CreatureKind Presents at Eco-Minded Theological Symposium

“To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.” Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace

Those among us who work in animal or environmental advocacy work often feel the effects of that “want,” although not the “want” for physical resources that Berry described. Instead, we suffer from “want” of community. This creation care truth that we see as core to framing our daily activities is often quickly dismissed by food producers and consumers. That’s one big reason why it is such an enormous blessing when the occasion arises to join together with like-minded others for conferences and events that highlight our mutual mission.

Sarah Withrow King with co-presenter, Rev. Sarah Macias (left) and Green Seminary Initiative Director, rev. abby mohaupt (right).

Sarah Withrow King with co-presenter, Rev. Sarah Macias (left) and Green Seminary Initiative Director, rev. abby mohaupt (right).

In March, CreatureKind co-director Sarah Withrow King was invited to participate in the Southwest Symposium on Ecologically Informed Theological Education at Brite Divinity School, where Methodist Theological Seminary in Ohio (MTSO), the Green Seminary Initiative (GSI), and the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development hosted two days of insightful conversations and collaborations. Attendees included students, faculty, administration, alums, and staff from around the Southwest.

“The symposium at Brite Divinity School was an encouraging opportunity to gather and learn from educators who are committed to encouraging the next generation of faith leaders to fully integrate creation care into every part of their ministry,” King said. “Professors and administrators who want to equip their students to lead in a time of climate crisis should put this symposium on their ‘must-not-miss list’.”

A recap of topics covered is available in a blog by the Green Seminary Initiative.

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.

CreatureKind Retreat

by Sarah Withrow King

For many Christian animal advocates, the gift of presence, of being able to simply show up and be is a rare gift. At church gatherings, we are explaining why there isn't any meat on our plate or where exactly we get our protein. We are navigating the politics of the buffet table, or simply trying to remain calm in the face of an onslaught of insensitivity. At events hosted by animal advocates, we might be the only Christian, working to show that "not all Christians" are indifferent to suffering. Even in spaces where justice issues are front and center, animal issues are too often seen as insignificant. 

It's a tiring way to be in the world. 

One of CreatureKind's goals is to help strengthen the fast-growing community of Christian animal advocates. We can do that to a certain extent online, through our blog and Facebook page. But there's something special about being face-to-face with like-minded people. There's something special about being able to show up in a space to simply rest in the presence of God and not have to be "on." 

In early December, CreatureKind gathered a small group of Christian animal advocates from all walks of life for a weekend retreat at a spiritual center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Through group dialogue, conversation partners, and individual reflection time, we traded stories of our experiences, sources of strength, and hopes for our future work. 

Some of the prayers and words of encouragement offered by retreat participants for the retreat group. One participant described the experience as "healing and inspiring." 

Some of the prayers and words of encouragement offered by retreat participants for the retreat group. One participant described the experience as "healing and inspiring." 

"It was extremely helpful for me to be in community with fellow veg Christians. I was deeply fed, my heart has healed and I have been inspired to press on..." said one retreat participant. Another commented, "I very much enjoyed and was encouraged by the simple presence of other vegan Christians! I do not have the opportunity to gather this way with people who are both rather than one or the other!"

I know that I am finite. I know that the fate of the world does not rest in my hands (let's all pause to be grateful for that). And I know that it's important to take time to relax and recenter. But as a lifelong activist and recovering workaholic with the weight of All The World's Bad Things pressing on my heart and mind day after day, it is difficult for me to act on what I know to be true: my worth is not tied to my productivity. And real life, flesh-and-blood, face-to-face connection with other Jesus followers is critical to my spiritual and advocacy health. 

People came from all over the United States for this retreat, from coast to coast, north to south, by plane, train, and automobile. I believe this experience should be accessible for all, regardless of their ability to travel a great distance. 

If you're interested in bringing a CreatureKind retreat to your community, drop us a line. Let's figure out how to help ensure that Christian animal advocates in Orlando, Chattanooga, Denver, London, and beyond have the chance to gather with other like-minded Jesus followers, and to receive the gifts of presence and of being seen. 

And if you'd like to support CreatureKind's work to strengthen the growing community of Christian animal advocates, you can donate here

Peace. And many prayers that you are able to experience needed moments of connection with God, fellow creatures, and your own heart. 

Upcoming Events

by Sarah Withrow King

There's a longer post to be made here, about the rising tide of Christian animal advocacy, the increasing awareness among Christians of our recent failure to lead the world in animal protection, and the inspiring ways that people are connecting their spiritual life with compassion for animals. 

But what I'll say now is this: all this energy means that some folks are gathering together to plan events for Christian animal advocates. Some of these are still coming together, and we'll keep you posted as they happen. Here's what we know now:

Christian Animal Welfare Summit in the Ozarks, September 1-4, 2017: This event will bring together advocates to ask: “How can we create a sense of community and cooperation among Christian Animal Welfare supporters so we can more effectively achieve our goals and connect with the broader movement?"

Spiritual Retreat for Vegan Christians, December 1-3, 2017: This small retreat is an opportunity for vegan Christians to gather at a beautiful retreat center in Philadelphia, PA for spiritual rest and friendship.  

CreatureKind Reception, January 2018: For the third year in a row, CreatureKind will host a reception in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics. This year, we gather in Portland, Oregon.

To learn more about these and other events with CreatureKind, sign up here or send Sarah an email: swking@eastern.edu.