Where is the line?

Apr 27, 2015 by

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Jokingly I told a Mennonite farmer that we should be discussing glyphosate at our denominational convention. Can a Mennonite farmer spray glyphosate, the herbicide in the common weedkiller Roundup, in light of the World Health Organization’s recent conclusion that it causes cancer? Can a Mennonite play golf on a course where glyphosate has been sprayed? Do we need a resolution on how we will respond to churches and people who use it on their lawns?



The farmer calmly responded to my half-joking rant by explaining he was weighing the positives and the negatives. He was also being careful not to believe all the corporate reports.

I started thinking about lines. We all long for a church that is a shining light in our confusing world. How do boundaries and lines fit into the church’s witness to the world? Some of us point to lines about sexual behavior as valuable to a bright and faithful witness. Others think the world would notice a strong stance against glyphosate, militarism or family-splitting deportations.

Jesus reminds us that the two most important guidelines, or laws, are to love God and love our neighbor. But how does loving God and loving neighbor play out in the life of the church?

If I put some of my dead bees in a glyphosate user’s church mailbox, would I be crossing the love-of-neighbor line or opening avenues for further conversations?

When a rich man asked Jesus about lines that lead to life, he reviewed the well-known ones: do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal. After the man claimed to have kept all the regular commandments, Jesus added one more: “Go and sell all you possess and give to the poor” (Mark 10:19-22). The devoted man, and almost all of us, decide to pass on this one.

Lines can appear spontaneously as personal responses to Jesus. Zacchaeus declared he would give half his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he cheated at a fourfold rate (Luke 19:1-10). Zacchaeus’ stance hasn’t become a rule for all of us, but his storyline serves as a shining light.

Lines keep us from going too far. Jesus is asked to follow the stoning rule established by Moses for those caught in adultery. Peer pressure was on, but Jesus refused join in the stone-throwing.

I started asking people about lines they have drawn. A person who had worked at a sign-making company drew the line at pornography. Sadly, he did not become the company’s moral hero. A physics professor drew the line at not taking military money for research, and it cost him his job. An inspiring teenager remembered refusing to cuss and to join in the preteen dating trend. Stories help us see the twists and turns that lines create.

Lines help us remember who we are. They create freedom. You don’t have to cuss to prove your worth. You don’t have to join in the degradation of women. You don’t have to accept all a company promotes to be a good farmer.

As we live the Jesus story, we don’t want to fall off the page and out of the plot. We don’t want to end up in the wrong story. Let’s keep reviewing the bigger picture of how God is calling us to holiness and love. Let’s remember our line-making is never perfect.

Let’s learn to understand each other’s lines. Let’s be a shining beacon of love in a world trying to divide us. Let’s delight in God’s liberating lines and admit our muddy vision.

I think I’ll put my dead bees on the compost pile.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.

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  • Jim Smith

    It is important to work for what’s right in this world. In my opinion, using this herbicide does not cross any lines and actually works towards a better world. Farmers who use this herbicide (which is very safe when used responsibly) are able to use minimal tillage which has many positive benefits like reducing soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions.This information has been found by many neutral peer reviewed studies. Also, Glyphosate can not be sprayed on lawns or it will kill the grass and does also not kill bees or other animals. Many other everyday chemicals (like caffeine or aspirin) are more harmful to human health than glyphosate. Should we draw the lines at those substances? I appreciate what this article is saying about not crossing ethical boundaries but it’s important to get our science correct so we can better inform ourselves as to where we should draw our lines.

    • Debra B. Stewart

      I agree, Jim. One has to weigh the benefits against the dangers, and make an informed decision. As for GMO’s, I can remember, in my distant past, all those “Pioneer Seed Corn Test” signs lining the roads of my childhood farming communities. Which means, y’all been eating GMO’s for at least 50 years. Seriously, my dad, a farmer most of his life, often talked about this many years ago. His conclusion way back then already? Be careful, be informed, be sensible, but use the tools and resources available to make sure that not one person in the world goes to bed hungry. I loved hearing him say, “If they’d turn the American farmer loose and pay him a decent price for his product, we could feed the entire world.” I happen to think he was right . . .

  • Herbert Reed

    I am puzzled by the dead bees comment. Glyphosate is a herbicide, not an insecticide.

    • Will Friesen

      Just because a chemical’s agricultural purpose is to kill weeds does not mean that it is harmless to insects, birds, and mammals. For example, the herbicide atrazine and its metabolites act as endocrine disrupters.

      • Herbert Reed

        Understood. But there is strict regulation of all pesticides and if used according to the label, there should not be dead bees resulting from glyphosate use. So I do not understand the reference unless it is just a repetition of inaccurate information which seems to be widespread regarding glyphosate. Columnists in church papers should not be carelessly repeating inaccurate information.

  • John Gingrich

    As a farmer, there are things I wish were changed in the world of agriculture, but most of them have to do with farmers who do not use responsible and careful management of the precious resources they control. Concerning agricultural technology, one of my heroes is the late Norman Borlaug. Having spent a couple years working oversees in agriculture I can relate to this quote. “Some of the environmental lobbyists…have never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world as I have for fifty years, they would be crying out for tractors and fertilizers and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”

    But having said that, technology has to be introduced very carefully because there have been past cases of long term damage that were not apparent in the short term.

  • Phil Schroeder

    When proclaiming the popular naturalistic lines of banning modern farming practices, one should take time to consider who will be the first to suffer from decreased production or increases to production costs. The world’s poorest people that we claim to care about are the last to receive food when supplies are tight and the first to suffer from high food prices. The technology that scares people because of lack of understanding is responsible for the production that is able to feed the world’s growing population as well as making it possible for many developing or poor countries to grow more of their own food. In the United States there have been many products removed from production because they were deemed to be unsafe. Food safety has never been given more importance and focus than at this time. The cost of chemicals prevents over use. The modern technology of today’s application equipment assures accurate rate application. Compared to the products, methods, and training of past years, your food has never been safer so enjoy the bounty that God has provided.

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