Whereas, the Church of the Brethren grew out of the strong soil of farm families; and
Whereas, many Brethren are still farmers and tillers of the soil; and
Whereas, the ferment today speaks of unrest in the farming community due to low prices, high costs, political favoritism to industrial concerns, and the death squeeze of corporate farming; and
Whereas, there is a strong need for consumer education, ecological information, and practical helps to congregations, ministers, and people in fulfilling our Christian commitment as stewards of our environment (soil, air, and water); and
Whereas, many of our youth are looking and moving back to the soil for a fuller expression of their life-styles;
We, the Marion, Ohio, Church of the Brethren, petition the Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren through the District of Northern Ohio to study and give future guidance regarding these concerns.
Clyde C. Fry, Moderator;
Bonnie L. Lamb, Clerk
Action of 1972 District Conference
Passed to Annual Conference
Guy R. Buch, Moderator;
William E. Walters, Clerk
Action of the 1973 Annual Conference
The query was referred to the General Board for study and report back to the Conference in 1974.
1974 Report of the General Board
The General Board referred the concern of the query to a study committee on The Church and Agriculture which was already engaged in a serious exploration of the social, ethical and religious aspects of current trends in agriculture and rural life. The Board also assigned to the Committee a resolution requesting support of the United Farm Workers Union boycott of lettuce and California table grapes. Working within this expanded assignment, the Committee developed recommendations on some related issues that may not be explicitly requested in the query.
The meaning of the Board's report may be clarified further by noting the context of the Committee's study. Some elements of this context included:
"The Earth is the Lord's"—Psalm 24:1
"Let the church be present in any situation as a caring community"—Mathai Zachariah
Between 1960 and 1970, America lost family farms at the rate of approximately 100,000 a year. On May 11, 1972, the Wall Street Journal warned, "A way of life is dying." A senator from the Midwest affirmed, "The statistics on farms lost are disturbing but they do not tell the story of broken families, of hopes crushed or communities destroyed."
The Church of the Brethren has a deep and enduring relationship to agriculture and rural life. The sharing of food has always been a central concern with us. More than two-thirds of our places of worship are in rural areas. Our fine city churches are to a considerable extent the result of migration from rural places. Today, however, many rural churches are weak; others have closed.
The goal was to assess objectively those trends in American rural life that are of special concern to the Church and to examine systems that are emerging, without pointing the finger of censure toward any person or group. We recognize change as inevitable and necessary; there is no place for return to the past.
Growing out of the recommendations of the Committee, and its deliberation of the total study, the General Board proposes the following responses to the 1973 Conference referral:
I. The Earth Is the Lord's
"He has made everything beautiful in its time."—Ecclesiastes 3:11
The Church and the Created Resources of God
The Church by its interest in agriculture and rural life seeks to acknowledge God's sovereignty as Creator and Sustainer of the physical world. We are told, "The land is mine, for you are strangers and sojourners with me" Leviticus 25:23. In our time a leading churchman, the late Henry C. Early, declared in an Annual Conference address, "The land is not ours; it is only entrusted to us for a season." The late Liberty Hyde Bailey, Dean of New York State College of Agriculture, has written, "The earth is holy, good, and bountiful because God created it so."
What a remarkable gift is the soil! We are told that one cubic inch of moist, fertile soil contains as many forms of life as there are people in the world. With good care the soil renews itself so it can go on producing food generation after generation.
The Use of Air, Land, and Water
When our ancestors came to the land of the American Indian, it was a land of blue skies, pure air and clear, flowing streams. The land was rich in natural resources that seemed inexhaustible. The words ecology and pollution were hardly known.
We soon became a pioneering people. But there developed an economy that depended too largely on the exploitation of resources, bigger and bigger motor cars, and built-in obsolescence and waste. The land that God entrusted to us has become littered with garbage and trash. The air and water are polluted. Last year 41 million dead fish were picked up along our streams and lakes. Long ago the Prophet declared, "And I brought you into a plentiful land to enjoy its fruits and good things, but when you came you defiled my land" Jeremiah 2:7. There is still time but the Church must do its part toward the custody of resources that God has created for all.
We offer recommendations here and in later sections because they have been requested. We hope they will be regarded not as dogmatic statements, but as our studied opinions. With this in mind we recommend:
To the Government that:
To the Church that:
II. Who Should Control Farming?
"Land is a precious and finite resource and the birthright of the people. Its ownership and control must be widely distributed."—National Land Reform Conference, 1973
The Family Farm
The General Board shares fully the concern for the future of the family farm, as expressed in the query. This concern is widespread. In its September 1972 issue the Farm Journal featured an editorial on "Who Will Control Agriculture?" In the year 1970 agricultural economists of twelve Midwest agricultural colleges conducted a study based on this concern. Groups of farmers welcomed the opportunity to meet and discuss this and related issues with us.
A new and major topic among farmers and other rural leaders is land reform. It is ironic that we insist on land reform in the countries where we extend economic aid while we ourselves have no land policy. Instead, we are drifting on the same course that brought poverty and political instability to the "underdeveloped" countries.
Important questions arise. Are those who speak out only alarmists? Why are so many farms being lost? What are the implications of land concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people? Can the ideal of Jefferson and others for widespread ownership of land be preserved in our time? What should be the role of the Church where so many homes, people and rural institutions are involved? (The Study Committee has tried to answer some of these questions in the booklet, This Land: Ours for a Season.)
The Growth and Impact of Corporate Farming
For many years there have been a number of large corporate farms in the United States. Some of them have shown a wholesome interest in rural community life. There would appear to be a place for such farms. However, from 1950 to 1970, certain commercial firms were transferring their profits from oil, steel and chemicals into agriculture at an accelerating rate. One oil firm has acquired 1.7 million acres of land in several states. The firm manufactures its own fertilizers, farm machinery, containers, etc. Its policy is "from seed in the ground to the supermarket." This creates a form of competition that is hard for family farmers to meet. In California 6 percent of the farms control 75 percent of the farm area. Where this occurs it raises questions because of its impact on family farming and the life of rural institutions.
Why this sudden interest of giant industry in farming? This question was seriously explored, and these recommendations are offered:
To the Government that:
To Farmers that:
To the Church that:
III. The Case of Growers, Crew Leaders, and Farm Workers
"If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him ... let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth."—1 John 3:17-18
We hear much today about grower-farm worker conflicts and a labor system that seems to have engulfed both growers and farm workers. All major religious faiths are concerned. Some clergymen are giving their full time to this.
We owe much to growers who provide for us a rich supply of quality fruits and vegetables at a moderate cost. They do this by hard work and taking risks such as frost, flood, plant diseases, insect pests and falling prices. We realize that many growers aim to treat their workers well. However, we as consumers have been silent under a system that tends to exploit people and blight their lives. The University of Florida Law Review, after an objective study of the migrant farm worker situation, has concluded:
"The most economically and socially deprived segment of the population in the United States consists of those persons generally referred to as migrant farm workers. There are approximately 276,000 adult male migrant workers in the United States. Including women and children there are around one million people who migrate."
These people are caught in a system that is subject to many abuses such as poor housing, lack of education, inadequate health services, and exploitation by crew leaders.
For more than thirty years farm workers have been striving to form an organization as a means for collective bargaining, in order to improve their working and living conditions. They desire most of all to liberate themselves from the crew leader system and other injustices that occur because they are a weak and scattered people without power to bargain collectively. Currently using nonviolent methods, their dedicated leader Cesar Chavez is leading them in a renewed effort for liberation. What should be the role of the Church toward the efforts of these people in their struggle?
These are our recommendations:
To Government that:
To Growers that:
To Farm Workers that:
To the Church that:
IV. The Rise of Alternative Ways of Life
"Let no one despise your youth."—1 Timothy 4:12
In our view the interest in alternative ways of life is genuine, dedicated, and more widespread than generally realized. There is, of course, wide variation in the forms of organization, purpose and degree of discipline.
The Study Committee on The Church and Agriculture sought answers to questions like:
The replies to these questions are found in the study booklet, This Land: Ours for a Season. Such communities are not the one and only way of life. Nor can we predict how far they may go or how long they may endure. However, we can hope that these creative and dedicated groups will remain as a challenging and leavening influence.
We Recommend to the Church that:
Ira B. Peters, Chairman
S. Loren Bowman, Secretary
Action of 1974 Annual Conference
The report was presented by Ira Peters, chairman of the General Board, and I. W. Moomaw, secretary of the special committee established by the Board to study this issue. The report was adopted with one amendment which is incorporated in the above writing of the report.