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The Salt Lake Tribune

DeChristopher's Act Provides Impetus for Change

Tom Goldsmith

Laws have always governed our nation, but the laws have been elastic enough to yield to an evolving awareness and consciousness. Historically society has always moved progressively to provide greater inclusivity among those outside protective laws.

Obvious examples include abolitionists who had to break the laws to bring the disgrace of slavery to the fore; women suffragists who defiantly opposed the law to bring the basic right to vote under the umbrella of our democracy. Laws against miscegenation, sodomy and now the current struggle for marriage equality reveal that one of the blessings of living in America is that our laws recognize that new awareness of injustice must be remedied, thereby making no law sacrosanct.

I am proud to observe that in the evolution of time, our nation keeps casting an ever-widening net to make justice more available.

Civil disobedience has provided the crucial impetus to bring needed change to our culture. A new awareness of injustice precedes the movement that results in fairer laws. When Tim DeChristopher speaks to us of civil disobedience, we ought to be less judgmental about questionable laws that were broken and more alert to a new awareness that he has introduced through his courageous action to avert oil and gas companies from gobbling up leases adjacent to prime red rock country including our national parks.

Tim revealed through his civil disobedience that we are poor custodians of God's creation. This message runs parallel not only with scientists around the world alarmed by global warming and our failure to act responsibly, but also with the recent Stegner Symposium in Salt Lake City that spelled out a desperate need to forge a relationship of awe and reverence with the unique natural setting and wilderness in the West. Stewardship has evolved as the pivotal point in moving us to a new consciousness that cries out for sustaining our planet. Rather than doctrines of ownership that give us access to exploit wilderness, a new ideal of maintenance must take hold of our society presently if there is to be a planet for our children and the generations to come.

The new thinking, wrought by acts of civil disobedience, demonstrates that nature is worthy of ethical considerations similar to those we expect in human interactions. Hostile acts against nature, the rape of wilderness for personal gain, must be viewed as a crime and new laws inserted to protect our natural habitat. The environment has been too vulnerable to corporate greed and must be protected by laws.

Any elementary book of ethics will begin with the premise that there are right and wrong ways of treating people. The same line of thinking now applies to our relationship with the natural world. Violence against nature will eventually be treated as a crime, but only because we have been made aware by acts of civil disobedience.

Breaking laws is not inherently evil. It is what has always made us a great nation by moving us forward as a more compassionate people, sensitive to a greater need for justice. DeChristopher risked much because of his concern for the future of our planet and the future of wilderness. He broke ground in making us aware that laws need to change, attitudes need to change, and a new spirit of stewardship must become the way of our culture.

Just as civil disobedience during the Civil Rights movement awakened inert white suburbanites to the reality of injustice, civil disobedience in the environmental movement will hopefully arouse us from our current apathy to extend laws of eco-justice.

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Rev. Tom Goldsmith is pastor of the First Unitarian Church, Salt Lake City.

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