Friday, May 7, 2010

When Faith and Farming Collide- Part 2

(photo by Pavel Pabjan, Jr.)

It is with great difficulty that I blog today. I find myself in such an awkward place, questioning things that I was certain of and questioning the leadership of a church I love so very much. As you read this, please try to put yourself in my shoes, and prayerfully consider all that I, along with my church family, am working through at this time.

My faith and my farming practices have always gone hand in hand. I feel farming is my God-given purpose in life. I am to do my best at farming by efficiently and effectively using the resources He has provided to feed His people so that they are strengthened and nourished to serve Him. I feel that one of the greatest freedoms we farmers have the luxury of is being self-employed. We choose the management practices that best suit the needs of our land, our animals, our families and our consumers. Each farm is as unique as a fingerprint, even in small, close-knit communities. We have the choice of such a vast array of technologies- that in itself is a blessing.

In a later post, I will describe exactly why my family has chosen to use certain technologies, but there isn't enough room for that today.

The challenge I'm faced with right now is what action to take now that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the "umbrella group" of churches, which my church belongs to, has taken strides to formulate a "Social Statement on Genetics". This has me VERY concerned.

You can read the full draft of the statement here:

Bishop Rindy of the eastern North Dakota synod of the ELCA is a wonderful man. As he spoke at a meeting at my church last night, I have to admit, everything he said made sense, but I still have questions that remain unanswered and I have more "homework" to do on this issue.

First, some facts on the ELCA "Social Statement on Genetics", which includes a section on "Genetically Modified Organism's in the Food Supply":

- All social statements begin as a request to the synod.

- In August of 2005, the Churchwide Assembly authorized the development of the statement.

-It will cost $30,000/year, or a total of $210,000 from start to finish. This includes study, printing, etc.

- The draft of the "Social Statement on Genetics" is 63 pages long.

- The "Task Force for ELCA Studies on Genetics" has 18 members, but only includes ONE farmer, "Mr. Linden Olson, farmer and consultant, and member of American Lutheran Church, Worthington, Minnesota." It doesn't appear to me that any of the other members are involved in production agriculture.

When I asked Bishop Rindy about the section on GMO's , he responded that it will be a "document to help Lutheran's talk about genetics in a faithful way" and will explain "how you responsibly use GMO's".

I don't know about you, but I don't think the ELCA has really considered the long-term ramifications this may have on so many levels of our food supply. Maybe they have, and they're okay with the fact that this could have vast negative effects on so many of their farming members, but I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt, as they are still studying this issue and collecting feedback. I'm reminded of when Oprah made a "statement" about beef on her show. That was just a "statement", but it had consumers in a panic.

The basic principle I keep coming back to is that I do NOT believe it is the church's place to give recommendations on farm management practices. Similarly, I do not think it is acceptable that the church tell everyone in town what tires to put on their car, etc. We go to church to worship and study scripture, but from there it is up to individuals to apply the lessons we've learned in our lives.

No matter where you stand on this issue, I encourage you to pray about this, and to comment before October 15th, 2010 at:

This issue will be voted on at the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

(11/12/10- Please note: this was originally written in May 2010. I was not interviewed for today's articles in the Fargo Forum or the Jamestown Sun. Please read my newest blog post on this issue: When Faith & Farming Collide: Part 3. Also, Blogger has an error and I am unable to reply to any comments at this time. THANK YOU for visiting!)


  1. Thanks for keeping this in the front of our minds. Some of us who are in the city recognize the distance we are from the farms (and some of us do what we can to lessen that distance), and we rely on the faithful people who grow our food faithfully to keep our perspective broad. Thank you for engaging this conversation.

  2. Thank you for visiting! Thanks also for doing what you can to lessen your distance to farms :) I appreciate your interest and your support!
    Sarah :)

  3. I asked for a copy after church Sunday. This too, has me very concerned. I really think that this is something that our church should tread lightly on. You have done an excellent job in summing up so many of my exact thoughts!

  4. Hi! I enjoyed your article. I hope to begin reading the draft tonight. I did look at the committee members and the biographies of the represenatives from the agricultural community. I did this because it always helps me to understand their lens or perspective. I couldn't find any biographical information on the farmer. The other two agricultural representatives appear to have strong sustainable agricultural and organic production perspectives. Personally, I think that the term "sustainable" agricultural can have so many meanings, I'm not sure it is a meaningful term. I did find a previously published article by Leland Glenna in Journal of Lutheran Ethics. Without reading the social policy draft, I would guess that some of the perspective voiced in his article is also expressed in the draft. The article is at: At any rate, thanks for your comments & I look forward to reading the draft and further discussion. I need to ask our Pastor when it will be discussed in our church.

  5. The draft statement does not contain a section on "Genetically Modified Organism's in the Food Supply": as you state, rather it is found in the Study Guide that preceded the draft. A close examination of the draft statement does not find GMO's in the text but only in the endnotes and the glossary. In addition I can find nowhere where there is any recommendations made as to any farming practice. There is a framework described to use in making personal decisions which can apply in any situation that involves genetics and I suspect many other decisions).

  6. I finally got a chance to read the statment today. Yes, you're correct, the draft statement does not include this type of section. I look forward to our church discussion of the statement.

  7. CORRECTION: The draft statement does NOT include a "section" on "Genetically Modified Organisms in the Food Supply", however, please go to, this is where the ELCA's beliefs are listed on GMO's:

    I mistakenly thought this was a section of the draft statement when reading the text online. After reviewing the paper version, I stand corrected. My apologies for this error, but I stand firm in my opinions on this issue. THANK YOU readers for bringing my attention to this!

  8. The link above is in "Study Documents", if you're trying to find it under a tab.

  9. Saarah, regardles of the details being "here" or "there, the ELCA appears to be moving in a direction. I truly do not want to sound negative but we have so many past examples of the ELCA starting a "movement" by submitting some basic, innocent sounding ideas/concepts and then wait for them to grow into what they truly want as an end result. We should be carefull and wary of what this may grow into and at a time when those who are clear thinkers are overrun by the end agenda. I wonder what the fly on the wall will see 20 years from now.

  10. John- THANK YOU for your comment. As I am continuing to research this issue, I'm digging up some very interesting/concerning things. Stay tuned for future blog posts on my findings!

  11. I don't think the church will tell farmers how to farm rather than simply state how scripture applies to our lives and how that impacts God's creation. They are encompassing all of genetic manipulation and not just stating how farmers should farm. GMOs are obviously a hot-button issue, partially a reason this is being drafted, but are also a topic worth considering. It's great that you are so involved with farming and your church. I'm glad to have found your blog.

  12. Sarah,

    Having recently received a copy of an article in the Dakota Farmer about this topic, I felt compelled to post on this blog. I do so because I am also passionately concerned about both faith and farming because you see, I am an ELCA minister who has also farmed for 20 years. Having a BS in Agricultural Honors and another in Agronomy are not the usual prerequisites when pursuing a Masters of Divinity but I think they go together very well !

    I write because unlike this blog post, the quotes attributed to you in the article use fiery rhetoric that make sweeping assumptions about others in the church. Unfortunately there is no hint of "giving others the benefit of the doubt" that you do in this blog. Perhaps you did not intend for the article to be printed as it was but it feeds into the deep distrust and conspiracy that is rampant in our country today.

    The church is full of people, who like you, are "on a mission". The difficulty is that we do not always agree on the specifics of that mission. Some of the people we label as 'enemies' or as 'radicals' or any other negative term, are actually loving, faithful brothers and sisters who are simply trying to live out their faith in the mission they feel God has called them to. The issue of "GMO's" and other genetic technology deals with some of life's most basic properties. Society deals only with economic benefits and risks. The church strives to provide a moral and theological framework that goes beyond the short term. That is all this document will do. It has no power to tell people "what to do". There is no reason to be fearful or defensive.

    The pastor part of me is saddened by the struggle you are experiencing between your faith and your vocation. From my point of view, which is steeped in four decades of rural life, I don't think it has to be that way. Differences of opinions can be the spark of creative and life-giving conversation but only if we can stop making one another into the "enemy".

    I would enjoy a deeper conversation about all of this sometime and perhaps God will enable that to happen. I think we have much "common ground" and it is always interesting to see what God does with a little dirt :)

    peace and joy
    Tim Koester
    Pastor St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church
    Bloomfield NE

  13. "My faith and my farming practices have always gone hand in hand."

    "The basic principle I keep coming back to is that I do NOT believe it is the church's place to give recommendations on farm management practices."

    I am not Lutheran, so forgive me if I am missing something, but I don't understand how these two statements are not contradictory. If farming and faith go hand in hand, why wouldn't the preachers of the faith have something to say about farming?

  14. I like Timothy feel your difficulty with this matter as I too am an ordained minister and a farmer, I am presently serving on the state board of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. My church left the ELCA and we are now part of the North American Lutheran Church. I have noticed the growing anti-farming sentiment over the last few years. They keep talking about a hunger crisis, but want to restrict the productivity of American farmers. GMO's are not new to agriculture. When people started growing crops they would decide after a the harvest which was the best seed to plant for the next year. It is a process of eliminating the poorer producing product, and the process is all safe and scientifically based.
    Which is more sustainable - a farm based on organic production which robs the fertility of the soil and can only feed a few, or a farm that has been in the same family for several generations, uses best management practices and can feed a mutitude of people?
    Before leaving the ELCA I talked to my synod Bishop on the anti-agricultural tone of the ELCA. He told me that churchwide was not against normal agriculture (family farms), but against the large corporate farms. I could not get him to understand that most large corporate farms throughout America are family farms producing the food, fuel and fiber that supplies America and much of the world.
    Sarah, both my husband and I would love to talk to you sometime.

  15. Thanks for your candid comments. I have not and will not read the 63 page document. It is further evidence that the ELCA has cut it's anchor chains and pulled it's rudder out of the water. Recent moves by the church to tug at our heart strings in order to "diliberate" have brought disaster on the church. A world without genetically enhanced crops and livestock is one with more people starving to death--many in a cage lined by papers referred to as social statements. $ 210,000.00 would buy a lot of rice. ...Burp. Pastor Kelly Wasberg; Living Word Lutheran Church, LCMC, Marshall MN

  16. Thanks for using my photo... ;-)