A reader of this blog recently asked, “When are we going to form the ECC (Ebionite Christian Church)? Or maybe EUC, Ebionite Universal Church?” Many vegetarians and vegans who come from the Christian tradition find that there isn’t really a Christian church, group, or denomination, which it makes sense to join. So why not form our own? Here are my thoughts.
To begin with, such a community could be really valuable and helpful, but do you have any idea how much work this would be? On top of that, cults based on a single charismatic leader can also take advantage of people, and I’ve seen several unfortunate examples of that in our own vegan community. I’m all for charisma, but rather than a single large organization, I’d prefer to see smaller groups evolving on a more face-to-face basis, that can start to sort out some of the things involved in such a movement. Some examples of attempts to promote a genuine community include the Christian Vegetarian Association, Norm Phelps’ attempt to engage the Unitarian-Universalist churches, and the “Vegan Spirituality” groups. Want to try something more ambitious? If so, I’d be happy to help, but I’m probably not the one to take the lead here.
Also, there’s no particular reason to be attached to the idea of a modern group taking the name “Ebionite.” The Ebionites are an inspiration for me because they were vegetarians and held vegetarianism to be part of the gospel message. But I’m not an “Ebionite fundamentalist,” nor do I want to make any particular metaphysical system the basis for a fellowship, like some sort of Ebionite equivalent of the Nicene Creed. What was distinctive about the early Christians was not their theology or metaphysical beliefs, but their lifestyle and their community. Christianity is not a system of belief, but a way of life, and I’d prefer for the community to try to sort out what this way of life is really about.
What modern vegetarian followers of Jesus and the early Christians both share is a common experience. You have an experience, it changes your life, you feel great, you try to explain it to others, but the others usually don’t “get it.” Trying to sort all of this out, you come to meet others with similar experiences. There is an intellectual and logical component to all this, but there is something more. This is both the experience of the early Christians, and the experience of many modern vegetarians and vegans.
Spiritual understanding, however imperfect it often is, has something to tell modern vegans. There is an intellectual and rational component of veganism, which I don’t want to minimize. But reasons and reason are only part of the story. Animals are suffering, and we don’t have to hurt the animals — that should be sufficient to motivate us, but usually it isn’t. If the heart is closed, reasons will never be able to overcome intellectual resistance. If the heart is open, you don’t need reasons at all.