Thursday, February 21, 2013

Standing Up for Ag in Church

A couple of years ago I subscribed to a newsletter about agriculture that my church, the Presbyterian Church USA, was putting out. It came as a great shock that some of the information in this newsletter was a direct attack on my chosen profession and my way of life. Articles in the newsletter railed against the Farm Bill, gmo crops and modern agriculture production methods. According to many of the articles we were destroying the environment, running farmers in other countries out of business and causing starvation around the world.
I believe in giving everyone the benefit of the doubt and sent the editor of the newsletter an e-mail explaining my point of view. I simply said that as Ag producers we utilize technology like gmo crops to protect our environment. I said it was my belief that God gave us this technology to feed a growing world population. I went on to say that our congregation was made up of good Presbyterians, some who made a living feeding all of God’s people. I concluded my e-mail by inviting him to come visit our farm so he could see what we do.
So what was his response? He dropped me from the newsletter mailing list and chose not to respond to any e-mails. I can tolerate differences in opinion and I welcome a dialogue about issues related to agriculture. I cannot stand just being shut out. I also started doing a little more research and found that this newsletter was just the tip of the iceberg.
I found many blogs on our church related website written about topics such as eating organic foods, promoting the abolition of pesticides (with links to anti-pesticide websites), complaining about corporate farms and encouraging church members to lobby congress for certain parts of the Farm Bill. In more than one blog I also found links to a program to make your church “green”.
Now I am certainly not against saving our valuable resources so I went to look at this program. Most of the program I could go along with, but I came to one item that made my blood boil. It encouraged congregations to consider becoming vegetarians and/or vegans to protect the environment from the greenhouse gases produced by animal agriculture. Wow, this was something I had heard from HSUS. So I decided to see what HSUS had to say about my church.
To my surprise they had a document on their website about the Presbyterian Church. Most of it was snippet’s that they twisted and misquoted to their benefit, but they did link directly to one devotional offered again on the church website. This multi-week study encouraged healthier eating by choosing organic foods and by promoting a vegetarian diet. In many places it stated that we would all be better off if we bought all of our food locally from small family farmers.
That is a debate I will not get into today, but the bottom line is that my church was lobbying against my profession and all of this was done without any input from farmers and ranchers within the denomination.
Am I going to change my church affiliation? No, but I am going to make sure my voice is heard and lobby to add farmers and ranchers into the dialogue about food and the environment. Let me also assure you that, no matter what denomination you belong to, this same zealous activism is part of your church also. That is OK, this is the United States and we all have a right to our opinion. I question whether the debate about the Farm Bill is something a church should engage in, but again another topic for another day.
 I hope in all of this I have opened a dialogue with other church leaders and that I can find some way to offer my expertise. My point is that we all need to be involved and aware of what is being said about agriculture in all aspects of our lives, including our churches. We need to be ready to offer guidance, information and education at anytime and to anyone. Hopefully they will also be willing to hear us out and to listen with an open mind.

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