A Balance Act between Cultivating and Preservation in Agriculture (Sermon Dossenheim 5.7.2020)
Rolf Brauch – KDL – Regional Officer

Dear sisters and brothers!

Beyond everything offered by modern technology there are still unchanged essential differences between agricultural activity and industrial production. They relay on the fact that the producers aren’t the farmers, but the plants and the animals. Eggs, milk and corn seeds are not the result of a closed industrial production process like cars do, but these are the products of living plants and animals. You can’t just make plants and animals. If the farmer plants a seed in the ground or if he takes an animal to fertilization, they will or will not grow – sometimes better, sometimes worse, sometimes more, sometimes less. Martin Luther wrote on this: Even if you ploughed for one hundred years and you’ll make all the work in the world, you couldn’t make a single straw grow from the earth.

Life can’t just be made – it remains a mystery, the availability of life remains reserved to God and it stands under His blessing and is His promise. The climate change presents this non – feasibility for us modern people as a painful and distressing experience. Life and food are not just a plain management task.

As long as the earth exists there will be no stop to sowing and harvesting. This is what still and again sustains us – not smart phones or stock shares…

The only material request in the Lord‘s Prayer is the request for the daily bread and Martin Luther writes in his unique manner on the topic: Gods gives, even without our request, the daily bread to all bad people, but what we ask in this prayer, is that He may let us recognize it…

The Russian philosopher Berdjajew says about this: The request for my daily bread is a material question, the request for the bread of my brother a spiritual one.

In order to provide the daily bread for all the people on earth God needs the farmer.

The farmers accomplish through labor division in a national economy the assignment of cultivating and preserving the creation in our all name. Often was this order of rule – make the earth full and be masters of it – is being misinterpreted. This order of rule is about caring and nursing for the earth, not about its exploitation. The theologian Härle writes: Man as the likeness of God administrates the creation as a trustee. So this freedom of using the gifts of creation is limited.

Farmers have to create conditions for growth – in a manner that all people, as well as future generations, can live on this earth and have enough food.  

The assignment regards the sustainability of the management – to use a modern phrasing.

Sustainability isn’t something developed by forestry as we might often think, but it is mentioned in the Old Testament (Deut. 22,6) in the following verse: If by chance you see a place which a bird has made for itself in a tree or on the earth, with young ones or eggs, and the mother bird seated on the young ones or the eggs, do not take the mother bird with the young!

The fruitfulness of the earth has to be preserved – that is a clear message.

When we talk today about sustainability, there is always next to the ecological aspect, also an economic and a social one.

Farming is often a self divided job as Albert Schweitzer said so properly: It has to protect life, but also to use it. God gave the earth for responsible use!

Farming is a job, of course with a high degree of vocation, but farmers live out of their job in a very material sense. It becomes every time clear to me when I enquire farmers about their working hours: From eight to seventeen, the difference would be a hobby – they often answer!

Because the job doesn’t provide today a good living for a lot of them:

Some facts:

–  Average of 60 working hours, mostly in livestock farms

– Decades of obvious lower incomes than comparable other occupational groups with huge capital investment

– Strong price fluctuation for milk in the last years, between 23 and 42 Eurocents

– A huge documentation effort and an overwhelming bureaucracy

An agricultural economist formulated it one hundred years ago like this: to be a farmer means at the same time purpose of life and livelihood.

We – the society and especially the church groups – ask today for clear changes in agriculture. And this is the balance act, this are the two faces of Janus in agriculture: it is a decisive factor for future solutions, like preserving the biodiversity and protecting resources, but at the same time the cause of some of our problems like the challenge of nitrates in the groundwater.

This unchallenged claim will upset farmers strongly, since they will refer it strictly to themselves as a charge of guilt. Disregarding all the black sheep that are to be found amongst the farmers, I am interested only by the following conclusion: the framework of contemporary agriculture is broken. Or with other words: farmers have, due to economical reasons, to exploit the earth more intensively than it is ecologically sustainable.

To say it theologically: we all have to contribute so that farmers can limit the abuse of the creation, in order to keep it ethical and sustainable, without endangering their existence.

That is the task – to have courage for the balance act.

Not to ask for changes is as wrong as to charge it only on the expense and the work of the farmers.  

The Agricultural Memorandum of the EKD (The Evangelical Church of Germany) from 1984 used the formulation: Agriculture in the crossfire of ecology and economy.

A lower intensity in the field and in the stable is recommended, we crossed the borders of sustainability, and yes we crossed decisively the planetary borders.

This is to be seen clearly in the field of livestock farming. This spans from the livestock farming itself, like surface for our fellow creatures – the animals – to the use of animal dung, to meet processing onto our grill. But this changes cost more than a few Eurocents! And we are all called not only to ask for this changes, but also to contribute to them. Often we are good signposts – we indicate the road to be taken, without walking on it ourselves!

Behavior change, in order to be sustainable, has to be based on attitude change.

Animals are fellow creatures, not factors of production.

The price is high – the Experts Council estimates that just the reconstruction of livestock farming will cost around 5 Billion Euros per year. Realistic proposals, that hold us all responsible, were made by the so called Borchert Commission. We have to „reimburse“ farmers that, due to current conditions, spend a lot of money in order to build new stables. That is right, but not cheap! Unfortunately nothing happens in this field!

Appeals won’t do the job! Unfortunately only clear laws and other prices will help.

And yes: changes mean also loss and pain – we have to be honest about it.

That is why we have to share the burden of these changes together in a biblical manner – one should carry the burden of the other!

Unfortunately changes like the ones nowadays in the meat industry seem to be needing crisis.

Let us cultivate and preserve this earth under the sign of the rainbow, acting like a Ltd. – community with justified hope[1] – in setting the signs for a new lifestyle of preserving the creation, but also of solidarity with our farmers. Because all the creation has the promise of redemption!


[1] Wordplay starting from the German GmbH (Gesellschaft mit begrenzter Haftung) meaning Ltd., transformed by the author into: Gesellschaft mit begrüdeter Hoffnung (community with justified hope)