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by Ann Alexander, Fred Clark, Fred Krueger, and Stan LeQuire


The claims of the property rights movement, as we will discuss, are grounded in many basic, unspoken, and generally unexamined assumptions about ownership, valuation, and use of land. To properly evaluate the takings issue from a Christian perspective, we must start by examining these basic assumptions in light of an equally basic question: what does Scripture teach concerning the proper relationship between God, humankind, and the land? Through answering this question, we can respond biblically to the more specific issues concerning environmental and land use law that are implicated by the takings debate.

The search for a biblical ethic governing land must begin at Scripture's beginning, in Genesis. There, we are told that mankind, made in the image of God, was placed in the garden and given "dominion" over the earth and its creatures (Genesis 1:26). Being in the image of God means that our dominion -- a word meaning in Hebrew and English to have lordship or rule as a king -- must be in the image of God's dominion over humankind. Our dominion over the land must in every way reflect Christ's character and His relationship to us. Since our Lord taught His disciples that lordship means servanthood, and that the one who rules is the one who serves (Mark 10:43-44; John 13:12-17), we must exercise our dominion over nature in this same way. The dominion to which we are called is that of a shepherd who cares for and feeds the animals, and lays down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). It is not, and cannot be, a right to "dominate" creation and do whatever we wish with it.

We can seek further discernment concerning land use by considering the principles underlying the law given by God to the Israelites governing land and its use when He first established their society. When we do so, we see a set of laws that interweaves humankind, God, and the land into a loving, covenental relationship. The Israelites, having been freed from captivity to a Pharaoh who claimed title to all the land (Genesis 47:20) and having wandered nomadically through lands owned by nations hostile to it, were given a new vision for their relationship to their new promised land. This vision was covenental rather than individual, based on mutual care and respect rather than satisfaction of personal needs and ambitions. The land was to be shared and enjoyed by all because it belongs to God. "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine, for your are strangers and sojourners with me," the Lord declared to Moses (Lev. 25:23). Observance of God's commands was integrated into a moral framework that affirmed the integrity of all that was voiceless in the land: servants, orphans, widows, foreigners, other species, and the landscape itself (Deut. 25:7-18, 22:6, 24:14-22, 25:4; Lev. 19:9, 25:1-7). It gave special responsibility to owners and managers (Lev. 25:1-7, Deut. 24:19-22, 26:1-11), and even upheld a place for wild animals in agricultural lands (Lev. 25:7). Obedience to God in all these things was tied to the health of the land itself, with the Lord declaring, "If you walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, then the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit" (Lev. 26:3-4).

We can also look for guidance to the praise of the Psalmist who sees God's glory reflected in the land (Ps. 19, 104); and in the warnings of the prophets who foresaw the degradation of the land that would result from disobedience to God's commands (Is. 5:8-10). Finally, we can discern how we are to treat our neighbors who may be affected by our use of the land from Christ's commandment that we love our neighbor as ourselves (Mat. 22:37-40).

Taken together, all of these scriptural teachings concerning the land stand in stark contrast to the philosophy that underlies the takings movement. Scattershot citations of out-of-context Scripture verses cannot conceal the fact that the property rights proposals are grounded in the secular values of our age rather than the timeless values of Scripture. To claim that landowners may do what they wish with their property unless paid not to is to disregard Scripture's consistent teaching concerning our responsibility toward the land and each other, and adopt instead the possessive attitude toward wealth that Christ and the prophets warned against (Mat. 6:25-34, 19:21-23; Luke 12:13-21; Amos 2:7; Is. 10:1-2). It is to embrace a world view distorted by the decidedly unbiblical belief that accumulating wealth is our highest end, and that the good of the land and our neighbors who dwell in it may be sacrificed to achieve that end.

Specifically, we have defined three central, basic, and recurring themes in Scripture that stand in opposition to the perspective on land ownership advocated by the property rights movement. First, Scripture teaches that the value of land lies not merely in the monetary value of what it can produce, but in its holy reflection of the love, grace, and majesty of its Creator. Second, the Bible declares that the Earth "and the fullness thereof" -- all of its bounty that provides for our needs and the needs of all creatures -- is the Lord's, making human "owners" of land steward-tenants who must obey Him in all respects. And third, we are taught that we must in all things -- including land ownership -- love our neighbors, and like the Samaritan be willing to make sacrifices and relinquish material possessions for the sake of their well-being.

The following three sections discuss each of these principles in turn, and explain their implications with respect to the takings debate. The concluding sections suggest specific steps Christians can take in response to the claims of the property rights advocates and the legislation they have proposed.

LandWatch's mission is to protect Monterey County's future by addressing climate change, community health, and social inequities in housing and infrastructure. By encouraging greater public participation in planning, we connect people to government, address human needs and inspire conservation of natural resources.



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