeases God. On the one hand, he tells us that they are for our use but then he gives further instruction:
Understanding some of the doctrine behind life, specifically animal life, we can then study any principles that could be associated with the doctrine. In all that I have studied, it seems that the justified use of animal life comes down to one very simple principle: NEED.
Other principles could be: respect, thanksgiving, order, wisdom, compassion, and temperance. Whenever the question arises, the principle of need is the first to enter my mind, “Is this necessary? Do I need this or is there another way?” Here in the United States where we are surrounded by a sea of options, there is almost always another way.
Here in this nation, we have the greatest opportunity to honor a path pleasing to God, but on the flip side, there is also the greatest opportunity for unjustified abuse.
Elder Bednar taught that the applications that grow out of principles can vary according to needs or circumstances.
Some might strictly abide to a lifestyle that avoids the destruction or suffering of animal life at all costs. In a prosperous nation with many alternatives, this is certainly a possibility to those who wish to pursue it.
Others might feel the necessity to hunt sparingly to keep their skills sharpened on how to track and extinguish life in the most efficient and humane manner possible. Some may participate in the culling of certain species to keep their populations in control or to avoid the destruction of land or other species.
Some might live in far out areas or lands without the amenities of 1st world nations. They might require hunting or fishing daily and/or seasonally which, if needed, is justified according to D&C 89. These could all constitute legitimate cases of need and I think this highlights the importance of not judging one another as to how we apply principles.
Persuasion and long-suffering are valuable virtues to cultivate in this regard.
I hope that some of the things I’ve shared here can be beneficial in helping to discover and establish peace as we seek wisdom together.
This essay was originally posted on Steve Reed’s blog, OneClimbs.com.
See Steve’s bio and personal story here: “I’ve come to see food and all creation as sacred.”