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


The last refuge for sin?

By John Gilheany

One of the healthier facets of the animal rights movement (we can all think of outstanding flaws with honest reflection, as easily as our observers) is the harmony which exists between activists of strikingly diverse backgrounds.

There tends to prevail a realisation that however dynamic or conflicting our own particular beliefs may be they still take on a pale perspective alongside the vast levels of animal suffering which we seek to reduce within a wider society that may never care less.

It seems desirable to emphasise this context (as I see it) before extolling Church-related activism in a general vegan journal. The majority of Vegan Views readers are likely to keep Christianity at a safe distance and besides adherence to atheism, paganism and other spiritual traditions the main reason is almost too obvious a cliche to state. Nonetheless, we have all encountered, or at least heard of devout Christians whose ignorance and/or callous attitude towards animal suffering (and animal life itself) defies any degree of contempt which could be conveyed towards them without loss of inner or outer composure although many activists are prepared to make that sacrifice wherever the situation seems to merit it!

When the modern animal rights movement began to emerge in the UK, the Church was one of the first institutions to fall within the focus of a newly-motivated generation of activists. In 1973, the Fellowship of Life emerged as a broad network of individuals whose aims were articulated in an early mission statement by founder, Margaret Lawson (1919-2006) as: "To 1) establish vegetarianism as a Christian way of life and 2) unite believers of all religions, or none, in a way of life which neither hurts nor destroys needlessly any part of creation, human, animal or environmental."

A noble vision, naturally and one which it remains necessary to cultivate. Indeed, it should hardly be surprising, if 35 years later the majority of Christians remain set in their meat-eating ways. Whilst there has been explicit advocacy of vegetarianism in the Christian press by FoL supporters and others over recent decades, 'non-secular' activity has often acquired a marginal status within the movement as a whole.

When animal rights activism began to solidify through the mobilisation of an energetic grassroots during the early 80's, the institutional Churches received the tactical attention of Animal Aid and several independent local groups. The success of Compassion in World Farming in securing legislation to outlaw veal production in Britain stemmed from a three year campaign and legal battle with the monks of Storrington Priory. In the 1990's there were determined but ineffectual Anglican attempts at persuading Church Commissioners to prohibit hunting and factory farming on Church of England land. While among the chinks of light were expressions of episcopal support for animal welfare during the major Live exports protests and in the Lynx booklet 'Bishops say No to Fur'. The 1990's gave rise to further accessible and authoritative theology which led to more purposeful activism and the formation of the Christian Vegetarian Association of the U.K.

Yet attempts at 'Christianising the Churches' are nothing new and may well have peeked within the Food Reform movement of a century ago through the largely forgotten activity of the Order of the Golden Age. The First World War may even have prevented the arrival of a concerted animals' rights movement by the 1920's and vegetarianism certainly remained in the shadows (of Shaw and Gandhi for the most part) during the mid-twentieth century.

In the 1950's, the Vegetarian Society published a booklet on 'The Bible and Vegetarianism' even though dozens of earlier tracts had prompted Henry Salt (1851-1939) to remark: "The bible-quoting vegetarian is just one sort of crank brought into existence to silence another...hence the many sermons, dissertations, and text-twistings that have appeared from time to time in vegetarian journals..."

However the situation remains whereby spiritual adherents to Western religion resort to 'Biblical' excuses for animal exploitation in the face of ethical reasoning and compassionate insight. The animal rights/liberation/protection movement has always recognised the need for adept advocacy wherever the basic interests of non-human beings are at stake. For vegan Christians, it remains necessary to cultivate goodwill and ensure that the negative notions which infect contemporary Christendom are not allowed to prevail through default, or in other words: the odious elements of Christianity have no right to drive the pure in heart out of our churches.

Perhaps organised religion will perish or develop an observer status while veganism becomes the national norm...or perhaps not; in which case we owe it to the animals to liberate the theology that perpetuates their misery. In reality, it's not particularly difficult to advocate compassion, mercy, pity, peace, love and basic consideration, as being integral aspects of any credible religious journey through today's world. The resources are there for anyone who may feel an innate inclination to become grounded and involved in educating what remains a significant proportion of the public. For as Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) remarked in an earlier era:

"The Vegetarian movement ought to fill with gladness the souls of those who have at heart the realization of God's kingdom upon earth, not because Vegetarianism itself is such an important step towards the realization of this kingdom (all steps are equally important or unimportant), but because it serves as a criterion by which we know that the pursuit of moral perfection on the part of man is genuine and sincere."

New Review, July 1892

A particularly helpful and readable guidebook has been produced by the Christian Vegetarian Association.Good News for All Creation is available to download from their website:

For details of current campaigning activity in Britain, visit the website of the Christian Vegetarian Association of the U.K. at:

The Fellowship of Life website exists as an archive of articles, letters to churchmen and newspapers, pamphlets etc from the 1970's onwards:

Originally published in the Vegan Views book (2010)

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