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What Would Jesus Eat...Today

As Christians, we hold that the ethical principles Jesus taught, such as love, compassion, humility, and charity, are eternal. We believe that, if Jesus were among us today and witnessed the wastefulness, environmental destructiveness, human health hazards, and animal mistreatment inherent in modern animal agriculture's methods, he would choose to abstain.

Is vegetarianism biblical?
The Bible depicts vegetarianism as an ideal, with a peaceful, vegetarian world at the Creation and at the end of time. God found everything in Eden "very good" immediately after giving all animals (and humans) a vegetarian diet (Genesis 1:29-30). Several prophecies, such as Isaiah 11:6-9, foresee a return to this vegetarian world, where the wolf, lamb, lion, cow, bear, snake, and little child all co-exist peacefully. Christian vegetarians believe we should strive towards the peaceful world Isaiah envisions; to try, in our own limited ways, to follow Christ's mission, expressed in the Lord's Prayer: "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10, RSV).

What are vegetarianism's benefits?
World Hunger
Jesus preached, "For I was hungry and you gave me food...as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matthew 25:35, 40). Yet, while many millions die of hunger annually and many more suffer malnutrition, worldwide one-third of all grain is fed to animals being raised for slaughter; in the U.S., the proportion is nearly three-fourths. Converting grains to meat wastes about 90% of grains' proteins, 96% of their calories, and 100% of their carbohydrates and fiber (Keith Akers, A Vegetarian Sourcebook). It is ironic that vegetarians, who are often accused of caring more about animals than humans, encourage a diet that helps feed humans, not animals.

Your Health
The Bible describes God's concern for humankind, and it follows that we should choose diets that help preserve human life. A pure vegetarian diet cuts cancer risk by about 40% (Cancer Res. 1975;35(suppl):3513-22), dramatically reduces heart disease risk (Dr. Neal Barnard, Food for Life), and helps people lose weight (Barnard, Turn Off the Fat Genes). Indeed, Paul says, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?" (1 Corinthians 6:19).

The Earth
God instructed Adam to "till" and "keep" the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15), and by analogy we may see our task as to care for the rest of Creation. In the U.S., it takes far more energy, water, and other resources to feed a meat-eater than a vegetarian. By helping preserve scarce resources and minimizing environmental degradation, vegetarianism shows respect for Creation.

Animal Welfare
Jesus said that God feeds the birds of the air (Matthew 6:26) and does not forget sparrows (Luke 12:6). The Hebrew writings forbid inhumane slaughter or cruelty towards beasts of burden (Exodus 23:5, Deuteronomy 22:6-7, 25:4). In the U.S., nearly all animal foods are derived from intensive, "factory farms." Animals suffer greatly from stressful crowding, barren environments that frustrate their instinctive drives, and manipulations without anesthesia, such as debeaking chicks, cutting off pigs' tails, and castrating and branding cattle (Erik Marcus, Vegan: The New ethics of Eating).

Farmers routinely use antibiotics to prevent infections in crowded, stressed animals, and this promotes dangerous antibiotic-resistance among bacteria. You can prevent infections by cooking meat, but this generates cancer-causing heterocyclic amines. Farmers also add hormones, harmful to human health, to stimulate excessive muscle development in animals, causing painful lameness. Slaughter typically involves terror and, often, great pain (Gail Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse).

Didn't God put animals here for our use?
Adam's "dominion" over animals (Genesis 1:26, 28), we believe, conveys sacred stewardship, since God then prescribed a vegetarian diet (Genesis 1:29-30) in a world God found "very good" (1:31). Genesis 2:18-19 relates, "Then the Lord God said, ŽIt is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him'" and God then created animals. According to this passage, animals were made as Adam's companions and helpers, certainly not his supper.

Didn't God give people permission to eat meat?
Genesis 9:2-4 describes God giving Noah permission to eat meat, but this may have been because all plants were destroyed by the Flood and does not demonstrate that meat-eating is God's highest ideal. Similarly, there is no prohibition of slavery in the Bible, though it clearly does not agree with the highest biblical ideal. Throughout the Bible, people are encouraged to use their own free will to decide whether or not they will behave according to God's highest ideal.

Does God care for animals?
Proverbs 12:10 teaches, "A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast," while the Psalmist maintains that "The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all he has made" (Psalms 145:9).

The Bible describes God's concern for animals repeatedly (Matthew 10:29, 12:11-12, 18:12-14) and forbids cruelty (Deuteronomy 22:10, 25:4). Importantly, five times after the flood God makes a covenant with animals as well as with humans. All creatures share in the Sabbath rest (Exodus 20:10, Deuteronomy 5:14). The Bible describes animals praising God (Psalms 148:7-10, 150:6), shows animals present in eternity (Isaiah 65:25, Revelation 5:13) and affirms that God preserves animals (Psalms 36:6, Ephesians 1:10, Colossians 1:20). Animals and humans look to God for sustenance (Psalms 104:27-31, 147:9, Matthew 6:26, Luke 12:6) and deliverance (Jonah 3:7-9, Romans 8:18-23).

Does vegetarianism equate human and animal life?
Vegetarianism simply reflects respect for Creation. Jesus says, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God.... Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Luke 12:6-7). This passage relates that God values humans more than animals, but God remains concerned about all creatures. We can have compassion for animals, and allow them to live full and normal lives, without equating human and animal life.

What about animal sacrifices?
There are many different opinions on this question's answer, even among Christian vegetarians. Some believe that God accepted sacrifices at an earlier and more primitive time, but that sacrifices are certainly not required or even desired now, since Jesus' death atoned for our sins in a very final way. Others question whether God ever desired sacrifices; several prophets, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos, and Hosea, objected to sacrifice, often emphasizing that God prefers righteousness. Indeed, Jesus twice quoted Hosea (6:6), saying, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13, 12:7). Importantly, unlike sacrificed animals, Jesus chose to sacrifice himself to fulfill God's will. Christians, being a new creation in Christ, may model Christ by choosing a loving relationship with all creation, which sometimes requires self-sacrifice.

Didn't Jesus eat meat?
Luke 24:43 relates that Jesus ate fish. However, many Christian vegetarians believe that Jesus would be a vegetarian today.

What about the passage in which Peter is instructed to "kill and eat" all creatures (Acts 10:13, 11:7)?
Many Christians, reading on, find that this passage is not a literal instruction to consume flesh. Peter, pondering this vision's meaning, concluded, "God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean" (Acts 10:28). However one interprets this passage, it does not require that we consume meat today.

Should we accept meat as a gift, given that 1 Timothy 4:4 says, "everything created by God is good"?
Paul also condoned meat-eating nearly 2000 years ago in 1 Corinthians 10:25, but modern animal agriculture is a human creation, and it harms humans, animals, and the Earth.

Have nonvegetarian Christian saints and leaders been immoral?
We should not judge those who may have eaten meat, owned slaves, or done other things that we believe are not God's highest ideals for humankind. We should simply do the best we can to express Christ's love, compassion, and peace. Throughout history, many people, in ignorance, have done hurtful things while concurrently showing great love and compassion in other ways.

Have there been many vegetarian Christians?
Many Christians have received the Gospel as encouraging vegetarianism. Several early Christian groups, including the Nazarenes, Ebionites, Elchasaites, Ossaeans, Cathars, and the Bogomils, encouraged vegetarianism. Since then, the Trappist, Benedictine, and Carthusian orders have advocated vegetarianism, as have Seventh-day Adventists. In the 19th century, members of the Bible Christian sect established the first vegetarian groups in England and the U.S.

Vegetarian Christians have included Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, Tertullian, Origen, Clement of Alexandria, John Wesley (Methodism's founder), Ellen G. White (a Seventh-day Adventists founder), Salvation Army co-founders William and Catherine Booth, Leo Tolstoy, and Albert Schweitzer.

Why aren't more Christians vegetarians?
The most important reason is lack of awareness. If everyone saw the rough treatment, crowded conditions, and general misery of animals on factory farms, and then looked into the terrified eyes of animals at slaughterhouses, many more would become vegetarians. Some might still eat meat, but even then it would be because they didn't recognize the suffering or they incorrectly believed that meat is "necessary" for good health. Other effects of modern animal agriculture, such as resource depletion and the consequent environmental damage, are not so readily apparent.

Don't laws ensure farm animal welfare?
In many countries, including the U.S., animals on farms are specifically exempted from all humane legislation. At the slaughterhouse, "humane slaughter" laws are weak and poorly enforced.

Instead of advocating vegetarianism, shouldn't we seek reforms?
There are many ways to promote compassion, and many vegetarians are seeking reforms. While we carry out whatever public mission we feel is appropriate, we believe that people should be aware of the many negative effects of animal-based diet and agriculture, and we feel compelled to be vegetarians ourselves.

Would animals overrun the earth if everyone became vegetarian?
No. There are many species we don't eat, and they haven't overrun the earth. Human exploitation of the earth, in part to feed vast quantities of grain to livestock, is the chief reason for the environmental crisis.

As the demand for animal-derived foods gradually decreases, fewer animals will be bred. In the unlikely event that many animals needed homes, compassionate people would find compassionate solutions. Such people already care for formerly farmed animals (see http://www.farmsanctuary.org).

What would happen to butchers, cattle ranchers, and others who depend on animal agriculture for a livelihood?
The abolition of slavery was difficult for former slaveholders; in a similar way, those dependent on animal agriculture may experience hardship when the world finally realizes that vegetarianism is necessary and desirable. Fortunately, job displacement will be minimal, because farm employment is already low and new markets for nonanimal foods will grow as demand for meat falls. If necessary, retraining or even outright support for those inconvenienced by this transition might be appropriate.

Why should we be so concerned about animals when there are so many critical problems related to people today?
Virtually all contemporary social problems are interconnected. Indeed, vegetarianism expresses compassion towards humans as well as animals, since it results in healthier people, helps feed the hungry, and promotes a cleaner, more sustainable environment.

Since animals eat each other, what's wrong with humans eating animals?
What animals do should not dictate human morality. Other animals may have to eat each other to live, but humans have a choice. We believe that vegetarianism expresses the love, compassion, and peace of Christ.

Are humans naturally predators and therefore carnivores?
While humans can digest flesh, and it is likely that our ancestors did consume small amounts of meat, our anatomy much more strongly resembles that of plant-eating creatures. For example: like herbivores (but unlike carnivores), our colons are long and complex (not simple and short); our intestines are 10-11 times longer than our bodies (not 3-6 times longer); our saliva contains digestive enzymes (unlike carnivores); our dental incisors are broad, flattened, and spade-shaped (not short and pointed); our canine teeth are short and blunted (not long, sharp, and curved); our molars are flattened with nodular cusps (not sharp blades like many carnivores); and our nails are flattened (not sharp claws).

The millions of healthy vegetarians (who tend to outlive nonvegetarians) demonstrate that it is not necessary to eat meat.

How would a Christian vegetarian celebrate holidays such as Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas?
Vegetarians celebrate these holidays fully and joyously without consuming animals. Numerous cookbooks offer tasty vegetarian meals, from quick and easy to complex and elegant.

Should a Christian also abstain from eggs, milk, leather, wool, and other animal products?
A place to start is to become vegetarian. Then, we believe, Christians should try to reduce their consumption of animal products as much as possible. Vegetarians make a compassionate choice that expresses a faith in God's creative goodness. Many vegetarians, aware of the cruelties associated with other animal products, eventually choose not to consume them.

How can I witness to the peace of Christ through diet?
We should always remember that Christians strive to follow Christ's example of pure love and compassion, and most Christians would prefer that their diets not hurt animals, squander scarce resources, and harm their bodies. We need to show fellow Christians, in a loving and compassionate way, that nonanimal foods are tasty, convenient, and nutritious. The Christian Vegetarian Association's web site offers many ideas on how to promote vegetarianism within your congregation.

Christian Vegetarian Association
witnessing to the love, compassion, and peace of Christ by adopting and advocating a vegetarian diet

Bibliography

Keith Akers. The Lost Religion of Jesus.
J.R. Hyland. God's Covenant with Animals.
Andrew Linzey. Animal Gospel.
George H. Malkmus. Why Christians Get Sick.
Vesanto Melina et al. Becoming Vegetarian.
Stephen H. Webb. Christian Vegetarianism; also, On God and Dogs.
Richard Alan Young. Is God a Vegetarian?


Web Sites
*All Creatures
http://www.all-creatures.org
*Humane Religion
http://www.humanereligion.org
*Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
http://www.pcrm.org
*Vegan Outreach (phone 412-968-0268)
http://www.veganoutreach.org
*Christian Vegetarian Association
http://www.christianveg.com
*Compassionate Spirit
http://www.compassionatespirit.com
By Peter Milne(Click for profile)

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