Location: Out West

An old-fashioned guy grappling with new-fangled ways.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Christian Agrarian FAQ

I'm probably the last guy that should attempt this. There are so many christian agrarians out there actually walking the talk and living the life who could do a better job. But, they're too busy raising chickens, milking cows, weeding gardens and canning produce, so I guess you're stuck with me. I'm a wannabe living in town. I have 4 tomato plants, a row of green beans, a plum tree and a strawberry bed. I'm no authority, but I do have more time then most to ponder and write. So here goes.

What is Christian Agrarianism?

Christian agrarians believe we were created by God to steward this earth, drawing our sustenance from it through honest labor while preserving and enhancing it's wondrous diversity and productivity. (Gen. 1:26-29, Gen. 9:1-3, Ps. 8:3-8) We further believe that the Bible, as God's Holy Word, has a cultural context which is mostly ignored today. Agrarianism isn't explicitly taught by the Bible; it is assumed as the normal mode of life on this earth. Until the industrial revolution it was the air we breathed; the natural social order of mankind. It is no wonder the modern church is constantly trying to 'update' and 'modernize' the Scriptures, even as we despise traditional worship for more contemporary forms. The modern spirit of constant change for it's own sake, never-ending novelty, and unquestioning comfort and ease at any cost is nowhere taught in Scripture. We want God's word and ways adjusted to fit the current social and economic climate; we never seem to ask, how can I adjust my lifestyle in obedience to the Scriptures?

Are Christian Agrarians opposed to technology?

No. But neither are we blind to the harm that can come from it. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. Or, maybe we should do it, just not in the most technologically advanced way. I define technology as the total array of man-made tools available for our use. Everyone uses tools to aid personal productivity, even christian agrarians. In this sense, we cannot escape technology. Christian Agrarians seek to evaluate tools critically using a different standard then mere efficiency and the bottom line. Is the goal just to 'git her done' and make a profit; or do we want to do a quality job and do no serious harm to the planet, ourselves and our families in the process? You can't serve God and mammon. But if you seek first His Kingdom, and His righteousness, then all these things will be added unto you. If the priority in work is first profit, then saving labor, and then efficiency, so you can do the same idolatrous, soul-deadening thing over and over again, then you need new priorities.

The scriptures present work as honorable, personal and profitable in and of itself, whether we make a killing in the stock market or not. We are not to steal, but work with our hands, so that we have enough for our families and to share with others. (Eph. 4:28) Consider Paul's advice to the Thessalonicans with regard to work: "Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing." (1Thess. 4:11,12) Here is work placed in the context of a christian lifestyle. This lifestyle is home and family centered, oriented towards honoring God and presenting an honest testimony to the world. It involves personal labor and personal creativity. It does not seek to meddle in the affairs of others. It is focused on having enough, not in getting rich. Therefore, the christian agrarian should select tools with these priorities in mind; my selections may differ from yours based upon our respective callings before God.

Aha, so Christian Agrarians are opposed to making a profit?!

If the so-called profit is actually usury or theft, which are sins, yes. But we are not opposed to honest increase through labor and husbandry. We are commanded in the Scriptures to be a generous people, willing to share. This implies productivity, diligence and economy in our work, which leads to having a surplus. In general, profit must be regulated by a conscience steeped in Scripture. The primary goal of the christian agrarian is to do good work to the glory of God, while still preserving the earth's productive capacity for future generations. Profit or loss may influence how this work is done, but it should never be the tail that wags the dog. It is the icing on the cake, not the cake.

Do Christian Agrarians believe everyone should farm?

No. Neither do we believe that everyone should be a banker, lawyer, bureaucrat or big-box retailer. But that is increasingly what our economy is becoming; even as the number of farmers, miners, loggers and fishermen decline. Christian agrarians do give a priority and honor to agriculture over other work, because cultivating the earth in a responsible way is the foundation of civilization. And if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? And what is the current state of agriculture in America? We are in desperate straits, for what agriculture that remains here can't properly be called cultivating, but constitutes warfare against the earth and against sane society. Sane stewardship has been supplanted by the industrial ethic which sees efficiency and profit as the grand end of work. When only 2% of our population farms, and these few are vassals of corporate entities, bankers and politicians, we can only expect more harm to the environment, the food supply, and more estrangement from each other and our world.

We all ought to be ashamed when the dominant media refers to us as consumers. The label implies that we live off the labor of others, who are called producers. And for the most part, it's true. Too many of us have no idea how to plant a seed or care for the plant, how to build shelter for livestock, or how to feed and doctor it, or humanely butcher it for the table. We are so specialized that few of us know how to provide for ourselves the basic necessities of life. We can make widgets and be cogs for the grand global machine, but few know how to trap, fish or hunt for subsistence or to supplement the garden. Few are those who can dry, can or smoke food for the winter months. Even rarer is the man who can take raw skins, wool or flax and make sturdy, practical clothing. In short, we are slaves who depend on our corporate masters for our fuel, food and clothing. I admit, it is a comfortable slavery; attended with the degenerative disease and obesity of the coddled, but slavery nonetheless. And it is all because we have abdicated our God-given calling to personally steward the earth. To work with our hands and eat our bread by the sweat of our brow, this is our calling in an earthly sense. To paraphrase St. Paul, if you don't produce, you should not consume either.

What would a Christian Agrarian society look like?

In general, it would be shaped by local conditions (land, climate, cultural traditions, etc.) and christian morality. Christian aggrarianism is not a political movement or platform. It only seeks the revitalization of self-reliance, local economy and mutually supportive society. In this kind of society, most people would work out of their homes or close to home. Children would be raised and predominantly educated by mothers and fathers in a traditional two-parent household. In towns and cities, small shopkeepers, tradesmen and service providers would flourish. But most people would be rural freeholders on their own property. They would produce food, fiber and possibly fuel and building materials for themselves and local markets. Welfare would be locally run by families, non-profits and churches. Schools would be owned by teachers and supported by the parents who patronize them. In every area of life there would be local control and local interdependence. Love thy neighbor would not be a platitude; but would be lived out in daily life, in countless practical ways. If I really love my neighbor, then I don't consider only my own self-interest (a lower price in the short-term, for example) but also his interests as a small businessman. I buy from him because he's my neighbor. An agrarian society would be a tightly knit, mutually supportive and yet self-reliant society.

It sounds like you want to return to the good old days. Don't you know you can't turn back the clock?

This is a dangerous half-truth. The implication is that a yearning for simpler ways, traditional culture and local self-reliance is somehow not progressive and therefore impossible. Let me be clear. Christian agrarians are not seeking to re-create a particular time in history. But we do seek traditional, time-tested wisdom from the past that we can apply here and now. If the path you are traveling leads you to a cliff, is it wisdom to turn and retrace your steps, or should we take a flying leap because progress dictates we should never look back? Our great grand-parents enjoyed a society and culture very much like the christian agrarian vision; if they can achieve it so can we. Whatever has been done on earth before, can be done again. The difference is, we have an opportunity to wed the best wisdom of the past with the best of today's technology.

Nevertheless, humans being the fallen sinners we are, we know our efforts won't be perfected this side of heaven. Yet, at rock bottom, we are only asking for a good life working our own productive land surrounded by family and friends. We don't think that's too much to ask - and it's certainly worth working towards.


Blogger Chicken Mama said...

Fantastic posting!! Do you mind if I put a link to it on our blog?


12:03 PM  
Blogger Randall Gerard said...


I'm very glad you like it, and please be my guest. If you have any suggestions for improvements or perhaps additional questions, please let me know.


1:29 PM  
Blogger Missouri Rev said...

Hi Randall, great post. I have been too busy getting our mules ready for our first winter of restorative forestry training. So I much appreciate your FAQ of Christian Agrarianism.

6:05 PM  
Blogger Randall Gerard said...

Rev. McConnell,

The kind words mean alot coming from you, sir. You're one of the reasons I approached the task with some fear and trembling. You're much more qualified to write such a faq; but it sounds like you're pretty busy!

Anyway, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I hope it will be found useful within our agrarian circles. Blessings to you and yours.


6:23 PM  
Blogger Scott M Terry said...

Hi Randy

Great job! A very well written and well thought out post.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

Great post! I'm glad you were not busy out in the fields/garden/tending animals and able to compose this post. It gives a great depiction of Christian Agrarianism-well done.


8:49 PM  
Blogger Claudio said...

Dear Randall,

Nice, very informative post. I am learning about the Christian Agrarian because it is very close to my aspirations and beliefs.
I didn’t know about agrarianism until I stumbled onto it on the internet, just when we (my wife and I) are looking for a way to put into practice what we think will be the best for our family.
We are looking for a community that we can be a part of and change our lives from the way we are living. We want to spend time with our kids before they grow up and put on them the love for God and His creation and live a healthy and godly life style. We live in Alaska and we are trying to become debt free and move to a different state where we can have a longer farming season and don’t have to spend too much of our earnings in heating bills and shipping costs.
Things are looking good. We hope we can pay everything we owe by next year. I am finishing the construction of a house between now and January. We plan to sell it and pay off whatever we can with the profit and with the money from other property we have, transition to an agrarian life in a different place where God directs us to go.
I am very thankful for people like yourself and others that have so much to teach us, so we don’t have to figure it out by ourselves. I am open for advice on these subjects and to learn about different Christian communities out there from you or the godly people that live the agrarian life.
Thank You
Claudio Gomes

11:43 PM  
Blogger Leigh said...

Excellent post. I found it via exploring links. You hit the nail on the head with every point.

6:54 PM  
Blogger FRUGAL DAYCARE MOM said...

I am going to add a link in my blog. I loved this post!

1:33 AM  
Blogger The Homestead Lady said...

I linked to this article quite some time ago and I must say you summed up our beliefs and lifestyle perfectly. We consider ourselves Christian agrarians and are living the life. It is truly a blessed life that few will ever understand.

11:43 AM  
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I finally know what we are. I know now how to explain why we do and feel the way we do. We have ultimately set our course and now know how to tell others why we have these goals. Thank you and Gods blessings.

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9:36 PM  

Hi Randall,

Thank you for your thoughtful post. May I query a couple of items?

1. You say that you "paraphrase St. Paul, if you don't produce, you should not consume either." Perhaps yours is a possible interpretation, however Paul said that if you don't work, neither should you eat. He didn't stipulate the kind of work. And it is not practical as you have said yourself elsewhere in your article, for us all to be producers.
2.Do you suggest a 2child family? Blessed is the man whose quiver is full.

7:45 PM  

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