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29 January 2020

Veganism and vegetarianism: a Christian response

Paul Webber 2019 Paul Webber Minister
Chickens - Tim Cooper - Unsplash

This is the first is a series of three blog posts on the topic of vegetarianism and Christians, written by Paul Webber and Matt Levy.

Paul is not a vegetarian, but he has a son who wants to be vegetarian (he’s currently 10), and has some friends who are vegetarians as well as others who are or have been vegans and currently pescatarians for health reasons.

Matt is very much a meat lover but is fond of animals too.

Veganism and vegetarianism: a Christian response

During this series of three blogs we will consider the main arguments for veganism and vegetarianism, and also a meat eater’s response. The three areas are:

  1. Ethical - concern for animals.
  2. Environment – concern for creation.
  3. Humans – concern for individuals’ health and living sustainably.

What do we mean by vegetarian, pescatarian and vegan?

  • Vegetarian: a person who does not eat meat or fish or, sometimes, other animal products.
  • Pescatarian: a person who does not eat meat but does eat fish.
  • Vegan: a person who does not eat or use animal products – no dairy, eggs, meat or fish.

Inappropriate arguments

As a Christian, if you eat meat you need a thought-through argument; you mustn’t just dismiss the issue for either of these reasons:

  • “I like meat and don’t want to change”. This is not a good enough argument as the main reason we sin is because we like it!
  • Some vegetarians have communicated their position in an unhealthy and aggressive way. That would be to 'throw the baby out with the bathwater’ and dismiss the message because of the method.

Ethical - concern for animals

Christians might become vegan in order to enable animals to flourish, since God made them and the biblical story both begins and ends with a world in which animals are not eaten. Genesis 1:29-30 states that plants are the ‘ideal’ food for humans when we were created. Whilst meat eaters agree with this because in a perfect world there is no death, we don’t live in a perfect world and in Genesis 9:1-7 God commanded the consumption of meat after the flood (though vegetarians argue this was out of necessity).

Later, Leviticus 11 sets out a law making distinctions between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ foods. This permitted the Israelites to eat animals with ‘cloven hooves and that chew the cud’. In the New Testament this was expanded in Acts 10:9-16 where Peter was hungry and went into a trance where a voice from heaven told him he could eat all kinds of meat.

Jesus also ate meat. He went fishing. His resurrection meal was basically a BBQ when he cooked his disciples' fish.

Although some argue the Bible permits eating meat, Proverbs 12:10 states: ‘The righteous care for the needs of their animals’; animal welfare is therefore important. Genesis 1:28 tells us that God gave us dominion over all the earth, so we should behave responsibly to look after his creation.

Cruelty to animals is therefore inconsistent with a Christian world view. Yet the vast majority of farmed animals are raised in industrial systems that subject them to unnecessary suffering and impoverished lives. The large-scale production of dairy and eggs involves killing male animals surplus to requirements and female animals once their productivity declines. Current production levels of animals for consumption inhibit the flourishing of wild animals as well as animals in captivity. By the year 2000, the number of animals in captivity exceeded that of all wild land mammals by 24 times. This is also driving some species to their extinction.

Accredited researchers Robert Wayner and Dr Richard Alan Young point out that modern factory farming and performing operations on live animals for the purpose of experimentation or scientific research are entirely removed from the treatment of animals in biblical times. They also argue that God would not condone the contemporary scale of animal/environmental abuse.

In the light of this many Christians decide to not eat meat. But if you do, you have a responsibility to consider the welfare of the food you buy.


Photo by Tim Cooper on Unsplash

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