Lauren Lisa Ng, an ordained American Baptist minister and committed vegan, has written a very thoughtful blog on “The Church Potluck, Reimagined.” It has direct relevance for everyone who is interested in veganism and Christianity and is well worth reading. This post describes her rapid journey, after being a Christian for decades, from meat-eater to vegan. It describes her attempt to reimagine the standard American church potluck — which is currently a vast wasteland for vegans.
Her life as a Christian vegan, she states, “was a theological transformation that uprooted my Biblical perspectives, challenged my Christology, and expanded my understanding of the powerful eschatological significance that resides inside the choices we make every day.” She mentions the numerous trials and tribulations she has had with church potlucks. But at the end she describes the acceptance of her diet by the Small Group she is in, when they send out an e-mail to her saying: “We will grill hot dogs, burgers, and something vegan.”
For veteran vegan activists, this certainly will not sound like much of a concession. But in the context of the glacial pace at which churches change, it is huge. It is a step up from mere toleration (“OK, you’re weird, but we’re not throwing you out”) to something more. This “something more” attitude acknowledges that veganism is part of who she is. The others in her group, though not vegan, support her in her choice.
Being vegan in a nonvegan group is a brave and worthwhile choice. People, especially those in churches, are at different places along the path — and the position of an ordained minister must be especially difficult. This represents a unique opportunity to witness to others about the spirit’s influence on their own lives.
My question is, why can’t we reimagine the church potluck as a vegan potluck? It may be that people in the churches just aren’t ready for this. But my concern is not just to witness to the church members, though that is very important. We also need to minister to those outside the churches, those vegetarians or vegans who still think of themselves as followers of Jesus.
Becoming a vegan in a Christian context is often very much like stepping off a precipice. It is hard for vegan activists, or committed vegans, to pledge some sort of consistent monetary support and volunteer effort for a church. You are constantly confronted with the fact that this church will disregard your most important beliefs. How can one gather in fellowship at a table where there is food which is a constant reminder of the suffering and death which humans inflict on the animal world? How can you be in communion with church members when the food on the table reminds us that the church doesn’t agree with one’s own point of view on matters so close to your heart?
If you think about it, it’s apparent that there is a continuum here. The churches will be greatly benefited by the presence of those are a witness to the testimony of compassion. Some vegans, used to eating with nonvegan family members or co-workers, will not have a problem with the traditional church potluck, as long as there’s something there which they can eat. They will settle for acceptance, or even just toleration. Others will continue to support their church no matter how upsetting it is to them personally, just because this allows them to be a witness to their own vegan beliefs.
But this is honestly not a path that I can follow, nor one which I can recommend to others. Even a church which accepts me and my strange beliefs might support the Heifer Project, for example. Or, they may actively promote a nonvegetarian soup kitchen for the homeless. The church’s energies would likely be in work which I would find at best a distraction, and at worst actually offensive. Sure, I could do this, and basically support both veganism and the church — but why? Why do I have to divide my attention and my heart in this way?
It is the most committed and the most aware vegans who will have the most difficulty with their church and who are the most likely to leave. But it is also precisely these committed vegans, the most likely to leave, who should be the heart of any Christian vegan movement. That is the dilemma of Christian veganism.
We need a place for vegan followers of Jesus to land after they step over the edge — whether it’s the Ebionite Church of Christ, the Christian Vegetarian Association, or the Church of the Holy Casserole. We need a place where vegans and vegetarians can be accepted as practitioners of a different kind of Christianity, a Christianity which incorporates compassion into daily life.