Why Christians should be vegan
Many vegans, while tabling or leafleting, have encountered meat-eaters who declare (usually as they walk away), “God gave us animals to eat.” Comments like this encourage many vegans to regard Christians as hostile to animal protectionism in general and veganism in particular. While many Christians are well versed in anti-vegan “talking points” that they can spout as they depart from a hearing distance, fewer are well versed in Christian scriptures, which actually encourage a vegan diet. While the Bible has passages that don’t accord well with animal rights, the over-riding message (best articulated by the later Jewish prophets and by Jesus) is of peace, love, and compassion in all our relationships.
The light of the world
In John 8:12, Jesus described himself as “The Light of the World.” Similarly, regarding his disciples, he said, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. . . . let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16). Christians are called to be the “light” that fearlessly confronts the problems of the world, including human violence toward each other, the animals, and the environment. Can Christianity help us resolve these problems? Many people think not, noting that Christians have often used the Bible to support anthropocentrism, patriarchy, racism, and other barriers to social justice. However, it is also the case that many Christians have been inspired by their faith to become leaders in the struggles against slavery, animal abuse, and other social ills. For example, the conscientious objector medic Desmond Doss saved 75 men during the Battle of Okinawa, the Evangelical William Wilberforce campaigned against slavery, and Lutheran minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer lost his life opposing Nazi politics. Christianity’s contributions to human well-being are vast. Consider the many hospitals and universities that bear the name of famous Christian saints and other believers.
For the environment
The Bible describes God tasking Adam to care for the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:15). Toward that end, God’s very first instruction to Adam, Eve, and all the creatures in the Garden was to eat only plants (Genesis 1:28-30). Later, God denounces those who pollute the land (Numbers 35:33-34, Jeremiah 2:7). Today, animal agribusinesses pollute the earth with greenhouse gasses and manure lagoons; as well as waste precious resources like water, land, and grain.
For animal rights
Meat-eating Christians often justify animal abuse by citing Genesis 1:26, which gave Adam “dominion” over the animals. Shortly thereafter God prescribed a vegan diet (Genesis 1:29), so “dominion” obviously does not include using animals for food. Since Eden was paradise, humans were not to harmfully exploit animals, either. Humanity’s dominion over animals should be like the dominion of a good king over his subjects, not like a tyrant’s domination over miserable subjects (Psalm 72).
We think the most reasonable interpretation of humans being “made in [God’s] image” (Genesis 1:27) is that humans have the capacity to reflect God’s compassion (Luke 7:13), mercy (Luke 6:36), and commitment to serving others (Philippians 2:5-7). We are to regard others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Only after the Flood did God permit humans to eat animals (Genesis 9:1-3). To our reading, this was a concession to human violence and was not meant to reflect a Biblical ideal. The Bible does not categorically condemn the use of animals in this violent world, but it does denounce cruelty (Proverbs 12:10). Indeed, the Bible recognizes that animals have intrinsic value (e.g., God called them “good” in Genesis 1:25) and that animals are not human property but rather owned by God (Psalm 50:10-11). The Bible tells us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8), and we believe this principle applies to nonhumans.
Scripture commands us to live as Jesus did (1 John 2:6). We should aspire to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), merciful (Matthew 5:7), and to treat others as we would want to be treated (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31). Jesus identified with those who are weak and oppressed, and Jesus said that his followers should help those in need (Matthew 25:35-40).
For human health
In most modern nations, there has been a dramatic increase in diseases of affluence, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. These conditions are associated with the consumption of animal products.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the United States’ largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The organization states: “It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood and for athletes.”
In Biblical times, most people ate meat only during times of drought or extreme cold when plants would not grow. In most modernized industrial cultures today, an abundance of whole grains, vegetables, and fruit options are available year-round. The majority of people eat meat not out of necessity but rather out of tradition, convenience, or pleasure. These are gluttonous reasons to eat meat, which we believe the Bible condemns (Proverbs 23:20-21).
The Book of Daniel speaks of the health benefits of veganism. Daniel was captured in Jerusalem and taken to Babylon to serve the King and learn the language. For three years the King offered Daniel a typical royal meal of meat and wine. Daniel refused the meat, which was not prepared following Jewish law, and he ate only vegetables and water. Subsequently, Daniel was in better health than those who ate flesh and drank alcohol. Many Christians have adopted “the Daniel Diet” in the last 20 years, often as a weight-loss method. Daniel demonstrated that a diet free of animal products can promote health. A 2010 study confirmed the health benefits of this diet, including reductions in cholesterol and blood pressure.
A Christian’s veganism would align with those who furthered God’s Kingdom by fighting for social justice, for example, Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr., who advocated for civil rights, and Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero, who peacefully protested against the violent El Salvadorian government in the late 1970s. Jesus himself was a social reformer, for example showing women respect (John 4:27) at a time when women were not even allowed to give testimony in court. Indeed, Jesus first appeared to women after the Resurrection (John 20:14-16, Mark 16: 1-11, Matthew 28: 1-11).
The Bible prophesizes that when Jesus returns there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth in which humans and animals will live in peace and harmony, as God originally intended in Eden (Isaiah 11:6-9, Isaiah 65:25, Hosea 2:18, 2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1-7). Importantly, Jesus sought a heavenly world, and his prayer seeks “[God’s] will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10). For Christians, being vegan is a faithful and prophetic choice. Because the consumption of animals and animal products is fundamentally tied to so many of the world’s problems, Christians who take seriously their duty to shine a light on the world should be vegan.
If you’re interested in learning more, please visit the Christian Animal Rights Association website.