This article first appeared on the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Advocacy for Animals site and is reprinted with permission of the editors. Detail from Nativity, by Gentila da Fabriano. Public domain. Most Christians in the Western Hemisphere eat meat. Though a small vegetarian/vegan minority exists, for the most part Christianity in North and South America is a meat-eating religion. When asked about the morality of killing animals for food, the response from most self-described Christians is almost always the same: the Bible teaches that humans have dominion over animals, and that killing them for food or any other service to humans is allowable. However, despite the general acceptance of this ethos of domination within Western Christianity, the fact remains that when all scriptural passages pertaining to animal welfare are viewed within the larger context of the Christian message of grace, atonement, and mercy developed throughout the Bible, there exists an even stronger argument that promotes the humane and compassionate treatment of animals. As a matter of fact, a very strong biblical case for complete abstinence from meat and all animal products has been taught for years. Contrary to the teachings of Augustine and Aquinas, some of the most celebrated Christian leaders, theologians, and teachers of all time were/are vegetarians who espoused the view that meat consumption is contrary to the Biblical message of love and compassion and is not healthy, either for the individual or for the planet. “If a man aspires towards a righteous life, his first act of abstinence is from injury to animals.” – Leo Tolstoy (photo: public domain) These acclaimed leaders include John Wesley; Salvation Army founders William and Catherine Booth; American pastor Tony Campolo; theologian and physician Albert Schweitzer; Seventh-day Adventist Church founder Ellen G. White; Leo Tolstoy; St. John Chrysostom; St. Clement of Alexandria; and St. Basil. Famous Christian apologist and author C.S. Lewis and St. Francis of Assisi, though not strict vegetarians, both took great pains to teach the moral obligation of Christians to treat all animals with compassion and mercy. Even the iconic Fred Rogers of the public-television program Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, an ordained Presbyterian minister, was a vegetarian and avoided any products derived from animals. Conflicting biblical statements about animals There are hundreds of conflicting passages in the Bible concerning how animals fit into Creation and how we as humans are to interact with them. Throughout the Old Testament, texts describing animal sacrifice and animal subservience (Genesis 9:2-6, Deuteronomy 14:4, I Kings 18:25-38, Exodus 12:1-13) intermix with other verses about the purity of animals and their ability to reason and praise God in His glory. (Job 12:7-10, Psalms 36:6-7, Isaiah 43:20, Psalms 148:7-10). Chapter 22 in the Book of Numbers tells the interesting story of the Israelite Balaam, whose faithful donkey sees an angel with its sword drawn blocking the road and wisely chooses to turn off into a field. Because Balaam is impure and can’t see the angel, he beats the donkey with his staff, imploring her to get back on the road. After numerous attempts and beatings to no avail, the donkey actually speaks to Balaam and explains that if he would open his mind and his eyes, he would see that there is a very practical and urgent reason why, after years of service, she has abruptly stopped. At this point, the angel becomes visible to Balaam (who falls to the ground trembling) and sternly asks him, “Why have you beaten your donkey? If she had not turned away, I would certainly have killed you by now, but spared her.” In the New Testament the contradiction of the teachings continues. In numerous verses, animal imagery is used to reflect not only righteous attributes but even God himself. In countless passages, Jesus is referred to as the Lamb of God. Mark 1:9-11 says the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove: “As Jesus was coming up out of the water, He saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on Him in the form of a dove.” photo: Pete Crosbie / Willowite Animal Sanctuary In Matthew 23:37, Jesus compares his own love of Jerusalem to that of a mother hen gathering her chicks: “How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” In John 10:14, Jesus simply says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” However, according to Luke 24, Jesus ate fish with the disciples. On another occasion he worked a miracle so they could bring in a huge catch in their nets. John 21 even has Jesus cooking fish for breakfast over an open fire.