Though generally lauded by Catholics, Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ (henceforth, LS) was dismissed by some who saw its environmental call to arms as theological novelty. It’s no surprise then that, when a lightshow of wildlife was projected onto the façade of St. Peter’s basilica in 2015, quite a number of these same voices condemned the display as pagan, blasphemous, and even demonic. What these critics did not always recognize, however, is that a transformation in Catholic teaching about plants and animals has been underway for a while now; it did not begin with Francis. Vatican II initiated the environmental revolution, so to speak, and successive popes have furthered it. Not without reason did PETA deem Pope John Paul II a saint to animals or environmentalists nickname Pope Benedict XVI the “green pope.”
As we all seek to further animal concerns on the fronts of industry, law, and social practices, let us not forget the essential and foundational role of prayer in any Kingdom-bringing endeavor. Yes, pray for reform in farming practices; yes, pray for laws to be written and enforced; yes, pray for God’s supernatural intervention to minimize animal suffering and to meet animal needs of all kinds. I actually have written Liturgical Prayers to add to Morning Prayer to address each of these prayer-needs.
But also, let us pray for those who already care deeply for the non-human animal members of their families. Let us pray for those whose hearts are already soft toward animals of all kinds. Let us learn to weave Pet Prayers into the fabric of our normal church life. This is the purpose of my book, “Pet Prayers.”
As a Pastor, I care deeply for all the concerns of my parishioners. This includes the loving bonds they have with their pets. The church is invited into most of the life-changing events in a family: births, baptisms, hospitalizations, marriages, deaths. But, what about life changing events in families which happen because of pets? For example, the arrival of a new pet into the family, or if a pet gets lost, injured, or dies. These are all times when my parishioners’ hearts are very tender, and in need of pastoral care. What do such Pet Prayers look like? One example is a Pet Burial Liturgy I wrote in honor of Charis.
Throughout my life, I have had beloved pets including cats and dogs. One feline family member was named Charis. In those years, I was the Rector of a parish in Florida. I was single and in my 40s, and most of my parishioners were in their 60s or older with children and grandchildren. While I had good, meaningful, and peaceful relationships with my flock, I wouldn’t say we were social friends; we didn’t have enough in common.
Then, Charis died. I was heartbroken. I felt the need to honor her life and all she meant to me, and to give thanks to God for the countless blessings He brought into my life through her. So, I took the Burial Liturgy I used to bury people, and I rewrote it to be fitting for Charis’ funeral. I took the step – which was not an easy one because of how rarely we hear sermons like this – to preach about grief and pets and God’s care. I included this personal story about Charis
and her Burial Liturgy which I had written.
That Sunday, I had more “door conversations” after church, and more invitations to homes, than I had ever had before. The Lord had used the sermon to validate and affirm their love for their pets, to create a safe place to be honest about deep feelings of loss. They felt an immediate bond with me, a feeling of being understood, and an affection for me as their pastor
which had not come about in any other way. My parishioners wanted to introduce me to their beloved pets, to show me pictures of pets who had died in the past, and to ask me questions about how to pray at-home for these beloved members of their families. Our shared love for animals became a bond of fellowship which deepened the relational dynamics of the whole parish family, for they discovered they could be transparent with others in the congregation who felt the same
way they did about their pets.
Out of this experience, a book began to grow. Eventually, it was published under the title “Pet Prayers.” It continues to be one of the best ways for me to establish almost immediate trust relationships with new church members.
Another ministry which arose from the use of “Pet Prayers” is even more evangelical. As I volunteered at a local Humane Society, they became aware of this book. Often, people from the town would come to the Humane Society to ask for guidance at those tender times just before and just after the death of a pet. The staff did not feel equipped to help some who were struggling with grief. So, they called me one day, and asked if they could refer people to me. I responded that I would be happy to help in any way that I could, and reminded them that the form that help would take would be of a Christian nature. They were fine with that. I think they were just glad to have some suggestion for hurting people. (Isn’t that a good role for the Church to have!) I began receiving calls, including invitations into homes of people I had never met before. I would enter a person’s home, listen attentively to stories about their pets and perhaps how that pet had died, and in that moment, that person just wanted to feel understood and helped. Most of these people were not Christian, and some others were not church-goers. Some even said they stopped going to church because they had felt shamed for their deep emotions surrounding animals.
I would open “Pet Prayers,” show them prayers shaped for their specific situation, and ask if they would like to join me as I held-up them and their pet to the Lord through prayer. Every time, the response was an emotional “Yes.” At times, I would also share some of the biblical reasons why I believe animals go to heaven. And, a few times, it was appropriate for me to then ask, “Would you like to know for sure that you will be in heaven with your pet?” This genuine, heartfelt invitation was never refused. Their bond of love with an animal already in heaven literally pulled them heavenward, and all I did was provide the words and prayers to help people respond to that pull, through Jesus Christ.
As a Theologian, I desire to root these pastoral concerns not just in sentimentality; but, in solid biblical principles. I am currently working on a Paper which could either become a monograph of its own, or an article for the Journal of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. This Paper is “A Biblical Theology of the Ontology of Animal Souls.” In other words, what does the Bible say an animal IS? What sort of being? One with a soul? A soul with an eternal dimension? If so, and it is so, then the biblical view of stewardship must be shaped accordingly.
There was a time in academics when Theology held the position of Queen of the Sciences. All other human fields of study, and therefore industry and politics and social practices, were intentionally shaped by a foundational biblical theology. As our cultures become more distant from seeing Theology in this role, they also distance themselves from divine accountability and godly authority. As we pastors and theologians speak-up and provide clear biblical teaching about the eternal dimension to animal souls, we can reintroduce into animal welfare discussions a starting-point which has true eternal perspective and even divine authority.
I look forward to the time when Seminaries include as part of their core curriculum courses in animal stewardship, pastoral care, and liturgical practices, which evidence the biblical theology of the ontology of animal souls. Then, pastors will not feel hesitant nor unsure of how to integrate such prayer and care into their ministries. As the Church learns to demonstrate a biblical view of animal care, and the care of those who care for animals, we can then become a well-spring for such care to be evidenced in the cultures around us. So let it be. Amen!
The Rev. Dr. Susan I. Bubbers is Dean of the ATLAS Theological Center, a seminary Professor, church-planter and Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics.
If hot dogs were made of dogs, would you still eat one? If you’d asked me that question seven years ago (when I still ate meat), I would’ve answered with a firm (though puzzled) ‘no’. My previous answer fascinates me now because it highlights that our beliefs about what is (and is not) acceptable to eat typically derive from our cultural inheritance, rather than any Biblically informed ethic. After all, if, as we Christians might initially be tempted to think, it is okay to eat lambs and pigs because humans were given dominion over God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-28), then it will also be okay to eat cats and dogs, for nothing in Genesis (nor any other book in the Bible) suggests that lambs and pigs are for eating while cats and dogs are for cuddling. Yet most of us find the idea of eating cats and dogs horrific.
Recognising that such a mixed attitude towards animals – a desire to eat pigs and cuddle dogs– is a cultural inheritance which doesn’t obviously square with the Biblical idea of human dominion over animals is helpful; it gives us the chance to distance ourselves from those cultural beliefs and ask ourselves afresh what attitude towards animals the Bible most clearly teaches.
In sketching an answer to this question, let’s begin at the beginning, in the book of Genesis. Perhaps the portion of the Genesis creation narrative most relevant to this topic is Genesis 1:29-30:
God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so.
In these verses, God institutes a plant-based diet for both humans and non-human animals alike. God, in other words, created the world vegan. And it is this vegan world which God proceeds to declare very good (Genesis 1:31).
What, then, of human dominion over all other creatures (Genesis 1:26-28)? Some have used the idea of human dominion to justify the eating of non-human animals: humans are allowed to eat other animals because humans were given dominion over other animals.
While we cannot deny that such thinking has been influential, there is one simple point which counts decisively against any such interpretation of ‘dominion’. This point is that humans are given dominion over other animals immediately prior to and as part of the very same narrative in which God gives humans a plant-based diet. Whatever ‘having dominion over’ means, then, if God’s subsequent institution of a plant-based diet is to make any sense, it cannot involve the permission to kill and eat animals: dominion simply does not mean complete and utter domination.
Just as the Bible’s account of creation’s beginnings depict an initial scenario free of violence, so does the Bible’s depictions of God’s intentions for the goal of creation. This is captured in the idea of the Peaceable Kingdom: a time in which the Messiah will reign, bringing universal peace and harmony: shalom. One of Isaiah’s descriptions of this Kingdom is particularly apt (Isaiah 11:6-8):
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
Here we see a clear statement that this Messianic Kingdom – for Christians, the Reign of God inaugurated by and to be summed up in Jesus – will feature no killing animals for food. This foreshadows the book of Revelation, where the renewal of all things is pictured as the new Jerusalem descending to this earth (Revelation 21-22). God’s ultimate project is to restore this creation to Himself, not to replace this creation with something else entirely. God values this creation, and every creature it contains – a point Jesus underscored when he noted that even sparrows, sold for mere pennies, were known to God (Matthew 10:29).
The Bible’s account of creation’s beginnings and its account of creation’s ultimate summing up both speak of peaceful living, peaceful eating. This is not to deny that there are passages which can and have been used to justify eating animals. These passages are best interpreted, however, in light of that overarching theme of peace, a theme embodied, of course, in the person of Jesus Christ. The Bible makes clear that at every turn, Jesus actively, though non-violently, resisted oppression and evil. He stood up for the marginalised, loved his enemies, and preached peace in the face of Roman violence and hostility.
How does this affect things? Well, in the light of Jesus’s life and work, we might, for example, be inclined to see God’s giving Noah and his family permission to eat some animals (Genesis 9:3) as a temporary concession to fallen, sinful humanity (especially given God’s repeated inclusion of animals in the Noahic covenant). Similarly, while Peter’s vision of the animals descending from heaven in Acts 10 might at first seem to justify the eating of “unclean” animals, when read in context and the light of Jesus’s mission, we see that Peter was actually being taught that the Gospel was for all peoples, even “unclean” Roman Centurions (what better way to get the attention of a hungry person (see Acts 10:10) than to use a food-based analogy?).
Most importantly, by focusing on Jesus and the ethic he embodied, we can situate ourselves in God’s story. We were made to live peacefully, and will one day inhabit God’s Peaceable Kingdom. Recognising these things, and remembering that many of our beliefs about animals stem not from the Bible but from cultural habit, might enable us to evaluate honestly the violence we are now implicated in, not so that we can condemn ourselves or be condemned by others – but so that we can turn from it, and join with God in seeking that Peaceable Kingdom. As we read the Bible, our prayer should be that God would deliver us from the evil of causing unnecessary violence to animals.
Dr Simon Kittle is a Christian philosopher with interests in philosophy of religion and Christian ethics, and a member of the Anglican Church.
Tomi Makanjuola, vegan chef and writer, discusses her love of faith, passion for Nigerian food and new book The Plantain Cookbook.
Tell about yourself and passion for vegan food
I am a London-based chef and writer, and I have been vegan for about six years. I initially went vegan to improve my health and because of a growing belief that animals should not be exploited for our tastes and convenience. Not surprisingly, this lifestyle change had a significant impact on the types of food I cooked and ate.
As someone who had grown up eating Nigerian food primarily, I suddenly found myself experimenting with recipes and ‘veganising’ the traditional dishes that I’d come to love and cherish. A meat-heavy dish like peppersoup, for example, was transformed with a mix of ‘meaty’ vegetables such as aubergine and mushrooms, and root vegetables such as yam and sweet potato. This spilled into blogging and sharing about food on my website ‘The Vegan Nigerian‘. In 2016, I launched The Vegan Nigerian Pop-Up Restaurant which consists off a series of one-off dining experiences where people can taste and discover the flavours of Nigerian cuisine, as well as connect with other like-minded diners.
Did you face any challenges going vegan?
There were some challenging moments when it came to dining out. Vegan options were not as widespread back then as they are now, and so I had to do extra research when choosing restaurants, or else run the risk of ending up in an awkward situation. There were also a handful of non-vegan foods that I missed to begin with, but once I discovered that there’s pretty much a vegan version of everything, that was no longer an issue.
How do you join the dots between your veganism and Christian faith?
One of the fundamental aspects of faith is compassion. We see that exhibited in God’s love for us and in the love he has for his creation. By extension, we are all called to model this love here on earth.
The primary aim of veganism is to treat other living beings with compassion; it is a lifestyle founded on living peaceably with the animals around us and is one of the most effective ways for us to contribute towards a more harmonious world. From that perspective, and as someone who strives to live out my values, I am able to draw straightforward yet compelling links between the two.
How do other Christians react when you tell them you are vegan?
Some Christians start by reciting passages from the Bible where meat-eating is mentioned, as a way of dismantling or dismissing the idea of veganism. Others are totally accepting and respect my choice, whilst admitting that they would struggle to do the same. Still, I’ve had some very interesting and in-depth conversations with some Christians about the ways in which veganism and Christianity can inform each other.
Are you optimistic about the future of Christian engagement with veganism and animal advocacy?
I’m optimistic about most things in life and so, yes, I do see a bright future when it comes to Christian engagement with veganism. The growing awareness in wider society will no doubt find its way into the church. The more Christians are presented with the ethical and compassionate side of the movement, in particular, the more they will be able to see that veganism is not antithetical to the faith but rather a reasonable and [in our current climate] necessary expression of it.
As a professional caterer, what typical dishes to your serve to your customers?
I serve a wide range of dishes as a caterer. My specialty is Nigerian cuisine – so guests can expect party food such as jollof rice, fried plantain or pounded yam, for example. But with a professional chef background in making diverse cuisines, I’ve also catered at events were I’ve provided traditional British dishes such as shepherd’s pie and pie & mash. At the last Sarx Connect Day, I catered a dinner consisting of a Thai-inspired curry and lemon/raspberry sponge cake for dessert.
From weddings to birthday parties to corporate events, I am available to cater in and around London, so do get in touch via my website www.vegannigerian.com to see how we can work together!
Tell us about your brand new book ” Plantain Cookbook “
Plantain is a versatile ingredient that is native to many countries in Africa, South America and Asia. Not to be mistaken with a banana, plantain is used mainly in savoury dishes because of its higher starch content. Creating the Plantain Cookbook was somewhat of a passion project. Plantain is an amazing ingredient that is often under-utilised (normally, it is simply fried, boiled or roasted) and so I decided to come up with over 40 vegan dishes using it as a base – ranging from choc-chip plantain pancakes, to plantain pot pies, to plantain quiche, to plantain cupcakes. The recipes are accessible, no-fuss, but utterly delicious, so anyone can feel confident making them!
Pop over to www.vegannigerian.com and you’ll find a collection of exciting recipes, vegan product reviews, features and details about Tomi’s upcoming food events. For more regular content, you can also follow her on social media (Twitter/Facebook/Instagram) at @vegannigerian.
I must have been about nine when I saw the sheepskins hanging over the abattoir (slaughterhouse) wall. I’d turned vegetarian at the age of eight, after realising that what-was-on-my-plate was who-was-in-the-fields, and I remember feeling embarrassed for the grown-ups, visiting family in Leeds, who’d taken a wrong turning on our Sunday walk. I shouldn’t be seeing this, was my thought.
Jacy Reese discusses his new book The End of Animal Farming, the direction of the animal advocacy movement, positive changes in religious thinking towards animal issues and how people of faith can take constructive steps in support of animals.
In celebration of World Vegan Month, we welcomed over 70 people from all across the UK at our sold-out Christian Animal Advocate Connect Day on Saturday 3rd November at Oasis Hub café, Waterloo.
Jay Wilde, the Derbyshire farmer who made national headlines after famously donating his herd of cattle to an animal sanctuary in 2017, reflects upon his relationship to animals, the future of his farm and the newly released documentary 73 Cows which chronicles his remarkable story.
Whilst you were still a beef farmer, what was your relationship with the animals on your farm?
It was a strange relationship. You knew you wanted to look after them and keep them as healthy and happy as possible, but you knew that the ultimate aim of all the care and attention was to prepare the growing calves for inevitable slaughter, and so you couldn’t help thinking ‘Do they know what you really have in store for them?’ and wondering if they knew that you would betray their trust in you.
What was it like taking the cows to slaughter?
On the one hand, I felt I had to steel myself for what had to be done to fulfil the role of a conventional farmer; on the other hand, you felt like a criminal playing a dirty horrible trick on the animals as your final contact with them.
Did you feel trapped in your role as a beef farmer?
I was born into cattle farming and everybody thought it was the natural thing to do for the son to take over the father’s role, maintaining the farm and continuing what was thought of as the traditional way of British cattle farms to operate: growing grass for the animals to eat, producing food that people can eat. But after a few years of working on the farm the idea of eating the animals that I’d known and cared for began to seem unacceptable and I became a vegetarian. When my father died in 2011 I had to take full responsibility for what I was doing and for several years I struggled with the life of a traditional livestock farmer, all the while trying to think how to maintain the environmental benefits of an organic livestock farm which supports traditional hay meadows and unimproved grassland – both increasingly rare habitats which we have maintained for quite a few years assisted by Higher Level Stewardship funding by Defra and the EU – without having to send animals to slaughter.
How did you reach your decision to give your herd of cows away to Hillside Animal Sanctuary and turn Bradley Nook into a vegan farm?
The first hint of an alternative life for the farm came from Patrick Smith at Veggies Catering Nottingham who were providing the food for an event on the farm. Nearly all the people attending were vegans or vegetarians; some had remarked to Patrick that they were upset that they were staying on a beef farm. He asked me if I had heard of vegan vegetable growing. I had no idea what that meant at that time and I felt a pang of resentment and felt defensive because we were doing the best – as we thought – to keep the farm going. But I admitted to Patrick that I knew why they felt upset as I hadn’t eaten meat for at least 25 years at that time. He gave me the phone number of The Vegan Society so that I could make enquiries. I think it was because I felt secretly ashamed of what I was doing and therefore defensive, it took me more than a year to actually call The Vegan Society. I also felt bound to carry on my father’s work trying to bury my own feelings. Within a few weeks of finally making the call, leading members of The Vegan Society came to visit the farm. We discussed why I had telephoned and discussed the possibility of producing food without having to exploit animals which The Vegan Society are promoting with their Growing Green campaign. They suggested a further meeting with Iain Tolhurst, the originator of stockfree growing, and David Graham who started and runs the Vegan Organic Network. After some discussion and walking around the farm taking soil samples, these two experts and The Vegan Society suggested that this might be a way forward. Then came the question of what would happen to the cattle living on the farm. They asked if we would sell them for slaughter or to other farmers. But I said that wouldn’t be a good start to animal-free agriculture and the response was ‘We were hoping you would say that, we would like to find spaces for the animals in sanctuaries around the country’. The Vegan Society offered to tackle this job. Everybody expected this process to take six months to a year but just a few weeks later, Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Frettenham offered to take the entire herd.
What were the sacrifices and rewards of giving away your herd?
The only sacrifice was giving up the feeling of security of a system and routine which had been your life experience and having to learn how to keep the farm together using completely new ideas and unfamiliar skills.
The rewards were a feeling of overwhelming relief never having to take another animal to the slaughterhouse and knowing that the cow families on the farm would be able to live their lives together at Hillside, giving us the freedom of starting the new life of Nook Farm. Another reward was the hope that we could play some part in changing the way that Britain and maybe other parts of the world produce the food that we need.
Your story hit the news headlines in an extraordinary way. How did others react to your decision?
Our overwhelming impression is of wonderful support from people who want to see positive change in the world. We have had many offers of practical and possible financial support when our project finally gets underway. Many letters and cards arrived with wonderful comments and encouragement.
Some local farmers reportedly made very adverse comments but one local farmer is sympathetic and we seem to have found some like-minded friends in a nearby agri-environmental support group.
Your story has been turned into an awarding winning documentary. What was it like working on this extraordinary film and what do you hope it will achieve?
It felt very strange when Alex Lockwood and his team at Lockwood Film approached us expressing an interest in making a documentary about events on the farm. At that point we did not realise just how much time and effort they would have to devote to visiting the farm and filming segments which might be edited into a finished film. At first, we had no idea what it meant to be filmed and only really agreed because we liked Alex and wanted to help them to succeed with their project. Being subjects of the film and feeling slightly overwrought by the experience, it was difficult to imagine what the final result might be. Ultimately, I hope it will inform people about a more humane and efficient way of feeding the world and also that it will encourage other people to do what they feel and know to be right instead of following tradition and convention and continuing with ways of living that they instinctively know are bad for themselves and the world.
What does the future have in store for you and the farm?
Thanks to The Vegan Society, finding a new home for most of the cows happened very quickly but for various reasons we have not been able yet to start the actual conversion of the farm. But we now have the help of a very capable land agency and hope that progress will be more rapid from now on. The primary aim is to grow vegan-organic produce and to use this produce in a vegan restaurant and a teaching kitchen and B&B. We also plan a shop selling all vegan products.
Most importantly, we hope to demonstrate that we can maintain the farm’s traditional hay meadows and unimproved pastures without commercial cattle farming. We kept twelve animals on the farm because the ancient pasture land needs to be maintained by grazing and the organic manure which the cows obviously produce.
It was very easy to decide which animals to keep as all the ones we kept have a special relationship with us. Two of them we hand-raised from birth by bottle-feeding them, others were special characters that actively formed a special bond with us and three had been in poor health and we wanted to look after them ourselves. Our interaction with the animals seems completely different now; they just go about their business of being cows and we visit them as friends.
How can others support your work on Bradley Nook Farm?
So far, we have drawn strength from the continued support of the many people who have contacted us by post and on social media although we have had no actual progress to report. We are now putting together a crowdfunder which will hopefully make the development possible. When the growing begins there are bound to be volunteering opportunities.
When I tell church friends that I work in animal theology, I am often met with puzzled looks: ‘Do you mean animals go to heaven?’ Animal theology certainly includes such questions, but has wider concerns: What is animal creation for? To what end did God make them? How are humans supposed to treat them?
How can people fight injustice, save the planet, and fuel their resistance one meal at a time? Renowned animal rights advocate Carol J. Adams and vegan dietitian Virginia Messina explain how in their new book Protest Kitchen.