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Cowboys, Conflict, and Christ

Wolfgang Staudt

​John L. Moore - published on 04/18/14

BLM officials can be bullies sometimes - but they are also our brothers.

When I was approached by Aleteia to write an opinion piece on the Clive Bundy/BLM dispute in Bunkerville, Nevada I was surprised but not daunted. I have years of experience with ranching, dealing with the government, and observing others doing the same. When Aleteia came back and asked for a follow-up on how a Christian should respond to confrontation I was not surprised, but I was daunted. I am a Christian, but not a Catholic. I am neither a theologian nor a historian. But I am storyteller, and this is my story.

I am a person of the land and in that I relate to the Jewish people. Is there a culture or religion on this earth more defined by land? I was born into ranching in 1952, left it for eight years to experience life: a little college, a few years of newspaper work, 12,000 miles of hitchhiking, a stint in the Air Force, but the pull was always there. When my father died I received a hardship discharge and returned to the ranch.

That was 1979. In the past 34 years ranching has tried breaking me many, many times. Not just financially, but physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Several times, at the end of our ropes, my wife Debra and I cried out to God saying, “we will leave if this is what You ask.” But the nudge was to stay, to push on, to persevere.

We endured the family tests that all ranching families know: death. Too many heirs, not enough land. We saw our two children, not sensing land in their immediate destiny, leave for cities. I’ve endured frostbite, hypothermia, and drought so long and bitter my soul tasted like sand. I’ve broken ribs and one leg, displaced a shoulder repeatedly, separated ribs, torn a meniscus tendon, cut through a tendon in my foot, and, at 61, have arthritis in my hands, limited motion in my neck, and stiffness in pain in my lower back. I’ve fought fire until the smoke damaged my lungs, have had calves die in my arms, put good old saddle horses down at my hand, and have seen hail ruin our pastures not once, not twice, but four times in four straight years. And I would do it all again.

I know how ranching families feel about land, and, as a Christian, I feel also the call of stewardship and the warning to hold nothing too tightly. Of all the threats against our heritage, I only fear two: the government and environmentalists. I know that government can be helpful when it is small and sees its role as a servant. I know the bullying and arrogance of a government that has grown so large it is convinced it does not work for you. You work for it. I fear environmentalists because they are, to me, what so many accuse Christians of being: smug, self-righteous, above reproach or questioning.

When I was young I wanted to be a naturalist. As a high school leader I started the first Earth Day in my community — I regret that now. But, those were the days of ecology. We understood that systems were part of a whole in Nature’s world and one affected all. But I don’t know what an “environmentalist” is. It’s like the word “cool.” How do you define it? Teenagers on Facebook, celebrities on television, even little old ladies at bridge clubs announce they are “an environmentalist.” So, it is something beyond science and training. It is a belief, a philosophy, a creed.

I have had disputes with the Bureau of Land Management. Nothing like what is transpiring in Nevada, but enough to make one lose sleep at night. Most of these were small concerns: matters of a government employee’s attitude, a problem with trespassers, the pettiness of certain inflexible rules. Personally, I have liked many BLM people. Still do. Only once did I reach the point of demanding to meet with the State Director. Over coffee in a cowboy cafe I expressed concerns that seemed to bore him to death. He fidgeted, look at his watch, acted like I was small and he was big and his time more valuable than mine. So, I did what I hate to do. I played the journalist card. “I’m not just a rancher,” I had to say. “I’m a journalist, too.” He gave me a bemused stare. “Look,” I said, “I’m not talking about writing a letter to the local paper. I’ve been published in the

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