The United Methodist Church, Food, Justice, and World Hunger
2016 Book of Resolutions, #4051
Isn’t this the fast I choose: releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke, setting free the mistreated, and breaking every yoke? Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry, and bringing the homeless poor into your house, covering the naked when you see them, and not hiding from your own family? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and you will be healed quickly. Your own righteousness will walk before you, and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard (Isaiah 58:6-8).
I. The Scope and Causes of World Hunger and Food Insecurity
Although globally enough food is produced to feed everyone, 805 million people are undernourished, 791 million (98%) of them in the developing world (State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014, FAO). Children and elderly are particularly at risk. Nearly half of all deaths in children under five are attributable to under-nutrition. This translates into the unnecessary loss of about 3 million young lives a year (http://www.data.unicef.org/nutrition /malnutrition#sthash.9k0zPUqe.dpuf).
It is estimated that 80% of the world’s hungry live in rural areas and are largely dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods; approximately 50% are smallholder farmers cultivating marginal lands prone to natural disasters like drought or flood, 20% are landless families working on other people’s land and 10% depend on herding, fishing or forest resources (World Food Program: http://www.wfp.org/hunger/who-are).
Over 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies or “hidden hunger.” Micronutrient deficiencies occur when diets fail to provide sufficient amounts of micronutrients such as iodine, iron, zinc, and vitamin A. Micronutrient deficiencies increase morbidity and mortality, impair cognitive development, reduce learning ability and productivity, and reduce work capacity in populations as a result of higher rates of illness and disability—resulting in a tragic loss of human potential. For example, around 50% of pregnant women in developing countries are iron deficient. Lack of iron means 315,000 women die annually from hemorrhage at childbirth (World Food Program: http://www.wfp.org/hunger/who-are).
The reasons for this continuing tragedy are complex and inter- related. Some causes of world hunger are:
- poverty, greed, drought and other weather-related problems, dwindling water sources, and environmental degradation;
- inequitable distribution of wealth and unjust economic systems;
- insufficient food production in developing nations;
- lack of access to basic means of production (seeds, tools, land, water) or the credit to obtain them;
- insecure tenure or title to productive land;
- high incidence of waterborne diseases due to lack of access to and use of safe water sources and adequate hygiene and sanitation facilities;
- food loss and waste—globally, roughly one-third of the food produced for human consumption, about 1.3 billion tons per year, are lost or wasted;
- use of arable land for nonfood and cash crops such as tobacco;
- increasing emphasis on export-oriented agriculture from poorer countries;
- overfishing of the oceans;
- population growth;
- displacement of people;
- production of unnecessary goods and services that waste resources, and wasteful consumerism in richer countries;
- militarism, war, and civil unrest;
- HIV/AIDS pandemic;
- corruption in governments;
- lending policies of the World Bank (IBRD) and the Inter- national Monetary Fund (IMF);
- use of farm subsidies in richer nations that export to poor countries causing poorer countries to reject their own products;
- lack of participation in decision-making processes and access to land, training, and agricultural inputs by women; and
- poor regulation of multinational corporations. It is especially important to note that the causes of hunger are intricately related to the problems of poverty and greed. Hunger cannot be dissociated from people and systems that keep people in poverty.
II. Theological Bases for Action
The Bible reveals that, from the earliest times, God’s faithful community has been concerned about hunger and poverty. Helping those in need was not simply a matter of charity, but of responsibility, righteousness, and justice (Isaiah 58:6-8; Jeremiah 22:3; Matthew 25:31-46). For example, the Israelites were commanded to leave the corners of their fields and the gleanings of harvests for the poor and aliens (Leviticus 19:9-10). Jesus taught that what- ever people do to “the least of these,” they also do him (Matthew 25:31-46). That Jesus was born to a poor, unmarried woman who was living in a small nation, occupied and oppressed by a mighty foreign empire, concretely reveals God’s full identification with poor, powerless, and oppressed people.
As Christians, a key question that we must ask ourselves is: What does God require and enable us individually and corporately to do? We know that God loves and cares for all creation. Jesus stressed that the two greatest commandments were to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:34-40). He also challenged the rich young ruler, who said he was keeping all of the commandments, to sell all of his possessions and give his money to the poor (Matthew 19:16-26).
Jesus’ own concern for human need in his ministry is a model for the church’s concern. His opposition to those who would ignore the needs of the neighbor makes clear that we grossly misunderstand and fail to grasp God’s grace if we imagine that God overlooks, condones, or easily tolerates our indifference to the plight of our neighbors, our greed and selfishness, or our systems of injustice and oppression.
We believe that God’s Holy Spirit continues to move today, refashioning lives, tearing down unjust structures, restoring community, and engendering faith, hope, and love. The work of the Holy Spirit impels us to take action, even when perfect solutions are not apparent. We engage in the struggle for bread and justice for all in the confidence that God goes before us and guides us. That struggle includes examination of our personal and congregational lives in the light of God’s love and concern for all and Jesus’ question, “Who is your neighbor?”
As United Methodists, we also look to our ongoing tradition of social concern. Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, preached and wrote about the importance of simpler lifestyles. He emphasized ethical stewardship of time, money, and resources as important means to enable ministry with those suffering from hunger and poverty. Wesley preached the gospel to people who were poor, visited them, and lived with them. He donated most of the money that he earned—not just a tithe (10 percent of his income)—to the church and charitable ends.
In faithfulness to our understanding of God’s good intentions for all peoples, we, as members of The United Methodist Church, set for ourselves, our congregations, institutions, and agencies no lesser goals than repentance for the existence of human hunger and increased commitment to end world hunger and poverty.
III. A Call for United Methodists
Change is not easy. Movement toward the abolishment of hunger, injustice, and poverty requires commitment and stamina. All nations, particularly the developed nations, must examine and modify those values, attitudes, and institutions that are the basic causes of poverty and underdevelopment, the primary sources of world and economic hunger and disease. United Methodists must act corporately and individually.
- We call for The United Methodist Church to engage in an educational effort that would provide information about the scale of world and domestic hunger and its causes, and to engage in study and effort to integrate the church’s missional programs into a coherent policy with respect to a just, sustainable, and participatory development.
- We call for The United Methodist Church to develop effective public policy strategies and educate the constituency on hunger issues, through its appropriate agencies, that would enable church members to participate in efforts to:
- a. decrease mother/child morbidity and mortality;
- b. support community-based economic development that engages and empowers community members; creates sustainable livelihoods; recycles money within communities; provides low-cost, high-quality services to meet basic human needs; and combats unemployment and underemployment;
- c. facilitate access to safe drinking water, sustainable water resource management systems, and dignified hygiene and sanitation facilities;
- d. facilitate access to basic health information and care;
- e. promote environmental justice, biodiversity, and sustain- able practices for using and restoring natural resources;
- f. support community organizing to effect change in systems that keep people poor and powerless;
- g. ensure that women, youth, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized groups have equal access to the means of production, training, and economic opportunities.
- h.organize and work to retain programs such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP), and food co-ops;
- i.develop and implement policies that enable family farms to thrive, provide just wages and working conditions for farm workers, and provide incentives that enable and promote sustainable agriculture and equitable access to land by all;
- j. protect craftspeople and artisans from exploitative trade practices;
- k. become advocates for reduction of military spending and reallocation of resources to programs that provide human services, convert military facilities to provide for civilian needs, and protect and restore the environment; and
- l. become advocates of trade policies that alleviate economic disparities between rich and poor countries while protecting labor and human rights; environmental, health, and safety standards; and respecting the need for agricultural and food security.
- We specifically call upon each local church, cooperative parish, district, and conference to:
- a. increase support of church and community agencies dedicated to empowering and training people to sustainably meet their food and economic needs at home and abroad;
- b. become involved in Fair Trade activism through efforts such as purchasing fair trade products from fair trade companies such as SERVV International, participating In UMCOR’s Coffee Project through Equal Exchange, and asking grocery and specialty stores to carry fair trade coffee and other fair trade items. (more ideas are on Global Exchange’s Web site at: http://www.globalexchange.org); and
- c. promote World Food Day, which is observed on October 16 (see http://www.worldfooddayusa.org or http://fao.org/world-food-day).
- We call on United Methodists to strive for “Christian perfection” and to recover the Wesleyan tradition of simpler lifestyles and generosity in personal service and financial giving. Therefore, individuals are encouraged to:
- a. study and discuss John Wesley’s sermons (and related scripture passages) that address “acts of mercy” and Chris- tian stewardship, including “The More Excellent Way,” “The Use of Money,” “On the Danger of Riches,” “On the Danger of Increasing Riches,” “On Dress,” and “On Visiting the Sick.” (These sermons are available in books and online at http://uncmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/John-Wesley-Sermons.)
- b. simplify their lifestyles, moving away from consumerism and toward caring;
- c. compost, recycle, conserve energy, practice or support organic gardening, and participate in other environment-friendly practices;
- d. commit themselves to give more of their time and money to programs that address hunger and poverty, including United Methodist Advance projects and UMCOR’s World Hunger/Poverty Advance (#982920); and
- e. participate in projects such as “The Souper Bowl of Caring” and Bread for the World’s annual “Offering of Letters.”
- We urge the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Ministries to:
- a. work with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, Inter- national development organizations, and grassroots small farmer and peasant organizations for the right of everyone to have access to adequate safe and nutritious food acceptable within their culture. This would require many countries to implement genuine agrarian reforms that allow for the fair distribution of incomes, new management models which place human needs before profits, and access for the poor to land, natural resources, capital, and markets. Many developed countries would have to reform their agricultural subsidies programs.
- b. work with other churches and agencies in the United States and internationally:
- 1) for the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that will succeed the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and will set targets for developing nations to contribute to substantial improvements in the developing world in the areas of basic education, infant and maternal mortality, clean water supplies and sanitation, gender equity, food and nutrition security, poverty reduction, environmental sustainability, and climate change adaptation; and
- 2) to continue to urge governments to support the creation of an International Finance Facility (IFF) (beyond the smaller IFF that already exists to support immunizations) that would facilitate transfer of private sector investment funds from industrialized nations to developing nations as a catalyst for quicker progress in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The concept is that, in addition to regular aid flows, these private investments flowing from industrialized countries would be treated as a liabiliy of the countries from which the investment flowed, rather than a liability of the recipient country, and would be repaid eventually from the aid budget of the country from which the investment flowed. This approach will avoid increasing the debt bur- den of the poorer recipient nations and facilitate sustainable development (see, e.g., http://www.leadinggroup.org/rubrique179.html).
READOPTED 2008 AMENDED AND READOPTED 2016
RESOLUTION #4051, 2008, 2012 BOOK OF RESOLUTIONS
RESOLUTION #205, 2004 BOOK OF RESOLUTIONS
See Social Principles, ¶ 164A.
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