WASHINGTON, May 11, 2016 - Livestock and poultry growers and the meat industry got a sobering warning last week from a communications expert and a pair of theologians: The vegetarian animal rights movement is prevailing in the competition for public opinion over how animals are raised and consumed.
Campaigns by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and its allies to discourage meat production and consumption on religious grounds “have greatly influenced the United Methodist Church, the Episcopalians and the Disciples of Christ,” Wes Jamison, associate professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida, told the Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholders Summit. “There has been only one voice so far in this debate, telling people to feel bad.”
“The animal rights movement is trying to convince you that eating meat is against God’s will,” Jamison said during a discussion with biblical experts from evangelical schools. “The animal rights movement is trying to increase discomfort,” he added. Its appeal to guilt is part of a political goal “to raise Christian support for incremental retail and regulatory pressure.”
Jamison urged the audience, largely meat and poultry growers and processors and their trade organizations, to fight back. The industry needs to “condense and communicate a complex message” that gives people permission to be comfortable with the products of modern agriculture. “It’s amazing how easy it is to encourage people to continue habitual behavior,” he said. “You don’t have to feel bad the next time you eat chicken from a cage,” he said. “In fact, it’s good.”
Walter Kaiser, president emeritus and professor of Old Testament ethics at Massachusetts-based Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, disputed the animal rights movement’s contention that there is a scriptural basis for the belief that creatures have intrinsic rights similar to those of humans. “I haven’t found a verse in the Bible for that one,” he said.
“The animal rights movement goes directly in the face of, and against what Scripture taught,” Kaiser said. Its leaders’ use of Old Testament citations is “just a plain misunderstanding or deliberate reinterpretation of the text itself,” he said. “To achieve such a reading one must cherry-pick certain verses out of context and give them a spin.”
“Prescriptive Christian vegetarians tend to overplay certain biblical texts and ignore others that undermine their views,” said Paul Copan, professor of philosophy and ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic. To suggest moral wrongdoing by eating meat and providing meat for others “undermines the teachings of Jesus” in the New Testament, he said. “It sounds a lot like pagan or Eastern thinking where there is no distinction between humans and animals.”
Each professor highlighted biblical passages that featured meat consumption. Kaiser noted that “God was pleased with sacrifices” of livestock in the Old Testament. Copan said the New Testament parable of the prodigal son tells of killing a fatted calf. “There is reaffirmation over and over again that God has created these things for you to enjoy,” he said.
Jamison and Kaiser suggested that the only way to have had enough animals for the sacrifices described in the Old Testament was to raise them in what, at that time, were modern agricultural practices. “Confinement is not only acceptable but preferable,” Jamison said.
“Animals are a gift to be used and developed,” Jamison said. “It’s not only God’s will to farm heritage breeds. In the creation mandate it’s OK to have a Holstein.” He said that every domesticated animal was developed for human pleasure. “That’s good and commanded.”
“You have nothing to fear,” he said. “The Judeo-Christian tradition does speak directly to this issue, and it not only gives you permission but applauds you for doing so.”
The HSUS persuaded some evangelical Christian leaders last September to publish a statement (and release a video) that its president, Wayne Pacelle, called “an exciting and new high-water mark” for its 60-year effort to encourage “a concern for God’s creatures.” The campaign “seeks to change attitudes about issues like factory farms,” The Washington Post said, quoting a HSUS Faith Advisory Council member who said, “We have to prick the conscience on factory farming, so we have to say the economy of the country be damned, this has to stop.”
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