Vegetarian Discipleship

[The following material is from the book Good News for All Creation by Stephen R. Kaufman and Nathan Braun.]

Jesus encouraged his followers, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). With baptism, we become new creations in Christ, dedicated to following Jesus' path of love, compassion, and peace, and encouraging others to do likewise. For many Christian vegetarians, this commitment to help bring about the realm of God "on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10) is central to their Christian witness.

Vegetarian advocacy is a form of Christian stewardship and discipleship, because vegetarianism honors God by showing respect for God’s environment, animals, and humans. When our lives honor God, we feel closer to God and spiritually more fulfilled. So, encouraging people to try vegetarianism is offering a gift, for them as well as for the rest of Creation.

Telling people what to do rarely influences their actions, unless you have power over them. Voluntary change requires changing one's perceptions. Nobody considers oneself to be irrational. When someone appears irrational, we usually don't fully appreciate his/her worldview–the core set of beliefs based on one's knowledge and past experiences. People don’t see their own choices as irrational—they believe that their actions derive from their worldviews. Consequently, there are two principal ways people may change. First, they may find that their worldviews are incomplete or incorrect. For example, once informed of the cruelties inherent in modern factory farming, many people will stop regarding modern animal agriculture as a benign institution. Hopefully, people will increasingly recognize that factory farming is cruel and conclude that it violates God’s will.

The second way that people change is by realizing that their behavior actually does not faithfully reflect their worldviews. People are seldom aware of such inconsistencies, because they often uncritically adopt attitudes and behaviors from a culture that provides conflicting messages. This is dramatically the case when it comes to animal welfare because children are taught to be kind to animals and simultaneously told to eat their meat "or you won't get dessert." Regarding animal welfare, Christians almost universally agree that Jesus preached love, compassion, and mercy, and most Christians oppose animal cruelty. However, they often fail to connect their compassion for animals with their daily dietary choices. Discussing society's inconsistencies can encourage people to reexamine their own attitudes.

Many people simply don't know about the cruelties inherent in modern animal agriculture, and a critical question is, why don't they know? The reasons for this are complex, and an attempt to explain fully is beyond the scope of this book. No doubt, one reason is that the animal agriculture industries effectively hide their practices from the public, restricting access to factory farms and slaughterhouses and employing skilled public relations personnel to mislead the public. However, the information is quite readily available online as well as in books and videos, to those who wish to educate themselves.

It seems that many people choose to remain uninformed. Most already believe that animals deserve respectful treatment and strongly suspect that the animal agriculture industries often treat animals badly. Evidently, many people recognize that learning about the animal agriculture industry would likely leave them in an uncomfortable predicament. They don't want to give up meat or see themselves as contributing to cruelty. No wonder people so often receive Christian vegetarians with hostility. We seem to offer an unpleasant choice–change your lifestyle or your self-image.

People generally avoid threats to their lifestyles and self-images. It turns out, however, that vegetarianism is good news for Christians (as well as non-Christians). When one learns of the benefits to human health, animals, world hunger, and the environment, vegetarianism becomes much more palatable.

We recommend that, when you’re discussing vegetarianism, you try to keep bringing the conversation back to the fact that eating meat is not necessary for good health and that, today, it causes cruelty to animals and environmental problems while harming human health and the global poor. Whatever Biblical justification there is for eating meat 2,000 years ago, none of it answers the central arguments for Christian vegetarianism—that eating meat today causes serious violations of basic Christian values like compassion, environmental stewardship, and respect for our own bodies.

Specific Recommendations for Christian Vegetarian Discipleship


The Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA) has a slide show available in 35mm slides and in Microsoft PowerPoint, with accompanying text, which has been well received. We are also preparing a video, which will be available in late 2004.

When offering a lecture or workshop in church or some other public forum, it is important to use images and metaphors that resonate with the audience. For Christian vegetarian advocacy, this means talking in terms that Christians find meaningful, such as compassion, love, mercy, and humility. Jesus exemplified these attributes, and Christians understand that we are called to follow Christ's example.

Other Christian frameworks may resonate with your audience. For example, encourage people to think about viewing all of Creation from God's perspective, rather than a human perspective; this will help them see nature and animals as objects of compassion and concern. Often, the human view is that animals raised on farms are meant to be eaten. In contrast, it is hard to imagine that God, who looked upon all Creation and called it "very good" (Genesis 1:31), approves of humankind's cruelty and destructiveness. Indeed, you may point out that factory farming deprives animals of all the natural behaviors God designed them to have.

It is often helpful to recall that God gave Adam a vegetarian diet and that Isaiah prophesied that at the end of time all creatures, once again, will be vegetarian. Of course, many will respond that Christian traditions, practices, and teachings seem to support meat-eating, or by pointing out Biblical justifications for eating meat (e.g., animal sacrifice or the loaves and fishes miracle). Historically, most Christians have eaten meat; however, many of the first Christians, including those closest to Jesus, received Jesus' ministry as encouraging vegetarianism. In addition, many modern Christian spiritual leaders have embraced vegetarianism. Below, we offer responses to commonly asked questions, including questions that discuss biblical passages that seem to support meat-eating.

In summary, vegetarianism is a statement that we wish to take care of our God-given bodies and that we are concerned about hungry humans, an ailing environment, and helpless animal victims. We may receive every plant-based meal with prayerful thanks to the Creator for allowing us to live peacefully among the world's creatures.


Many activists have found that leafleting at Christian concerts and events, at Christian colleges, and outside churches is effective and efficient. We recommend the CVA’s booklet Honoring God’s Creation, which people have found concise and compelling. For Catholic audiences, Fr. John Dear’s essay Christianity and Vegetarianism (available as a booklet and on CD and cassette from PETA, has been well received.

You should be well groomed and have a sign and/or wear a shirt that identifies you as a vegetarian advocate. CVA T-shirts are available for $15, payable to the CVA: P.O. Box 201791, Cleveland, OH 44120.

If approached in a pleasant manner, many people will politely accept your booklets. Often, you need to be a little aggressive, while remaining friendly of course, or people will ignore you. Some will decline, and a few will attempt to be humorous or sarcastic. In general, it is best to smile and wish them a good day. If someone says something really nasty, you might simply comment in an even tone, "That was an unkind thing to say." Of course, your attitude is as important as your literature. If your pamphlet says that vegetarianism expresses the love, compassion, and peace of Christ, but you communicate anger and hostility, the compassionate message is lost. To those who take the literature, you may say, “Thank you” or, “Have a great day!”

At churches, we recommend that you stay off private church property. Otherwise, it may appear that the church endorses your literature, and this may be resented. Unfortunately, this may restrict you to larger urban churches, because churchgoers elsewhere often park on church property. Call the church to check the worship hour(s). Start to leaflet about 20 minutes before service starts or be there about 50 minutes after the start time to greet people as they leave.

Bible Study/Discussion

Often, a discussion can be rewarding for both you and other participants. It is sometimes helpful to reflect on two or three biblical passages as springboards for conversations. Good candidates include Genesis 1:28-31, which invites discussion of dominion and demonstrates that the Bible's ideal diet is vegetarian; Isaiah 11:6-9, which envisions a vegetarian Messianic Age; and Matthew 6:10 because it reminds people that we are to seek the kingdom of God on earth. Alternatively, you can explore why we favor members of certain species and then consider which animals matter to God.

Informal Interactions

Discussing your commitment to vegetarianism in a friendly, nonjudgmental manner encourages people to consider their own lifestyle choices. Chapter 6 and appendix A address dealing with family and friends in greater detail, but a few additional thoughts are in order here. Some people argue that we should never discuss vegetarianism while people are eating meat, but others have found that this is an excellent time to have the discussion, if you can keep it from becoming hostile. If people bring up the topic over meals, you might smile and acknowledge the importance of dietary choices, and then say that you don't like to talk about vegetarianism during meals. Keep handy some literature that you can offer to them, like Honoring God’s Creation and/or Try Vegetarian! Afterwards, you may recall the earlier discussion and comment.

Your Community

Give your doctor a pamphlet about vegetarianism. Talk to your pastor about vegetarianism, and discuss ways to develop church educational programs that explore the impact of diet on animals, human health, world hunger, and the environment. You may speak or arrange a speaker, or show a videotape. If your church will put them in its library, both the Christian Vegetarian Association and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) offer free books about Christianity and vegetarianism. If you can place literature in a “take-one” area, both groups will provide you with brochures at a discount or for free, and you can download their literature at no cost at and at Register with your community, library, and school speakers' bureaus. Display your pro-vegetarian message with bumper stickers, pins, and clothing. Ask managers of health food stores, vegetarian restaurants, and other sympathetic outlets to offer CVA pamphlets in their literature sections.

News Media

Be on the lookout for editorials or news items about which you may comment with letters to the editors of your local newspapers. Also, contact your local newspapers' food editors and ask that more vegetarian recipes be included. If possible, provide recipes yourself, remembering that simple and tasty dishes are often most helpful.

Take Care of Yourself

Effective vegetarian advocates nurture their own souls. Develop meaningful relationships and put some time aside to relax. Remember that vegetarianism is one aspect of expressing Christ's love, compassion, and peace; try to relieve human and nonhuman suffering in other ways when you can. Don't despair. Nobody can cure all the world's ills, but we can all help alleviate them.

Be Informed

In order to be an effective advocate for vegetarianism, it's important to learn about healthful eating and the reasons for vegetarianism. Many people have found our book Good News for All Creation a useful resource.

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