Although well-qualified -- Sheldon has written and spoken extensively on the interface of Christianity and the environment, and teaches and does research in conservation biology -- he was at first reluctant. A self-described “country boy” from Oregon who had taught biology in Pennsylvania for the past three decades, Sheldon preferred to avoid cities and had not visited Washington, D.C. for 30 years. But he agreed, asking if he could bring the four students in his conservation biology class.
His task was to present a five-minute oral testimony based on a biblical perspective of Creation care. Ten pages of written testimony could also be submitted. Arriving at the hearing room in the Longworth House Office Building the day of the hearing, Sheldon discovered he would be the last of 14 persons scheduled to testify. It would be a long day!
As the hours of testimony passed it became obvious to Sheldon that the deck had been heavily stacked in favor of the bill. Nearly everyone agreed that it was important to protect species, but NIMBY ("Not in My Back Yard") was the dominant theme. While some valid concerns were raised, no testimonies focused on the importance of the Endangered Species Act, its essential role in preserving species, and the significance of adequate critical habitat for recovery. Many of the seats bearing names of Committee members were empty. Two members spoke on behalf of a strong Endangered Species act and were critical of key aspects of the bill, but the others seemed to favor the bill or were largely silent.
Sheldon kept asking himself, "is this the committee that is charged with managing our national resources to provide a sustainable future for our children and grandchildren?" Their "strategic planning" for the future appeared to be less concerned about long-term ecological sustainability than short-term economic gain and restrictions on personal freedom. Several times different representatives stated the need to have the ESA based on the best available science. If that is the view of the members of the Committee on Resources, Sheldon wondered, then why were there essentially no voices from the scientific community addressing the necessary habitat requirements for species recovery under the ESA? Although Sheldon’s own written testimony did touch on the science of species stewardship, the major focus of his oral testimony was on the biblical mandate to preserve Creation's biological diversity.
Last place sometimes has its advantages. Rep. Richard Pombo, Chair of the Committee, graciously let Sheldon extend his response to Rep. Tom Udall's questions about protecting habitat and “noncharismatic” species (those to which people do not readily relate) to nearly 20 minutes -- well beyond the normal five-minute limit. At the end, Chairman Pombo thanked Sheldon for his testimony and stated that he agreed with "most" of what he had said.
Several days after returning to Messiah, Sheldon received additional questions from Chairman Pombo (mostly theological in focus) and also from Rep. Udall (science based). These he answered and are part of the testimony for the hearing.
Would Sheldon return to Washington if asked to testify again? “Yes of course. What a tremendous opportunity to use my scientific training and my Christian witness to speak for God's Creation. But I would not be as naïve as I was on April 28. I now have a much better understanding of how Washington ‘works.’ It is indeed a jungle out there. And some of the predators waiting to devour God's creation walk on two legs and have university degrees.”
Adapted from an article by Joe Sheldon in Creation Care magazine.