“Shall we discuss animals this week?” This is surely not a question raised within most church groups or Bible studies. Discipleship, leadership, apologetics, evangelism, devotions, spiritual gifts: all fine topics, but not animals!
Many see animals as being in the same category as soap operas, tea and crumpets, Doctor Who, support for your favorite football team or your guilty pleasure of choice. We love them, but we don’t connect them to our faith or expect to discuss them within our faith communities.
Yet, our society is fast changing, and few people could fail to notice the rocketing interest in animal issues. Whether it be the astonishing increase in vegan products in our supermarkets (sales up over 1,500% in the last year in the United Kingdom), the rapid explosion of the annual Veganuary campaign (up 183% in 2018, with 168,542 people signing up) or the endless array of new vegan business start-ups, cookbooks, YouTube channels, events and eye-opening documentaries, animals are becoming an ever more prominent issue.
Among the fast-growing number of people who are engaging with animal issues are many Christians, who are keen to explore the connection between concern for animals and faith in Christ. Such people are doing pioneering work in their communities and taking initiative to bring the conversation into their small groups and Bible studies.
These individuals include Mike and Lisa from Norwich, England. After discovering the horrendous cruelties inflicted upon billions of animals in the meat and dairy industries, the pair resolved to go vegan. “As committed Christians, we felt that love and compassion must also be applied to those innocent, defenseless animals that God had created, as well as to human beings,” Mike and Lisa said.
Encouraging others in their community to consider animal treatment as an important faith issue, Mike and Lisa opened their home to interested people to regularly share a vegan meal and discuss all manner of questions, including what Jesus would do and say today if faced with the facts about factory farming and its disastrous effects on His creation.
“Through our group we have endeavored to encourage each other when faced with opposition within the church, and to find answers to questions leveled at us by those who can see nothing wrong with eating meat and fish and who feel justified to do so because Jesus did in his time,” the couple reported.
Susan, from the English region of New Forest, brought the topic of animals to her small group’s attention by providing them with a stunning vegan feast. This is surely one of the most effective methods of vegan outreach! She served up stuffed vine leaves, guacamole with tortilla chips, pesto lasagna, vegetable chili with coconut yogurt mint dip, a tahini dressed French bean and zucchini salad, a salted caramel chocolate tart and a spiced plum cake with coconut cream.
Susan explained, “I thought it’d be helpful to begin by giving folk an experience of abundance and feasting, so I hosted and cooked a vegan feast. That reassured folk that a vegan diet didn’t mean boring self-denial. I really enjoyed doing it and it gave us a lot to talk about.”
This meal was followed by an animated discussion referencing an article on veganism in Premier Christianity, a Sarx video reflection from Steve Chalke and verses from scripture. “Some have said subsequently that they felt really challenged,” Susan said. “One man talked about the prompting of his conscience, and said that if you’ve felt that, to ignore it is not God’s will.“
Following a sermon from a Sarx speaker at Leicester Cathedral, Canon Johannes Arens welcomed members of the cathedral community to consider the question, “What about the animals?” Canon Johannes led a lively group conversation which resulted in members feeling challenged yet inspired to further consider their lifestyle choices, particularly at mealtimes.
“Throughout our conversation we looked at our calling as stewards of God’s creation, and it was interesting to see that many people never thought of their personal consumer choices as related to God’s call to care for the earth,” Canon Johannes explains. “Following the sermon and the evening discussion some people went away intent on looking at and possibly adapting their choices.”
These are just a few examples of the growing number of Christian animal advocates who are bringing the debate about animals into the heart of their worshiping communities.
If you have been exploring animals within your community, or are keen to do so in the future, Sarx would love to hear from you. Please do get in touch!
Featured image: Two cows interact, a natural part of their lives as social beings with complex herd dynamics. Image credit Mercy For Animals, CC BY-SA 3.0.