A growing number of Christians are getting woke and quitting meat because of its environmental and ethical impact. Can going vego be an expression of faith?
It was the punk and hardcore music scene that first got Sam Coates thinking about meat. ‘I grew up in a meat-and-potatoes family, and never gave it any consideration,’ he says. But there was a strong sub-culture in hardcore that was ‘deeply concerned with ecology, environmentalism and animal rights.’
Sam, who was lead singer of hardcore band Declaration AD, says it was a challenge to his faith: ‘My Christianity began and ended with saving people’s souls, and didn’t have any connection to the wider creation,’ he reflects. ‘I admired that moral conviction about what it means to care for animals and treat all of life as sacred within the punk and hardcore community, and I got more and more uncomfortable about the blasé attitude many Christians had towards animal care. I felt like, “How can I be a positive Christian influence in the punk and hardcore scene when, in some ways, my life isn’t as moral as the people I am trying to reach?”’
Sam was also sifting through a lot of new ideas: he read CS Lewis’ book Miracles, which argued that Christ’s redemption is not just for human souls, but for all creatures and all creation. ‘Another really influential thing was this idea that Jesus is on the side of the oppressed, not the oppressor. When we oppress the earth, we are not bringing the Kingdom of God.’
He was challenged by the inhumane conditions in factory farms, where animals are bred in crowded, intense environments—often with no natural light or room to turn around. Chickens bred for meat are so ‘top heavy’ they may not be able to stand. Their natural life spans are also hugely reduced: chickens naturally live for up to eight years, but meat chickens are slaughtered after six weeks, and even laying chickens only live for 18 months. Cows, which naturally live for 15–20 years are slaughtered at 18 months, and even dairy cows only live six years.
Finally, Sam reflected on the Old Testament practice of sacrifice and its relationship with animals. ‘Sacrifice actually meant something because they knew those animals, they raised them and cared for them by hand. It was a very personal, intimate thing.’
He realised that he would not be willing to kill an animal himself, so ‘I had to be really honest and say to myself, “Well I don’t have the right to eat the animal”.’ Sam has been vegetarian ever since, and although it began as his own sacrifice for God’s Kingdom, he feels it has only enriched his life.
Moo! You Ate Me
It might be surprising to discover that vegetarianism is part of The Salvation Army’s holiness tradition. William and Catherine Booth were both vegetarians, and if they had their way the Army would have been a vegetarian movement, say commentators. ‘When [General Bramwell Booth] was campaigning for a vegetarian diet, as he did occasionally, he depicted animals coming to us in the afterlife and saying, “Moo! You ate me”. We youngsters loved it …’ wrote General Albert Osborn.
While it’s a largely forgotten part of our history, Tim Pate, who grew up in Napier Corps, is continuing the tradition as a vegan. ‘When William Booth talks about “others”, animals are also the “others”,’ argues Tim. ‘Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you … ” Animals are God’s creations and they are sentient, they do feel pain, have language and families. I don’t think God would be okay with the way we treat his creatures.’
‘Some people don’t want to buy it,’ he adds. ‘They say humans have been given dominion over the earth, but that argument is rubbish. We’ve been given dominion to take care of the earth. If our diet is destroying the earth, that’s not taking care of it.’
There is a growing belief that, biblically, not eating meat is, indeed, the right thing to do. In Genesis 1: 30, God says that for all creatures, ‘I have given every green plant for food’. This may indicate that God did not intend for us to eat meat, and we only became omnivores after ‘the fall’ from the Garden of Eden.
In that case, meat-eating is part of our fallen world. And cutting out meat could be part of re-discovering God’s Kingdom here on earth ‘as it is in heaven’.
Potently, the whole theme of the Bible is about redemption, grace and mercy—does this extend to animals and creation as well? The ‘creation care’ movement among Christians argues it does.
Is Meat the Baddie?
The science also supports the idea of a vegetarian diet. The meat and dairy industry is on track to become the biggest baddie when it comes to the environment, according to latest research. ‘Meat production uses the vast majority—83 percent—of farmland and produces 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions,’ reported a recent comprehensive study.
Growing food for animals is the greatest reason
for the world’s deforestation, which in turn, is the biggest factor in mass wild-life extinction. ‘Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet,’ concludes the report.
If the world became vegetarian, it could even end world hunger—currently richer countries grow crops for animals, while poorer countries suffer from starvation. If crops were used directly for humans,
we could literally feed the world.
If you’re thinking of going vego, Tim says take your time to make sure your reasons are solid, and take it step-by-step. ‘Make sure you have your own reasons for doing it—otherwise you’re more likely to give up. Do it gradually and take the time to learn about it.’
And he has a final word of advice: ‘If you do decide to be vegetarian or vegan you will stuff it up. Don’t beat yourself up. There is no such thing as a perfect vegetarian or vegan, just the same as there is no perfect Christian.’
* currently a meat-eater but feeling convicted.