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I understand that many Christians don't believe that Jesus necessarily was a vegetarian, but embrace veganism because God's plan is one of love and peace. How can they advocate vegetarianism if they don't believe Jesus was a vegetarian?

In Is God a Vegetarian? (Open Court, 1998), Dr. Richard Alan Young, a professor at Temple Baptist Seminary in Tennessee, discounts the arguments that Jesus was a vegetarian, as does Rev. Andrew Linzey, author of many books on animal rights and Christianity (e.g. Animal Theology). They still argue, however, that Christians should attempt to live God's nonviolent vision here on earth, embracing compassion for animals. The arguments center on the concept of eschatology.

Eschaton means "end time." Scholars such as Linzey and Young embrace vegetarianism because they see the vegetarian garden of Eden and the vegetarian vision of the prophets (e.g., Isaiah's Chapter 11) as the vision for which we are called to live when we pray the Lord's prayer ("Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven").

Also, they note, Jesus' entire being was one of compassion, love, and mercy. At his sermon on the Mount, he states "Blessed are the merciful." The chronicle of his works is an account of the ultimate merciful man. "Have compassion," he tells us, "as God has compassion."

The world today is a violent place. As Christians, each of us can choose to add to that violence, suffering, and misery, or to withdraw our support for such violence and pain. We know that all animals feel love, loneliness, fear, and a range of other emotions. But more importantly, we know that they feel pain and have the capacity to suffer.

Today, animals raised for food live miserable lives and die violent bloody deaths. For example, pigs are castrated without painkillers and forced to live in factory stalls no bigger than their bodies. After a 20-week life of utter misery, they are loaded onto transport trucks like so many boxes in a warehouse and taken through weather extremes, without food and water. Sometimes, they freeze to the metal sides of the trucks in winter. At the slaughterhouse, they are hung upside down by one leg and their throats are slit, often while they are fully conscious. Although Linzey, Young, and most other eschatology-focused Christians embrace animal rights and liberation as central to their faith in the liberating nature of both Jesus and God, they also point out how violent, bloody, and cruel today's farming conditions have become, noting that these conditions did not apply to fishing in the sea of Galilee. Christians, they say, should follow the compassionate Christ by being vegetarians.

As Christians, we make a very basic choice, day in and day out, to take part in the torture and death of animals for food--or not to do so. At the very least, we should all stop eating animals, and there are a host of other steps we can take. As you do to the least, you do to Him.

Or to quote Professor young, "If God is both liberator and Creator, then God would want all creation to be liberated from oppression just like the Israelites were liberated. How could the God of the exodus ever sanction oppression against those of differing social standing, gender, race, or even species?"

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