by Ashley M. Lewis
The work of CreatureKind, and the influence of Co-Director, Sarah Withrow King, have been instrumental for me over the last few years as I decided to leave my corporate career and pursue a Master of Divinity degree, with the hope of working in ministry related to food justice and animal protection. When I first read Sarah’s book in 2016, I never dreamed that today I’d be working with her and the CreatureKind team as a Ministry Intern.
Last week, as a representative of CreatureKind, I had the incredible privilege of attending The Summit 2019. This conference is held annually in Washington, DC and is presented by Sojourners, a Christian publication dedicated to covering issues at the intersection of faith, politics, and culture. “The Summit is a gathering of 350 leaders committed to changing the world through faith and justice. The mission of Sojourners is to articulate the biblical call to social justice, to inspire hope and build a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world.”
During The Summit’s opening keynote, entitled “The Imperative for Truth-Telling,” powerful speakers addressed a challenging part of our Christian calling – that of lighting up dark places through truth-telling so that lies, oppression, abuse, and deceit cannot stay hidden. Rev. Miriama White-Hammond of New Roots AME Church in Boston reminded us that Jesus spoke about truth and lies, light and darkness, slavery and freedom in John chapter 8. She said that truth and freedom are directly connected, and we cannot have one without the other.
Rev. Miriama began to describe the “Hot Mess” we are living in right now. She clarified this isn’t a figurative hot mess. It’s a literal one, where our warming Earth puts messy situations in front of us every day: deadly weather phenomena, hunger and drought, migrations of creatures – human and non-human – to distant lands in pursuit of life-giving resources they may never find. While cosmic freedom is secured through Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, the freedom to flourish as earthly creatures is not enjoyed by all. Rev. Miriama offered a call to action. She strongly conveyed that we must face this hot mess for what it is, the very truth of our day. If we can’t face it, we can’t begin to ask God to help us speak truth to power. And if we do not speak truth to power, freedom will not come.
As I took in the first event of the conference, I felt within me something like an oil and water mixture of conviction and apprehension swirling around, not knowing which one would end up on top. Truth-telling is exciting to me because of its potential to unravel harmful systems that are destroying lives as we speak. It’s a serious responsibility! Here I was with legendary truth-tellers all around, and I felt empowered to take part in this important work while also feeling scared of how my message might be received.
The Summit was my first event representing CreatureKind, and as I sat in the auditorium, I considered what it means to bear a message that is surprising and challenging for many people: that my faith is an important part of my commitment to animal protection, and particularly the protection of animals used for food.
As a follower of Jesus, I want to shine a light on the systems that treat animals like commodities, and that cage, abuse, and brutally kill creatures for whom God has called us to care. And it’s not only animals who are negatively affected by these systems. Our US food systems wreak havoc on the world and its inhabitants through chronic disease, harmful working conditions, environmental degradation, and climate change. In countless ways, my desire for animal protection is interwoven with the desire for human rights and environmental justice.
Systems that keep animals in the shadows are detrimental to us all. Their existence does not bring us or our world closer to freedom, and freedom isn’t only for people, but for all creation. As long as animals are locked up in literal or figurative darkness, then the Earth will continue to groan – not only for animals, but for everything God has made and Jesus has redeemed. If freedom and truth-telling go together, then our truth-telling must occur alongside the many other messages of hope, redemption, justice, and radical love that were present in a place like The Summit.
As I thought about the days ahead, I braced myself for resistance. I prepared for negative responses. I considered how I could best express the truth about our food system so that it could be heard and received. When the opening session closed, I walked out with my conviction on top, but my heart leading the way.
Whether engaging in my Rising Leaders and Seminarians Cohort group; attending sessions like the “Sacred Economy,” “Fundraising and Ministry,” or “Bridge Building in Polarizing Times;” or networking over food and drinks, conversations about CreatureKind’s work came naturally. During the exhibitor reception, our booth had a constant flow of attendees who were interested to learn more about the harm caused by our food system, how animal creatures used for food need our protection, and how we as Christians are particularly well-equipped to respond to this need. Visitors to our table were excited to hear that CreatureKind is engaging with partners around the world in an effort to reduce consumption of farmed animals used for food and to move toward buying the animal products we do consume from higher welfare sources. We connected with several individuals who want to use CreatureKind’s resources in their own communities. We also met representatives from seminaries and colleges who want to begin conversations about food policy on their campuses or who hope to host theological discussions regarding treatment of animals and food practices – or both!
Your support and participation help us carry on with this imperative work. We’d love to hear your experiences about how truth, freedom, and creaturely kindness are all connected, and we hope you’ll also consider donating to CreatureKind so we can continue engaging in events like The Summit. Most of all, we appreciate the ways you speak truth and seek freedom for all God’s creatures in your own life and community, so that even the darkest of places may become a little brighter day by day.