Filmmaker Thomas Wade Jackson speaks about his new film A Prayer for Compassion and hopes for reaching faith communities with his message of veganism and compassion for animals.
Tell us about yourself and your new film A Prayer for Compassion.
I was born in a small town in South Georgia and was raised Southern Baptist and grew up eating the same standard American diet as the majority of people at the time. I didn’t become vegan until 2005 when I was in my mid-30s living in NYC and attending a Unity Church. No one at Unity or anywhere else ever suggested that I be vegetarian, and I’d never even heard the word “vegan”. I feel it was starting a daily meditation practice and studying the teachings of Jesus about kindness and compassion that intuitively led me to transition to a non-violent diet.
It wasn’t long before I started noticing that when we would go to brunch after church, the ministers and chaplains that were teaching me about love and compassion for all were for some reason excluding the animals on their plate. But I thought “who am I to judge another” and decided to live and let live and be a good example. And for about a decade I did just that, until my daughter was born and then I saw Cowspiracy and for the first time became aware of the devastating effect that animal agriculture is having on the planet. I was shocked and felt I had to do something, but I didn’t know what to do. So, I prayed and meditated about it and it was in meditation that the idea for the film originated.
In the film I travel around the United States and India, as well as attend the UN Conference on Climate Change in Morocco, interviewing spiritual and religious people about the teachings of compassion that create the foundation of their tradition. And it turns out that a vegan lifestyle is not only in alignment with every spiritual path I explored, it’s the very embodiment of those teachings. Vegans are truly living the values of their faith every single day by choosing to eat a non-violent diet.
What are you hoping to achieve through your film?
One of the main things we hope to do with the film (besides alleviating unnecessary suffering) is to get this discussion started in our churches and places of worship. I want ministers and clergy to realize that whether they have an interest in going vegan or not, there is probably someone they’re ministering to that is vegan, or either they’re like so many people I’ve met over the last three years, who have left their places of worship because of feeling ridiculed for making a compassionate choice that is very often motivated by their faith.
I also want to remind the audience of the power of their daily choices. How every pound we spend is a vote for the type of world you want to create. And by switching to a vegan lifestyle you are voting for a more peaceful, healthy and sustainable world three or more times a day.
Did you receive any insights from the variety of Christians that you interviewed about faith and animals?
Even though I was raised Christian, before making this film I never realized how much the Bible supported a plant-based diet and held it up as the ideal, starting with Genesis 1:29 where we’re told to eat exclusively plants. And it’s only 3 verses before that – in the same conversation – where God gives us ‘dominion’ over the animals. So, it’s clear that dominion doesn’t mean eating them. And now with all the evidence that eating animal products is destructive to human health, we have to consider the teachings of our bodies being temples for the holy spirit. And as Elaine West, a devout Christian and the founder of Rooterville, a farmed animal sanctuary says in the film, “You don’t put trash in a temple.”
I think that it is a lack of awareness that allows so many people to continue to participate in such a violent industry that is totally out of alignment with their kind and compassionate nature. This is why I believe it’s important for Christians to be made aware that over 74 billion farmed animals are forcefully bred and painfully slaughtered every year, and they eat 5 times more food than humans. And raising them is our number one user and polluter of water, as well as being number one at air pollution, deforestation, species extinction and ocean dead zones. Not to mention the epidemics of lifestyle diseases and deaths caused by eating dead animals and their secretions. The bottom line is that animal agriculture is the number one destroyer of our environment, human health and animals. How long can compassionate Christians continue to support and finance such an evil industry?
Are you optimistic that compassion can indeed grow to include all beings?
I’m very optimistic that as Christians and other people of faith begin to understand what is happening to the animals, the planet and human health, they will make more compassionate choices. In my travels I’ve met so many wonderful purpose-driven people who are working on these issues from a multitude of angles. I began to see the problem as a big boulder that’s blocking our path to the Peaceable Kingdom which was written about in Isaiah, and I believe that once we have enough hands pushing on this boulder we will roll it out of our way. And if it’s anything like the other social justice issues in our past, it will be the compassionate religious amongst us who will lead the way. This is why it’s so important that in a non-judgmental way, we help our religious and spiritual brothers and sisters see past the normalised violence of eating and wearing animals, and gently help them bring their values and beliefs into alignment with their daily actions.
In what ways can Christians play an active role in including animals within their circle of compassion?
To help get this conversation started, along with the film we are working with In Defense of Animal’s Interfaith Vegan Coalition (IVC) to create local support groups where vegan Christians can unite with vegan from other faiths and places of worship in their area to work together in bringing about compassionate change within their faith-based communities, by hosting film screenings, potlucks, panel discussions and more. You can find out more by contacting us at the IVC’s website, where you can also locate and download faith specific “Advocacy Kits,” that give information on how a vegan lifestyle is in alignment with various religious and spiritual paths.
Thomas Wade Jackson is a Film Director and Producer. His other works include his short
Slow Dancin’ Down the Aisles of the QuickMart, for which he won a Student Academy Award.
For more information on his Compassion Film Project