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Theological Thursdays: Blessing Animals, Eating Animals, and Purity of Message

LONDON - NOVEMBER 28:  PETA (People For The Et...

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As we celebrated St. Francis’ day in the rain last week, praying for our pets, one BRO commenter questioned the integrity of praying for some animals, without speaking out against the eating of other animals.

It’s a fair question, and one that different people of good faith can and do approach differently.

And, just for full disclosure, I am a pet owner and meat eater.  Even though I was a vegetarian for about 8 years.  My decision to become a vegetarian was rooted in the inefficiencies and ecological problems that go with the meat industry, and my return to eating meat was borne from a desire to be a gracious guest (pastors receive a lot of meals–and nobody ever thinks we might be vegetarians).

In Genesis, humans are not given permission to eat meat until after the flood, but do receive it afterwards.  The rest of the Bible pretty much takes eating meat as an assumption–the only question is whether one may eat meat that is “unclean,” or that may have been sacrificed to an idol.

That hasn’t stopped many Christians, as well as people of other faiths, from practicing vegetarianism based on religious practice.

And though I count myself amongst meat eaters, I do have to confess that the meat industry is often inhumane, unsustainable, and consumes resources that could be used to feed hungry people.   So while I would not say that eating meat is categorically wrong, in every circumstance, it certainly seems wrong in much of the time.

But then is every wrong to be fought all the time?  By choosing to encourage some people that love some animals, am I leaving the message incomplete?

Two weeks ago, I preached a text in which Jesus stated, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”  This is difficult for people of many religious faiths to hear.  My congregation struggled with the idea that many of the people we often contrast ourselves with may actually be “on the same team.”

Can a vegetarian ally with meat eaters?  Can a pacifist work with those who may use violence?  Can a Christian church ally with a secular organization?

My faith (and every other that I have looked at) has texts that call for purity and non-compromise, as well as texts that break down the boundaries of who I might be tempted to exclude.

Yes, interpreting the Bible’s scripture on animals without discussing diet was incomplete, but there is never time to consider every issue and every text from every angle.

This is why theology is more art than science.  It’s not a matter of “if” we err, but how.  I have decided that I would rather err on the side of being too open, reaching too far, and tolerating too much compromise.  This does not mean that I am without principle.  But I have realized that I can, if I choose to, find a problem with every good thing that is going on in this town (and there are many that are way better than pet blessings).  If we demand perfection, we’ll never get anywhere. 

This week, I’ve been working with local folk that are way left and way right, on issues on which I can find agreement.  They’ve all got problems (as do I), but people suffering from injustice don’t have the luxury of waiting for perfection. 

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