• Joel Salatin

No Holding Back

Guest post from our dear friend Joel Salatin



Do you get tired of holding back?

As American society becomes more and more secular and the faith community becomes more marginalized and ostracized, the tendency for Christians is to hold back, disengage, retreat.

If you're like me, you get tired of walking on eggshells, running every word through the mental meat grinder to make sure it won't be offensive or aggressive or narrow or objective or non-inclusive or too direct. We don't want to make enemies and most of us don't like fights.

When more and more people accuse us of bigotry for using Biblical illustrations or, horror of horrors, enjoin God in our everyday conversation--respectfully, not in vain--our natural inclination is to be quiet. To just be silent. We can rationalize it easily with a "what's the use? They don't get my faith values and why have a fight over it."

As I market our farm's pastured GMO-free meat and poultry, my tension is that many folks who care about their food oppose my basic faith and political beliefs. As a result, I hold back. But the faith community with which I align more closely in core beliefs is largely lined up down at Chick-fil-A getting GMO-fed factory chicken.

As a result, I feel left out of both worlds. I'm a vagabond. Among a large portion of our customers who favor abortion, evolution, Gaia and other anti-Biblical beliefs I must smile, speak only about healing the earth, and strictly monitor my words. I don't want to lose a customer or friend so I hold back. Sometimes I wonder if this borders on being ashamed of Christ. That's a serious charge, but I guarantee any Christian who embraces an ecologically authentic food and farming ethic holds back in order not to irritate customers.

Among my Christian friends, I offend if I dare ask "Does God care what food is on your plate?" In my experience, most Christians enjoy academic theological discussions, treating everything Biblical as an exclusive spiritual discussion. Calling Christians to a visceral, practical outworking of divine truth leads to messy discussions. If I dare suggest that we not use styrofoam plates for the church potluck, I'm branded a greenie tree hugger Commie pinko. We can't even have a discussion because I've already been branded "one of those people."

Francis Schaeffer asked the question and wrote a book titled "How Shall We Then Live?" He dared to wrestle with these messy practical implications of divine imperative. He stands as a modern giant in fringe Christian circles; mainstream circles find him too controversial. And yet truth is controversial; seeking and finding it takes wrestling and arguing between our old nature and new nature.

And so I hold back. I'll bet a lot of folks hold back. At home in neither camp, we suppress our real soul conversation.

To the one group, we ask "is a dead zone the size of Rhode Island in the Gulf of Mexico something that's earth friendly?" Our nonChristian friends yell a resounding "no" and embrace us for asking. And buy some chicken.

To the other group, we ask "does God love the earth so much He's going to keep it going?" and everyone screams "no, He's going to destroy it and build a new earth." And they love us for asking the question.

But what about one that straddles both of these camps? What if we asked both groups the same question? What if we asked "Does God care if we make a dead zone the size of Rhode Island in the Gulf of Mexico?" Oh my. One side is irritated that we believe in God. The other side is irritated because it assumes a moral dimension to something as mundane and physical as food and farming. We've now irritated both camps.

So we hold back.

Inside, we're in turmoil, like we're not able to let loose with either camp. Are we wimps? Do we have no courage? No, we're just trying to be nice, to be charitable, to be kind, polite, and gracious. The result is neither side wrestles with the truth and we sell more chicken.

Am I the only one struggling with this conundrum? I hope not because the whole theme of GOD'S GOOD TABLE is to minister to those of us in this dilemma. It's to give voice, without apology, to the notion that God cares about what's on our plate, what's in our field, how we cook, how we eat, how we handle the temple of the Holy Spirit. For too long the faith community has dismissed creation care, or earth stewardship, as an environmentalist's distraction to what's really important: abortion, premarital sex, holy matrimony, missionaries, and doctrinal purity.

But even a cursory reading of the Bible indicates a profound interest in physical things. From "the heavens declare the glory of God" to "the trees of the field shall clap their hands," Biblical invisible to visible truths permeate. It starts in a garden in Genesis and ends in a garden in Revelation. Food, trees, land management and more dominate God's instruction manual to humanity.

If God owns it all, including us, it behooves us to ask what a steward should do with God's stuff. Does God care about His stuff? Absolutely.

Perhaps one of my most profound epiphanies occurred many years ago when my mentor Allan Nation (founder of Stockman Grass Farmer Magazine) and I were asked to speak at a pastured livestock conference in Lexington, Virginia. The two-day conference included an afternoon of touring to three nearby farms that the hosts selected due to their approximating the principles Allan and I promoted.

At the first stop, we all got off the bus and gathered around the farmer, who was visibly honored that both Allan and I came on the tour. In a gracious opening introduction, he told the attendees that "everything you see here I got straight out of Joel's book, Salad Bar Beef." Allan leaned over to me and whispered "do you see anything here that's consistent with your book?" I whispered back, "no."

In fact, this well-meaning and gracious farmer had done exactly opposite numerous things I mentioned in my book as protocols for success. At that moment it struck me that here was a fellow living 50 miles from me, same state, same European background, same language, about the same age, living at the same time. If he missed my meaning by that far, what am I missing in the Bible that was written long ago by people on the other side of the world in a different language and culture.

Because the environmental movement has largely been led by creaTION worshipers rather than creaTOR worshippers, the faith community conveniently brands earth care as anti-Biblical. In doing so, the faith community has given over the moral high ground of creation care and food stewardship to pagans. Half the requests for prayer in our churches come from people whose refrigerators are full of Diet Coke and Velveeta Cheese and whose trash cans fill with junk food packaging.

What a blessing and delight to have GOD'S GOOD PLATE as a flagpole to gather around. Mavericks like me can come together for encouragement, fellowship, and edification in food and farm biblical authenticity. We don't have to hold back when we get together. We know we're on a journey, trying to be faithful stewards of God's stuff, including our own bodies.

Several years ago I did a presentation at U.C. Berkeley, hotbed of liberal anti-faith sentiments. I mentioned my sanctity of life and creation-themed stance, along with our farming techniques, and received a standing ovation. The two hosting professors, once we left the lecture hall, admitted that they were scared to death for me because they knew some of these unpopular things I would say.

Then they made this observation: "in our collective 20 years at this institution, this is the first time we've ever heard a speaker use the term 'God' respectfully without getting booed. You can use 'God' in swearing, of course, but not respectfully."

I've thought a lot about that exchange over the years and come to the conclusion that perhaps I was the first Christian these young people had encountered who was honestly struggling for consistency. While they did not agree with the biblical foundation, they forgave it because they sensed an honest attempt to apply it across the entire spectrum of life. To be sure, I have inconsistencies; they just didn't see them as glaring like they do when a right-to-lifer feeds her children Happy Meals.

What would happen to the faith community's credibility within the greater culture if Christians universally portrayed consistency in this area rather than hypocrisy? On another speaking engagement, this time at the University of Guelph in Canada, a fellow presenter held a Bible aloft and spewed invectives: "Every gully, polluted river, and abused animal is because of this book." This train of thought went on for five minutes. What if such a charge were impossible because Christians actually sought to apply biblical principles in the food and farm sphere?


That is exactly what GOD'S GOOD TABLE seeks. Now we have a choir, a cheerleading section, a defender to bolster those who have not bowed their knees to Baal. Won't it be fun to not hold back?




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