Advocating Animal Protectionism to Christians
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy


Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D., in The Ark, Newsletter of CCA Catholic Concern for Animals
July 2017

At the end of the day, animal abuse is much more than an individual problem. It is not as much about what a single person chooses to eat as about general societal standards of animal treatment. Therefore, if we are to be effective servants of God and God’s Creation, we need to work toward societal change.

Stephen R. Kaufman M.D. is an ophthalmologist and clinical assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University and Northeast Ohio Medical University. He is Co- Chair of the Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA), President of Vegetarian Advocates and a founding member of the Society of Ethical and Religious Vegetarians. He is the author of several books including ‘Good News for All Creation: Vegetarianism as Christian Stewardship’, ‘Guided by the Faith of Christ and ‘Perspectives on Animal Research’.

The Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA) is an international ministry, with literature translated into 11 languages. Most of our activity has been in the United States, where we have sought to encourage fellow Christians to adopt a plant-based diet. Also we have offered advice and support for Christians who have been dispirited because families, friends, and churches that have been hard-hearted when it comes to animal issues.

Our principle activity has been to distribute about 100,000 copies of our booklets at Christian concerts, revivals, and other events. Our main booklet, entitled Joyful, Compassionate Eating (, provides biblical and secular reasons why Christians should move towards plant-based eating. It has been generally well- received, but we are constantly seeking more effective ways to communicate the importance of animal protectionism. Toward that end, I offer some thoughts on effective animal advocacy, based on feedback to our activities and our literature, surveys done by the CVA and other organisations, and my 40 years of involvement in animal advocacy. I recommend that, in general, our points are simple, straightforward, and easily comprehended. Most people, particularly those who have not given much thought to the topic, will tend to misunderstand subtle or lengthy arguments. These misunderstandings will make it easier for them to reject our arguments.

Another effective approach is to find common ground. For example, most people care about animals and oppose animal abuse. Starting with a comment such as, ‘I am sure you agree that we should not cause pain and suffering to animals unnecessarily’ can help open minds to new ways of thinking.

When it comes to advocating animal protectionism to Christians, I recommend focusing on Christian ideals and principles. For example, we might mention the biblical ideals of a vegan world (Genesis 1:29-30 and Isaiah 11:6-9) as well as the view that Jesus taught love, compassion, mercy, and peace. In general, I have not found it helpful to assert that Jesus was vegetarian (though I think he likely was, in part because of the work of Keith Akers’ book Disciples). Most Christians point to biblical passages that seem to contradict this theory, and they remain unconvinced. I think it more effective to assert that Jesus would condemn modern factory farming, and I believe that Jesus would avoid consuming animal products today. Often, biblical passages and stories can be interpreted in different ways, and biblical debates are rarely productive.

Cover image on CVA's Joyful, Compassionate Eating booklet

In an ideal world, the strength of arguments would determine each person’s conclusions. However, in general people resist change, particularly when they believe that it will decrease their quality of life. They tend to seek holes in our arguments rather than consider our points openly and thoroughly. And, when our arguments seem sound, they tend to try to dismiss our case by criticising our character or motivations. Unfair and unreasonable as it is, our being seen as commendable makes our arguments more effective.

I think it best to avoid analogies. For example, those who witness animal abuse on factory farms or at slaughterhouses have frequently noted similarities between the treatment of farmed animals and the victims of the Holocaust. In general, the focus on the conversation often diverts to whether or not the analogy is valid rather than what is happening to farmed animals.

Many animal advocates are angered by humanity’s callousness and brutality when it comes to animal issues. However one might feel, expressing anger toward humanity rarely appeals to human audiences. I think it is better to express our feelings towards animals. Most people oppose animal abuse, but they resist thinking about how they too are animals who (perhaps) don’t enjoy eternal life after the body ceases to live. They fear that, if nonhumans deserve similar moral consideration as humans, perhaps humans are not as special as we would like to believe.

People often see criticism of their choices as criticism of their character, and their reflex response is to become defensive. People tend to be much more sympathetic to criticism of institutions. Noting how these institutions have deceived them gives them an excuse for their prior behaviour. I recommend keeping the focus on institutions, and not on the specific people affiliated with those institutions. We all have commendable as well as less admirable attributes. The issue is whether animals are being treated unjustly, not whether one or more people deserve condemnation.

People don’t like to be told what to do. It is more effective to explain your own choices, why you have made them, and how you speak out on the topic to encourage other people to reconsider what they eat and how they live. Often, it is best to explore questions. For example, one might say, ‘We agree that animal abuse is wrong. So, the question then becomes what choices can we make to reduce or prevent this abuse?’ People are more likely to act on conclusions they draw for themselves than recommendations made by others.

Regardless of what a person says or does, always be respectful. That includes avoiding name-calling and refraining from attributing motivations to other people. Many factors influence all the decisions we make, and presumptions about motivations are almost always received as offensive and are almost always partly or totally wrong.

I recommend offering encouragement rather than praise for those who are moving toward a plant-based diet or making other changes that are more animal friendly. Global statements, such as, ‘You are a kind person’ generally do not resonate with people, because they know that they aren’t always kind. I suggest offering encouragement, such as, ‘It’s great to see that you are adopting a more animal-friendly diet, which significantly reduces animal suffering’.

It is best for those advocating for animals to be vegan, but I don’t think a person must be vegan in order to promote kinder, more respectful, more just treatment of nonhumans. At the end of the day, animal abuse is much more than an individual problem. It is not as much about what a single person chooses to eat as about general societal standards of animal treatment. Therefore, if we are to be effective servants of God and God’s Creation, we need to work toward societal change. That includes public animal advocacy with talks, leafleting, and showing videos of animal abuse; and working to reduce or eliminate animal abuse by changing laws and standards.

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