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Christian vegetarian group advocates a plant-based diet for the church
By CARL E. FEATHER, Lifestyle Editor

News Published Daily in Ashtabula, Ohio.
Article Publication Date: 3/20/2004

Any person familiar with American Christianity will immediately recognize the irony of the Cleveland-based Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA).

The dietary culture of most Christian churches includes hot-dog and hamburger cookouts, chicken-dinner fellowships, pepperoni-pizza youth gatherings, and Swiss-steak and turkey-dinner fund-raisers. But the Internet-based CVA suggests that Christians would present a more effective witness of their faith’s core values if they were to adopt a plant-based diet.

“It’s a matter of asking the question ‘Is what you eat consistent with what you believe ’” says Dr. Stephen R. Kaufman, a Cleveland-area ophthalmologist who went vegetarian more than 20 years ago.

“I haven’t missed it,” he says of eating meat.

Kaufman is co-chair of the CVA’s board of directors. He says the group was founded about five years ago by Nathan Braun, a New Brunswick college student who felt Christianity’s message of compassion and mercy is incongruous with eating the flesh of animals that suffer on their way to the dinner table.

“When I see meat, I see an animal, whereas most people see food. I think about what that animal experienced to get where it is now,” Kaufman says.

CVA has only 1,500 members on its e-mail mailing list, but many casual Web surfers come upon and explore the site while searching for “Christian” and “vegetarian.” A broader-based site that includes Jewish vegetarianism issues, , gets thousands of hits every day, says the Rev. Frank Hoffman, a CVA board member who maintains with his wife Mary.

CVA’s mission is to support and encourage Christian vegetarians, share with non-vegetarian Christians how a meatless diet can add meaning to their faith, aid in spirituality and improve their moral life; and show the world that a plant-based diet represents “good, responsible Christian stewardship for all God’s Creation.” The organization offers several books on the subject, as well as a free booklet the summarizes its position.

The group challenges Christians with the message “What Would Jesus Eat ... Today ” and suggests that, in the context of modern agricultural practices and dietary options, he would have chosen a plant-based diet.

Kaufman says they base their premise, in part, upon the way animals are treated in factory farms, which produce most of the meat consumed in the United States. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), more than 500,000 animals are slaughtered in the United States every hour. Kaufman says suffering is these animals’ lot in life from birth to death. He can’t envision a Jesus who would become a party to that suffering by eating animal flesh.

“A lot of people don’t know what happens on a factory farm, they don’t make the connection between what they eat and what has gone on with that animal,” Kaufman says.

He asks, therefore, “Is what you eat consistent with what you believe ”

A pastor’s journey

The Rev. Frank Hoffman, a retired United Methodist-Baptist pastor with a Jewish heritage, began his journey to becoming a vegan (no dairy, no eggs) 30 years ago, when he became aware of the suffering calves undergo on their way to becoming a veal dish. He became a vegan after visiting a dairy farm. “The Holy Spirit prompts us to look deeper,” he says.

Hoffman has studied both the Hebrew and Christian texts and concludes that Jesus Christ would have been a vegetarian. He says there is only one passage in the New Testament that suggests Jesus ate fish, Luke 24:42, 43. Hoffman says the Greek text also includes “honeycomb” with the fish and the text is unclear in stating which item Jesus selected.

As for Christ’s partaking of the Passover supper, Hoffman says that following the Jewish return from Babylonian captivity, there was a decreased use of meat and sacrifices in the religion. “A lot of Jews did not sacrifice animals, they did not have lamb during Passover,” he says.

Hoffman says a study of Jewish history shows that kosher slaughter methods were designed to minimize suffering for the animal and required a high level of skill that was lost over time as demand for meat increased. He says the Jewish tradition also had a concept of “kashrut,” or compassion in connection with the treatment of animals. Hoffman says these concepts are missing from the factory farms and high-speed slaughter houses, where it is estimated that at least 5 percent of all animals are dismembered and skinned while still alive.

Likewise, Hoffman and the CVA see hunting and fishing as contrary to Christian and Jewish teachings.

“The Jewish teachings considered it a sin to take pleasure in the suffering and death of any living being,” Hoffman says. Further, he says there is no Jewish prayer to bless meat.

He sees meat eating as alien to a faith that is based upon the love and sacrifice of a Savior whose Father remembered even the five sparrows sold for two pennies (Luke 12:6-7), feeds the birds of the air (Matt. 6:26) and created animals that praise him (Psalms 148:7-10).

Kaufman says there are other reasons Christians should be vegetarian, including:

Protecting the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19) by adopting a diet that has proven health benefits and was the original diet given in Genesis;

Stewardship of natural resources; meat production consumes much more energy and water than grain;

Alleviates world hunger by making more grain resources available to the poor people of the world;

Allows the Christian to participate in creating the peaceable kingdom as envisioned in passages like Isaiah 11:6-9 Romans 8:18-23.

“We can’t create a Garden of Eden,” Kaufman says. “But that does not mean we can’t participate in that process.”

Recipe for church split

Hoffman, whose last preaching assignment was in a federated church in New York’s Hudson Valley, says his congregation respected his vegan lifestyle and some church members prepared meatless dishes for church dinners. He drew the line at supporting “dead-animal dinner fund-raisers,” and says the church actually did better financially without the fund-raisers by simply calling upon the free-will giving of the members to replace the income stream.

Nevertheless, Hoffman says pressing the issue of vegetarianism in a congregation will usually lead to a church split.

“The sensitive people leave and those who remain in the church become hardened,” he says.

He says meat is a political issue in the church, as it was in the temple of Jesus’ time. He says the issue even taints how the Scripture has been translated. For example, Hoffman says the “beasts” of Rev. 5:13 should be translated “animals.” Further, the testimony of many Christian vegetarians is often suppressed for political and economic reasons.

“Most people who are Methodists don’t know that (John) Wesley was a vegetarian and believed that animals have souls and spirits,” Hoffman says. Salvation Army co-founders William and Catherine Booth and Rev. Dr. Albert Schweitzer were Christian vegetarians, as well.

Like Kaufman, Hoffman stops short at calling meat-eating a sin. But he wonders how an informed Christian can participate in an act that has so much suffering and violence behind it.

“It’s not that the eating of an animal is a sin, God allowed it as a concession,” Hoffman says, referring to biblical passages that permit eating meat. “It’s the pain and suffering we have imposed upon it that turns it from a concession to something that is evil.”

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