Whereas, land is central to God’s covenant with people, central to the shaping of human community, and central to justice among all peoples who dwell on earth;
And Whereas, caring for and living in harmony with the land have been important callings for the people of God;
And Whereas, belief in Christ as the bearer of the new creation mandates the people of God to take with divine seriousness the care of the land;
And Whereas, the biblical demand for justice and the rightful payment of just reward impels us to speak out and act on behalf of those who work the land;
And Whereas, the interaction between people and land is among the most basic relationships in our society;
And Whereas, agriculture is experiencing a major economic crisis, devastating some farm families, small businesses, banks and entire rural communities;
And Whereas, this rural crisis seriously affects our urban areas by decreasing employment opportunities and depressing economic development;
And Whereas, a stable farm economy is essential for the health of our national economy for an adequate supply of food for us and for world food security;
And Whereas, family farms* are being forced into foreclosure at a Depression-era rate;
And Whereas, the ownership of farmland by minorities is declining at such a pace that none may exist after the end of this decade.
Therefore, the 199th recorded Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, July 2-7, 1985
Builds upon the actions of Annual Conferences on issues relating to food, farming, and land over the past decades;
Commends to the entire church continuing action on those major farm policy goals addressed by the 188th Annual Conference in 1974; and
Affirms the following principles as basic to the concept of the family farm:
—Ownership of agricultural land should be widespread to assure both a democratic character to rural communities and the careful use of agricultural resources.
—Farming should provide a meaningful opportunity to earn a decent living.
—Owning farmland for speculative purposes should be discouraged.
—Stewardship of natural resources is both a legitimate public policy objective and a responsibility of land ownership. Therefore, the public should support efforts to protect the land as the common heritage of humankind, and farmers should practice soil conservation.
As a community of faith, we are called to recover our own vision of justice and community in this time of rural crisis. We are also called to respond whenever and wherever we see people hurting, injustices perpetrated, and communities fractured. We recognize that the rural crisis that grips people and communities across the nation poses extraordinary consequences for our entire society.
We, therefore recommend:
That the General Board
That the Pension Board
That Congregations and Districts
—crisis counselling, hotline advocacy programs, and forums for sharing hurts and struggles within local communities and in the larger regional setting;
—organizations and coalitions that are committed to the preservation and vitality of family farm agriculture in the US and that share the polity goals of the church;
—local, state, and national ecumenical programs that assist rural families in crisis, and that strive to change state and national policies by enhancing family farm agriculture;
—programs, projects and organizations seeking to stop the loss of minority-owned land in the US and enhance opportunities for minority farmers to earn a livelihood from agriculture.
6. Review land and investment holdings in terms of their potential for supporting the needs and survival of farm families, including:
—the use, rental, and transfer of church-owned land for purposes of family farming operations;
—the use of church investment fund for deposits in banks in rural areas hard-hit by the economic crisis, with lower interest loans made to area farmers by the cooperating bank, and lower return to the church-investor making the deposit.
That State Governments
That the Federal Governmentthrough reforms in the 1985 Farm Bill and other policy changes:
At the very heart of the crisis of our nation’s agricultural system is a disturbing moral and political issue: Who will control the land? As a church, we have been concerned about concentration of land control in the Third World but we have often failed to see the problem in our own backyard.
The Church is called to action in rural America—action based both on its biblical understandings of land and liberation, and on its understandings of the socio-economic and political realities of life today. Our response to the present situation calls for sensitivity to the moral significance of the crisis—a crisis that not only involves the food necessary for life and the land and water needed to produce that food, but the way of life of the people who make the land productive, in this generation and for future generations.
*Family farm is understood in this resolution as an agricultural production unit in which the management, economic risk, and most of the labor are provided by a given family. It is also understood to mean a farm operated by persons who are striving to earn a majority of their livelihood from that operation. It is defined not in terms of acreage or volume of production but of independent entrepreneurship.
Action of the General Board, June 1985
Voted that the General Board recommend to the Annual Conference, through the Standing Committee, the adoption of this resolution. It also requests the Moderator to communicate the resolution to the Congress, the President, and the Secretary of Agriculture of the United States, and to the Governor and the Secretary of Agriculture of every state, drawing attention to the provisions that are particularly applicable. It further urges that congregations and districts share the resolution widely with legislators and in ecumenical and community forums.
Elaine M. Sollenberger, Chair
Robert W. Neff, General Secretary
Action of 1985 Annual Conference
Joseph Hoffert, the Standing Committee delegate from the Northern Plains District, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee that Annual Conference adopt the Resolution on Rural Community Crisis. The Resolution was adopted by the delegates with three amendments which are incorporated in the preceding wording of the text. The moderator accepted the request to communicate the resolution to the appropriate authorities indicated in the action of the General Board.