Should Christians Be Vegan?

by David Clough

Why might Christians consider going vegan? There are four reasons that overlap with the reasons anyone else might give: concern for the environment, concern for animals, concern for human welfare, and the desire to adopt a more healthy diet. In addition, Christians might be inspired by long religious traditions of fasting from meat and other animal products. I’ll consider these reasons in turn below. Let’s start, though, with something more fundamental: why a Christian understanding of God and the world might provide specific motivation for going vegan.

Christians believe in that everything in the universe owes its existence to God. That’s what monotheism means: the God Christians worship is not just their God, or even the God of all humans, but the God of all creatures. Biblical texts celebrate the God who made all creatures and declared them good (Genesis 1), who made a world in which every creature has its own place (Psalm 104), who has compassion on and provides for every living thing (Psalm 145), and who in Jesus Christ acts to release the whole of creation from its groaning bondage (Romans 8) and to gather up and make peace between all things in heaven and earth (Colossians 1.20; Ephesians 1.10). Jesus reassured his followers by reminding them that not a single sparrow is forgotten in God’s sight (Luke 12.6). John describes God’s son coming to the earth because of God’s love for the world (John 3.16). God’s delight in and care for all God’s creatures means Christians have reason to delight in and care for them too, especially as humans are called to be images of God. Seeing the whole world as charged with God’s grandeur, as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, is a fundamental aspect of a Christian vision of the world.

So Christians recognize the universe and all creatures in it as belonging to God, beloved by God, and cared for by God. Why might that make a difference for how they eat? Let’s return to the five reasons I noted above.

First, Christians might move towards a vegan diet in order to care for God's creation, the environment. Greenhouse gas emissions from a huge expansion in raising livestock is a significant cause of the climate catastrophe we are bringing about, which will have a devastating impact on humans and other animals. Reducing consumption of animal products is one of the quickest ways to reduce our carbon footprint. Industrial animal agriculture causes local environmental problems, too. Big intensive pig farms with their huge lagoons of excrement are horrible to live nearby, and so are disproportionately likely to be placed near poor communities, making their lives miserable.

Second, Christians might become vegan in order to enable fellow creatures to flourish, to praise God each in their particular way. The vast majority of farmed animals are raised in industrial systems that subject them to unnecessary suffering and impoverished lives in which they cannot thrive and glorify God. Most fish now come from intensive farmed environments, or if wild-caught, are subjected to unsustainable fishing practices and long drawn-out deaths. The large-scale production of dairy and eggs entails killing male animals surplus to requirements and female animals once their productivity declines. These are powerful reasons for adopting a vegan diet, rather than just a vegetarian one. Current production levels of animals for consumption inhibit the flourishing of wild animals as well as domesticated animals. By 2000, the biomass of domesticated animals exceeded that of all wild land mammals by 24 times. The biomass of domesticated chickens alone is nearly three times that of all wild birds. These shocking statistics show that humans are monopolizing the productive capacity of the earth in a way that leaves very little space for wild animals at all, which is part of what is driving their mass extinction.

Third, Christians might shift to a vegan diet in order to save the lives of fellow human creatures. The livestock industry threatens human food and water security, and those already suffering from deprivation are at greatest risk. Christians are explicitly directed to care for those with the greatest needs and the least resources. Currently, over a third of global cereal output goes to farmed animals and humans eating the animals receive only 8% of the calories that would be available if humans ate the cereals directly. Animal agriculture is also a very significant consumer of scarce global water supplies: producing 1 kg of beef requires 10 to 20 times the water required by producing the same calories from plant-based sources. While a vegan diet is not immediately practical in every part of the world (for Siberian pastoralists reliant on reindeer herds, for example), it is very clear that the global human population, as well as animals and the environment, would benefit from a transition towards using plant-based foods wherever possible.

Fourth, Christians might adopt a vegan diet in order to sustain the health and well-being of their families, friends, neighbours, and wider society. The unprecedentedly high levels of meat and other animal products consumed in developed nations directly damages human health (increased incidence of heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and strokes). In addition, intensive farming practices contribute to both the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains and the risk of pandemics from zoonotic diseases such as swine and bird flu.

Finally, many Christians will be inspired by the long Christian traditions of fasting from meat and other animal products, on Fridays, during Lent, and at other times. Many Coptic Christians today observe fasts imposing a vegan diet for two-thirds of the year. The practice of not eating animal products can be understood as part of a penitential practice that redirects one’s focus away from selfish pleasure and towards God. Such traditions remind Christians of the limits that come with recognizing God as creator: animals belong to God, so humans must treat them with respect and can’t do whatever we want with them.

Christians often note arguments against vegetarianism or veganism, but these concerns do not end the conversation. Genesis 1 identifies human beings as uniquely images of God and grants them dominion over other animals, but the end of the chapter prescribes a vegan diet for humans, so this original dominion does not include permission to kill animals for food. In Genesis 9, following the flood, God allows humans to kill animals for food, but this does not justify modern patterns of raising animals in industrial systems in ways that are so clearly damaging for humans, animals, and the wider environment. Gospel accounts record Jesus as eating fish and offering fish to others (although, interestingly, he is not recorded as eating mammals or poultry), but whatever his practice, it does not justify eating the products of modern industrial animal agriculture. Some of these concerns suggest that would be implausible to claim that a vegan diet should be an absolute obligation for all Christians. They do not show that it is inappropriate to adopt a vegan diet as a response to the broad concerns noted above that relate to the modern context of raising animals for food where there are readily available alternative sources of nutrition.

It is important to note that veganism in a Christian context should never be presented as a moral utopia. Christians recognize a brokenness in our relationships with fellow creatures which cannot be overcome by adopting a particular dietary practice or by any other effort we can make. Vegan Christians should not make claims to moral superiority: they are sinners like everyone else. They are simply seeking to act as responsibly as they can in this aspect of the choices they make about what to eat. They should hope to learn from fellow Christians about better ways of living in other areas of their lives, just as they may hope that fellow Christians may be open to learning from their practice.

Concern for fellow humans, fellow animal creatures, and the environment are obligations for Christians, and so the impacts of modern industrialized animal agriculture should trouble all Christians. It’s important to realize that farmers are not the villains here: farmers are often pressured into systems of poor farmed animal welfare because of the popular desire for cheap animal products and the retailers' power to determine pricing for their own advantage. A Christian vision of delighting in God’s world and living responsibly among the fellow creatures God loves will be an inspiration to many Christians either to adopt a vegan diet, or to move in that direction by reducing their consumption of animal products and seeking out animal products raised to higher welfare standards than those offered within industrialized systems.

This article was originally posted on The Vegan Society’s website.

Three Must-Watch Videos on Farms and Farming

by Sarah Withrow King

Wondering what to do this weekend? Need resources to help raise discussion in your church or school on why Christian attention to food and farming is so urgent? Check out these three must-watch videos on farms and farming.

73 Cows

Alex Lockwood | 73 Cows

Alex Lockwood | 73 Cows

At about ten minutes in, I started to sob, thinking maybe there was hope for us after all. This short film tells the story of an English cattle farmer who follows his heart.

Eating Animals

Based on the best-selling book by the same name, this is a compelling and comprehensive look at the toll factory farming takes on animals, farmers, the land, and people who speak out against the cruelty they see.

Soul Fire Farm: Feeding the Soul, Growing Community



A short feature on Soul Fire Farm, a BIPOC-centered community farm that works to raise awareness of and combat racism and injustice in our food system. “In the 1910 census, black folks owned and operated about 14% of US farms…there was a long time throughout history when the most likely occupation you’d find an African-American person in would be farming and now that’s the least likely.”

Do you have additional suggestions or favorites? Drop them in the comments, below.





Reflections from the Road

by Sarah Withrow King

CreatureKind spent the latter part of December and the first week of January on the road, exhibiting and talking to attendees of Intervarsity’s Urbana Missions Conference and the Society of Christian Ethics annual meeting (held in conjunction with the Society of Jewish Ethics and the Society for the Study of Muslim Ethics).

For me, these two very different events highlighted both the success and deep need for the work of CreatureKind.

At Urbana, we spoke with hundreds of college students, the vast majority of whom had never thought about the connection between faith and animals. Throughout the event, it was clear that there is a profound need for CreatureKind’s work to encourage Christians to recognize faith-based reasons for caring about the wellbeing of fellow animal creatures used for food, and to take practical action in response.

A small number of students were thrilled to see us. One vegetarian said she, “thought I was the only one!” Another student gestured at our table and said, “I’ve never seen this as a Christian thing! But it’s something that I’m interested in.”

Other students, many of whom were studying animal science or agriculture or who hunted for food, approached our display with a bit of suspicion, thinking we might be there to condemn farmers or insist that every Christian must be vegan. These were extraordinary opportunities to demonstrate that CreatureKind’s primary goals are to raise awareness, build bridges, and help Christians make food choices that reflect their values.

From Urbana, we headed straight to Louisville, Kentucky for the annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE). Four years ago, CreatureKind held our official launch at SCE. We’re now in conversation with nearly 50 schools and organizations, encouraging these institutions to adopt more animal-friendly food policies driven by Christian values. I am able to work full-time on CreatureKind, and we have a growing team of partners, many of whom are a part of an increasing number of religious educators who include animal ethics in their teaching and preaching. Most of the professors we spoke with at SCE recognized the urgency and importance of helping their students think about factory farming and animal welfare, and the connections between these issues and climate change, food security, immigration, worker justice, environmental racism, and more.

In addition to our table at SCE, where professors could talk with us about our institutional food policy program, CreatureKind held our annual reception (we hosted around 30 people this year, our biggest event to date). David Clough gave a paper called, “Eating More Peaceable: Christianity and Veganism.” And we attended a panel on “Christians and Other Animals: Book Symposium on David Clough's On Animals, Vol II: Theological Ethics (2018), during which Maria Teresa Davila, Eric Gregory, Jennifer Herdt, and Darryl Trimiew offered their responses to David’s new volume. If you are sad that you couldn’t be there in person for this incredible panel discussion, have no fear! The Syndicate Network will be releasing the papers, David’s response, and an introduction by CreatureKind North American Advisory Council member Candace Laughinghouse. Sign up here to stay in the loop. And be sure to check out David’s upcoming North American book tour dates.

So on the one hand, we are in touch with an extraordinarily engaged community of scholars and practitioners who are deeply committed to helping the church re-engage with our call to care for the whole of God’s creation. On the other hand, there is still much work to be done to help Christians make connections between God’s other creatures and our faith. If you want to help us in this important mission, please don’t hesitate to reach out, donate, or share our work with others.

Instruments of Peace for All Creatures

by Tim Mascara

Pixabay.com

Pixabay.com

On December 4, 1959, Soviet artist Evgeny Vuchetich presented a bronze statue to the United Nations, titled Let Us Beat Our Swords into Plowshares. The sculpture is an image of a man beating a sword into a plowshare, meant to symbolize humankind’s desire to end war—the desire to take the tools of violence and war and turn them into tools for peace, tools to benefit humankind rather than harm it. The statue still stands, now green from tarnish, in the northern gardens of the UN headquarters.

This transformational image of turning swords into plowshares is a recurrent theme in Scripture.

“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning forks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” -Isaiah 2:4

“He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” -Micah 4:3

“You will laugh at violence and famine, and need not fear the wild animals. For you will have a covenant with the stones of the field, and the wild animals will be at peace with you. -Job 5:22-23

These are prophecies of something to come. A peace that is distant, far off, not yet realized. It is a peace for which this “weary world rejoices.” In light of Isaiah’s prophecy, we are called to confess how we have not been peaceful in various aspects of our lives. We take the time to confess because we need to acknowledge violence was never a part of God’s ideal for the world, and yet it plagues us.

…we are called to confess how we have not been peaceful in various aspects of our lives. We take the time to confess because we need to acknowledge violence was never a part of God’s ideal for the world, and yet it plagues us.

Isaiah uses other metaphors to illustrate just how foreign violence and death should be to our world. In Isaiah 11, he prophesies of the wolf living with the lamb, lions with calves, leopards with goats, and lions eating straw like the ox. Even the tools that animals used for violence, claws and sharp fangs, seem to be no longer used in this way. Isaiah prophesies of a child leading these predatory animals, feeding bears and playing near cobra dens. Of course, right now, trying this might not be the best idea. But what a thought! Not only will peace reign in human affairs, but across the entirety of creation and including all God’s creatures.

I cannot help but wonder what the relationship between humanity and the animal kingdom will look like. If there are no more swords, no more violence, no more death, could there be no more killing between species, too?

Some may argue peace won’t reign in the animal kingdom, that predators will always be predators. I understand how faithful Christians differ on these issues, yet I struggle to see how there could have been predation before the Fall if Genesis 1:30 really means what I think it means.

“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.” -Genesis 1:29-30

The reign of peace and flourishing across all creation—what Hebrews call “shalom”—seems to have been God’s original intention for the created order. And Christ entered into this world to begin bringing that heavenly kingdom to bear on our broken, violent, sword-wielding and war-torn world. I believe this peace will affect humans and animals alike.

I see this in other places in Scripture that point to a future peace as well. Over and over again, Scripture underscores how deeply God cares for creation:

“In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.” -Hosea 2:18

“And should I not have great concern for the city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” -Jonah 4:11

We know that Christ has ushered in the new kingdom now, but not yet fully. This is the tension in which we now live. We celebrate Christ’s first coming, yet we hope for Christ’s second coming to bring the fullness of joy, love, and peace.

So where am I going with this? Even though we live in this tension, I believe we can still put into practice some of the aspects of the Kingdom of God. Even as we pray the Lord’s prayer, we can remember that even now, we can begin living and acting in ways that cause small breakthroughs of peace into our world.

To pray, “…Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” is to pray that God’s peaceable Kingdom will now begin to be partially realized in our world. I believe it is beginning to not only ask that Christ’s peace will one day reign, but that we may become agents of Christ’s peace today. If we are praying these words regularly, we must begin pondering how we are to see this in our own lives.

I think a valuable way of assessing this question is looking to Isaiah, and to symbolic ways we can live in peace rather than in violence. One suggestion might be eating a greener, more plant-based diet as a small, specific way we can practice peace today. Even as I ponder how we have not been instruments of peace, I wonder if this small act could begin, at least in part, beating our swords into plowshares.

I find it hard to believe that the images we see in Isaiah, at creation, and in the covenant God makes between man and animal are merely analogies. Could they not be glimpses of reality as it once was, and what it will one day be again? Could my choice to eat less meat be a small act of the coming peaceable kingdom?

Have you pondered how small actions and small practices can influence much larger events? Christ encourages this way of thinking by declaring that someone who can be trusted with little can also be trusted with much. This principle can be applied in many ways, one of which I believe is that small acts have the power to influence much greater acts. Perhaps choosing something different on your plate could be a small and subtle way to influence your interaction with someone else in your life. Perhaps choosing compassion for one of God’s creatures could be a tool for the Holy Spirit to soften your heart toward a difficult or stressful family member. What if choosing to practice peace at the table could begin to train our hearts toward the coming peace, when the Kingdom is finally and fully realized?

What if choosing to practice peace at the table could begin to train our hearts toward the coming peace, when the Kingdom is finally and fully realized?

I understand that Christians differ on these issues, and even on their views of peace regarding the animal kingdom. I personally believe that the Garden was, and the coming Kingdom will be, a place without violence or death for all who have lifeblood. I believe that the images we see in Isaiah are glimpses of the large arc from creation through the fall and to final redemption. This affects my interpretation on how the coming kingdom is played out in my day to day life. Places like factory farms do not only harbor darkness, despair, and pain for animals, but also for fellow humans who have to work in those environments and for God’s good earth. 

Finally, while I am writing that the act of eating a plant-based diet can be an act of peace, the goal for all of us who follow Christ is to ask how we might begin practicing God’s Kingdom now. Whether it concerns the choices we make on our plates, our politics, how we relate to our family, or any number of the myriad decisions we make over the course of our lifetimes, the question is still: How can I be an instrument of peace?

Tim Mascara is an Associate Pastor at StoneBridge Church Community. He lives in Davidson, NC with his wife and two young boys. This piece originally appeared at EvangelicalsforSocialAction.org and is reprinted here with permission. 

October Highlights from CreatureKind

The CreatureKind team was out and about in October!

Our project editor, Margaret, spoke about CreatureKind’s theological foundations and approach to food policy at the Humane Society International’s “Forward Food Week” at Oxford Brookes University, Headington.

44803240_945536685644163_8184472177265868800_n.jpg

David addressed the Church of England's Annual Gathering of Readers in the Diocese of Chester on the topic of “Christian Ethics and Other-than-human Creatures.” David also delivered a paper called “Should Christians Eat Animals” as part of the Nantwich Lecture Series at St. Mary’s Church, Nantwich, in South Cheshire. 

Sarah gave a presentation titled “The Future of Food Isn’t Meat” to students at Temple University. She also presented “Animals on the Agenda, Not Just on Our Plates” at the Baylor Institute for Faith and Life’s Symposium on Stewardship of Creation. The Baylor event, held in Waco, Texas, was an opportunity to urge institutionally-connected Christian environmental advocates to take action on behalf of animals, specifically by working with CreatureKind to change food policies and practices at their schools.

Sarah’s piece on grief and motherhood and veganism (titled, “Labor Pains”) appeared in the journal Rock! Paper! Scissors!, a publication of Jesus Radicals.

This winter, CreatureKind will be at the American Academy of Religion / Society of Biblical Literature meetings in Denver, Colorado; the Urbana Student Missions Conference in St. Louis, MO; the Society of Christian Ethics annual meeting in Louisville, KY; and accompanying David on his tour for On Animals, Volume II: Theological Ethics, which will take us to Connecticut, Massachusetts, Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, California, and British Columbia! Be sure to come see us, and help spread the word!

Who is my Neighbour? A St. Francis of Assisi Feast Day Meditation

by Michael Gilmour

Photo: Michael Gilmour

Photo: Michael Gilmour

The punchline of Luke’s Good Samaritan story comes at the beginning rather than the end, and it is not Jesus who delivers it but instead a nameless onlooker. He cites Torah: love God and love your neighbour as yourself (Luke 10:27; cf. Lev 19:18; Deut 6:5). Jesus agrees and then goes on to tell the oft-told tale of an assault and robbery, and the unlikely hero who comes to the victim’s aid. Love is owed to a stranger left for dead on the side of the road, and it is a cultural and religious outsider who extends it. My neighbour does not always look like me, or believe like me but that’s no matter. Jesus collapses the two great commandments. If we love God, we love our neighbours, whoever they are. We love our neighbours because we love God.

The onlooker who wisely recited Torah then adds a question (Luke 10:29): Who is my neighbour? Jesus’s story is the answer given. Your neighbour is the one in need. Your neighbour is the one in need, even when they are not part of your community. We are to love across boundaries. Love not only family and tribe, or those of our race and nation, or gender and religion, or sexual orientation and socio-economic status. Love not only the citizen but also the refugee. Simply love your neighbour as yourself, says Jesus. Love the one in need as you love yourself. That’s all it says.

Animals are neighbours too. There’s nothing in the story limiting this boundary-defying love to bipedal types. If this sounds odd, note the vague kinship between this parable and remarks Jesus made about an animal fallen into a pit (Matt 12:11). You don’t pass by the sheep in its moment of need any more than you pass the victim of a robbery laying in a ditch at the side of a road. You help that poor creature, and you do so even if it’s the Sabbath. Humans extending kindness to nonhumans—Jesus expects it of the God-fearing. And perhaps it’s worth noticing it works both ways in our parable. The Good Samaritan isn’t the only one who helps the injured man: he places the stranger “on his own animal” to get him to an inn for care (10:34). A brief hint of cross-species compassion?

The story of the Good Samaritan resonated recently as I led a chapel service at Providence University College (Manitoba) marking World Animal Day and the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi. This is not usual fare for us. Few of the fifty or so students and staff in attendance had previous experience of animal blessing or animal-themed services, or even heard sermons suggesting animals are theologically consequential or relevant for religious ethics. So, how to get that point across?

Enter Daisy, the tripod puppy and newest layabout at chez Gilmour who joined me for the service. Last spring I received word from one of our graduates of a stray dog found injured at the side of the road after being hit by a car. She stopped to help, taking the puppy to a nearby veterinary clinic even when unsure of how to fund the expensive surgery/amputation needed to save her. This was a costly act of kindness. Costly just like the love shown by the Samaritan (“he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend’” [Luke 10:35]). I wanted students to meet Daisy. To meet one of God’s creatures who experienced a boundary-transgressing act of Christian love. There is room in the church for other species. The church, represented in that moment by a generous, self-sacrificing student, reached out to a helpless animal and saved her life. A Christian reached across boundaries to show the love of God. (And at this St. Francis service she was further welcomed by the community of God’s people—and exuberantly so, as you can see—by some of our dog-loving students!)

Photo: Michael Gilmour

Photo: Michael Gilmour

The service also marked the launch of Providence’s second Friendly Food Challenge (on which, see the CreatureKind blog, “Throwing Rocks at Giants”). The hope was to help participants make the connection between sweet Daisy who made all in the room smile that day, and other equally vulnerable, equally important animals who live and die as part of the food industry. Pets, wildlife, domesticated farm animals—they are all God’s creatures, and the call to extend love beyond boundaries must include them too. I am pleased some students and staff at Providence University College are making that connection, leaving meat off their plates as an expression of compassion.

Michael Gilmour teaches English and biblical literature at Providence University College. His most recent book is a study of animals in the writings of C. S. Lewis (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).