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Mad Cows and the Silence of the Lambs

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There was a farmer once who got into trouble with his church. The incident took place in the days when farmers milked their own cows and delivered the milk to the dairy in big tin cans. Dairies back then had to be cautious not to buy contaminated milk. If a farmer wasn’t careful, the cans would get tainted with manure and the whole batch would be thrown out. When this happened, dairy managers would paint a large red “X” on the contaminated can. This was a huge embarrassment to the farmer, not to mention the financial loss.

This one particular farmer was extremely upset when he found his cans marked with the embarrassing “X.” He kicked the cans off the loading dock and cursed loudly. Several people heard his cursing including some who attended church with the farmer. They were offended by his language and decided to take the farmer before the full congregation for disciplinary action.

The church quickly reached a verdict. The farmer was accused of public cursing and was removed from the church for his unchristian act. After the vote, the pastor rose to address the congregation.

“I’m disappointed in our brother who has disgraced himself with public cursing,” the pastor began. “But I am even more disappointed with the rest of you. It seems to me you have, in the words of Jesus, strained at a gnat while swallowing a camel. The real sin here, completely ignored by all of you, is that this man was willing to sell contaminated milk for your children to drink.”

I remembered this story while listening to the news about America’s first case of mad cow disease. For some time now there have been concerns about the inspection process at meat processing plants around the country. Budget cutbacks and deregulation have left meat processors with a good bit of latitude in the operation of their plants. Consumer groups have warned that changes in the law have left us vulnerable to the danger of tainted meat finding its way into the market place.

So, should the faith community weigh in on this issue? Food safety seems to rise to the level of a moral concern. Why not a faith response? Will the vocal religious right, ever the vigilant watchdog of personal morality, step up and condemn industry practices that seem willing to place profits above food safety? Probably not.

For one thing there has come into existence an unholy relationship between segments of the faith community and the political right. Many believers have allowed politicians to so manipulate the faith that party platforms are defended as if they were tenets of Christianity. And among right wing political platforms, nothing has been more sacred in recent years than “deregulation.”

Sold to us as “getting government off our backs,” deregulation has left consumers at the mercy of business. And when the business in question affects America’s food supply, then we are dealing with matters of life and death.

But because the right wing mantra says that government regulation is bad, the faith community, at least the right wing of it, will likely remain mute. They will strain at the gnat of personal morality—trying to control what people do in the privacy of their homes, while swallowing the camel of a right wing political agenda as if it were gospel.

The real gospel, the one we are supposed to learn from and follow, challenges us to be a voice for those who have no voice. This is no time for God’s flock to be silent.

James L. Evans is pastor Crosscreek Baptist Church in Pelham, Ala.