Vegan Christians Aren’t That Scary

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By Sarah Withrow King

I’m not that scary,” Danny Concannon says to C.J. Cregg in the final season of The West Wing. “I just want to talk.”

If you are vegan, or vegetarian, or another sort of animal-friendly Christian, these two sentences from Danny probably capture some of the feelings you have as you try to build relationships in your corner of the world. Whether we casually mention our convictions while holding a plate of hummus and veggies at a church potluck, or we are knocking on pastoral or institutional doors trying to advocate for animals, we vegan (or vegetarian, or other animal-friendly) Christians are too often met with suspicion, derision, and disdain.

“If I talk to you, if I even listen to you…I’ll have to change,” the sentiment seems to go.

I’m no big fan of change. I’ve bought the same model of running shoes for as long as I can remember. More than a decade ago, my husband put a different spice blend in the french toast batter, and I am still a little mad about it. When I went vegan sixteen years ago, I initially assumed it was a fad and that I’d be back to “normal” within a few months—if I even made it that long.

I’m no big fan of change. More than a decade ago, my husband put a different spice blend in the french toast batter, and I am still a little mad about it.

So I understand why people are not that keen to talk. New information might disrupt the status quo. I also understand why some church leaders would shy away from learning the facts about factory farming. People have a lot on their plates—metaphorically and literally. Pastors and organizational directors and deans of colleges are trying to keep a lot of people happy and engaged, and right now vegans are a pretty small slice of the population pie. Additionally, multi-million-dollar mega-corporations plan multi-year ad campaigns around making fun of vegans, or vegetarians, and other animal-friendly folks, and those campaigns have wide-reaching effects.

Sometimes, we earn our “obnoxious” reputation. We respond to questions about protein and labeling schemes with eye rolls (real-life or emoji). We act as if people who know something about factory farms but still eat meat, dairy, or eggs are cruel, stupid, lazy, or all three. We forget that the same multi-million-dollar mega-corporations spend vast sums of money not only to make meat products seem appealing and necessary to consumers, but also to prevent consumers from seeing what happens behind the concrete walls of slaughterhouses, in factory-farm barns, and on government-funded research acreage. We assume everybody can see through slick, well-funded advertising campaigns affirming centuries of ingrained belief and behavior. We forget that between “all” and “nothing,” there’s a vast and valuable journey, with many places along the way that are good places to be.

…between “all” and “nothing,” there’s a vast and valuable journey.

But most of the time, we are much more gracious. We try to approach others with compassion and understanding. And we’re really not that scary. Most of us regularly share table fellowship with meat-eaters. Hopefully, when people ask us why we are vegan, we answer rationally and concisely, without a hint of judgement.

If we get “the question” and we are all sitting around Grandma’s thanksgiving turkey, we refrain from relaying graphic details about factory farms and slaughterhouses that have seared themselves onto our brains. When friends and family tell us they are trying to be intentionally meatless for one meal a week, we are thrilled and supportive. When they expand this to a day or a week or a month, I hope we give virtual ticker-tape parades. When loved ones text us from a grocery store looking for advice on how to replace eggs in a baked good, we immediately text back with five possible egg-replacement strategies and the best applications for each one.

When we say we want to talk about animals, we really mean that we want to talk about animals. But maybe we also want to do more than just talk. We know that the world isn’t going to go vegan overnight, but what we would like to have is a conversation. We would like to hear the challenges and perspectives of people who eat differently than we have chosen to eat, and relate to them as fellow human beings, part of a beloved community of God’s creation.

People who eat differently than we do are not faceless enemies. We would like to talk with them about how farming has changed, and how that has hurt not just animals, but many humans, too. We would like to talk about what we can learn from one another about eating well, about striving for justice in our food systems, about caring for everyone around a big table and the different ways that might take shape. We would like the opportunity to talk about the place of animals in the Kingdom of God, to dialogue, and to let the people in our congregations and communities make informed, prayerful, communal choices about how we care for the whole creation. We will bend over backwards to make these conversations—and any potential changes—as easy and as inclusive as we possibly can. And along the way we will respect our fellow humans, and animals, as beloved creatures of God.

Because vegan Christians aren’t that scary.

Sarah Withrow King is the Deputy Director of Evangelicals for Social Action, the co-director of CreatureKind, and the author of two books, Animals Are Not Ours (No Really, They’re Not): An Evangelical Animal Liberation Theology(Wipf & Stock) and Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith (Zondervan).

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