The Farm Bill: A Biblical Basis

Thu, 03/01/2007

For Jews and Christians, the connection between God, the earth and food is as basic as the creation itself. In Genesis we read that on the third day God “put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind.” (Genesis 1:11) From the very beginning, God has provided everything we need to sustain our lives. As the psalmist says, “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15-16) Having sufficient food to eat reminds us of God’s grace and faithfulness. And so, as we sit at table before a meal, we “say grace.” The Creation story also makes it clear that God intends for us humans to be stewards of the earth. That stewardship requires us to ensure that all have enough to eat. God’s most heated anger is reserved for those who “trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain.” (Amos 5:11) Over and over, God calls us to “give food to the hungry.” (Psalm 146, Isaiah 58) God’s justice is rooted in our stewardship of the earth. The earth is God’s gift to all, and from the bounty of the earth God expects that all will be fed. In Isaiah 32, the prophet paints a picture of an ideal future when governments will rule with justice. Such a future is sparked when “a spirit from on high is poured out on us, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field.” Then, says Isaiah, “justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.” This image is revisited in James’ call for a “harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18) In fact, the Epistle of James is a call to action inspired by our faith: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?” (James 2:15-17) PERHAPS THE MOST POWERFUL WAY WE CAN SERVE PEOPLE IN NEED IS WITH OUR VOICES. James’ words are certainly blunt. But he was merely echoing Jesus’ own repeated mandate that his followers devote themselves to service for poor people. (Matthew 19:21-24; Luke 12:33; Matthew 25:35-40, among others) Perhaps the most powerful way we can serve people in need is with our voices. We are blessed to be living in a technologically advanced age, and in the most influential and wealthy country in the world. We are further blessed that our country is a participatory democracy where our voices – and our letters – can make a difference. With those blessings comes responsibility. For many of us who do not follow Capitol Hill developments closely, or do not live on or near a farm, we may not realize the scope of the farm bill. U.S. farm policy includes decisions about anti-poverty programs like food stamps. With this legislation, Congress can also help struggling U.S. family farmers and small-scale farmers in developing countries. “A poor person’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away.” (Proverbs 13:23) When injustice sweeps away the harvest for an elderly woman in West Virginia or an infant child in East Timor, James tells us it is not enough to merely hope and pray that the woman or the child be fed. Individually, none of us can feed the world’s 854 million hungry people. But together, and across many faith traditions, we can raise our voices to see that hungry people are fed. We can urge those who act in our name to tackle poverty on a grand scale, and do so with our blessings. Take action, say Isaiah and James. Take action says Jesus. Sow the Seeds of Change. Help Farmers End Hunger.