How Would Jesus Farm? Industrial and Sustainable Ag. Advocates Both Claim God is on Their Side

I follow various conversations in the agricultural world and I was intrigued to come across this post about the need to use Christian faith perspectives on feeding the hungry to support "modern" agricultural methods. Sarah Bedgar Wilson explains;

There are two main reasons why I feel Christians in agriculture are obligated to share the truths of why and how we farm/ranch within the context of faith:

  1. Those whom oppose modern agriculture already have a presence in Christian circles.  For example, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has strategically begun a “Faith Outreach” program. My own church is struggling with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s (ELCA’s) draft social statement on “genetics” that discusses the use of genetics in agriculture. I could list many more examples, amongst all the major denominations.
  2. If we are faithful farmers and ranchers, following the command from the Lord to feed His people, then I believe He expects that we honor Him by sharing our testimonies on stewardship.  We also owe it to our fellow Christians who are not farmers/ranchers.  They are three to four generations removed from witnessing God’s miracles of growth and life in agriculture.

It is relevant, appropriate, and necessary that we in agriculture speak in terms of our faith about what we do.  Our consumers and our fellow Christians are demanding it.

Sarah is a Dairy Farmer in North Dakota and has a blog called Farmer on a Mission.

I have written from a Christian faith perspective on this blog generally in favor of sustainable agriculture. While the blog fades in and out of this focus on faith, my upcoming book fully expresses the way my Christian faith has informed my support, as a consumer, of local/sustainable agriculture and in some cases, my opposition to industrial ag. practices. There are certainly other more prominent voices whose faith informs their opposition to industrial agriculture. Wendell Berry and Joel Salatin are good examples of this.

The fact that people in the church, both consumers and farmers, are recognizing that faith should inform agricultural practices is very promising. It may actually be one of the most hopeful developments for sorting through the perplexing ethics of modern food.

Of course, there is always a danger that Jesus will simply be commandeered to support already established opinions and perspectives. This is the classic "Jesus is on my side!" debate that doesn't lead to any kind of helpful dialogue. (I'm as vulnerable to this possibility as anyone.)

It's also possible that Christian perspectives will simply be conflated with powerful secular voices. For example, the mission to "feed the world" tends to be the ethical catch-all for big agricultural interests like profit-seeking Monsanto. In response to questions of their practices they generally say, "Get off our back, can't you see we're trying to feed the world here." The danger is that the Biblical command to "feed the hungry" will be equated with Monsanto's mission to "feed the hungry." They are not saying the same thing even if they are using the same words.

I just spent a week with a friend who works with a Christian mission agency that works with impoverished villages around the world to develop sustainable agricultural practices toward the end of feeding the hungry. They have found in places like Haiti that you can't address the issue of hunger without addressing issues of deforestation and soil depletion. Maximum output at all costs is not the solution to world hunger.

I also recently spoke with Rev. David Beckmann who heads the Christian organization "Bread for the World." They focus their resources on lobbying Washington D.C. for policies and programs that help feed the hungry. He talked about the Farm Bill and how large agricultural interests have such a dominant voice in the process of forming the legislation that it's a challenge for other voices to be heard.

There is a great conversation to be had among people of faith around the issues of food and agriculture and I'm looking forward to seeing how the conversation develops and matures over the coming years.

Thanks Sarah for sharing your story and perspectives on faith and agriculture.