A Monumental Request
Pastor Sergio Navarrete shares the generations-long love and reverence of his fellow Hispanics for Southern California's deserts, from the Mojave's rolling sand dunes, haunting rock formations, and Joshua trees, to trails that take adventurers from the parched Sonoran Desert floor to snow-capped mountains.
However, it was his spirituality, girded by the Bible, that inspired the superintendent of the Assemblies of God Southern Pacific District and 100 other district pastors to sign a letter to President Obama. The Dec. 8 letter urges him to create the Mojave Trails, Castle Mountains, and Sand to Snow national monuments.
“In the Scriptures, there is a very strong theology of creation, of God's intention to protect and nurture what He has made,” Navarrete says. “For us, His children, we see the majesty of God in His creation, His power, wisdom, and love for us. We must protect this.”
In the letter, the pastors quote Psalm 24:1-2 (NLT): “The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him. For He laid the earth's foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths.”
Navarrete and other supporters see the region's desert lands in peril from proposals to pump critical underground aquifers to export water to the state's thirsty metro areas, air pollution, urban sprawl, and wind and solar farms targeting hundreds of thousands of desert acres.
Half of the communities in and surrounding the proposed monuments are Hispanic, and deep cultural, historical, and familial ties are rooted in the land, Navarrete says.
“For centuries, Hispanic culture has found health and peace and emotional well-being from being in contact with the desert,” he says. “Many of our families spend a week in the desert mountains, or camping and hiking along its rivers and in its forests – parents, kids, and grandkids all just enjoying God's creation together.”
In urging the White House to establish the new monuments, Navarrete and other Southern Pacific District ministers joined a coalition of groups, including historians, veterans, elected officials, businesspersons, and astronomers who treasure clear desert skies to ponder the stars.
In all, the new monuments would cover more than a million acres, an area generally between Palm Springs and the California-Nevada boundary line. Within the proposed boundaries are endangered habitats of the mountain lion, bighorn sheep, the desert tortoise, and hundreds of additional species of lizards and birds.
U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein of California has introduced two bills in Congress seeking to establish the new monuments, but they have yet to come to a vote. She has appealed to the president to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to create them.
Navarrete hopes the letter from clergy will help move the proposal forward. Supporters of the new monuments are encouraged that Obama in October 2014 established more than 346,000 acres of forestlands as the San Gabriel National Monument. Like the latest proposals, proponents for that monument sought to protect open space, wilderness, and wildlife.
“We are hoping and praying that President Obama will do the same with the Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow, and Castle Mountains monument proposals,” Navarrete says.
He points to the White House letter's conclusion in noting that “our land, water, and wildlife are gifts from God, and it is our moral responsibility to care for these gifts [and to] live in harmony will all of God's creation.”
Image: "Castle Mountains and Joshua Trees" by David Lamfrom. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.