The Optimistic Christian
The Evangelical Tradition and the 2012 Election
Is that what we want our government doing? Do we elect governments to tell us we won't be allowed to live the way we want to? Many evangelicals, recognizing the broader perils of giving that much power to the government, would say no.
One of the least-known but most effective federal programs for eliminating options for the people is land conservation, which since 1964 has quadrupled the amount of land under no-use or limited-use restrictions to nearly 700 million acres, or 30 percent of America's total land base. In 2010, a Congressional inquiry turned up a Bureau of Land Management plan to put another 213 million acres under federal management by designating them "national monuments."
Most of us no doubt agree with the idea of national parks and even some level of conservation. But the cost of federal decisions to drastically expand government's land holdings has been the ejection of millions of rural Americans from their land. The federal government requires landowners to sell when their land is designated for conservation, and it typically wins by holding over them the threat of condemning the property, blocking their access to water, or denying them longstanding grazing rights.
Calculations presented by journalist Elizabeth Nickson and Matthew S. Watters indicate that since 1980, nearly 40 million rural Americans have been "cleared" from lands placed under federal conservation or land-trust management (the latter being the preferred vehicle of environmental groups). Some 25 million of those "cleared" were in ranching or related businesses; 1.4 million ranches and livestock operations have been shut down since 1980, principally because of changes in federal land policies.
Government does have a proper role in setting policies for land use, but should the government be systematically overriding citizens' property rights in this way? In each of the cases I have cited—the insurance purchase mandate under ObamaCare; the contraception-coverage mandate; enforcement of the Common Core curriculum for every student, regardless of what school districts or parents want; the regionalist approach to curtailing suburban options for families; and systematic federal campaigns to take land from citizens—the important issue is the implied relationship between the government and the people. It is not the respectful relationship envisioned by America's Founders. It is something else: something that cannot sustain liberty.
It's hard to rank the importance of liberties. Most Christians would probably say the freedom to love Jesus Christ and obey the Lord God is the most precious—but that doesn't imply that general intellectual freedom, economic freedom, and respect from the government for our rights really matter less to a rewarding life. Governmental respect for the people is in fact a Christian principle, and where it is eroded, Christianity is less at work. It is precisely the freedom to love and proclaim Jesus Christ, without hindrance or punishment, that will not withstand an erosion of respect for the people on the part of our government.
When God judges governments, He will look at how they treated their people. Outcomes are in God's hands; what we control is the attitudes of our hearts. Assuming the mantle of government doesn't give anyone an "out" from that reality. A government that casually overrides the people's rights looks far more like the regimes of the despots we despise than like the Republic crafted by the Founders. Manifestly, a concern about governmental encroachments on liberty is not theoretical for Americans in 2012. It is real, it is tangible, and it is upon us.Content Director's Note: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world's most compelling conversations on life's most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel -- and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.
J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval intelligence officer and evangelical Christian. She retired in 2004 and blogs from the Inland Empire of southern California. She writes for Commentary's CONTENTIONS blog, Hot Air's Green Room, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.