LAND IS YOUR LAND,
THIS LAND IS GOD'S LAND":
THE JUDEO-CHRISTIAN LAND ETHIC
Ann Alexander, Fred Clark, Fred Krueger, and Stan LeQuire
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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
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.