The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


Nothing new under the Sun
by John M. Gilheany

From the Autumn/Winter 2009 edition of the Friends Vegetarian Society Newsletter:  

Every generation of Christian vegetarian enthusiasts has expressed the belief that our ideal could barely have been promoted any sooner (or should that be better!) than in the present era.

In the 1890's, the days seemed dark a decade earlier; as they did during the 1900's and at other periods in the cyclic ascent and decline of vegetarianism's fortunes over the past century. Vegetarians, generally, look upon greying congregations, at the entrance to most places of worship with an eye of ethical suspicion; usually vindicated should the matter of spiritual discernment towards diet ever arise! It would therefore seem unlikely, on the face of it, that Biblical vegetarian tracts, theological animal rights journals and lecturing tours could ever have existed let alone achieved acquiescence in the past. Yet remarkable as it may seem, religious vegetarian propaganda was far more influential 100 years ago than at any stage in the modern history of the animal rights/liberation/protection movement.

There are several reasons for our general lack of awareness of the extensive campaigning, publishing and theological heritage which often underpins the ethos that we embrace and promote today. Indeed, we should not be afraid to acknowledge the debt which academia inevitably bears towards a grassroots vegetarian movement bereft of any real knowledge of important religious accomplishment. And this despite the many opportunities to mention notable societies, publications, figures and their insights in so much as the index to many an unnecessary publication, so swiftly celebrated among themselves.

The 'structure' of the animal rights movement itself is another important factor behind the seeming loss of connection between generations of campaigners. For beyond the unique Friends Vegetarian Society, a lack of longevity characterises orchestrated attempts at taking vegetarianism to the churches. The movement is comprised, in the main, of a transient body of advocates and a handful of stalwarts who tend to depart the scene with little appreciation of their legacy.

And with them go the large number of pamphlets, newsletters and press cuttings which tell the story of their respective societies. It is actually easier to obtain records and copies of Victorian 'Food Reform' publications than those of counterpart organisations from recent decades!

Perhaps I should have stated, upfront, that I am not a historian or for that matter an academic. I became involved in the secular animal rights movement in 1987 and the Christian vegetarian scene several years later. A decade of comparatively quiet propaganda ensued and largely consisted of circulating leaflets to presbyteries or submitting letters to the Church press. I began to explore the recent history of events which led to the success of 'Veg4Lent' and the opportunity for a formal Christian Vegetarian Association to duly emerge in Britain, in 2004.

And so it seemed that nothing of any note could possibly have occurred before our pioneering generation began to take its compelling message to the Christian media whose editors and producers would (presumably) have been unable to tolerate the exact same case in the 1970's!

Yet that is where the resurgence of latent animal rights ideas really began and theology was no exception to the rekindling of an all but forgotten stream of thought and publicity. It's a longer story than I could ever have bargained for which became a book and should be available in the early part of next year: Familiar Strangers: the Church and the vegetarian movement in Britain (1809-2009).

For now, there's an extensive presentation of related research on the internet at three commemorative websites: The Order of the Golden Age ( , 'Clergy Animal Rights Advocacy!!!!' ( ) , The Fellowship of Life ( ) and the historical section of the CVAUK website ( ).

The FVS Newsletter is currently published 4 times a year. For further details, contact: Friends Vegetarian Society, c/o Bal Saini, 176 Stoney Lane, Sparkhill, Birmingham, B12 8AN.

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