APRIL 17, 1991







I.                       Introduction and Thesis Statement


A.      Justification for treatment of this subject seriously in our time as a theological, ethical issue involving choice

B.       Foundational assumptions

C.      Definition of “ethical vegetarianism”

D.      Thesis Statement


II.                    Old Testament Foundations

A.        References about diet from Genesis, the Minor Prophets, Isaiah and Daniel

B.        References that non-violence, including a non-violent diet, point to a new world order or Kingdom of God

C.        Exegesis of the words in ancient Hebrew texts defining

“dominion” and “neighbor”

D.        Necessity as the critical element in choices about diet


III.                  The New Testament and the New Covenant

A.         Peacemaking vs. Violence

B.         Scrutinizing our ethical response to New Testament

themes in light of a meat-based diet

1.        Repentance

2.        The Kingdom of God

3.        The Double-love Command

4.        Servanthood and Sacrifice

5.        Becoming as Children

C.         Decision-making


IV.                 Conclusion

A.      The Spiritual Life and a Vegetarian Lifestyle

B.       Process and Liberation Theologies and their relationship to vegetarianism

C.      Summary

* All biblical quotes are from the Revised Standard Version


The Concept and Practice of Ethical Vegetarianism

As Consistent With New Testament Themes



                  For centuries the subject of human-animal relationships has seemed to fall largely outside the realm of Christian ethics, apparently worth no more than a passing glance from us in terms of decision-making. We rationalize that the Old Testament Creator gave us all things of the earth for our use and therefore a certain insensitivity to the pain of animals was justified to meet this end. In terms of New Testament ethics, we rationalize that the New Testament contains no words of Jesus that speak directly about animal stewardship. Yet, in the 13th Century, one of the greatest recognized saints in the western church, St. Francis of Assisi, called non-human creatures “brother and sister.” Following World War I, Albert Schweitzer, the noted humanitarian, physician, and Christian theologian reflected on the aftermath of the horror and deduced that adopting a stance of reverence for all life was the ultimate solution to the world’s ills. He postulated that it was the ‘small acts’ of individuals, violent or non-violent, that would determine the character of nations. (Stiehm, xi-xiv)

The Christian position about animal treatment—if there can be said to be a position at all—seems to be that as living, but certainly secondary beings, animals are deserving of humane treatment, but humane treatment as they are led to the slaughterhouse, or humane treatment as they occupy cages awaiting the medical researcher’s knife.

                  Although I believe that the philosophy of the Animal Rights Movement in general is consistent with New Testament themes, I have chosen the specific aspect of vegetarianism because in any scholarly examination of these matters, a fundamental portion of the debate always seems to be the routine killing and consumption of other living beings for food.

                  When viewed as an extension of the matter of animal stewardship, is the subject of diet a question for ethical concern? Is it a matter about which ethical choices must be made based on a Christian understanding of the Gospel of Jesus? These questions have received little detailed or serious attention. Sprinkled throughout the text of Judao-Christian scripture there have been references to the means by which humans receive nourishment and sustenance, but they have never been of paramount concern, as students of religion throughout the ages have applied themselves to other more lofty and ostensibly relevant matters. Early sects such as the Essenes, Montanists, Ebionites and Nazarenes supported vegetarianism. (Rosen, 22) Today, Seventh Day Adventists, Quakers and Mormons have a meatless contingent, but these members, even internally, are often labeled as freaks or radicals.

                  The Trappist, Benedictine and Carthusian orders of the Roman Catholic Church still advocate a vegetarian lifestyle. St. Benedict was constantly searching for ways to express commitment to God with every action in life. It is notable that one of his rules for his monastic order was “Let all abstain entirely from eating the flesh of quadrupeds altogether, excepting from this rule the weak and the sick.” ( The Rule of St. Benedict, 61) We will never know if Benedict’s reasoning and that of the other aforementioned orders was primarily to exact a discipline, because the eating of meat has always been considered a luxury enjoyed by the rich, or if it was wholly or at least partially because of the violence inherent in the killing that must necessarily precede the placing of meat upon the table. But that it was important to them at all is a matter worthy of attention by Christians.

                  Throughout the more mainstream Judao-Christian tradition there have been occasional voices lifted to speak or write about what a Christ-follower should eat— St. Benedict, St. Jerome, Tertullian, St. John Crysostom, Clement, Cyprian and John Wesley to name a few. (Rosen, 18-19) Again the works of these visionaries regarding diet have been relegated to the background, as scholars debated such erudite matters as grace, free choice, faith vs. works, matters concerning the Trinity, symbolism of the Eucharist, and so on. Times, however, change.

                  I would like to contend that the time is ripe, based on the contemporary situation in the world of our time, for serious theological reflection and direction on this subject. We exist, neither in the beginning of eschatological time, nor probably very close to the end; we exist in “the middle of time.” If one of our primary tasks as people of faith is to move the world ever forward, morally speaking—and any process theologian would say that it is—then we must make conscious choices about how we live. Far from being inconsequential, the subject of what humans consume to sustain existence is a fact of life with individual and communal implications. With food we nourish our spirit-filled bodies. It is an activity in which we engage roughly three times per day, a center of social activity, and various facets of food production and service comprise multi-million dollar industries employing thousands of people. If eating is the means by which we sustain corporeal existence, then whether or not we make violent choices resting on the values of the fallen world order or non-violent choices based on what seem to be God’s directives for a path that will align us more closely with the ideal state of Eden and at the same time to a new world order, is significant.

                  We continue to face problems of inter-human violence as we find ourselves perennially on the brink of potentially and sweepingly fatal confrontations. With all our talk of peace and "human rights,” we don’t seem to be doing too well. Scholars and scientists have been making the general public aware for years that our lifestyle has led us to the reality of planetary damage, if not destruction, due to our arrogance and misuse of the world’s resources. All of this seems to indicate the necessity of major inter-human and inter-species revisions. Every discipline of study is addressing itself to the question, “What shall we do?” in an attempt to curtail, and in the long run, hopefully end the destruction. Many of these disciplines have now taken the stance that not only are human interrelationships crucial, but also those with other living things. Theology should be no exception. “It is interesting that our society gives little or no credence to theological language in discussing contemporary issues, yet one goes to theology first for answers and for moral direction.” (Stanley Hauerwas, Keynote speech, October 4, 1990)

                  Western theology has up to now largely concerned itself with matters that relate to peace between humans, but recently scholars have been seriously addressing matters of ecology and even animal ‘rights’ as within the realm of Christian faith and morals. I contend, and will attempt to elucidate, that ethical vegetarianism is consistent with prominent New Testament themes and that as such it should serve as an edifying and probably imperative lifestyle that will contribute to the moral progress of the individual Christian and of a world in eschatological progress. The assertion that all this is contemporarily relevant because of its impact on world peace and ecological balance is intended to serve as an adjunct, but also as confirmation for its importance as an even more basic theological question.

                  As the world shrinks due to the comparative ease with which we now travel and communicate, we find that we have become more open to what other religions of the world may have in common with us. Christian theologians have become more interested in what different religious traditions have espoused, investigating beliefs which parallel our own tradition so that we might discern a common wisdom. We find that some of these shared principles are the acknowledgement of a transcendent power, the primary importance of respecting the needs of others, the necessity of progressing through life in a conscious journey that should lead one to a state of greater perfection, and holding in high regard the value of life. It is safe to say that Christianity stands alongside other major religions by endorsing these themes. In recognition of the current Ecumenical Movement in western religions, we seem to be in a process of attempting to unify the world as we move it forward. In examining vegetarianism, therefore, it is appropriate to note that the New Testament themes we will be addressing are congruent with and not in disagreement with the major themes of other world religions. Another way one might say this is that the spirit of God has been working in all religions long before the recording of human history; the spirit of God continues to work in traditions other than our own. Again this point is made to be adjunctive, but also to reinforce the position of Christianity and whatever ethical guidelines we may extrapolate from a critical study of our canonical norms.

                  From the outset there will be certain premises which must be accepted for the purpose of this presentation. These are that the Bible stands as an expression of the word of God, that the New Testament stands as some sort of viable guideline for living out the will of God in our time and in our culture, and that certain themes in the New Testament are prominent and should serve as guidelines, if not imperatives, for the ethical behavior of the individual Christian and of a largely Christian culture. It will not be my task to prove that such themes as the Kingdom of God and love of neighbor, repentance and servanthood are extant; from previous study and from the subjection of that study to the criteria of scripture, tradition, reason and experience, the reader must assume that they are.

                  There must be other baseline assumptions. Knowledge from disciplines other than theology must be seen as appropriately applicable. It is clearly intelligent and responsible to use the knowledge to which we have access from other areas to interface with a contemporary study of scripture. Admittedly, it is a delicate task for the theologian to remain conservative enough to rightly protect that which is old and classically valid, while at the same time using modern concepts and research wisely so that what we speak to the world today may be not only relevant, but also theologically sound.

                  A definition of “ethical vegetarianism” is now in order. I shall begin with a look at what it is not. It has been well researched and well documented that vegetarianism is both a sound healthful and ecological choice. There are many people who have chosen this method of sustenance because it is healthier. Yes, humans are omnivores, but studies have shown that the human digestive system is structurally more suited to a herbivorous diet rather than a carnivorous one. These same studies have also shown that vegetarians live longer and have fewer diet-related health problems. (Thomas, 806) (ADA Journal: March, l988, Position on Vegetarian Diets, 351-355) Others choose this lifestyle because of its impact on the ecology. Stated as briefly as possible, this means that if we did not breed millions of cattle and other animals (who consume 2/3 of the world’s grain) to be slaughtered for meat and eradicate rain forests to provide pasture for these creatures, we could both feed the grain to hungry humans in poverty cultures and at the same time leave the natural forestation alone. This would help prevent widespread hunger and concomitantly serve to alleviate the problem of global warming. One thousand acres of soybeans, rice, corn and wheat yields an average of 1,028 pounds of usable protein each. One thousand acres of these grains, when fed to a steer, will yield only 125 pounds of usable protein when eaten as meat. (Handler, 9) Thus we arrive at the disturbing conclusion that meat eating is directly related to world hunger.                   (Countless well-meaning Christian organizations are employed in an endeavor to feed the hungry by sending them food, or in helping them produce their own [usually meat-based] nourishment, when a basic alteration in how we view food itself would go much further to decrease this ever-present human problem. Examples of organizations which expend incredible energy toward this end are the currently popular “Crop Walk” and “Heifer Project International,” lauded by the vast majority of Christians as being innovative and effective. But are they?)

Lastly, there is the significant and growing number of people who select this diet because of an ethical posture that believes that violence toward any living creature is morally wrong, and that if it is not necessary to kill other sentient life forms to sustain one’s own life, then one should not do so. This latter position defines “ethical vegetarianism.”

                  In the body of this work I will attempt to align this position with the Old Testament, but more importantly in terms of Christianity, with New Testament principles and axioms. In conclusion I will outline the implications that this practice may have for the spiritual life.

                  While this subject may formerly have been considered trivial or laughable, it is no longer so. John Cobb, the eminent process theologian, has said that it is lamentable that Christian ethicists are just now beginning to address ecological and animal rights issues and are thus following in the wake of two largely secularly-led movements in which theology should have been in the forefront. (Cobb, 181) In a contemporary theological text, Wolfgang Schrage says:

“The New Testament does not identify Christian conduct permanently with specific political or social institutions and practices, but when decisions are reached its material directives reveal paradigmatic types, perspectives and priorities that can point the way to new horizons and encourage us to go forward. This is especially true when we turn to pneumatology. Those who take account of the renewing and life-giving power of the Spirit, who leads into all truth, will be open to surprising new insights and forms of action. They will not immediately brand as heresy every desire for change in church and society, and will not stick obstinately to what is traditional and familiar. The Spirit of God is the motive force that constantly brings us out of our fortified positions into new insecurity that can never be restrained or domesticated by the church…the criterion on which (new judgments) are based cannot simply be textual primacy or formal radicalism; it can only be the gospel itself and love as encountered in the passing ages. (Schrage, 12)



Old Testament Foundations


                  As briefly as possible, let us look at some Old Testament references to both diet and God’s relationships with humans and animals. It is necessary to do this because Jesus so often indicated that He had not come to abolish the Old Testament but to “fulfill the law and the prophets.” (Matt. 5:17) He came to confirm it, to expand on it, and primarily to create a new covenant which would have love and compassion as its hallmarks.

                  The earliest reference to diet in scripture is in pre-fall Genesis. After God creates the world and gives humans ‘dominion’ over it (Gen. 1:28) He says, “Behold, I have given you every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” (Gen. 1:29) Apparently the mandate to subsist as vegetarian continues until after the flood, when God says to Noah,

“The fear and dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea; into your hands they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. Only you shall not eat flesh with its blood. For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning….”    (Gen. 9:2-5)


                  On the surface, one might take the apparent permission in Genesis 9 to eat animals for food as a blanket sanction to eat meat from that moment on. Some scholars interpret this as a divine concession to the Fall, and to the inevitable presence of violence which would exist in “the middle of time.” It could also be interpreted as justification for nourishment at such times when plant and grain foods would not be available and the consumption of animals may be necessary as a second choice. Judging from the Genesis 1 reference and this especially this one in Chapter 9, it may well have been God’s intent that, after Eden, only in matters of necessity would this diet be permissible, and that humans must account for their choices. Notice that when one quotes this word of God as spoken to Noah in Chapter 9 to justify the eating of meat, verse 5 is almost always omitted. “For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning….” (Gen.9: 5) From this verse it appears that in whatever choices humans make where lifeblood is shed, God will hold us accountable. It would seem that if the choice to shed lifeblood were unnecessary, we humans would have to answer to the Deity. “We should be prepared to show pity and mercy to all living creatures,” writes Maimonides, “except when necessity demands the contrary.” (Linzey, 32) And from contemporary research we now know that the eating of meat is not necessary—and is in fact often even harmful to human health. We also know that at this time in history that there are few cultures on earth which cannot for geographic reasons, grow plants for food.

                  Additional allusions to a kinder treatment of animals may have occurred during the prophetic era when the prophets repeatedly called the people to repent, to take a look at the cruelty inherent in their traditional offerings to the Deity, and to re-examine what was really pleasing to God.

“Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices pleasing to me. (Jeremiah 6:20)


“They love sacrifice; they sacrifice flesh and eat it; but the Lord has no delight in them.” (Hosea 8:13)


“I hate, I despise your feasts…. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them, and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts I will not look upon…. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. “ (Amos 5:21,22,24)


                  It goes without saying that in any discussion of scriptural references concerning the coming of the Kingdom and/or the concept of a non-violent ethic, the vision of Isaiah cannot be excluded:

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the fatling and the lion together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed and their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The suckling child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand over the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Isaiah 11: 6-9)


                  Another clear reference to a vegetarian diet and possible confirmation for the practice as within God’s plan is from the book of Daniel. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah, were chosen to train for entry in the court of Nebuchadnezzar. Not wanting to be ‘ritually unclean’ by eating the food of the royal court (Dan.1:9), Daniel told the guard, Ashpanaz:


“’Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s rich food be observed by you, and according to what you see deal with your servants.’ So he hearkened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s rich food. So the steward took away their rich food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables.” (Dan. 1:12-16)


                  Now, before departing from the Hebrew scriptures, it is of the utmost

Importance that we examine the concept of “dominion” and Old Testament extrapolations of the word, “neighbor.”

                  From the Hebrew word, “radah,” (to rule over) in Genesis 1:28 our anthropocentric culture has used the root word, “domino” (Lord) in Latin and then “dominion” (to Lord over) in the English Biblical translation for the western world. When used in this context one can see why we took from this the justification to subjugate (as a secular ‘Lord’ would do) and perpetrate violence on both the ecological community and the world of animals. For centuries, and still today, we have the notion that any use we want to make of the non-human, but living, world is justified so long as it meets what we human ‘lords’ have determined to be our need. But “to ‘lord over’ “ was not the meaning of the Hebrew word, “radah.” As scholars have begun to study ecology and theology alongside each other, we have also begun to take a self-critical look at how we have often used scripture to justify selfish human motives. (Perhaps we have begun to repent.)

                  Scholarship, particularly Rabbinical scholarship, has further broken down the word, “radah” to the even more basic word, “yarad”

and “vayerdu”-- which is a different conjugation of the word, “yarad.” (Rabbi Harold White, fr.25) In their original context these words meant “to go down” and among other inferences, included the idea of moving from a place of prominence to one of lesser importance. (Harris, 401) This concept is certainly consistent with the notion of servanthood so frequently preached by Jesus—and ideal ethical state in which the higher creature (the more powerful, intelligent, gifted, privileged) should exist to serve, rather than subjugate the lower (the poor, the politically powerless or voiceless, the outcast.) Thus we see that it is quite likely that “dominion” should never have been meant to imply “rule over” in the sense of the despotism and tyranny over nature that has been practiced over the centuries, but is more akin to the “giving of shalom to”—to treat as one would want oneself to be treated, perhaps even to move from a place of higher to lower importance-- to become as servant. The parallel here with “loving neighbor as self”—the all-encompassing, priority command of Jesus—becomes obvious.

                  In order to begin to look at non-human creatures as worthy of being seen as the ethical object in terms of the love-command and also objects of servant posture on the part of the Christian ethical agent, it will be necessary to envision them in some viable sense as “neighbor” along with our fellow human beings. In terms of what we generally think of as Christian responsibility, this would indeed be a revolutionary step. To do this, we will in due time also examine the etymology of the word, “neighbor.”

                  That there is sufficient justification to include animals as neighbor comes partially from scripture, and also partly from knowledge we have acquired from other disciplines in our place in the progression of time—from the discoveries of modern science. There are significant differences between animals and humans to be sure. Long used by theologians to explain that ‘animals have no souls,’ Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica (q.LXXII and q. LXXV) says that humans are the only creatures made in the image of God and therefore are soul-less. However, according to Reuben Alcalay, the 20th Century Hebrew scholar, the same Hebrew word, “ruach,” was used to describe the soul of both humans and animals in scripture. (Quoted in Rosen, 20) In the knowledge of animal intelligence that we have gleaned thus far, non-human creatures do not seem to have the ability to intellectually abstract ideas or to communicate them graphically or in verbal language that we recognize, but that animals feel pain, can communicate between themselves via an intricate network of signals, and, most importantly, that the basic element of their cellular makeup—DNA—is exactly the same as ours has been proven and is common knowledge today. They seem to have the same propensity for loving, faithful, intra-species relationships as we do, and the same tendencies for bad behavior when threatened. Gone forever is the Cartesian notion that non-human creatures are mere machines. (Descartes, 62)

“Cartesian assumptions about rationality {of animals} have been successfully challenged today.” (Hauerwas, Plenary Presentation, Oct. 4, l990)


Even though they are different from us, it seems quite possible that, based upon contemporary knowledge, we may classify them as not only neighbor, in that they co-exist with us in this difficult world, but also are related to us as kindred.

                  In an exegesis of the word, “neighbor” from scripture, we find that the term was used initially to denote only fellow members of the community who shared election in the covenant, which implied both rights and duties. However, voices were heard even in pre-Christian Judaism, which favored the extension of the concept to include all people. The word

a broad, general term, and the most commonly used in the Old Testament, was used intentionally to include others than those within the covenant community. (Friedrich, 314) The term was also used in expressions to indicate even inorganic things (Gen. 15:10, cf. ) or animals. This was very common in the Old Testament. (Friedrich, 313) This interfaces with both ancient and contemporary notions that all things in the world community—trees, rocks, rivers, animals, etc.—are indeed one community. Anyone who has studied Native American religions will immediately notice the parallel here as well.

Along with concepts of extending “neighbor” to those outside the covenant community in general, strong evidence also exists in scripture that animals specifically may have been intended by Yahweh to be included within the covenant community. No less than five times in Chapter 9 of Genesis does the Lord specifically include them in the well-known covenant made after the flood.

“Behold I establish my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.” (Gen. 9:9-10)


“And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which II make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations….’” (Gen. 9: 12)


“I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and very living creature of all flesh.” (Gen. 9: 15)


“When the bow is in the clouds, I will look upon it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth.” (Gen. 9:16)


“God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.’” (Gen. 9:17)


Other places in scripture indicate that they are to be included. Alongside humans, animals will be redeemed at the “second coming” by Jesus. (Psalms 36:6, Romans 8: 18-25) Alongside humans, they received God’s concern in sparing their lives. (Jonah 4:11) Alongside humans, they were seen in heaven by the apostle, John, praising God. (Rev. 5:13) Alongside humans, animals are clearly present in God’s future kingdom. (Isaiah 11:6-10, Isaiah 65: 17-25, Hosea 2:18 ) yet “people for centuries have seemed to be unable to grasp the idea of redemption outside the human sphere.” (Linzey, Plenary Presentation, Oct. 4, l990) To quote Hauerwas again in his presentation at the same conference, “There is no theological justification for anthropocentrism.”

                  Schrage states, as “the basic statement of Paul’s position” that “those who belong to Him—neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female (Gal. 3:28, I Cor. 12:13, Col. 3:11) constitute a single whole in which the new creation has already dawned…. In the one body of Christ all secular categories are transcended even distinctions in the created order.” (p. 223) When Paul later says that ‘all creation groans for liberation from bondage’ (Romans 8:18-25) he undeniably meant all created beings, human and animal. Perhaps it is time we include them too, as did the Deity in Genesis, as part of our covenant community.

                  In summary, on the basis of theological reflection alone, there seem to be sound answers to today’s questions. As discussed previously, God indicates in Gen. 9:5 that for the taking of ‘lifeblood He will require a reckoning ‘— indicating perhaps that the unnecessary taking of life is unconscionable and that humans will be held responsible. Genesis 9: 9-17 without a doubt specifies the covenant as being between God and also non-human creatures. Crucial, then, to questions about eating or not eating meat on the basis of ethical choices is the word, “necessary.” It seems clear from the 9th chapter of Genesis that God has given humans leeway to kill other creatures for sustenance only when there are no other less violent choices. Our knowledge about a vegetarian diet today is that, except in rare cases, the consumption of meat is not necessary for human health.


The New Testament and the New Covenant

                  Let us now turn to the New Testament and the New Covenant to expand upon these ideas. Those who have chosen to embrace Christianity search to examine its ambiguities, while calling upon certain undeniable patterns to determine ethical guidelines. The ‘solid rock’ seems to be not so much in citing certain pericopes or individual textual material, so that one might say, “Aha! Jesus said it—I believe it!” but rather in noting prominent themes which weave their way with consistency throughout the story. The New Testament and the establishment of a “new covenant” between God and the people of God are synonymous.

                  As Christians we place our hope in the establishment of a new covenant but realize that along with its promises, it also contains ethical imperatives. The New Covenant was, without question, to be ruled by peace and love. Stanley Hauerwas states that he hoped to show in The Peaceable Kingdom that peacefulness is the hallmark of the Christian life and that as such this helps to illuminate other issues. “Non-violence is not just one implication among others that can be drawn from Christian beliefs; it is at the very heart of our understanding of God.” (xvii) What Hauerwas failed to see, and what Schweitzer and a handful of other prominent theologians and saints have seen, is that living in peace must extend beyond human boundaries if we are to be true to the non-violent ethic.

                  In discussing the law, Ogletree says that its primary function is to give knowledge of sin. “What the law commands is love of God and love of neighbor. It concerns not merely behavioral corrections but the total self…. It commands a readiness to endure suffering at the hands of others rather than perpetuating the cycle of violence that orders the affairs of a world passing away.” (145) The dying (repentance) is a dying to sin. There is no refuting the fact that killing is a violent act. If killing is a sin, then we must die to (repent of) killing—and do it no more.

                  How did we stray so far from what it originally meant to be “Christian?” Let us look closely at that. With the post-Constantinian marriage of church and state, the Church, and consequently its members, became officially allied with mainstream values. It was the path of least resistance, for humans, too, can be observed to have the tendencies of ‘herd’ animals and will frequently ‘follow the crowd’ to reinforce their need for security. Beginning around the time of Constantine, because the church was dependent on the state, and the state was influenced by the church, for centuries thereafter, and continuing into the present, it became less and less easy for Christians to depart from the mainstream, although the attitude of departure from mainstream thought was and still is at the very heart of the definition of a Christ-follower. It was less easy to walk a non-violent path in an economic structure that depended on violence to perpetrate the secular values of power and money. Hence the gradual transition of people who called themselves Christians into such state-sanctioned acts as the making of war and also the massive slaughtering of animals for food. We must however, again recognize that in these earlier times, no one, including Christians, was privy to the body of knowledge we have today about the undeniable kinship of animals with humans. We must also acknowledge that the making of war and the eating of meat were never specifically forbidden in the New Testament. But then, as now, If we truly saw other humans as neighbor we would not make war; if we saw animals as neighbor, we would see that any violence perpetrated on them—whether it be using horses to pull the artillery of war, exploiting and doing violence to all manner of creatures in the name of entertainment, subjecting them to painful and lethal scientific experiments, or institutionalizing the killing of them for food—is merely an extension of other politically and economically approved violence to the attainment of human ends, usually the greed for profit or power. The most important thing to recognize is that contrary to the actual situation in the world today, from the 1st through the 3rd centuries, people became more alienated from the mainstream when they became Christians. Their social status did not improve! Only with the merging of church and state did this change. Prior to that, Christ-followers were offered a new home in heaven, but not a community here.

                  Many scholars envision deliverance from sin as deliverance coming out of the constraints of history and say that a “new heaven and a new earth” may be symbolic of a restructured society. These same scholars believe that Jesus’ cleansing of the temple was not so much an attempt to overthrow the government but rather, symbolic that God was going to judge and change the existing superstructure of Israel. It is interesting that in John’s account of this event (John 2: 13-21) the animals being sold for sacrifice seem to be set free as they are driven out of the temple.

                  I believe that the most salient reason for research into a theological understanding of the human attitude toward animals is really an attempt toward a better understanding of what is required of us by the will of God. Bultmann indicates that in order to assent to the will of God we must do more than just obey—we must understand God’s intent and this will result in true obedience, which springs from the heart. Once understood, “radical obedience” is not merely conceding to an authority, but rather becomes a total, voluntary alignment with the will of God. There can be no neutral position. Adopting a more non-violent lifestyle, upon which a meatless diet stands as foundational, is precisely changing one’s whole conduct and orientation, based on a higher understanding of the will of God. What could be closer to a return to a ‘primal relationship with Yahweh’ than abiding by His very earliest directive about diet in the Garden—to partake only of the plants and seeds which He had provided for food?


New Testament Themes

                  If we can establish, then, that peacefulness and non-violence are important indices of God’s will, let us now begin our discussion of how a meatless diet is in accord with the most basic of New Testament themes.

                  The first is the theme of REPENTANCE, so prominent the very first part of the first recorded gospel, that of Mark. This must precede any examination of the next theme, the COMING OF THE KINGDOM. Repentance is a static act, one which must be repeated often as we continually look at ourselves critically in order to respond to new knowledge and new insights. Sanders called it “the most characteristic act to which Jesus called His hearers…a purely religious ethical act…in and of itself involving only oneself and God…. The synoptic gospels agree in placing the call to repentance in a key position.” (p. 131) I would disagree with Sanders that repentance is in essence an individual act, but certainly can and should at times be also a communal act. There is a place for repentance as an individual, but also a place for the repentance of an entire community. Relating this to the question of a vegetarian diet it means that, as a community, (and especially as a community of Christians) we must ultimately reject the profit-motivated factory farm, which is highly abusive to our animal neighbors, and certainly the horror of the mass killing that takes place in the corporate-run slaughterhouse.

                  Schrage says that Albert Schweitzer “understood Jesus’ eschatology even more radically and consistently as the end of all civilization and its values. For Schweitzer, Jesus’ entire ethic falls within the concept of ‘repentance that prepares the way for the coming of the Kingdom.’ ” (Schrage, 31)

                  “Repentance (melanoia) means not just a change of mind about something but a change of attitude, of intention, of will, if not a total transformation of one’s conduct and orientation…. Repentance, as demanded by the prophets from Hosea to Jeremiah, means a return to the primal relationship with Yahweh…. The newness of the Kingdom calls us to risk everything for it in a totally new way.” (Schrage, 41)


(Emphasis mine)


                  There is a call for repentance regarding our treatment of the non-human segment of creation—indeed our whole attitude toward them is aptly put by the Rev. Dr. Andrew Linzey in his 1987 book, Christianity and the Rights of Animals

“How can we reverse centuries of scholastic tradition if we accept the cornerstone of that tradition, namely that all but humans are morally rightless? If the foregoing appears to invoke the dubious need for penitence in formulating ethical theory, it can only be replied that repentance is a cardinal duty for Christians. If calculation of the consequences is to be allowed some say in moral assessments, then we have to accept that Christians have good reason for looking at what their own theology has created and, in light of this, theologizing afresh.” (p.97)



The Kingdom of God


                  Without a doubt, the overarching theme of the New Testament is THE KINGDOM OF GOD. “The Kingdom of God is the presiding theological motif of the gospel.” (Via, 77) “The Kingdom of God is the foundation of ethics. “ (Schrage, 29) Just as Bultmann discarded the ‘historical Jesus’ as a basis for Christian thought and began to examine the eschatological themes of the New Testament, indicating that these were the “…hard rock against which all theology had to be tested” (Interpreting Faith in the Modern Era, 12) so must we turn to the concept of the Kingdom of God to examine our choices about diet.

                  For centuries scholars have debated the precise meaning of ‘the Kingdom of God.’ It seems that the best we can do is to conjecture about several things that it might be. It might be a place of perfect peace and justice that the righteous person enters after his/her individual death—this indeed has been a prevailing notion and is a valid one. It might be the place of God’s reign, existing after an apocalyptic end where human sin is abolished and perfect righteousness is restored—the end, yet a return to the Garden, so to speak. It might be a new world-order that will exist at some point in chronological time as we know it, to which all persons in historical time have contributed either positively or negatively. It might be simply the state of mind of an individual who lives in harmony with God’s will. It seems reasonable that while none of these versions may be entirely and singularly accurate, neither is any of them entirely wrong, and the possibility of a ‘both/ and’ situation exists. In any case there is a conceptualized ideal ‘Kingdom’ to which the New Testament provides certain conditions for entrance. We must make decisions. We must behave in such ways that will both allow us to enter it individually and at the same time that will move the collective world toward fulfillment of this more perfect state, if the Kingdom of God is to ever exist in a worldly sense. There is, however, a time-bound character to both realized and imminent eschatology and in this time the individual is charged in the New Testament to behave primarily with unequivocal love of God, self and neighbor.

                  The prevailing theological thought seems to be that “the important observation for ethics is that the Kingdom of God does not simply represent the dimension of transcendence, but has to do with this world.” (Schrage, 18) There has been the notion that the Kingdom of God will be brought about by God to the “radical exclusion of human activity.” (Schrage, 21) This author feels that this is negated by the parable of the sower and that although the seed grew ‘automate,’ (by itself) the sower is called to sow. He feels that this implies that there must be human contribution. “The imminent Kingdom of God motivates people to act in ways appropriate to the Kingdom.” (Schrage, 24) In The Ethics of Mark’s Gospel, Via, interpreting Mark, states, “…it is so near that one might live as if it were present.” (p. 121) Ogletree says that Paul’s eschatology is essentially the same as Mark’s – his thought being governed by the dawning of a new age in the midst of the old. The new person, “the body of Christ, the advance and representative embodiment of the power and promise of the coming Kingdom…one sent forth into the world to bear witness to Christ and his redemptive presence. It is in these basic notions that Paul’s understanding of the moral life appears.” (p. 135)

                  If we are to bear witness, if we believe that all of creation is to be redeemed, if animals are our neighbors, how can we bear witness if we are doing unnecessary violence to any segment of creation? For centuries, non-human creatures were thought of as ‘rightless’ simply because they were of another species. This thought is changing in a world moving ever closer to the eschaton. Up until now, the majority of Christians has surely been guilty of ‘hardness of heart’ (Mark 3:5, 10:5, 16:14) concerning this matter. “Hardness of heart is a culpable failure to understand the Kingdom occurring in Jesus.” (Via, 118) It is hardness of heart that blinds us to the wholesale, institutionalized suffering of millions of our animal brethren. Hardness of heart exists because we choose to refuse to see animals as ‘neighbor’ and thus close our eyes to the sin of the slaughterhouse. Often animals are not killed correctly and instantly as most people imagine. Too many times they are not rendered completely unconscious before being cut up; too many times the laws governing ‘humane slaughter’ are not enforced. One has only to visit one of these places and hear their screams to come face to face with violence toward the innocent, to have his or her heart softened, and to be moved to compassion for them in their suffering.

                  A decision to refuse to participate in the violence of the meat industry could be seen as sacramental in that it is a sign that the individual Christian has made movement toward the eschaton by his or her individual behavior. Our everyday acts—the statement we make as we partake in a meal three times a day—can and must be symbolic of our desire to enter the Kingdom. Individual persons of all faith persuasions, and individual Christians in this instance who are making non-violent, individual statements by way of their conscious choices may well move the world ever closer to the peaceable Kingdom. In our contemporary world, one need only to look at the power of the recent actions of Gandhi, Schweitzer, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Theresa to see that in non-violent action (which is active and not passive) sweeping social change can and does occur.


The Double-Love Command

                  I will now address the third major New Testament theme—THE DOUBLE-LOVE COMMAND. When asked to summarize what one had to do to enter the Kingdom, or when Jesus was asked to cite the ‘greatest commandment,’ all three synoptic gospels give accounts that indicate that a person was to put God first, and then to love neighbor as one loves self. (Matt. 22: 39-40, Mark 12: 28-34, Luke 10: 25-28) In John’s gospel it is stated in a slightly different way, but the message is the same. “This I command you, to love one another.” (John 15:17, John 13: 34) The logical questions then become, “How do I put God first?” “How do I show love for God?” and “Who is my neighbor?” One of the most powerful ways one might show love for God is to try to discern and respect His will for His creation—not to destroy any aspect of it, human or animal. “You Shall Not Kill” ( Deuteronomy 5:17) was a singular, unequivocal commandment.

                  In the many instances in which Jesus spelled out who was ‘neighbor,’ it most often happened that a person’s neighbor was the one His hearers least expected neighbor to be—the disdained Samaritan, the political enemy, the repulsive leper, the tax collector, the poor and powerless. Those words came as a surprise to persons who heard them in the first century; today, I know that for most people the mere notion of extending one’s circle of compassion to include animals usually comes as a surprise. When I introduce these ideas to Christian audiences I am met with disparaging comments, questions and suspiciousness of this new and seemingly radical idea. There is inevitably a “Who, -- THEM?” reaction. Maybe, just maybe, the Lord intends to shock and surprise us continually with new insignts into His revelation, and that in our time, the notion of animals as neighbor is one of our critical spiritual tasks.

Luke’s stress on love, which knows no political or social boundaries, in light of today’s insights, would know no species boundaries either. In any case, the gospel writers seem to have concurred on the priority of the ‘double-love command.’ Sanders states that “Paul’s ethic seems to be related to Matthew’s in yet another way and that is the systematic placing of the command to love at the core of ethics… Paul’s meaning (of love of neighbor) is clearly that whoever loves does not do evil (to kakon) to his neighbor.” (p. 51)

Surely love and killing do not go together. The killing that is done in slaughterhouses for food and the killing of animals that is done in scientific enterprises is killing of stupendous proportions. If all killing is a sin, and if animals are our neighbors, then this is an evil of astounding and frightening magnitude.


Servanthood and Sacrifice

“If any would be first, he must be least of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35, 10:42-44; Luke 22:26; Matt. 20:26-27, 23: 11; John 13: 12-17) Here we have another surprise, another reversal, another concept foreign to everything about human existence—the concept of the SERVANTHOOD of the ethical agent. This concept of fullness through emptiness takes on the content of an ethical demand in the New Testament. Interfacing with the surprising idea that our neighbor is the enemy, our neighbor is the foreigner, we see that our task as the ‘highest’ of creatures is to serve the lowest or ‘least of these’ rather than to be served by them. How interesting that this concept taught by Jesus coincides perfectly with our exegesis of the ancient Hebrew notion of “neighbor” (see pp. 18-19) and provides further proof that Jesus did indeed come not to negate the Old Testament, but to expand upon it—to fulfill it.

                  In our secular culture ‘rights’ have been granted to others based on the similarity of others to us rather than their differences. Any rights which have been won in the courtroom for those different from the prevailing norm—persons of a different race, national origin, etc.—have required the heat of battle. The fight for the rights of animals has been and will be no exception.

                  But hence, we see one possible reason for the entrenchment of anthropocentric norms, the prevailing secular notion that ‘different’ is ‘inferior.’ Let us be reminded that Christ appealed to us with a demand for servanthood based upon differences, not similarities.

“What is noteworthy about these instructions and admonitions is that they encompass the most important relationships in which persons find themselves: relations to body, to fellow human beings, to social institutions, to God. If we were to add the discussions of animals and the natural environment, no facet of the moral life would have been omitted from consideration.” (Ogletree, 142)


                  So we see that contemporary Christian scholarship is beginning to give some consideration to the notion of animals and the environment as worthy of moral attention. Choosing a non-violent diet is just one way of putting this emerging consciousness –that non-human creatures should be included in the concept of neighbor as taught by Jesus—into practice. Some other ways would be refusing to attend rodeos or circuses which exploit animals for entertainment, refusing to purchase the products of the meat industry, such as leather and rawhide dog bones, or purchasing cosmetic and household products that do not subject our poor and powerless animal neighbors to painful and often lethal tests.

                  Let us now consider some ideas about SACRIFICE. We know from a study of the prophets that the prophets continually decried the ritual animal sacrifices of the people of God. With Linzey I seek to contend that “The rejecting attitude toward animal sacrifice is…far more significant than most scholars have so far allowed.” (Linzey, 48)

                  When Jesus, speaking of the temple practices and the Sabbath said, --echoing the prophets-- “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” (Matt. 12:7) this may have been an extension of the notion of compassion and His institution of the non-bloody sacrifice. Christian theology teaches us that the events of Christ’s Last Supper and death on the cross were very important—if not THE most important-- signs of the New Covenant. From that moment forward, the Eucharistic Meal became the ‘non-bloody sacrifice’ and it has been re-enacted by the faithful ever since to remind us that Christ ushered in a new era. This new era became devoid of offerings to God which necessitated violence toward any living creature. Instead, we were to offer ourselves to God, as Christ did, as servants of the Lord and servants of our neighbor—we were to be a people of whom “absolutely everything can be commanded.” (Sanders, 53) Christ Himself gave us the example of sacrifice, of fullness through emptiness, of resurrection through dying, and He became known as the “Paschal Lamb.” It is as if He designated Himself as the last blood-sacrifice. No more were we to celebrate the Passover meal (which necessitated the killing of a lamb) to signify this feast; rather we were to celebrate a new and different eating ritual, the elements of which were grain and fruit—bread and wine—and not the product of animal slaughter. It is probably more significant than we have ever imagined that the meal shared by Christ and the apostles and continued by us, His present-day disciples, was then and has continued to be meatless. Christ could have designated a real Paschal Lamb as symbolic of his death and His gift to us. It would have been in keeping with Jewish tradition. That He did not is a symbolic gesture of the greatest significance. Christ’s redemptive act upon the cross was surely intended to be redemptive of all creation—not just the human segment. “Ethics follows from this [the redemptive act] and reflects it—is indeed implicit in it.” (Schrage, 8)

                  Paul challenges us to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1) and then follows it with a clarification to “be transformed.” For many to whom the concept of vegetarianism is foreign, the giving up of meat represents a radical transformation—a major change in lifestyle—and for this reason many resist its pull, even though they know it is better. The choice for a vegetarian diet is without a doubt a healthier option, allowing for our bodies to be stronger before God; it is a non-violent diet, allowing our bodies to be more in alignment with God’s will for the harmony and peace between all created beings. It also represents, in the sense alluded to above, true sacrifice. It is a choice to give up the richer, more fat-filled diet of the meat-eater; a choice to deny oneself the ‘luxury’ food of the wealthy in favor of making a statement about simplicity, harmony and non-violence. A vegetarian lifestyle without a doubt represents the transformation of heart and mind mandated by Jesus and actively puts this mandate into practice in a very basic way.



Becoming As Children

In another reversal of conventional standards, Jesus welcomed children and blessed them, thereby bringing them from the fringes of adult life and giving children and childlike attitudes a center-stage role. Although rich with many innuendoes, the theme on which I would like to focus is that of this call to adults to re-examine the way that they approach life and to see it instead through childlike eyes. We are reminded that to enter the Kingdom one must move from his/her attitudinal place in the life journey ‘in the middle of time’ as an adult and go back to the beginning.

“A theme in Jewish apocalyptic, as well as in certain strands of Oriental thought outside of Judaism, is that the end will involve a new creation, a new beginning. (Isaiah 60:22; Enoch 91: 16-17) One important motif is that the end should in some way correspond with the beginning, a point that had already come to expression in the Old Testament.” (Via, 75)


As we must go back to our origins, our beginnings, the “Garden of Eden” of our own individual lives in order to grasp truth and thus gain entry into the Kingdom, so must we adopt the childlike awe, wonder and respect for our non-human brethren which can be seen in the attitude of a child toward an animal before he or she has been spoiled by the inculturated norms of fear and dominance. Just as we may observe the child’s natural affinity toward animals and his or her early, innate sense of being in relation with them, we may also observe the child’s earliest reaction to the eating of meat. On first being introduced to the eating of meat in infancy, the natural response of a baby is to dislike its taste. Most children instinctively turn their heads away from this new, foul-smelling offer on the spoon. The baby must be taught to eat meat through daily conditioning. A similar response is repeated later when an older child learns that the main course on his or her plate was once a cow or a pig or a chicken. The quick and strong reaction is one of revulsion—acceptance coming only through repeated assurances of the normalcy of this practice in the adult world. In the context of ‘becoming as children’ it is noteworthy that Isaiah uses images of children in relation with animals in his famous vision of the peaceable kingdom.

                  As Via notes in his study of the pericope in Mark, (Mark 10: 13-16) the return to this childlike stance involves a certain amount of risk-taking in the abandonment of attitudes that the adult has come to accept. As the child must abandon security in order to become an adult and take risks, so the adult must retrace those early steps in the abandonment of the learned security of adulthood and the rejection of certain cultural norms. The erroneous but culturally ingrained belief that meat protein is necessary to sustain life must be abandoned, and with it the general attitude of the normalcy of human domination of non-human creatures.

“Of course the inescapable implication of Mark’s theology is that the adult has not really taken the dangerous way. He or she has, rather, held on to false securities (4:19) and has become fixed, hardened in a dependence on something that cannot really sustain life. (8: 36-37) The adult has become hardened in heart so that the inner center of life is not open to a different future. Thus, if one is to have life, one must make the move to childhood and begin again. This entails renouncing the shape of one’s present existence in order to recover an abandoned potential. Life must be lost in order to be found. (8: 34-35) [This] very terminology…expresses the radicalness of this move.” (Via, 130)

I dare to say that there are few mainstream Christians today who would deny that the adoption of a more non-violent lifestyle, which calls for a meat-exclusive diet, is a radical move!

“ In order to enter the Kingdom which is ultimately the fulfilled future, one must go back to the beginning…. The child image in Mark in its capacity to focalize both the movement back to a new beginning and the movement forward to an open future discloses in an essential way this polyvalent character of symbols. Being a child is both the end and the beginning of the process of salvation.” (Via, 131-132)


In the beginning we were instructed to eat only seed bearing plants. (Gen. 1:29) In Eden we were non-violent and meatless. In the end we will be non-violent and will live in peace with all creatures, human and non-human. Our task for entry into the Kingdom is to move in that direction now.

                  “Be ready always to reconcile.” (Matt. 5:21-26) We must reconcile our adult nature with our archetypal child nature. We have existed in adversarial relationships with animals and nature, seeing them as forces to be overcome—subjugated, dominated, used, killed—rather than parts of the covenant community with which we should simply be in relation.

                  And so we see that ‘becoming as children’ can mean both a reversal of attitude and at the same time an attempt to return to the same obedience to God that He required of humans in the Garden. “Behold I have given you every tree with seed in its fruit; this you shall have for food.” (Genesis 1:29)

                  As we end our discussion of specific New Testament themes we see that it is our ethical task in the ‘middle of time’ to make every decision that we can for peace, harmony and non-violence—undoubtedly primary directives of the New Testament. Christ made it abundantly clear to us that this is how humanity would move both forward to the eschaton and also back to the ideal state of Eden. Today, an important hallmark of peace is a violence-free diet that is a healthy and available option for almost all persons in our time, rich and poor. The British theologian, Andrew Linzey, argues persuasively that “for the first time in history, vegetarianism is a publicly viable option for the western world.” (Plenary Presentation, October 4, l990)


Decision Making

Everything, absolutely everything, -- the congruence of the temporal life with the attainment of eternal life -- hinges on decision making. Humans make choices. Up until recently we didn’t think we had to make decisions about what to eat—we just accepted what was available in our markets and on the restaurant menu. But living one’s life in pursuit of Christ’s promises, living so that one will be worthy of the Kingdom, seems to be a continual charge of Jesus and a continual challenge to us. Rudolf Bultmann, one of the foremost theologians of the 20th Century, interpreted the Kingdom of God as a “power, which although it is entirely future, wholly determines the present, because it now compels humans to decision.” (Jesus and the Word, 51) Another way of interpreting Bultmann’s statement would be to say that we humans have the power to further the Kingdom of God, to bring about change in a social and political structure that is often outside the Kingdom of God. We do this by every day decisions. Decision by decision—which juxtaposes nicely with Schweitzer’s emphasis on ‘small acts’—Bultmann sees the kingdom as existing in the present moment. “Jesus sees man thus in a crisis of decision before God….” “Only what man does now gives him value.” (Jesus and the Word, 51,54) H. Richard Niebuhr, in The Responsible Self, argues that we should be ‘answerers,’ and our interpretation (ie; that Jesus’ ethic was based on either violence or non-violence) shapes our response. When we respond, we are held accountable and that action is responsible when it is a response to a continuing social dialogue. Niebuhr says that freedom is the capacity to discern that this situation is not like past ones and perhaps, in a given situation involving choice, we are being called to do something different. (p.132)

                  We are continually in a crisis of choices. The choice about what to eat is just one of many, but because it is so fundamental to the everyday action of life, it takes on great import. In the face of the ubiquitous nature of Burger King signs and TV ads for pork, beef and chicken, one would be hard pressed to refute that humans are in denial about our present cultural acceptance of violence toward animals.

                  Ogletree used the term “historical contextualism” to say that to be faithful to the Christian response, which is unequivocally one of the rejection of many mainstream secular values, it is necessary to pose a challenge to institutionalized norms when they are in sharp contrast to the teachings of Christ. Sanders, in his basically historical approach, says in his preface that ethics is complex and requires flexible corporate and individual responses based on the times. I reiterate that in the time in which we live, our treatment of non-human creatures, after centuries of neglect, is now demanding a response. It is demanding a response from scientists, physicians, farmers, attorneys, people in the entertainment industry and, at long last, a response from theologians and the clergy. It demands a response from all people who call themselves Christians.

                  If, as Schrage and the others contend, qualitatively transcendent love is the most basic and important command; if in Sanders’ emphasis on James, as he states in his epilogue that “tradition and precedent should not stand in the way of what is humane and right” (p. 130) it seems to follow that there could be nothing more transcendently loving in our time and place to transcend species barriers. What could be more antithetical to tradition and precedent than to challenge the current practice of having as the basis for our diet, food that is based upon violence toward the innocent? Again, “You Shall Not Kill” is stated in unequivocal language. It has been fallible human beings who have devised convoluted arguments to justify the killing and oppression of both humans and beasts.

                  Bruce Birch and Larry Rasmussen, in The Bible and Ethics in the Christian Life, stressed an ethic of character, stating what qualities should form the character of a Christian. He included compassion, hopefulness and joy. Compassion for animals is an extension of compassion toward our fellow humans, in fact it may even be prerequisite to it, since they are ‘lower’ than we are, and therefore first to demand the posture of servanthood. The authors then focus on ‘doing,’ where decisions leading to actions which support these qualities would necessarily be emphasized.

                  The choice to eat or not to eat meat should be a conscious ethical decision. It is my contention that, using the application of Christian principles based on New Testament themes alone, there can be little choice but to cease to kill, even for food.


The Spiritual Life

At the present time much of the work in Christian ethics has been on decision making and action, but there is a growing ethical focus on character formation. Love of our creature-neighbors extends far beyond seeing them as kindred and treating them as such. It has direct impact on love for self and others as well, and here I would like to embark on a brief discussion of the contribution of vegetarianism to the personal spirituality of the individual and that of the larger community. “The unity of the eschatological and ethical message of Jesus is that the fulfillment of God’s will is the condition for participation in the salvation of his reign.” (Johnson, 118) If the commandments, including ‘You Shall Not Kill,’ are traces of God’s will, and salvation –from the Latin root, “salve,” (to heal)-- is a condition for the participation in the Kingdom, then being healed would be at least in part conditional on ceasing to kill or participating in systems which do. In the same work, Johnson contends that according to Bultmann, “Jesus clearly expected the eruption of God’s reign as a miraculous, world-transforming event.” (p. 120) What could be more contributive to the transformation of our individual and corporate thinking than refraining from doing violence to both our human and our non-human neighbors? The Animal Rights Movement is undeniably a movement for people as well as for animals. If a person lives with violence it becomes normative; if a person is schooled in non-violence that becomes normative. There is as much an effect on the ethical agent (the one performing loving actions) as there is on the recipient. There is a self-actualizing effect of love on the one loving through which the lover overcomes self and becomes a true child of God. One can only imagine the possibility of the changed nature of the world, the changed outlook of humans, if there were fewer and ultimately no occupations based on violence—no slaughterhouses, no ‘fur farms,’ no arsenals for the manufacture of firearms, no glorification of the use of firearms—and so on.

Bultmann translated “body” (soma) to mean “whole self.” If Paul used the word body as a metaphor for ‘whole self,’ seeing body and spirit as two dimensions of a unified reality, a decision must be made by the spirit, the part of the self that is open to God, about how to nourish the physical part of the whole self. A non-violent spirit, striving to be in accord with God’s will, should probably reside in a body nourished by non-violent food choices.

According to Process Theology, we are continually charged to move the world forward toward the eschaton. It should be a world in spiritual progress, a world not yet completely aligned with God’s will, but one in process. We as Christians should be agents of that progress. Living by making more non-violent choices is moving the world forward.

Liberation Theology is a theology that believes that in liberating the oppressed people of this world, those who are oppressed because of their lack of money and/or political power, we are doing God’s will as we are obligated to do according to the New Testament. Freeing our non-human neighbors from oppression who, because as members of another species have no political power, is also an expression of that theology. By behaving actively in advocating their rights, including their right not to be denied their natural life expression on a factory farm and their right not to be taken to the abatoir, killed and used for food, we are doing God’s will just as if we were doing the same for our fellow humans.

In the whole redemptive act, we are liberated from sin, liberated from the mistaken actions performed in the fallen state, and given new life. (Romans 6: 3-11) In I Peter, this theme of being renewed, ‘born again,’ is prominent. In this passage of scripture, just as the husband’s strength is understood according to the renewed spirit to be in love rather than in power, so too is the spiritual strength wielded by the individual and a community with love and respect for all life as its cornerstone. The implications here for the transformation of both individual and communal spiritual life are enormous.



In summary then, any student of New Testament ethics must be compelled to admit with Schrage that “Jesus’ demands are shockingly radical, with their sharp contrast to culturally encouraged behavior. Thy are meant to persuade the disciples not to follow the sinful praxis of the world, but to practice an alternative ethic…. Jesus was anything but a defender of the status quo.” (pp. 46,88)

                  As followers of Christ we are to be peacemakers, not perpetrators of violence. As one who is Christian and who has also made a choice for ethical vegetarianism, one makes a strong statement for peace. As Christians, we are called first to repent-- it is the first act preceding the choice for non-participation in any system that inflicts violence on our non-human brothers and sisters and it also expresses an individual sorrow for past blindness. Repentance is a statement of regret both individually and in the name of the community at large when reflecting on the abuse of God’s creatures that has existed since the Fall. The first act for an individual Christian choosing a vegetarian lifestyle should be repentance (as Christ called us to do) for the times when he or she knowingly chose a non-necessary animal product over a less violent one.

The ‘mainstream’ person lives as if this world is all there is. Christians look forward to a more perfect kingdom and strive to move toward that perfection. The mainstream person puts self first; a Christian is charged to be a servant to all, and believes that our neighbors are all fellow inhabitants of this planet, not just those who are like us, but especially those who are maligned or who are different, whether they have light or dark skin, whether they practice Christianity or Hinduism or Buddhism, whether they walk on two legs or four, whether they are clad in skin or fur or scales or feathers. Mainstream practices are bogged down in the world of adults with skewed values based upon historical precedent; a Christian must strive to see the world through the innocent and compassionate eyes of a child. With regard to dietary norms this means being shocked and horrified that one would take delight in eating our animal kindred. The mainstream person is caught up in the momentum of the world, living largely as the majority lives without giving much thought to making conscious choices; the Christian is compelled to continual decision-making based on the New Covenant themes that Jesus reiterated throughout His life. The mainstream person has little vision of a better future, morally speaking, in which to hope; the Christian believes in a radically new world order and knows that he or she is an instrument in the hastening of that order. The choice for vegetarianism is a choice embodying all of the above—a choice for non-violence, a choice for the peace advocated in both Hebrew and Christian scripture, and a choice for the spiritual edification of the individual and of the world.



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                  Crossroad. 1987. Pp. 26, 32, 46-51, 68-98.


May, Herbert G. and Metzger, Bruce M. (Eds.) The New Oxford Annotated

Bible with the Apocrypha. Revised Standard Version. New York. Oxford

                  University Press. 1977.


Niebuhr, Reinhold. The Responsible Self. New York. Harper and Row.



Ogletree, Thomas W. The Use of the Bible in Christian Ethics. Philadelphia.

                  Fortress Press. 1983.


Rosen, Steven. Food for the Spirit. New York. Bala Books. 1987. Pp. 1-41.


The Rule of St. Benedict. Translated into English. London. SPCK. 1931.

                  p. 61.


Sanders, Jack. Ethics in the New Testament. London. SCM Press, Ltd.

                  1975, 1986.


Schrage, Wolfgang. The Ethics of the New Testament. Philadelphia. Fortress

                  Press. 1982.


Schweitzer, Albert. A Place for Revelation: Sermons on Reverence for Life.

                  Trans. David Larrimore Holland. New York. MacMillan Publishing Co.

                  1988. pp. ix- xiv.


The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas. Fathers of the English

                  Dominican Province (trans.) London: Burns, Oates and Washbourne,

                  Ltd. 1911. Part I, Vol. 3. Q. LXXII, Reply Obj. 1-3. Pp. 253-255. Part

                  I, Vol. 4. Q. LXXV, Article 3, pp. 9-11.


Verhey, Allen. The Great Reversal: Ethics and the New Testament. Grand

                  Rapids, MI. William B. Eerdmans. 1984.


Via, Dan O., Jr. The Ethics of Mark’s Gospel— in the Middle of Time.

                  Philadelphia. Fortress Press. 1985.







Cobb, John B. Jr. “Book Review: Tom Regan, ed. ‘Animal Sacrifices.’ “

                  Environmental Ethics. Summer, 1988. Volume 10, No 2.

                  pp. 181-182.


Handler, Phillip. “Science, Food, and Man’s Future.” Borden Review of

Nutrition Research. Volume 31, No. 1. Jan-March, 1971. P. 9.


“Position of the American Dietetic Association: Vegetarian Diets.” Journal

of the American Dietetic Association. Vol. 8, No 3. March 1988.

pp. 351-355.


Thomas, W. A. (ed.) “Diet and Stress in Vascular Disease,” Journal of the

American Medical Association. Vol. 176, No. 9. June 3, 1961.

p. 806.



Articles, Conferences, Lectures, Videotapes


Berger, Teresa. Lecture, “Liberation Theology.” (CT 105) Theological

Introduction to Roman Catholicism. Duke University Divinity School.



Hauerwas, Stanley. Plenary Presentation: “Creation vs. Rights.” Good

News for Animals? (Conference) Duke University Divinity School.

                  October 4, 1990.


Linzey, Andrew. Plenary Presentation: “The Vampire’s Dilemma: Animal

                  Rights and Parasitical Nature.” Good News for Animals? (Conference)

                  Duke University Divinity School. October 4, 1990.


O’Sullivan, Bob. “A Few Words About God’s Country.” The Raleigh News

And Observer. Sunday, January 22, 1989.


Via, Dan O., Jr. Lectures. (NT 257) New Testament Ethics. Duke University

                  Divinity School. August 28—December 4, 1990.


White, Rabbi Harold. Animals, Nature and Religion. Slide/Videotape.

                  Prod. Dr. Michael W. Fox, Center for Respect of Life and the

                  Environment. Washington, D.C. 1988. 80 fr. 30 min.