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

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"Burgers for Christ" - a personal view
by John M. Gilheany

In 2000, an evangelical Christian movement attracted the attention of VIVA!, A.S.W.A., Kindness Unlimited and a Church newspaper with their high-profile and controversial ministry:

 
The above drive to entice peckish shoppers into Evangelical dialogue received hearty backing from the ecumenical/evangelical weekly Christian Herald of 18th March 2000. Despite front page coverage of the initiative and further editorial support, they did, in fairness, allow me to posit a central and unfortunately controversial observation via their letters page.
 
I was puzzled as to how the compassionate souls that they were presumably hoping to reach amongst the public might perceive such an ethically backward enterprise. An evangelism in reverse if you like, or as grassroots animal activists refer to it: the "kill a cow for Jesus" campaign! On this occasion, there was no indignant barrage of Bible excerpts that no actual good could come of in this context. Fundamentalists usually have the most leeway when lifting Scripture from cultural context in an attempt to "condone" contemporary bloodletting. Most Christians who retort in this threatened manner to moral and compassionate advocacy of vegetarianism are clearly motivated by their stomachs in ransacking Biblical texts and not their hearts. St. Paul's edicts are a perennial favourite, most particularly, l Timothy 4: 1-5; which is widely perceived to dismiss vegetarianism as a heresy for all time. The Gnostic tendencies which Paul was addressing and his attempts to unify the early Church through minimising contentious regimens are overlooked. Abstaining from animal flesh for the RIGHT reasons has a time-honoured place within Christianity. No doubt, Rev. William Cowherd called to mind such passages as Daniel 1: 3-21, Mathew 5:7 and Acts 15:29 when he founded the sect which led to the formation of the Vegetarian Society, in 1847. On this occasion, I could also have looked to St. Paul's writings for an answer, where he appears to eschew animal flesh, so as not to offend fellow Christians! (Corinthians 8:13)
 
I suspect that this insight will become increasingly relevant over the coming decades with the welcome advent of authentic respect for "food animals" amongst Christians; whose concept of reverence, love and ethical consideration has traditionally been rationed. 
 
To acknowledge that these animals are infused with spirit and a God-granted love of life, is to court myopic accusations of 'sentimentality'. Yet there is nothing in any way sentimental about an awareness of the unenviable task of attempting to reconcile spiritual insight with slaughterhouse bloodletting. I for one could not begin to reconcile the large-scale and wanton shedding of innocent blood, as belonging to a genuinely Christian state-of-affairs. Our faith is often exalted above all others and yet in reality, it is the most inexorably reliant on a thoughtless, institutionalised form of violence. This is a perfectly clinical observation, if not a new and certainly not an emotive one. Christianity is simply lacking in the humanitarian instinct stakes that are increasing in our frequently maligned secular society.
 
Wherever high street campaigners leaflet members of the public, it is sad to think of the significant number of Christians who will (often smugly) plead theological exemption from ethical issues. The fact that 700 million animals meet a gruesome and untimely end in UK abattoirs, annually, is assumed to be the will of our compassionate Lord of All Creation. At least one finds it difficult to imagine Jesus being any less loving in his response to these issues than the average virtue-motivated animal rights campaigner.
 
It is from those to whom much has been given, that much is expected. There can be no-one reading this who has not, in all honesty, an endless choice of meat-free options on any shopping trip. Apart from anything else, it is fundamentally un-Christian to expect callous or de-sensitised abattoir staff to kill animals on your behalf. An economic boycott of a relentlessly bloody industry must become an increasing priority for all true animal welfarists wishing to develop spiritual peace of mind. The Christian conscience must surely consider and not ignore the unheard cries from animals destined for slaughter.
 
Tony Wardle, the spokesman for VIVA! (who have launched a counter-campaign to the Burgers for Christ debacle) recently encapsulated the "secular" reasons for considering vegetarianism - "It is the most un-Christian idea. Whilst supposedly preaching a message of love and compassion, they are supporting cruelty on a mass scale, helping to destroy the world's environment and playing a part in the starvation of the world's poorest people. When the meek inherit the earth, there won't be many left, there won't be much earth either".
 
Christian Vegetarianism - a Biblical approach is a 16 page booklet available from the Fellowship of Life - a non-secular, animal rights group formed in 1973 by disillusioned Churchgoers. To order a copy, please forward 1.00 (includes postage) to: The Fellowship of Life, 43 Braichmelyn, Bethesda, Gwynedd, LL57 3RD; cheques payable to "Fellowship of Life".
 
 From the Autumn 2000 bulletin of the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals 

See: 'Burgers for Christ' - in Bristol

 
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