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A Pastor's View On Eating Mercifully

The Humane Society of the United States

I am considering eating mercifully. I'm considering what it might change in my life. I'm considering that it may just cause me to care more about life in every sense of the word.

By Justin Bills

What does vegetarianism have to do with faith?  Well, in our society today… not much. 

I was raised a typical Christian, in most areas of theology. When it came to creation and animal care, it wasn't talked about too much.

I actually remember a Christian college in my area advertising with key chains that said "Save the Humans"—a take on the "Save the Whales" campaign. A friend of mine told me he was at a Christian concert and saw a shirt that said "Forget the trees, save the kids".

Our family got a pet dog named Polly when I was about seven years old. I asked if Polly was going to go to heaven and my mom said "No, sorry, Justin. Dogs don't have souls like we do." I was discouraged from watching the animated film "All Dogs Go to Heaven" because their theology was a little off.

I'm not writing to debate the salvation of dogs or to discredit the Christian mission. I simply wanted to show a typical attitude that many Christians have had when it comes to animals. The attitude has been as though the earth is a sinking ship, bound for hell, and we have to save ourselves and as many humans as we can.

My pastor always says the thinking is "You don't polish the brass on a sinking ship."

So why care about animals?

Animal care is a "Christian" thing. In fact, I believe God cares more about animals than what most of us are taught to think.

In Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve that the plants, trees, and seeds are their food. God mentions that plants are the food for animals as well. The Garden of Eden was a vegan restaurant, in a sense. There was no killing of any kind in the garden.

It wasn't until after the flood when God commands Noah that all the animals are his for food. But God says it like this: "The fear and dread of you will fall upon the beasts of the earth" (Gen. 9).

In the book of Jonah, one of the reasons God gives Jonah for sparing Nineveh was because of all the people…and then says "and many cattle as well". God saw the animals that lived in Nineveh and it was one of the reasons He wanted to spare the whole city. Often when God makes a covenant with people, he will include the animals as well.

Should Christians care more about animals?

I'm not trying to say that eating meat is a sin. That can't be true at all.

But look at the way factory farmers are treating animals, look at the way cows are milked, chickens are made to lay eggs, pigs are forced to live in cages with only a foot to move forward and back, and so on.

Pigs are literally going insane because of lack of simulation. The only time they breathe fresh air is on the back of a truck on the way to be slaughtered. Doesn't that seem like a sin?

If we are a Faith saved by mercy, why don't we show mercy to the animals we eat? Why don't we care? If Jesus said that God cares even for the birds of the air by giving them food, shouldn't we care?

The attitude has been, "We just need to focus on human beings," which I understand. But imagine if we cared and showed mercy to everything that had breath. Imagine what that would do in softening our hearts towards people.

If we cared for the least of the creatures, how much more could we care for the most important?

St. Francis of Assisi was known to preach sermons to birds calling them to worship God—which to most might seem absurd and downright stupid.

But at least he had a respect and adoration for all of Creation. I'd rather be silly and absurd than ignorant, cruel, and violent.

As I write this today, I am considering eating mercifully. I'm considering what it might change in my life. I'm considering that it may just cause me to care more about life in every sense of the word.

I don't write to condemn those who don't share the same conviction, but rather so that you might consider eating mercifully with me.

Justin Bills is an associate pastor at Canyon Creek Fellowship Church in SE, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Originally published 3-29-09, in the S.E. Calgary News. Reprinted with permission.


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