Saturday, June 23, 2012

Why Christian Veganism? A guest post.

 Sometimes I come across arguments from fellow Christians that vegetarianism and certainly veganism are indefensible in light of Scripture. And I've also been confronted in print from those who would say that the very nature of my faith, due to some seemingly brutal portrayals of animal treatment in the Bible, is incompatible with an animal protectionist viewpoint. These comments were made by those who might call themselves atheists, agnostic, or simply spiritual, etc.  

 But, it is possible to have a compassionate, nonviolent view of animals that is not at odds with Christian belief.  Today, I want to share with you the words of a friend of mine who not only voices a compelling and provocative argument for veganism from a Christian perspective, but is a fabulous cook as well! :-)

A Kingdom Ethic of Eating by Shlomy Goldman
He Has Compassion On All He Has Made” ~Psalm 145:9b

 When I was four I wanted to be a rabbit doctor. At eight I boycotted veal, and at ten I stopped eating cows and pigs. I didn’t know vegetarianism was even an option, but at sixteen I became friends with a vegan kid who introduced me to the horrors of factory farming—debeaking, tail docking, de-horning and castrating without anesthetic, egg hens crammed in filthy battery cages, their useless male chicks suffocated or ground up alive, cows manipulated to produce so much milk that their udders bleed with infection while their male calves are sent to cruel “veal crates,” intensive confinement of pigs, and gruesome slaughter of billions of animals every year. I couldn’t accept this anymore than I would if these conditions were imposed upon our family dog. In fact, the daily, standard routines imposed upon virtually all animals in our food system would be considered felonies if done to our pet cats and dogs. I also learned about industrial animal agriculture’s egregious consequences on the environment, the global poor, and public health.

 Needless to say, I went vegan. I intuitively understood that there was something deeply wrong with exploiting people, animals, and the environment, and with needlessly killing innocent creatures, simply because I had acquired a taste for them. Six years after going vegan, I became a follower of Jesus, even though Christianity was completely alien to my upbringing and mentality—but that’s another story. Over the years, as I’ve matured in my faith and biblical worldview, my vegan ethic and lifestyle have taken on a new and deeper dimension as I’ve come to understand the mercy and compassion that God has toward His creation…

 That humans, the pinnacle of creation, are uniquely created in the image of God has deep implications, namely that our intended identity is to be like God. An integral way this is fleshed out is in our dominion over creation. Christians in the Creation Care movement have rightfully affirmed that this “dominion” is not one of exploitative subjugation but rather of responsible stewardship, characterized by compassion, mercy, and a loving concern for its flourishing, just as God exercises His dominion over us. Let us not forget, “creation” not only refers to the environment, but also the animal kingdom—sentient beings fully capable of experiencing pleasure and pain. Yet, the unfortunate reality is that our use of animal products is the greatest cause of unspeakable animal suffering and deaths. We grossly pervert God’s creation by denying these creatures the lives He intended them to live.

 Due to the falleness of the age, God has allowed various concessions, such as slavery, divorce, and eating meat. Yet, concessions are not endorsements. The thing about the Bible that resonates with me is its prophetic relevance—its ability to speak to the longings of the human heart, and address the issues of any age, transforming individuals into the image of God, and moving all creation toward the Kingdom of God. In spite of concessions, God has communicated his loftiest ideals that we are to move towards. Prophesying about the Kingdom of Heaven, Isaiah tells us that animals and humans will harmoniously coexist; “they will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Is. 11:6-9).

 Some argue that we should care for animals because they’re just like us, while others presume we have the right to use animals as we see fit because they’re not like us. Both perspectives are flawed. Biologically, we may be like animals, but spiritually we are uniquely created in the image of God, which compels us to rise above our animal nature and live according to our spiritual nature. To suggest we can use animals because we’re above them is self-refuting; it calls us to operate from principles of animal behavior, denying the ethical and moral imperatives rooted in our spiritual nature, the very thing that sets us apart from the animal kingdom. That we are above animals gives all the more reason for us to care for them, to not live as slaves to the food chain and the amoral cycles of a fallen creation, but to resemble God, operating from a higher spiritual nature, one defined by love, one that calls for compassion over killing, for spiritual redemption over natural selection.

 A great barrier in our spiritual development is the disconnect between our beliefs and our daily living. Compassionate eating is a practical spiritual discipline, an empowering opportunity to incarnate biblical values into our daily lives, embracing our role as caretakers of creation and ministers of reconciliation. A move towards a healthy, plant-based diet is not asking people to adopt foreign values and concerns; rather, it’s an invitation to live in accordance with the beliefs and values most people already hold—biblical values such as peace and compassion, justice and mercy. Doing so not only bears witness to God and His Kingdom, but we as individuals are blessed with the inner peace and joy that comes from maintaining consistency between what we believe and how we live.

 The ordinariness of eating is the very reason why it has such extraordinary effects on the world. Because we do it so often, its ripple effects reach so far. In his article Compassionate Eating as Care of Creation, Calvin College philosophy professor, Dr. Matthew Haltmann writes: “The links between what we choose to eat as individuals, and the flourishing or languishing of God’s creation as a whole are much more direct than we often believe.” Aside from its many health benefits, a vegan diet not only saves the lives of countless animals, but it is the most effective thing we can do to reduce our environmental impact. According to the U.N., animal agriculture contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than all forms of transportation combined, in addition to being a leading cause of deforestation, pollution, and natural resource depletion. As it takes exponentially more land, grains, and water to produce animal foods rather than plant foods, a plant-based diet frees up immense amounts of resources for the poor and hungry of the world. People, animals, and the environment are three inter-connected parts of the whole created order. The flourishing or languishing of one inevitably affects the others. Biblically even, we know that the fall and redemption of creation is linked to the fall and redemption of humans. The Bible informs us that the fall of creation resulted from Adam’s fall from God, and that Jesus, the new Adam, reverses the curse, reconciling man to God, and in turn all creation. In Jesus, God has ordained “to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col 1:19-20).

 We live between two poles—the Garden of Eden and the Kingdom of God. This is the story we find ourselves in. Christianity is based on the hope that Jesus’ death and resurrection are the catalysts for redemption and reconciliation, paradoxically restoring Eden, by redeeming the fallen creation, to realize the Kingdom. We’re to be ambassadors for Christ by living as citizens of His Kingdom here and now, peeling back the veil between this world and the next, pursuing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven, living testimonies of the World to Come. On an individual level, this involves sanctification, a process in which believers are being conformed to the likeness of Christ—the image of God. As the Holy Spirit continues this process in us and renews our minds, Jesus calls us to be active participants in this transformation—“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Rom. 8:19).

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness
Thereof. Oh, God, enlarge within us the
Sense of fellowship with all living
Things, our brethren the animals to
Whom Thou gavest the earth as
Their home in common with us.
We remember with shame that
In the past we have exercised the
High dominion of man with ruthless
Cruelty so that the voice of the earth,
Which should have gone up to Thee in
Song, has been a groan of travail.
May we realize that they live not
For us alone but for themselves and
For Thee, and that they love the sweetness
Of life even as we, and serve Thee in their
Place better than we in ours.”

~prayer by St. Basil of Caesarea, fourth century church father


  1. This is very interesting. I've never considered how vegetarianism, or diet in general, is or is not compatible with Christianity. But I guess the bible can be and is interpreted in so many ways that this could be an issue.

    Ultimately I think if we're doing something that's good for us then it seems it should be inline with what God wants for us.

  2. Hey Val! Thanks for commenting. Yes, you would be surprised the arguments that can ensue in the church world over this issue. But I agree, anything that is healthful for our bodies and at the same time shows compassion towards other beings should not be seen as contradictory to pleasing God.

  3. Oh, I did want to add another thought. The Seventh Day Adventist Church is one segment of Christianity that has always been very supportive of health and vegetarianism specifically for health reasons. Ever heard of Loma Linda University or Hospital?
    The best cooking class I ever attended was a vegan class back in the 90's at an Adventist church. :-)

  4. I didn't know that about Seventh Day Adventists. Actually I don't know anything about them. I'll do a little reading up on their beliefs. Thanks.

  5. Thank you for posting this article! As a vegan christian, this was music to my ears. Very eloquently written and inspiring. Have enjoyed the other posts too :)

    1. Thanks for stopping by Rom. I'm glad Shlomy's post spoke to you. Happy to see that you've enjoyed the rest of my blog as well. Have a great weekend!

  6. This is superbly written. I am a follower of Christ and so far a vegetarian (originally for endurance sports purposes) of a little more than a year. It is difficult to compose a logical argument to refute this. The compassion, mercy and softness of spirit God has developed in me this past year is undeniable and certainly attributable, in part, to giving up meat. I am so happy I stumbled upon your website today! Thank you! I think I want to print this out and make everyone I know read it, including my omni husband!

  7. Hi Maribeth! I happy you "stumbled" too!
    Yes, Shlomy has made a beautiful case for the Christian(and just human) perspective on how we treat God's creatures. Yes, please share his essay with as many people as you can. More people need to hear his superb perspective.

  8. I deeply appreciate all the positive responses!

  9. Some very nice food for thought. Thanks for sharing : )

  10. This is just amazing! I could not agree more!

    1. Me too Rae!
      Thanks for stopping by. :)

  11. In tears. As a follower/lover of Jesus Christ I am very much alone in my vegan beliefs. This article is so well worded and it is such an encouragement to know there are other like minded. like hearted Christians out there. Thank you. Found this through newly subcribing to Barefoot Vegan emagazine...Jamie in Florida

  12. Hello Jamie in Florida!
    I am so sorry I did not see your comment sooner. Yes, Shlomy makes a wonderful case for being a vegan as a Christian. I'm sorry that you feel alone in your vegan beliefs. Fortunately there are more and more groups online who share our desire to be compassionate to animals as a part of our faith. If you're on Facebook, please feel free to connect. :)