Call to the Churches for the Renewal of Rural Ministries
For 70 years the religious community has joined together through Agricultural Missions, Inc. as one way of supporting and accompanying rural communities around the world in their efforts to end poverty and injustice. For many years now rural communities in the United States and across the world have faced daunting new challenges in the wake of increasing globalization of food systems and promotion of policies that favor corporations over family farms.
Using global and regional trade agreements, corporations are controlling decisions that profoundly affect the lives of rural people. Trade regulations and treaties, both current and under negotiation, such as the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), have conferred on corporations the right to supersede national farm policies in any nation, to demand access to local markets, and to purchase and own local water distribution systems and other essential services.
The market-based model of economic development fostered by the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund and imposed through international trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), has resulted in and/or hastened the:
1. displacement of people from the land and the decline in the culture of the family farm;
2. belief among rural residents, particularly the youth, that there is no future in agriculture, leading to the impoverishment and eventual death of many rural communities;
3. increasing rates of farmer suicides and farm worker exploitation, as well as violence in the family and the community, substance abuse and related problems; and
4. violation of the integrity of God's creation as typified by the pollution of the air, land, and water and disruption of the ecology and climate on a global scale.
It is essential that the churches stand with those who work the land in their struggles and witness to their work. As churches, we need to provide material and moral support and raise our voices, lest by our silence the structures of power assume our consent to the injustices being committed against rural peoples and communities. We bear witness that alternatives that are just and sustainable are being developed, despite enormous odds, by the shared efforts of rural communities in many countries and regions. The Church needs to renew and expand relationships with these communities and struggles and make common cause with them.
The Church possesses the lenses of the gospel and has the responsibility to bring moral and ethical scrutiny to social and economic policy. The Church must play a critical and essential role in evaluating economic policies for consistency with the Scripture and the Christian principles of justice.
Therefore, we call The United Methodist Church to respond as worshiping congregations and as institutions responsible for providing moral guidance and prophetic vision to society at large and to impoverished people, in particular:
1. At the congregational level, pastors must be better equipped to address the despair affecting rural people, by working closely with local organizers and grassroots organizations.
2. At the institutional level, The United Methodist Church should:
a. work with universities in the United States in rural areas and reclaim land-grant colleges, including historically black and Indian tribal colleges, to promote the interests of small-scale farmers instead of agribusinesses;
b. consider setting up an ecumenical fund to assist small farmers threatened with bankruptcy to keep their farms and assist them in engaging in sustainable farming practices;
c. promote a culture and economy of sufficiency, conservation, and thrift for corporate and individual lifestyles as best models of stewardship of God's creation;
d. advocate a process of public audits to call to accountability agribusinesses, banks and other financial institutions (including the international financial institutions), and transnational corporations and call on them to remedy the negative impact of their policies and activities on rural communities;
e. strengthen its partnership with farm and rural community-based organizations and networks to educate and engage members on critical policy issues, including agricultural subsidies, food and trade policies, economic justice, and the integrity of creation;
f. accompany farm workers in their struggles to secure healthy living conditions, decent wages, and the right to organize, and to support rural grassroots organizations that work with them in these endeavors; and
g. develop concrete programs to demonstrate its solidarity with and accompaniment of small-scale, minority, and indigenous producers to secure their rights to their land and the fullness of life promised by Jesus Christ.
resolution #174, 2004 Book of Resolutions
See Social Principles, ¶ 162P.
From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.