Beginning with Ash Wednesday, the 40-day Lenten countdown to Easter is an extended holiday that Christians see as an opportunity to renew a close relationship with God and kick bad habits. Unfortunately, several animal-rights activist groups have used these holidays to further target the faith community by “reinterpreting” scripture and spinning God’s word in a way that removes all biblical permission for eating animals.
Let’s take a look at three principles defined in the book, What Would Jesus Really Eat? (WWJRE), that explore human consumption of meat, poultry, eggs and dairy.
The first biblical case that animal-rights activists try to contest refers to man’s dominion over animals. In Genesis 1:28, God grants humankind divine authority “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on earth.” But how does this pertain to how we treat animals used in agriculture? In the book WWJRE, the authors point out that “the church has historically understood that when God was silent as revealed in the Bible, human reason and conscience guided the treatment of animals.” This shows that not only did God give us authority to use his creation but also gave us the freedom to make the right decisions in considering the welfare of animals.
In granting humans dominion over the earth, he trusted that we would act accordingly as good stewards in the name of love for God. Farmers and ranchers embody this divine responsibility every day by caring for the crops, livestock, and environment to ensure that there are enough resources for the next generation.
Another argument that anti-animal ag campaigns utilize is the concept of human exceptionalism, which distinguishes human beings as inherently different from all other creatures on earth. The scripture in Genesis 1:27 captures our unique relationship to God perfectly, stating, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.”
While humans are included in the all-encompassing animal kingdom, they are the only ones with the capacity to love and worship their creator and the only ones who were granted dominion to subdue the Earth (see how everything ties together?). Unlike animals, we were also given rationality, self-awareness, creativity, and other attributes that go beyond a limited capacity for sensation and instinct for survival. As beings with a divinely granted moral responsibility (another trait lacking in animals), we are tasked with caring for Earth’s creatures as good shepherds and “vice-regents” to God. The counterargument that humans walk the Earth as equals with animals would be wholly untrue given these biblical facts.
The principle most difficult to manipulate or misinterpret is the divine permission written in the Bible that blesses the practice of eating animals. There are countless examples in the New and Old Testaments of God commanding humans to eat or sacrifice animals in his name. In Genesis 15 and 22, God directly commands Abraham to slaughter animals as sacrifices in a test of loyalty, just as he instructed holy leaders in temples to do for generations after. In fact, there was so much animal sacrifice done in the early years of Christianity that it was estimated that some sort of concentrated livestock production system must have been used in order to meet the temples’ demand for animals. So many, in fact, that a professor emeritus of food science at Cornell University estimated could have exceeded 1.5 million animals per year, according to WWJRE. In these times, eating and sacrificing animals was a practice that simply could not be separated from religious life. It is impossible to go a few pages in the Bible without reading about killing a calf or lamb to be at the center of the banquet table.
The practice of eating meat showed up in the Bible during miracles and hearty celebrations, such as the story of when Jesus famously fed 5,000 hungry people with a few fish and loaves of bread. Meat is considered such a celebratory food that it’s the reason Catholics, for example, give up red meat and pork on Fridays during Lent — a solemn and penitent remembrance of Christ’s death on the cross.
In recent years, animal-rights groups have developed campaigns to push vegetarianism on people of faith, claiming that only by ending modern systems of animal agriculture and advocating for more “compassionate eating” will we bring about a “peaceable kingdom” on Earth.
These groups will also strategically launch or revitalize these religion-focused campaigns during Christian holidays like Lent that incorporate the practice of abstaining from meat. Animal-rights activists will praise this community for their “mercy” for animals and encourage them to fully commit to an animal-free diet, giving them a sense that this misguided compassion forwards God’s kingdom. What activists don’t understand is that this practice is not about animals or the environment, but instead is a weekly penance that honors the sacrifice of flesh and blood that Jesus made in forgiving all the sins of mankind. Most Christians continue to hold the belief that sacrifice is necessary to sustain life, just as Jesus sacrificed himself for man, and just as we respectfully use animals to sustain our earthly bodies.
So, what would Jesus really eat? Well, it is written in the Bible that his diet consisted of what was traditionally eaten by all religious men and women of the time, including a variety plant and animal products. Therefore, I’d wager that a plant-based diet is no more spiritual or moral that one that includes meat, poultry, eggs and dairy. In the effort to keep mankind’s promise to God, farmers and ranchers will continue to incorporate practices that keep animal welfare top-of-mind, while simultaneously providing safe, nutritious food for their families and communities.
Michelle Miller, the “Farm Babe,” is an internationally recognized keynote speaker, writer, and social media influencer and travels full time to advocate for agriculture. She comes from an Iowa-based row crop and livestock farming background and now resides on a timber farm in North Central Florida.