444 miles from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN. Today the Trace is preserved as a part of the
National Park System. It once was a trail for native peoples of the southeast, and later
transformed into a path by the European settlers. As a former park ranger, a former chaplain
serving in National Parks, and as a current Lutheran pastor in Cordova, Tennessee, finding God
in the cathedral of nature is a core component of my own faith. I consider protecting and
restoring God’s creation to be an important expression of my faith. Our public lands, which are
for our collective enjoyment, are also under our collective care.
That is why I am deeply troubled that in the past year, our nation has witnessed the
most significant loss of conservation protections for public lands in our history. In December
2017, President Trump signed proclamations to drastically reduce the size of Bears Ears
National Monument (by 85%) and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (by 50%).
Trump’s action in December came from an Executive Order that calls for the Department of
Interior to review of all national monuments designated after 1996. Unless people of faith and
good conscience speak up to defend God’s creation, we will likely see the diminishment of
more national monuments.
Our nation’s public lands are not only places to take Sabbath; they also conserve our
collective memory by protecting natural, cultural, historical, and spiritual heritage. The loss of
protections for Bears Ears National Monument particularly grieves me, as this was the first and
largest area of public land benefitting from conservation protection at the request of
Indigenous tribes. By taking this recent protection of sacred sites away from the tribes, our
country has set back a much-needed pathway to healing.
On April 4, I gathered with faith leaders and concerned citizens to remember 50 years
since the murder of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis, TN. This modern history also links
us to 350 years of slavery and the 150 years of struggle for full inclusion by people of color in
our country. Many national monuments established since 1996 reflect our country’s journey
toward healing, and reconciliation. Yet, just as the Antiquities Act of 1906 has been used in the
past to honor the heritage of communities of color, many leaders of the current Congress and
Administration are taking actions to diminish and undermine this law’s power. We must be
watchful and active to protect diverse cultural heritage sites in the Department of Interior’s
Since 1906, U.S. presidents from both political parties have designated national
monuments under the Antiquities Act so that future generations can experience our nation’s
open spaces, historic sites, and cultural treasures. Experience has demonstrated the wisdom of
giving presidents this authority—nearly half of our country’s national parks were originally
protected by the Antiquities Act, including the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.
This Spring let us seek silence in a world of great noise. Let us respond to our yearning
for relaxation, peace and contentment. Let us reconnect with our cultural and spiritual
heritage. Let us also work to protect and preserve the public lands we so love and that have
been entrusted to our care.