When you think of a vegetarian, you may think of a hippie, a health nut, a Hindu or Buddhist, but do you think of a Christian?
A vegetarian is one who excludes meat—such as beef, pork, mutton, game, and slaughter by-products—as well as fish, sea animals, and poultry from their diet. Some people think vegetarians just eat vegetables, but actually, they eat a variety of foods, such as grains, vegetables, legumes, fruits, berries, seeds, nuts, dairy products, eggs, and honey.
“A Christian concept of God must be shaped by the Christian scriptures,” remarks Richard Alan Young in his book, Is God a Vegetarian? (Open Court Publishing, 1998).
For many, Biblical Christianity and vegetarianism are hardly related. Most church potlucks are full of meat items and vegetarians are often an afterthought at such events, leaving them with few eatable options.
However, vegetarianism is more than a diet; it’s a lifestyle choice. With valid arguments and supportive scriptures on both sides of the vegetarianism issue, it’s a choice that God gives individuals to make for themselves.
Sandra Estill, a Christian and a vegetarian, explains her call and transition to vegetarianism. “At the time, the man I was to marry was a vegetarian. From his testimony and my personal conviction, I asked the Lord to help me to become a vegetarian. During the time of making my decision, the Lord showed me many reasons to become a vegetarian. God showed me that there is nothing wrong with eating meat, even telling Peter to kill and eat what He has made clean in Acts 11. However, it’s the ignorance and the overconsumption of our culture that really bothers me about the meat industry. People don’t realize how animals and the meat are handled.”
TO BE COMPASSIONATE
Some Christian vegetarians find support in the scriptures and in the knowledge of God as a loving, kind, and compassionate God as the main reason for their vegetarianism. Before Jesus died on the cross for our sins, we were headed for death for the wrongs we could not right. In his compassion and love for us, God gave us new life in him, a sacrificed Son to take our place. Would God, who chose mercy over death for his people, perhaps also want the same for the animals he has created in this life?
Just as the scriptures in the Bible shape a Christian, they also shape vegetarian Christians. Genesis 1:26 (AMP), God gives us permission to have dominion over all the animals of the earth: “Let Us [Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] make mankind in Our image, after Our likeness, and let them have complete authority over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the [tame] beasts, and over all of the earth, and over everything that creeps upon the earth.”
We are given permission, as stated above, to treat animals as we would like. But the question remains, would God agree with the way we are currently treating them? We tend to use animals for our own pleasure and gain, inflicting cruelty and providing them with poor living conditions.
TO BE ORIGINAL
“Did you know that before the [first sin] in the garden of Eden, God intended us to be vegetarians?” asks Estill. In addition to God’s loving nature, Christian vegetarians also find encouragement in God’s original and peaceful purpose of all His creation.
Then God said, “I’ve given you
every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth
And every kind of fruit-bearing tree,
given them to you for food.
To all animals and all birds,
everything that moves and breathes,
I give whatever grows out of the ground for food.”
And there it was.
–Genesis 1:29 (The Message)
In the beginning, people were just given the fruits and plants of this world to eat, and only after the world was destroyed by the great flood were people given the invitation to eat animals. In Genesis 9:3 (AMP), God tells the people: “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and as I gave you the green vegetables and plants, I give you everything.”
Estill explains, “Adam and Eve had broken the one rule that God gave them in the Garden of Eden and the sense of shame and guilt was on them. The human race eventually had to sacrifice animals to eat, clothe themselves from shame, and pay for their sins through their sacrifices. Praise be to God that he has made another way for us to come to him. We no longer have to slay a lamb or a goat to ask for forgiveness, we now have Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice through his death on the cross.”
However, there’s no reason to condemn meat-eaters. After all, Jesus, the ultimate role model, ate meat, as recorded in Luke 24:43-43 (NIV): “They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.” Likewise, there is no reason to accuse a vegetarian of being wrong either.
“God’s plan is for all humans and animals to live together in peace, and to be filled with knowing him.”
Putting God’s ultimate plan in perspective, Estill says, “Isaiah 11:6-9 mentions a day when wolves will live with lambs, leopards will lie down with goats, calves and lions will eat together and little children will lead them around. Wow, a day will come when even animals will not kill to survive. God’s plan is for all humans and animals to live together in peace, and to be filled with knowing him.”
For some, choosing vegetarianism is a step towards a life of harmony with nature and a time prior to original sin.
TO BE HEALTHLY & ENVIRONMENTALLY CONSCIOUS
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” 1 Corinthians 10:26 (NIV)
God’s ownership and the call to stewardship of God’s resources is another reason Christians are conscious of their eating habits and the effect these habits have on the rest of the world. “Our God-given responsibility is to do what we can do to feed the poor and bring the Gospel to them,” Estill says. “God has also called us to be good stewards of our own bodies. The number one killer in the U.S. is heart disease and eating too much meat is one of the causes. I believe this goes against God’s heart for us to be good stewards of our own bodies and our responsibility of caring for world and the environment . We should live simply so that others may simply live.”
Farmed animals consume seventy percent of the corn, wheat, and other grains grown in the U.S., and one-third of all the raw materials and fossil fuels used in the U.S. goes to raising animals for food. Furthermore, forests are cleared to make room for more crops to feed livestock or to build factory farms. In most countries, meat is a luxury, many times available only for special occasions, but in the United States is has become a part of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Paul McCartney says “If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just stop eating meat. That’s the single most important thing you can do. It’s staggering when you think about it. Vegetarianism takes care of so many things in one shot: ecology, famine, cruelty.”
For many Christians, taking care of God’s creation and stewardship of the environment is a priority and part of the Christian life. It says in Psalm 19:1-5,
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard. [a]
Their voice [b] goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
The environment and natural world are pleasing to God and bring praises to his name. Since the practices of the meat industry destroy many of the natural resources and forests he might have enjoyed otherwise, wouldn’t it stand to reason that for the sake of all creation, we might want to scale back our meat consumption?
“I still crave the flavors of meat and fish,” says Estill, “but the Lord showed me that this was my personal way of a lifetime fast to better connect with him and to become a better steward to my world and my own body. Even though it feels like a sacrifice sometimes, I realize that I am gaining more than before in this lifestyle. Not only do I feel healthier and am more “regular”, but I discovered the richness of new flavors. I feel blessed that the Lord brought this to my attention and helped me to be changed and help bring hope to others.”