Property Rights: A Dominionist Issue (7th in a series)
Joan Bokaer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 07:22:32 AM EST
Property rights is a hot topic in this November's midterm elections.
Libertarians and land developers have found populist fodder in a contentious Supreme Court decision from last year that favors eminent domain over private property.
This fall, they are trying to harness anger over the ruling in an effort to pass state initiatives in the West and federal legislation that could unravel a long-standing fabric of state and local land-use regulations. Among other things, the rules control growth, limit sprawl, ensure open space and protect the environment. Washington Post, 10/2/06)

Property rights are also a dominionist issue. From The Texas Republican Party Platform, a blueprint for dominionist policies in government:

"We reaffirm an individual's right to own and use property without government interference." P. 10 #16

"We reaffirm an individual's right to own and use property without government interference." P. 10 #16

"We believe that groundwater is an absolute, vested ownership right of the landowner." P. 10 #6

"We believe that the state should neither make nor enforce any law that abridges or denies the inalienable constitutional rights of the citizens of Texas with regards to minerals, water, or property rights." P. 10 #7

"We oppose conservation easements on our national resources administered by organizations unaccountable to taxpayers and voters." P.10 #9 (This suggests that land trusts would become unconstitutional under a dominionist-influenced court)

"We oppose the Endangered Species Act." P. 10 #17  (The Endangered Species Act has been used to stop development in some areas.)

Biblical Rational for Property Rights

America's Providential History, a textbook that teaches millions of children in Christian schools and the Christian homeschool movement how to view reality through the lens of a Biblical Worldview, explains the biblical rational for property rights.

Let every person be in subjection  to the government authorities: ... For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior but for is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil. (Romans 13:1,3,4)
(Supreme Court Justice Scalia agrees with Paul and even cites the same quote for an article he wrote called God's Justice and Ours.)

America's Providential History interprets Paul's statement as an affirmation of property rights:

The purpose of government therefore is to protect the life, liberty AND PROPERTY by punishing evil doers and encouraging the righteous. (p. 20)

Scripture defines God as the source of private property ..
Ecclesiastes 5:19 states, "For every man to whom God has given riches and wealth, He has also empowered him to eat from them..." Also in 1Chronicles 29:12, Both riches and honor come from Thee." (p. 188)

God has created everything, including us, and given us the right to possess property... (p. 272)

Developers and dominionists alike have lost sight of other basic rights such as the right to protect the environment and conserve open space. They have lost sight of the notion of land use for the common good.  

I've devoted many years to teaching about the principles of ecological cities. I started EcoVillage at Ithaca, a thriving environmental community of sixty households where I now reside. I also co-convened the Third International EcoCity Conference in Senegal, West Africa. Yet the future of the Green Cities movement and its enormous implications for the environment could be thwarted by a Roberts Supreme Court if that court embraces a dominionist philosophy of property rights.

America's Providential History teaches the goodness of a "government acting on the Biblical principles:"

The  internal change of heart that Christ brings produces Christian character and self-government which is necessary for an economy to be prosperous. (p. 194)

This belief in a future where, eventually, perhaps over thousands of years, there will be a societal change of heart that Christ brings, is very optimistic. I applaud those who carry such a vision in their hearts.

The problem is that that vision becomes a nightmare when it is used for political power. Consider the issue of property rights. If all property owners were good, honest people who believed in the stewardship of the earth, there might not be a problem.

But real estate magnates such as Howie Rich of  New York who was highlighted on PBS Now for bankrolling property rights campaigns in several Western states this election cycle have the most to gain. They support politicians who campaign on hot-button social issues such as abortion or gay rights, and those same politicians gave the developers the absolute right to plunder and pollute our natural resources.

Previous articles in the series on Dominionism and The Role of The Federal Government

Dominionism and The Constitution in Exile Movement

House Bill Would Eliminate Most Regulatory Functions Of Federal Government

A Culture of Life or Death?

Follow The Votes

Paul Weyrich: The Man Who Framed the Republican Party (How he succeeded in getting a huge constituency to vote against their economic interests)

ALEC: Traditional values discover corporate funding

can be reframed by a simple line of thought experiment and questioning :

I was debating a relative about the effects of pervasive environmental pollution. I cited studies, facts.

Recourse to actual scientific data didn't seem persuasive, so I tried another tact :

"So, if environmental pollutation isn't a significant threat, can I come over to your house and sprinkle Lead dust and blobs of Mercury on your kitchen floor and in your kid's bedrooms ? Lead and Mercury keep insects away and are utterly harmless - they won't hurt your kids a bit."

Needless to say, that wasn't going to happen and the question established common ground - yes, we both agreed that environmental pollution was real and worth worrying about.

The next stop in the Socratic journey was this proposition:

"OK, so we agree that Lead and Mercury are bad to have kicking around on the kitchen floor. Now, what about if I build a Lead-smelting factory next door to your house ? I only want to melt down used car batteries to reclaim the Lead, and the fumes really won't be bad at all. In fact, Lead fumes are quite pleasant really - they smell sweet."

In the face of that challenge, the "Biblically mandated, sacred and inviolate nature of property rights" frame comes crashing down because  - when push comes to shove - most parents pay heed to what science has to say about poisons that can effect the health of their children, and most people are very concerned - if they're aware and can avoid it - to not be poisoned.

Tearing down the "sacred property rights" frame is not a difficult proposition in the abstract, and the mass of allegation - that environmentalism is a coded form of socialism or ( satanic ! ) communism can be actually inverted, per my thought experiments above.

So, to those who might attempt to call environmentalists "communist", one can simply respond :

"So, you're calling the American people COMMUNISTS ? ! - How DARE you !  - All Americans are environmentalists because they don't want to be poisoned by Lead and Mercury or locked in a garage and asphyxiated with Carbon Monoxide. All Americans are environmentalists, so that means they're supposed to be communists ? You know, I think it un-American to smear the good name of the American people."

I rest my case.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 07:58:19 AM EST

There is another aspect to this argument- the confiscation of ordinary citizen's property to turn over to developers for profit.

I don't hear the dominionists weighing in on that one!

It's happening fairly often around the country, although not well known.  There are poor neighborhoods here in Lakeland that are being razed (the individuals were FORCED to move) so they can put in condos and fancy apartments.  It is getting so that poor and even middle class people can live in Florida, because of the cost of housing.

In Hillsborough county, you have to make OVER $20 an hour just to afford a two-bedroom apartment.  Yet, Hillsborough County is destroying public housing to gentrify the area.  They are replacing affordable housing with, again, fancy apartments and condos.

We are studying the impact of this on people.  I myself am looking at the impact of the razing of public housing on homelessness.

What about a person's right to have a place to live?  That is declared a need (and I believe a right) in the Bible!!!

They obviously don't care about people, much less the poor.

They ignore what is happening to the poor, yet fuss about profits.  Yet they claim to be Christian.  THEY TURN MY STOMACH!!!!

by ArchaeoBob on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 10:53:02 AM EST

The misuse of Eminent Domain is a real problem, but the unpopularity of eminent domain is being used by real estate magnates like Howie Rich featured on PBS NOW (see post for link) to bankroll a so-called populist movement whose ultimate goal is to make it impossible for local governments to curb urban sprawl.

by Joan Bokaer on Wed Oct 04, 2006 at 07:44:05 PM EST

.............when developers yell and scream about "property rights" and then go all the way to the Supreme Court and get a decision in favor of their stomping all over other people's property rights so they can build another shopping mall or a bunch of oversized, overpriced, slapped-together McMansions on top of what used to be other people's homes.

Aside from the unethical nature of both the practice and the Court's decision, there's some serious cluelessness going on here. OK, they "won" this round, but who's to say some bigger fish can't come along in a few years and boot them out? The Supreme Court says it's legal!

As I always understood it, Eminent Domain was intended as a last-resort means of making way for the construction of public works such as highways, airports, and other necessary but non-profit-making infrastructure for the direct benefit of the general public--absolutely not for private gain of any kind. The "increasing public revenue by increasing the tax base" argument--which I suspect was invoked to support the Court's misguided and (IMO) downright cruel decision--is at best highly suspect.

Eminent Domain property confiscation is always traumatic for those who lose their homes and neighborhoods, even if the owners receive substantially more than "fair market value." That does happen occasionally--as I learned 25 years or so ago from a friend whose job it was to work with the displaced and help them get properly resettled--but the money never makes up for the bomb that goes off under people's lives. (My friend burned out on the job in about 3 years because she couldn't deal with all the pain and suffering any more, and she was one of the toughest people I knew.)

Losing one's home and neighborhood for any reason is bad enough. For people--and it always seems to be the less well-off among us--who get uprooted in favor of yet another pricey housing development, shopping mall, or country club, it has to absolutely galling.

I'm a resident of low-income housing myself, and even though the place is currently "out in the outer burbs," when I see the McMansions going up practically just around the corner I'm not at all sure that my building and the "prime real estate" where it sits won't eventually be swallowed up by someone's land grab.

Excuse me, I have to go to Home Depot and pick up a load of hardware and a tank of propane so I can spit nails, nuts and bolts, doorknobs, and maybe a rebar or two, followed by a few shots of fire...............

by anomalous4 on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 12:21:52 AM EST

Making that term merely a synonym for "political stances I disagree with" only cheapens it for when it's really needed.

Abu Ghraib: Hell House of the Religious Right II
by sendtoscott on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 09:45:41 AM EST
Is there any level of economic controls justified by "Jesus would want it" that would qualify as 'dominionism' from the left, or is this something that, by definition, only your political opponents can do?

Abu Ghraib: Hell House of the Religious Right II
by sendtoscott on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 09:49:58 AM EST
Tied her use of "Dominionism" to a rather specific setting - the Texas legislature. The Texas GOP was the first of a string of the state level GOP taken over by the Christian right, and the Texas GOP state party platform has in the past few years a rather concentrated -and quite unabashed -  expression of "Domionism", with explicit statements to the effect that the US is a "Christian nation".

As for your second question, well - of course there could exist a "dominionism" of the left. Hypothetically. But, none exists currently.

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Oct 05, 2006 at 10:17:41 AM EST

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