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Religion not off-limits to animal rights activists

Christian Animal Rights
From left, Professors Walter Kaiser, Wes Jamison and Paul Copan refute claims that Christians should not eat meat or poultry. | Roy Graber

Activists claim that eating meat and poultry is not consistent with Christianity

May 12, 2016

It’s no secret that some animal rights activists are so passionate about their beliefs that people shouldn’t eat meat that they will try just about any avenue to try to convince others to adopt their way of thinking.

But until recently, I always thought religion was one area that couldn’t be touched.

I will come right out and say it without fear of offending: I am a Christian. However, I also respect the spiritual beliefs of others who follow other religions.

I never felt the need to justify to myself that it was O.K. to eat meat, but I always figured if I got into a debate about the morality of eating meat or raising animals for food production, and I knew that the person with whom I was debating was also a Christian, I could always go to Genesis 1:26, which essentially states that God said man is to have dominion over the rest of the animal kingdom. That should be good enough to convince someone whose faith is similar to mine that I am doing nothing wrong.

So it was interesting to find out that there is a movement in the animal rights community that tries to convince others that it is sacrilegious to eat meat.

While attending the Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit recently in Virginia, there was a session that dealt on that very topic.

Animal rights theology targets those unfamiliar with theology

Wes Jamison, associate professor of public relations, Palm Beach Atlantic University, explained to those at the summit that religion is in fact not a taboo topic when it comes to pushing a no-meat agenda. And they have done so by exploiting the fact that many people who think of themselves as Christians don’t actually have a deep understanding of theology.

Citing figures from a study by the Pew Charitable Trust, Jamison said 83 percent of Americans are “vaguely Christian,” while 71 percent identify themselves as Christian believers. However, only about 45 percent of Americans attend worship services at least one a year, but “far fewer adhere to any semblance of a doctrine, or creed or orthodoxy,” he said.

“What we have, unmistakingly, is a religious citizenry that has no grounding whatsoever in religion. They don’t really know [the] exact beliefs of that religion.”

So instead of living according to a theism, many people follow a “meism.” They are looking for personal peace and a sense of purpose, he said, but they don’t know scripture very well.

Jamison said in 2008, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) started a faith outreach program to empower a theology that opposes the exploitation of animals. “Not that advocates the truth, not that brings people to a deeper understanding of the sacred text, but for specifically, and explicitly political purposes,” he said.

And in doing so, they changed the meaning of the word “dominion” to include responsibility to prevent harm to animals. If confinement is displeasing to an animal, it must be displeasing to God, they suggest.

“That is a powerful message to a public that doesn’t understand what the real text says,” said Jamison.

Biblical scholars dispute animal rights claims

Walter Kaiser, president emeritus and distinguished professor of Old Testament and ethics, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, who has a background in production agriculture, said young people often ask what is the responsibility of humans to the animal kingdom in both domestic and wildlife forms.

He describes one answer as utilitarian, which is that “we use animals as we please.”

“That, of course, is not satisfying,” to some, he added.

The other answer, one offered by the animal rights community that is trying to reach Christians, is that animals have intrinsic rights as humans do, to life, liberty and freedom to live undisturbed by humans.

“I’d like to find that verse,” he joked.

Some will argue that in Genesis it says both humans and other animals were formed out of the ground and therefore should be equal, but “humans are uniquely made in the image of God,” said Kaiser “and that’s no small gift.”

Paul Copan, professor and Pledge Family Chair of philosophy and ethics, Palm Beach Atlantic University, cited numerous verses where references to eating meat were made.

Two specific examples were when Jesus celebrates the Passover, eating Passover lamb, which is prescribed in Deuteromony 16. He also references the New Testament, where Jesus multiplies fish to feed the 5,000.

“Jesus himself eats meat,” said Copan.

Not all Christians believe the same, but it seems they all should be able to agree on one thing. To borrow the popular WWJD (What would Jesus do?) phrase, it seems the answer is obvious: Eat meat.