Green Seminary Initiative and CreatureKind Announce Partnership

GSI director, abby mohaupt, and CreatureKind co-directors, Sarah Withrow King and David Clough, on the campus of Santa Clara University in San Jose, CA.

GSI director, abby mohaupt, and CreatureKind co-directors, Sarah Withrow King and David Clough, on the campus of Santa Clara University in San Jose, CA.

While environmental advocacy and animal advocacy groups have often been at odds with one another, Green Seminary Initiative and CreatureKind believe that a holistic, effective approach to creation care must include attentiveness to both the breadth of environmental issues and the particular concerns raised by industrial farming practices.

Green Seminary Initiative (GSI) fosters efforts by theological schools and seminaries to incorporate care for the earth into the identity and mission of the institution, such that it becomes a foundational part of the academic program and an integral part of the ethos of the whole institution. CreatureKind’s mission is to encourage Christians to recognize faith-based reasons for caring about the well-being of fellow animal creatures used for food, and to take practical action in response. Today the two organizations announced a formal partnership that allows CreatureKind to work with GSI schools to help them achieve GSI’s certification standards related to food policy and to encourage them to include concern and action for animals in other areas of community life.

As an organization committed to many faith traditions, GSI understands that food and eating are central to multiple religions, as well as to spiritual formation. The consumption of food is a human experience that crosses ethnic and geographic barriers, and many religious traditions see animals as sacred in some way. GSI is also committed to paying attention to the ways in which environmental justice interlocks with justice for the poor, workers, and other marginalized communities.

CreatureKind calls attention to the abyss that currently exists between what Christians believe about animals and how we treat them in industrialized food production. Concern for animal well-being is deeply rooted in our Christian faith, and there is a long history of Christian leadership in animal protection movements. But as industrialized systems of animal agriculture have developed over the last century, churches have remained mostly silent about our radically altered relationships with pigs, chickens, turkeys, fish, and cows (and with the people who work to produce our food), and the devastating consequences of animal factories on the broader environment. Scientist and policy analyst Václav Smil has estimated that from the year 1900 to the year 2000, the biomass of all domesticated animals increased from three and a half times to twenty four times the biomass of all wild land mammals. During that same period of time, the biomass of wild land mammals was halved. It’s no coincidence that these same hundred years saw the demise of the small family farm alongside the birth and global spread of factory farming, which is now the dominant means of producing animal products for human consumption.

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As more and more land is consumed by animal agriculture, the wild animal population shrinks, and there are additional urgent problems caused by increased consumption of animals. In addition to Industrial farms and slaughterhouses cause widespread environmental damages and use a disproportionate share of earth’s resources, while subjecting animals to painful physical mutilations, miserable living conditions, and traumatic deaths. Workers within the industrial farming system endure long hours, frequent injuries, and unjust working conditions. The increased use of antibiotics has contributed to the rise of so-called “superbugs,” and the overconsumption of animal products has been linked to a host of human ailments. In the United States, the vast majority of animal products—meat, milk, and eggs—are now produced on these intensive farms, where it is impossible for creatures to flourish as their Creator intended and where both humans and animals pay a high price for the availability of cheap meat.

These factory farms and other unsustainable food management systems are odds with theological institutions committed to teaching and embodying environmental justice for workers, consumers, and animals alike. That’s why GSI requires schools in their certification program to offer vegetarian food choices at all meals and to include organic and/or local produce at all meals. Electives in the program include the 30% reduction of the amount of meat served over three years, vegan options, and cage-free eggs.

Worldwide, more than 70 billion fellow land creatures and up to 7 trillion sea animals are killed for food each year. The use of animals for food massively dominates all other human uses of animals, and yet farmed animals—the animals on our plates—are conspicuously absent from the vast majority of Christian conversations about stewardship, creation care, and the environment. The partnership between GSI and CreatureKind seeks to correct that oversight.  

CreatureKind will join GSI and other partners at the Southwest Symposium on Ecologically Informed Theological Education at Brite Divinity School on March 13-14. More information can be found here.

Reflections from the On Animals North American Book Tour

by David Clough

The On Animals North American book tour is complete! In numbers: 31 days, lectures and seminars at 21 venues, combined audience of over 1000, 9 institutional food policy meetings, well over 100 books distributed.

I'm most grateful to hosts for the warm welcome received at each stop: Yale Divinity School, Boston University School of Theology, Harvard Divinity School, Harvard Law School, Christ Episcopal Church in Rockville MD, Georgetown University, Wesley Theological Seminary, University of Virginia, High Point University, Duke Divinity School, Wheaton College, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Notre Dame University, Santa Clara University, Fuller Theological Seminary, Azusa Pacific University, University of San Diego, Regent College Vancouver, Vancouver Humane Society, and University of Victoria. Thanks too to Ilana Braverman for her expert coordination of the tour, and my CreatureKind co-director Sarah Withrow King who co-directed and accompanied.

Remarkably, in every venue, across a very wide range of theological perspectives and convictions, audiences responded enthusiastically to the argument that Christians have strong faith-based reasons to reduce consumption of animal products and move to higher welfare sourcing, and showed willingness to make practical changes in response. This gives me a great deal of hope that CreatureKind can be successful in catalysing change so that it becomes routine for Christian institutions to attend to their consumption of animal products as a faith issue. If you know of institutions interested in getting help from CreatureKind to engage in this area, please get in touch.

Excitingly, the positive response to this tour has helped confirm plans for a follow-up speaking tour of Australia and New Zealand in June 2019, which will take me to Brisbane, Auckland, Dunedin, Wellington, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, and possibly Hobart. If you live in Australia or New Zealand and would like to assist with book tour events there (set-up, sign-up, book donations), please send us a message with the subject line: Book Tour Help.

If you're interested in seeing or sharing the lecture, here’s the recording from Notre Dame. Please do share widely!

Video: Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing at the University of Notre Dame
 

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.

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.

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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!

Friends House in London Signs Up to CreatureKind

We were delighted to be at Friends House in London, the centre for Quakers in Britain, to celebrate their signing up to be a CreatureKind institution. Friends House have been leaders in the ethical sourcing of food products, and were the first religious organization to be awarded Compassion in World Farming’s Good Egg and Good Chicken awards. They were enthusiastic about CreatureKind because of our focus on getting institutions to commit to a cycle of identifying strategies to reduce overall consumption of animal products and identify opportunities to move to higher welfare sources for remaining products.

Photo: Friends House / Quaker Centre Cafe

Photo: Friends House / Quaker Centre Cafe

At the launch event, we were joined by Quaker Concern for Animals (QCA), an organization with its origins in Christian opposition to vivisection in the late 19th century. Thom Bonneville of QCA expressed his warm appreciation for this commitment of Friends House and their previous hosting of QCA World Animals Day events.

Friends House provided samples of new vegan items from their menu, which included cashew nut curry, falafels, sausage rolls, and snacks and chocolate. The catering staff at Friends House were recently able to enhance the organization's plant-based offerings with help from a chefs’ training event provided by Humane Society International. The results were quite delicious. 

Photo: Friends House / Quaker Centre Cafe

Photo: Friends House / Quaker Centre Cafe

Photo: Friends House / Quaker Centre Cafe

Photo: Friends House / Quaker Centre Cafe

In his remarks, David described how the current unprecedented extent of livestock farming was bad for humans, bad for animals, and bad for the environment. He noted that in 1900 the total biomass of domesticated animals was around 3.5 times that of all wild land mammals, but by 2000, a fourfold increase in domesticated animals together with a halving in wild animal numbers meant the biomass of domesticated animals had grown to an astonishing 25 times that of wild land mammals, with dramatic effects on increased land use and environmental problems. Unlike many other global problems, David noted this was something we can act to address immediately, as individuals and members of institutions, by reducing consumption of animal products and moving to higher welfare sourcing.

David gave an enthusiastic welcome to the commitment Friends House have made to reduce their consumption of animal products by 20% over two years and look for additional opportunities to move to higher welfare sources for remaining animal products. As part of their commitment, Friends House will also launch a new vegan CreatureKind menu for their events catering.

CreatureKind is in conversation with a number of other institutions and organizations in the UK and North America about signing up to CreatureKind. If you belong to one we should be talking to, do let us know!

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.