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The Evangelical Tradition and the 2012 Election

The ultimate purpose of the "regionalism" initiative is literally to inhibit or prevent the development of traditional suburbs, which attract people because they are safe and affordable, with plentiful single-family housing and good schools. The method for preventing the desirable-suburbs phenomenon is to plunder the suburbs' tax base through revenue shifting to the urban cores.

Regionalism is not merely theoretical; it has been implemented in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, it has been introduced in a different way in Portland, Oregon, and it is being pushed hard in Ohio. If the area you live in has a regional "council of governments"—and it probably does—the infrastructure is in place for the federal government to largely control how your area develops by issuing grants under Obama's Sustainable Communities Initiative.

Unquestionably, many of the states have, on their own initiative, fostered the infrastructure for regional planning (such as California, where I live). But putting the federal government behind it, and focusing a laser beam on shifting tax revenues within regions, raises the stakes considerably. If the federal government is actively discouraging the development of affordable, desirable suburbs—the kind young families have flocked to for nearly a century—it will be deliberately eliminating options the people have long shown a preference for. If this is a national policy, can there be any appeal from it?

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.

10/28/2012 4:00:00 AM