Judging from the positive responses we received to Lauren Ng’s recent article on the re-imagined church potluck, the links between religion and animal rights resonate with many of you. So, to give the people what they want, we’re excited to bring back this piece by Nick Lacetti on how to awaken a vegan consciousness in your own religious community. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
This article originally appeared on Our Hen House on February 21, 2011. If you’d like to see a certain OHH article resurrected, email us at info [at] ourhenhouse [dot] org.
Earlier this month [EDITOR’S NOTE: and way back in 2011], I had the privilege of attending a fantastic event at Metropolitan Community Church of New York (“MCCNY”) — a conversation on veganism organized by Casey Easterling. MCCNY is an incredible, inclusive place. In fact, the Metropolitan Community Churches are unique as the first and only Christian churches to have a specific outreach to LGBT people. This groundbreaking event got me thinking about the importance of vegan outreach within religious circles. This is something I talked about last year [EDITOR’S NOTE: now 4 years ago] when Jasmin and Mariann invited my partner, Calla, and me to talk on their podcast about how Christianity pertains to animal rights.
The veganism discussion I attended was part of MCCNY’s series of “conversations” on various issues. The event featured impressive speakers: Jim Allen, organizer of VegOut NYC, a NYC-based meetup group for LGBT vegans and vegetarians (which Our Hen House recently blogged about), Calla Wright, campaigns coordinator of Farm Sanctuary (who is, in the interest of full disclosure, the aforementioned Calla who happens to be my partner), Michael Easterling of MCCNY, and Brooklyn illustrator John Wyffels.
What was particularly great about the event was that MCCNY has a strong commitment to social justice, especially LGBT rights and marriage equality. You can imagine how amazing it was to have a vegan event at a place like that. I know I’m not alone in the observation that too many religious groups – almost all of them, in fact – blatantly ignore animal issues, even when they have a stated commitment to social justice. To have veganism recognized as a social justice issue that touches upon a multitude of causes, including animal rights, the environment, human health and workers’ rights, was an amazing opportunity, and all too rare.
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be rare – you can do your part to introduce veganism to your church, synagogue, mosque or temple. Here are some simple ideas that could be applied to many religious communities, regardless of creed or denomination:
- Religious communities often have some kind of social action committee. Participating in these is a great way to bring up veganism, and all of the intersections it involves. As a member of such a committee, you can suggest an event like the one at MCCNY. It’s easier than you might think to get speakers from animal rights organizations or activist groups to participate in these events. Most animal rights activists jump at the opportunity to speak about why they do what they do!
- Even if you can’t find a speaker in your area, you can step up to the (cruelty-free) plate yourself and share with your community why you’re committed to a vegan lifestyle. Engaging with people as a member of their community is sometimes more effective than bringing in the voice of an outsider. I find that The Animal Activist’s Handbook is very useful in terms of effective communication techniques. (Oh, and pardon the shameless plug, but the authors of that book, Matt Ball and Bruce Friedrich, were both recent guests on the Our Hen House podcast, and gave some stellar tips that every activist needs to hear.)
- Many religious communities also host reading groups or other study groups. You can easily recommend an accessible animal rights-related book to such a group. For instance, Jonathan Safran Foer’s amazing bestseller, Eating Animals, is an invaluable resource, and accessible for most audiences. Remember that you can also tailor your suggestions to your particular community. For example, if you attend an evangelical Christian church, a book like Matthew Scully’s Dominion might be a good choice. If you’re part of a Buddhist community, why not suggest checking out Norm Phelps’ The Great Compassion? If you’re Jewish, perhaps you can try Richard H. Schwartz’s Judaism and Vegetarianism?
- Coffee hour is another great avenue for animal activism. Why not see if you can get your community to offer vegan treats – perhaps even soy creamer – at coffee hour, along with a presentation about why a vegan diet is ideal? Convincing your community to offer more vegan options at such events may seem like a minor thing, but it can be highly significant for the animals (and great for you, since you’ll finally have something to eat!).
- I know all too well that sometimes, this kind of outreach to religious communities is easier said than done. If your community is reluctant to tread on these topics, start simple: leaving vegan literature around your place of worship is an easy, not as in-your-face way to bring animal issues to your community. Many houses of worship include tables for literature about various issues, so just ask if you can leave some Vegan Outreach or Mercy For Animals leaflets there. You’d be surprised at how effective this can be for starting a conversation, which can lead to further dialogue in the future.
- For more information on pro-animal outreach to specific religious communities, check out the Vegan Society’s list of vegan religious organizations. There are a lot more than you’d think.
Okay, so maybe you won’t immediately be successful in getting the sign out front updated with a pro-vegan message, like the chick sticker on my computer that says “Jesus Loves Me Too.” But by following one or more of these tips, you’ll definitely succeed in planting seeds of compassion — to use a Buddhist image — in a community where there weren’t any before, at least as far as animals were concerned. And that first step is crucial.