“Though the Mountains Be Shaken”: Toward a Countercultural and Liberative Ecclesial Ethic for Appalachia (3)
Part Three: This Land is Home to Me (1975) 
Part one of This Land is Home to Me describes the social, political, economic, and environmental reality of Appalachia as reflected through interviews with ordinary Appalachians, social service providers and church workers. Thus, it strives to examine the Appalachian reality through the lens of the oppressed people themselves, acknowledging the epistemological privilege of the oppressed. It begins by noting the complexity of issues and forces at work in the region both in its rural and urban aspects, and also recognizes the diversity of the people in a region that is often perceived to be somewhat of a monoculture. This section goes on to describe the history of the industrialization of the region, particularly the role of the coal industry. Historically, the injustices at work in the region’s industries have included absentee land ownership and oppression of workers which has resulted in enormous wealth for the owners and devastating poverty for many of the workers as well as conflict between different social groups who perceive themselves to be in competition with one another. In more recent decades, the document says, Appalachia has been further effected by the rise of consumerism and a system that produces simply for the sake of production.
The document describes the heart of these problems as a force centered on the “maximization of profit,” described theologically as an idol: “Without judging anyone, it has become clear to us that the present economic order does not care for its people. In fact, profit and people frequently are contradictory. Profit over people is an idol.” Throughout the history of Appalachia, various movements have attempted to resist these forces but these in turn are resisted by those who use the democratic system for the benefit of the rich. Forces from outside the region attempt to indoctrinate the people through the culture industries to kill the dream of a better life: “Now an alien culture battles to shape us into plastic forms empty of Spirit, into beasts of burden without mystery.”
In contrast to previous forms of Catholic social teaching such as Rerum Novarum which envisioned a “one-size-fits-all” social and political structure that would apply to all times and places, This Land is Home to Me takes its cue from the social teaching of Paul VI when it states the realization that economic structures do not fall from heaven. Instead, people create economic structures and those structures can be changed. The conflicts that occur in Appalachia are conflicts between different visions of social life, and the struggle of everyday Appalachian people is a struggle against the “institutionalized violence” of the economic system.
The two main resources used in this document for judging the situation in Appalachia from the perspective of Christian faith are scripture, read through a liberationist hermeneutic, and the body of modern Catholic social thought. This section begins with a rehearsal of salvation history, beginning with the revelation of a God who is on the side of the poor as shown most clearly in the Exodus account. The narrative recalls the stories of Israel who attempted to imitate this God of the poor in its own community practices. Israel’s hopes for liberation were fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, the liberating Messiah who brought a message of hope for the world against the idols of death and oppression. The Church, in the Spirit, continues the liberating mission of Jesus, however incompletely and unfaithfully at times, through its own community life.
The Church has continued its reflection and action through its body of modern social teaching. This section of the document cites key passages from the papacies of John XXIII and Paul VI as well as the documents of Vatican II. At the heart of this body of teaching is the conviction that the Church is to be on the side of the poor and is called to choose life, justice, and the living God over the idols of death.
In light of the judgment of the Gospel of life and justice toward the social realities of Appalachia, the document calls for an ongoing conversation that will begin by listening to the voices of the poor and oppressed as a challenge to the rich and those who benefit from the system of injustice. Next, it encourages the Catholic Committee of Appalachia to draft an action plan that could include some of the following examples of ecclesial praxis:
- Centers of reflection and prayer in the service of action throughout the region, integrating social science skills in support of a “healthy localism” within national and international networks.
- Concrete suggestions on how the Church can collaborate with “major institutions” in action for the poor, especially universities, economic experts, artists/poets, and government officials.
- “Centers of popular culture, in every parish,” as suggested in Paul VI’s OA (#11), which would link with action centers, helping a new society to emerge from the grassroots.
- Special emphasis on economic questions, especially with regard to new multinational corporations which are not accountable to the common good. The document encourages the development of a multinational labor movement as a “counter-force” to destructive aspects of the economic system and provides a long list of particular social and economic issues that will need to be dealt with and should be included in the action plan.
The letter ends on an optimistic note, encouraging the people of Appalachia “to be part of the rebirth of utopias, to recover and defend the struggling dream of Appalachia itself” through dialogue and cooperation. Through this process of dialogue, the “repressed vision” of the “dream of the mountains’ struggle” will reveal within it the hidden voice of the God who “still cries out for life” in the “wilderness of idolatrous destruction,” bringing God’s people to fuller life and justice.
 Unlike many magisterial documents and pastoral letters, the Appalachian pastorals do not contain numbered paragraphs which makes citation of specific passages difficult due to the various editions that have been produced. Due to the brevity of the documents themselves, however, and the three-fold outline of their sections, quotes from the documents will not include any further citation other than the section from which they come, easily understood from this paper’s headings of “Observing,” “Judging,” and “Acting.” Information from the footnotes of the documents will be cited in the conventional format, citing page and note numbers.
 A longer treatment of the perception of Appalachia vs. its reality is represented in the collection Dwight B. Billings, Gurney Norman, and Katherine Ledford, eds., Backtalk from Appalachia: Confronting Stereotypes (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 1999).