Many times vegetarians and vegans ask the question, “is there a Christian church, group, or denomination, which it makes sense for me to join?” For most of us, the answer to this question is “no.”
Vegetarians in the churches are not numerous. The few existing Christian vegetarians are mostly interested in health. Most Christians (even most Seventh-Day Adventists), if they think about it, would say that Jesus ate meat or at least fish. To say that it’s wrong to eat meat would condemn the founder of the religion. So what’s an ethical vegetarian or vegan to do?
We care about this issue for several reasons. Christianity is the dominant religion in our culture. Most people answer questions about basic values through recourse to religion, and in our culture this means Christianity. Most committed vegetarians think of their diet as a reflection of their beliefs about the sacredness of life. Christians constitute about 3/4 of population of the U. S. and Canada. If we are to have a vegetarian world, we will need to deal with the churches at some point, even if it is only to oppose Christianity.
We care, also, because we need to do what the churches should be doing, and aren’t. We have a huge environmental crisis which literally could wipe out all life on earth through a runaway greenhouse effect. With peak oil and resource depletion, we have hit the “limits to growth.” Yes, we need to go vegan, but we need even more than that. We need to limit population, stop consumerism, drastically reduce use of fossil fuels. We need something really big; our society, our culture, and our way of life need to change. Where are the churches in all of this?
How can we promote such a consciousness revolution? Forget, for the moment, about creeds, organizations, and church politics. How would we do this?
We could join a Christian church, and then persuade everyone else in that church to go vegetarian. However, on purely practical grounds this is not likely to work. If you are a committed, ethical vegetarian you will be in a small minority, and most of the people in any church will reject your fundamental values. The church is likely to support “charities” like Heifer International, which are actually engaged in work to promote livestock agriculture. You will be expected to tithe and give a substantial portion of your income to support an organization that rejects your basic values. Even if this church tolerates your vegetarianism, every meal at the church is going to be a problem. Church dinners will typically give you a close-up look at animal corpses and secretions.
There is no logical contradiction here, as long as you can find a church that tolerates your food practices. But there is an existential contradiction. Sure, you can play the martyr and stay in a church that doesn’t support your basic values, but why?
The rejection of vegetarianism by the churches has nothing to do with the religion of Jesus, by the way. It is an outcome of the struggles in the early church. Jesus disrupted the animal sacrifice business in the temple, an act of animal liberation (Matthew 21:12-13 and parallels). Jesus, James his brother, and all the disciples, were vegetarian and taught vegetarianism. These early Christians also believed in simple living and nonviolence. But I don’t see a practical way to promote these ideals within the church. If we are going to promote such a consciousness revolution, we need to go outside of institutional Christianity.
How do we get to this consciousness revolution? I would welcome anyone’s ideas on this point. We can speak about it, talk about, and manifest it in our lives. At some point institutional Christianity will likely come to its senses, sit up, and take notice. But for most of us, joining a Christian church is not the best way to further this process.