A Policy Statement Adopted by the House of Delegates, North Carolina Council of Churches, May 5, 1988
In recent years rural North America, and specifically rural North Carolina, has seen increases in farm foreclosures, family displacements, poverty, and psychological fracturing of human life. The church needs to understand and respond to this deepening crisis.
The church has good reason to care for rural America. The Bible speaks of land and earth (gen or eres) as part of God’s covenant kingdom. Throughout the scriptures the land is seen as symbolic of God’s grace, and it is the responsibility of society to distribute it justly. Christ’s teachings often focused on the land and soil as symbolic of the kingdom of God. Likewise, Jesus constantly identified with and ministered to the poor, the outcast, and the displaced person. Biblical images of a new earth as the culmination of God’s will center around a just and equitable relationship among all the created order.
Modern global economic, political, and social philosophies have taught the gospel of big and powerful. Those who fulfill our measurements of “success” by these standards are further empowered to set policy and practice by which others are measures and judged. For our agricultural sectors this has led to large corporate farmers who seek only short-term profits at the expense of long-term benefit and future resources. Modern agribusiness production methods discouraged sound practices of conservation and production for the sake of competition. Large and powerful corporate attitudes see the land and people as commodities and inventories to consume, exploit, and cast off in the name of efficiency and to maximize profit. The events surrounding the rural crisis exemplify the brokenness of relationships between humanity and God, humanity with itself, and humanity with the created order, and requires the church to respond. The church’s role in the world is to minister to those who are afflicted by these broken relationships and to seek cures for the ills which they carry.
We accordingly call on the whole constituency of the North Carolina Council of Churches to:
1. Investigate and educate its members as to the issues surrounding the rural crisis. This would include sermons, talks, farmer panels, church studies, and the reading and gathering of pertinent information.
2. Assist in the alleviation of suffering in the rural community by:
- providing pastoral counseling for those under depression or stress due to conditions of fear and need,
- reaffirming the sacred worth of all, no matter the cause or condition of their plight, through the expression of God’s grace in the community of faith,
- continuing to lift up the link between rural and urban people as sources of unity and assistance,
- encouraging cooperation and sharing of resources between members of the rural communities in neighbor to neighbor assistance,
- purchasing locally produced farm products,
- and serving as advocates and mediators in disputes.
3. Serve the whole of society by advocating:
- fairness in laws for all sectors of society,
- justice in the world marketplace for all farmers of the world so that those who produce our daily bread do not do it at their own loss,
- respect for the earth’s resources by encouraging less intensive agriculture so that future generations may also reap bountifully of the water and soil, and
- lifting up of a theology of creation and liturgies that allow us to enact and renew our vision concerning our earthly existence.
4. Be a prophetic voice to call society into the wholeness of justice that brings all people and all creation into proper relation with each other and God. Politically and economically, modern farm policies and practices have contributed to this inequity of life to the food-producing people of our state and nation. The church is not only in the world to minister to the cares and hurts of the marginalized people, but to be a voice calling all of society to understand and change the “hard-heartedness” that causes these injustices. We therefore call upon the Governor and General Assembly to adopt policies that provide for:
- Mandatory Farm Debt Mediation (for farm borrowers and lenders to work out restructuring agreements);
- The Right of First Refusal ( to let the previous owner have the first chance to buy or lease back the farm at present market value);
- Partial Redemption (through which farm families may get back their homes and/or part of their land);
- Protection for Contract Growers (legal protection for timely and equitable payments and representation on management decisions);
- Farmer Health and Safety;
- Public Support for Farmers’ Transition to Alternative Farm Enterprises; and
- Support for Family Farm to viably compete for consumer dollars; knowing that it is the local owner/farmer who is shown to be a better steward of our land and water resources.
The many recent stories of people who intentionally shared with and assisted those in need in the rural crisis, while often suffering hardships of their own, exemplify the spirit of agape expressed by God. These individual acts of charity and self-sacrificial giving on the part of a few individuals in our society are not enough to fulfill God’s covenant of land and justice the with the whole creation. The church must not only join those individual voices calling for justice on the land but must be a leader in the movement.
We must rethink and rework not only the unjust and unwise practices of energy and capital-intensive, centrally-controlled and wealth-concentrating agribusiness production, but also its goals and assumptions, if we are to be true to creation theology and a just, participatory, and sustainable agricultural production system. Specifically, we must use more appropriate regenerative technology and alternative farming methodology in North Carolina if there is to be a future on the farm for many small and medium-income farmers who have survived in the past primarily by growing tobacco. Indeed, without the institution of a regenerative agricultural production system, future generations on all continents will risk the loss of even more of the scarce arable land, forests, species, aquifers, and energy sources at a time when the global population will be doubling every generation.
As a covenant people we must protect the weak by bearing witness in the forums of the rich and the powerful in a spirit of humility and righteous indignation for our own generation and for our children and our children’s children.