Part two of an article based on a talk given by May Tripp at the Retreat For Animal Welfare, Maryvale, 19th June, 1993. This article is included in the book, “Animal Welfare: Through The Cross, A Collection Of Animal Christian Concern Articles” by Roslyne Smith. The book can be purchased here.
In Part One, we left off where by the author, May Tripp, is about to explore the passages in Matthew 15 v 1-20.
Looking at the passage in question we see that Jesus is here talking to Pharisees and teachers of the law and we know well how Jesus constantly warned them against their legalism. In fact the whole passage is about legalism, not directly about food at all, but about rituals such as hand washing and food laws. Yes, Jesus reminds his listeners, as He always did, that we are not saved by undue attention to religious laws, but by the righteousness of our hearts and that what is in our hearts shows in our CONSEQUENT ACTIONS (v 19). What point is there indeed, (v 3-9) in saying that we keep God’s law to honour our father and mother if we neglect them in His name? Surely, too, Jesus’ teaching here has something to say about our refusal to do anything positive against a use of animals which we have acknowledged to be cruel? For all caring Christians, meat eaters or not, can and should do their level best to avoid products of an acknowledged cruelty.
But the efforts of this young ACC member illustrate what an animal welfarist, particularly a vegetarian, is still up against in our churches.
Traditional Christians have largely forgotten that vegetarianism is an original facet of our faith. Walking through Kirkstall Abbey recently I spotted a plaque on one section of the ruins marking the meat kitchen. This, noted the plaque, had been built in the 15th Century. Prior to that all the monks had been vegetarian, and this more recent meat kitchen had been kept very separate from the original one in which vegetables only were cooked. Not only in the monastic traditions was abstinence from meat to be found. It is clear from Paul’s Epistles (Roman 14) that meatlessness was an issue amongst the first Christians and it may be that Paul himself, at least in part, sympathised with this (1 Corinthians 8v13) “So then, if food makes my brother sin, / will never eat meat again, so as not to make my brother fall into sin.”
The Church must never lose sight of the essential truth as written in Genesis (Ch. 1 v 29 & 30) that God’s perfect will for His creation is vegan harmony. The dreadful bloodiness of a predatory creation, “the food chain”, as scientists like to call it, can never be part of God who is Love.
“Now the message that we have heard from His Son is this: God is light and there is no darkness at all in Him” (1 John 1 v 5).
When God did make a concession on the eating of flesh: “Just as / gave you the green plants, / now give you everything” (Gen. 9 v 3), it was a concession to a people gone wrong, to a fallen people in need of redemption, and it gave them a choice. But as Paul pointed out in Romans 14, there can be a trap in abstinence from meat, if this abstinence becomes a religion in itself, if it makes us proud of our own virtue and if it makes us think that we are not fallen people. Because we are, all of us, vegetarian or not, and we are all dependent upon the saving grace of Christ Jesus. Indeed in our fallenness we can spoil even this cherished ideal.
I well remember an occasion several years ago when I went to a local Vegetarian Society committee meeting. This was chaired by our hostess, a very elderly lady in her eighties who, knowing that two young vegans were going to be present, had spent most of the day baking a vegan supper. She had bought and used a special vegan margarine, but that week the makers of this margarine had announced that, because of some difficulty in obtaining ingredients, there was a small chance that a little dairy produce may have been used in some of their batches. On the strength of this, the two young vegans proudly rejected the carefully prepared supper. Our octogenarian hostess was deeply hurt and the rest of us ate in acutely embarrassed silence. This episode illustrates for me the same compassionless legalism about which Christ Jesus challenged the Pharisees. We are all capable of this sort of self-righteousness and in the end it does our cause no good.
We animal welfarists encounter similar dilemmas all the time. How easy is it to sit next to a fur coat in church and warmly pass the peace to the wearer? How easy is it to accept medication when we don’t know how the treatment was researched? Or to walk past the collecting tin of an earnest collector for a charity which we are pretty sure will use it for animal experimentation? This is not a comfortable world for any committed Christian; emphatically it is not comfortable for one who is an animal welfarist. Of course our enquirers always want to know what Jesus actually did about the eating of meat, and for them this is of vital importance. But we don’t know. I would like to offer my own thoughts on this, for over the years what Jesus actually did was of vital importance to me too. First of all, I cannot conceive that He could have had less compassion for slaughtered animals than we here do: “no servant is greater than his master” (John 13 v 16).
Stay tuned for part part three of “Through The Cross To The New Creation, The Church In Action”. For those who would like to read the entire article: THROUGH-THE-CROSS Article 10
Thank you for reading and following our blog; we hope you are blessed by our work! ~Kathy