Presbyterian and other Christian leaders, in a show of ecumenical support for the care and reverence of creation, released a letter today thanking President Obama and other government leaders for permanently protecting public lands. The action establishes three new national monuments, Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and Castle Mountains, in the California desert.
The national monument designation means these areas are closed to new extractive uses such as mining and oil and gas development. The letter, addressed to the President, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and California Senator Diane Feinstein, expressed gratitude for preserving the land which “improves the chances of survival for many of God’s beautiful and unique creatures.
In a statement released previously, Creation Justice Ministries, a group which represents creation care policies of 38 Christian communions, says, “Protecting these places is important to our spiritual life. Out of reverence for the dignity and culture of those who have answered the divine call to till and keep the land for generations before, we are grateful for preservation of Native American cultural sites in these monuments. We also value places to encounter God.”
The genesis for designating the land goes back to 1994, when Senator Feinstein enacted the California Desert Protection Act, which provided protections for traditional cultural uses of wilderness areas by American Indian tribes. In August, 2015 Feinstein introduced the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act to provide protection to the Mojave Trails, Castle Mountains and Sand to Snow areas.
“In 2016, many churches will reflect on Care for God’s Creatures for Earth Day Sunday,” says Shantha Ready Alonso, director of Creation Justice Ministries in the released statement. “Many in California will offer prayers of thanksgiving for the important preservation of wildlife habitat. As Ecclesiastes 3:19 tells us: ‘the fate of humans and the fate of animals are the same: as one dies so does the other; both have the same breath.’”
Several presbyters on the west coast, as well as members of the PC(USA) Earth Care Congregation network in California, endorsed the letter. It calls on religious leaders to foster appreciation for our national parks and monuments, and celebrate God’s beautiful creation by visiting the newly designated monuments.
Rebecca Barnes, PC(USA) associate for Environmental Ministries in the Presbyterian Hunger Program who oversees the Earth Care Congregation program, says, “In my experience, connecting to God through God's amazing creation is a powerful motivator for faith. It is in the green spaces within cities, in wilderness spaces or in the peaceful settings of our presbytery camps that help many of us deepen our faith and to experience God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer of the whole world. So, protecting wilderness is key for ecological heritage as well as spiritual experiences for generations to come. Providing protected habitat for wild creatures, and ensuring open spaces like deserts, resonate with our faith because Christ spent time in the desert. I am very thankful for the foresight and wisdom of leaders who work now to protect lands for the future to come.”