Originally Published: December 26, 2017 6 a.m.
President Donald Trump ran for office last year with a campaign that received broad support from Americans of faith in Arizona and other states. Yet, when President Trump released his first budget as President, it included provisions that should be troublesome to Americans whose faith leads them to believe in protecting God’s creation.
The most notable of these provisions, is one that opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling. The U.S. Senate, following Trump’s lead, passed this provision to open up the Refuge in its budget and tax package. Opening up the Arctic Refuge is a policy that past administrations have proposed and past Congresses have rejected. It is a proposal that is particularly unsettling for me as a person of faith in Arizona.
As Christians, we are called to be stewards of God’s creation wherever that may be. And, there is perhaps no place where that stewardship calling is more important than the Arctic Refuge. The Refuge is America’s largest and most remote wilderness area and remains how God created it. It is almost completely untouched with a natural beauty that is unmatched. Treating this magnificent piece of creation carelessly is not in keeping with God’s teachings.
The Arctic Refuge may be thousands of miles from the state lines of Arizona, but we are nonetheless connected to the land and its people. The Refuge is part of America’s public lands system, and as such belongs to all of us. The wild places such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are the great places where we explore, pray, and learn. They are an essential part of the community we build together in Arizona and nationwide.
Each year, summer in the Arctic Refuge provides key nesting and feeding grounds for birds such as the Fox Sparrow that migrate south so that we may enjoy them in Arizona in the winter. The Arctic Refuge is also home to the Gwich’in native people, 90 percent of which are practicing Episcopalians. This religious connection is what propelled Arizona’s Episcopal Bishop Kirk Smith to visit Alaska recently and stand in solidarity with the Gwich’in people.
For Alaska’s Gwich’in the Arctic Refuge is the most critical piece of both their community and their faith. The Gwich’in rely heavily on their native lands, especially on the porcupine Caribou as a primary source of food. More than 70 percent of the Gwich’in diet comes from caribou. Drilling in the Arctic Refuge would jeopardize the survival of the Porcupine caribou and almost certainly destroy the Gwich’in way of life.
Drilling would also end their ability to practice their faith, since their spirituality is tied to the birthing grounds of the caribou, which is where the proposed drilling would occur. While the tranquility of remote, untouched places can be deeply spiritually moving, for the Gwich’in the birthing grounds of the Porcupine Caribou are more than merely restive. The land itself holds spiritual and sacred relevance. So, just as we would not condone drilling in a sacred Arizona sanctuary, so too we cannot condone drilling in this sacred space.
As Christians we are called to celebrate and protect God’s glory. We are called to care for God’s people — our neighbors both near and far. I can think of no clearer way that God’s glory presents itself to us than through the beauty and majesty of public lands such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And I can think of no clearer way to manifest our calling to care for our neighbors than to protect the Gwich’in people and their way of life.
As our Arizona Members of Congress make decisions about the nation’s budget and our priorities, it is my hope that they will carry out the call to protect God’s people and God’s creation. I pray they choose to look for more suitable places to drill for oil than the Arctic Refuge and reconsider the right decisions that allow the Gwich’in people to live as they have for generations and for generations to come.
Sarah King is Earth Care Commission Chair at the Arizona Faith Network, a Phoenix-based organization that brings together People of Faith, under the inspiration of God, as a bridge to understanding and action, seeking to create a social milieu that is built on charity, virtues, mercy, justice, patience, integrity and gratitude. The Earth Care Commission’s purpose is to heal, defend, and care for the earth, and to act as stakeholders in the quest for eco-justice.