Tag Archives: Business

Industrial Churches

I don’t have a name for this series yet (Every series needs a name doesn’t it?), but I’m looking at connections between issues in sustainable agriculture and church, theology and faith.

Modern science observed nature and made conclusions and theories from what they saw. Because science believed too much in its own abilities, it attempted to remake the world in its own image. Industrial agriculture is a perfect example.

Science found that three elements seemed to promote growth in plants: Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. So, it reduced fertilizers to these three elements which it cooked up in the lab (using a lot of petroleum in the process). Voila! Industrial agriculture is born. It turns out that this approach misses some essential elements of soil composition that are more difficult to reproduce in the lab. So, there’s an example of how science attempted to observe and learn from nature, but ended up with a reductionist approach to what was discovered and ultimately became a destructive force.

Perhaps the same phenomenon can describe the (d)evolution of the modern church. The church growth movement succumbed to this kind of hubris. McGavran and others found formulas that seemed to accurately describe how to grow churches, lower cultural barriers and focus on homogenous groups being the two key points. However, I would suggest that the point of the church is not to grow, but to be faithful. As Yoder points out we are to be obedient, not effective.

Perhaps in both cases we have confused the purpose of agriculture and the church. Agribusiness and science teamed up to create an agriculture bent on primarily profits and yield without attention to the numerous other factors that contribute to a healthy and sustainable relationship with nature. The obsession with growth and effectiveness in the church has also distorted our relationship to the world. Those outside the church are primarily seen as converts or non-christians rather than children of God.

Similarly industrial agriculture sees its cost-benefit primarily in terms of dollar signs and market share instead of considering whole ecosystems and interrelationships of soil, plants, and animals (we are after all animals too). Little thought is given to the world industrial agriculture is bequeathing to our children, while there is much hand wringing over the constant fluctuation of stock prices.

The antidote to both these seems to be to return to observation of nature. In both science and theology, there is a necessary amount of humility that allows for the unknown and the mysterious. Observing nature as if for the first time can call into question our assumptions and remind us of our place within it. This silence allows room for the Other and room for each of us to engage the world and each other as fellow children of God rather than competitors in the free marketplace of religious and scientific ideas.


Who Owns Who in Organic Foods

This is a very helpful chart of mergers and acquisitions (PDF) among food companies that own various and sundry organic brands as of January this year.


CSM On Poverty

At first blush many of the issues, such as poverty, don’t really seem connected to food (though the current food crisis has highlighted the opposite). It’s about economics right? Well, food plays a role in the endemic nature of poverty, particularly at the bottom of the globalization totem pole. The bottom of that pole is not, as many think, sweatshops where small children make your Air Jordans. No, it is the farmers producing our coffee and organic produce that face the most difficult climb out of poverty.

The Christian Science Monitor recently had an excellent multi-part series on poverty (start here) by Mark Lange, a former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. Although I don’t agree with everything in these articles (I’m not as confident in globalization), they certainly raise a lot of good issues in an easily digestible, but not sugary form. Here’s a few good quotes:

Moral obligation is enough…We need reasons that engage a broader political spectrum. Humanitarian, labor, and environmental goals must be joined with economic and geopolitical priorities, each in service to the other.

Post-9/11 terrorpolitik makes ending extreme poverty a security priority. The left responds to the promise of a more compassionate world; the right, to the threat of a more violent one. We must enlist both.

the greatest asset anyone from a wealthy nation might bring to the challenge of eradicating extreme poverty is a healthy balance of audacity and humility.

It’s ironic, but for the last billion China has proved to be the most inspiring example and a direct brake on progress.

aid agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and contractors suffer from an inherent conflict of interest: They exist to run projects and perpetuate themselves – not to put themselves out of business.

and now for the food connection…

The encouraging lesson here is that astute agricultural development can be a life-saving first rung on the ladder to more diversified industry and export-driven growth.