Jesus Radicals Blog 2005-2017
By: Nekeisha Alayna Alexis
Editor's Note: This article was originally published at Animal Liberation Currents.
I said in my heart with regard to human beings that God is testing them to show that they are but animals. For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals; for all is vanity. All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again. Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of animals goes downward to the earth? 1
I do not remember how I first came across Ecclesiastes 3:18-21. What I do recall is that I found the passage unexpectedly and I loved it immediately. The poetic text, which trespasses against the human-animal binary, resonated with my perspectives as a vegan, animal liberationist, critical animal scholar, and Christian immersed in Anabaptist theology and ethics and influenced by anarchist politics. Now one of my favorite verses, it is one part of the theological groundwork that informs my spiritual, intellectual and emotional commitment to shalom2 with all God’s creatures.
That Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 seemed to pop out of nowhere — that I never heard it preached in a sermon or during Sunday School — testifies to the church’s widespread inattentiveness to other animals and our shallow knowledge of the Bible in general. Even when Christians do notice texts like these, we tend still to distort their meaning. As Rachel Muers notes, Ecclesiastes 21 “has been read as emphasizing the difference between humanity and ‘the beasts that perish.’ In context, however, it makes more sense as a reminder of how questionable the dividing line is between us and the ‘beasts.’”3
An extensive, scholarly examination of Scripture as well as church history, hymnody and other Christian artifacts reveals that mutuality, sameness and interconnectedness between humans and other animals are strong vibrant themes within the faith. Indeed, these themes are more prevalent than our contemporary readings allow us to see, shaped as we are by legacies of the Enlightenment and industrial revolution, by antiquated ideas about human and animal biology, and by anthropocentric philosophies and technologies. Since becoming vegan, a journey that began and crystallized while I attended seminary, I have become increasingly aware of biblical texts and trajectories that decenter humanity and undermine support for dominating other animal persons. These alternative streams interrupt the prevailing narratives of God-ordained exploitation that comprise so much of Christian discourse, practice and belief. Yet they usually go unnoticed, not only by Jesus followers but by our critics as well.
By: Kyle Sumner
According to traditional Christian thought, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus lays out a framework of sacrificial love for both God and neighbor. The Gospels of the New Testament are centered on the idea of a God who forsook Heaven to dwell among and restore a fallen creation. Rather than using power to rule in a top-down fashion, God took the form of a servant and chose to embrace the brokenness of the world. Biblical restoration, in essence, starts from the bottom up. This view of the biblical narrative supports a theology of liberation that has influenced black, feminist, womanist, and queer theologies in recent history. This view of a Messiah who stands in solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized has provided a foundation for many human rights campaigns and social justice issues, but many theologians who claim to be motivated by a God of liberation have largely glazed over issues of animal exploitation. This lack of concern for the non-human animal world has caused me to ask quite a few questions: Are animals to be considered fellow Creatures deserving of respect? Does a faith that is rooted in the life and teachings of Jesus demand of us a new way of living in relation to non-human animals? Is it possible for one to consider ones self on the side of the oppressed if they consume the flesh of those they seek to liberate? In order to answer these questions we must first look at Jesus’ unique relationship with food.
I want to turn back now to my own story, to try to share with you some more of my process of liberation. Because I know lots of us here are thinking right now: what about the happy cows, what about the good farmers, what about how my family has raised animals for generations, what about my pasture-raised chickens, what about the Goshen farmer’s market, what about the Amish cheesemakers? Certainly, this isn’t all bad, is it? I asked those same questions for five years, from my first month on Heifer Ranch when I helped kill and process 90 chickens with my friends, to Ash Wednesday of 2014 when I realized I was vegan. But the most important query of all was the one the lawyer asked Jesus in Luke 10, “Who is my neighbor?” Because the gospel makes it clear that our experience of eternal life, our experience of the Beloved Community, depends on our answer to that question. Who is it that gets to participate in our community as neighbor, and conversely, who is it that must participate in our community as a slave, a prisoner, a non-member?
I’ve shared about Cinnamon, now I want to tell you about Gloria. Gloria was a pig we took care of at the Ranch. She came to us in the autumn with a couple others, all of them were feeders, piglets who were weaned, weighing about 30 pounds. Gloria and the others were cute, curious, and friendly. Every day through the fall and winter we would bring them scraps from the kitchen to supplement their grain diet. It was such fun to be with the pigs when they were enjoying these treats we brought. Gloria was eating basically what I was eating from the cafeteria. This commonality made Gloria feel to me as if she were a community member. Interacting with her was part of my daily routine, she responded to my touch when I patted her head, and she came up in conversation with other community members. It seemed she was my neighbor, and I thought of her as such.
“Is this not the fast that I choose:...to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke?” Sometimes liberation happens in an instant; with great power, the Spirit of God releases us from some great oppression. We recall the story of the exodus, the resurrection, the healing of lepers. Paul and Silas busted out of prison. More often, though, liberation is a long walk, full of resistance, struggle, and repentance. Perhaps we can think of growing into freedom, like how, over years, the persistent work of shoots and sprouts can fracture pavement and liberate the land beneath. I want to share with you this morning a testimony of this slow kind of freedom, of how many seeds took root in my concrete heart and grew to set me loose from the violence on my dinner table. Thanks be to God, now I can eat in peace.
Five years ago, I watched a goat die in my arms. She was called Cinnamon, and her death was an accident. I was working at the time as a livestock volunteer at Heifer Ranch, a large farm and education center operated by Heifer International. My work was to help care for Cinnamon and all the other animals there. She had been in a temporary paddock with the other dairy goats. We used portable electric net fencing to set up grazing areas all over the Ranch. The goats helped us maintain healthy grassland by clearing foliage from brushy places. Sometime during the night, Cinnamon had become entangled in the fence. Normally, the pulse of electricity in the fence would give a shock that hurts about as much as being pinched or poked with a needle. Once she was stuck, that pulse became a torturous metronome in the pre-dawn hours. She was crying out in pain as we came to check the goats in the morning. Her eyelids and gums, normally flush and red, were ghostly white. A few minutes after we injected a dose of opiates, she died.
Author's note: I was invited to write an article on the ethical and spiritual character to vegan practice by Timbrel: Women in Conversation with God Together, the magazine of Mennonite Women USA. The following is an edited version of what was published in the spring 2015 issue.
The wolf shall lie with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain
for all the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
-- Isaiah 11:6, 9 (New Revised Standard)
I do it for the animals.
On the surface, this appears to be a simple answer to a fairly straightforward question: why are you vegan? Yet my commitment to veganism is influenced by my understanding about God, the place of people in creation, the purpose of other animals and the nature of the “good news,” as well as how I read the Bible. It is also tied to my identity as a Black Anabaptist woman who works at undoing oppression. These lenses have led me to see other animals in ways that conflict with the dominant logic of our day, which is itself shaped by various values, beliefs and theologies.
Nekeisha’s note: As Autumn and I engaged in our first intentional exchange about the political and spiritual dimensions of our food choices, we realized that we not only had more to ask and to share than one post could reasonably contain: we also enjoyed our engagement with each other and wanted to more deeply understand the ways our food, politics and faith shaped our divergent eating practices. So we agreed to continue the conversation using the same question and answer model with which we began. Below is our second and final exchange for Jesus Radicals.
Autumn: Since I touched on this in my last response, I would return to the question of desire and survival. In our previous conversations, you have indicated that you believe eating meat is only acceptable if it is deemed necessary for survival. In my mind, this sets up a dichotomy of desire vs. survival in which desire is strongly associated with sin. I tend to be wary of direct associations between desire and sin because the church has a nasty history of instilling this kind of belief with psychologically and physiologically destructive consequences to human individuals and families. And while there are traditions within the church of fasting from meat at certain times, my theological study has led me to the understanding that scriptural and patristic teachings with regard to diet are usually about self-denial or mindfulness rather than the assertion that the practice of meat-eating is itself sinful. In your experience and beliefs, what specifically about desiring meat is problematic from a spiritual, theological or scriptural perspective?
Autumn’s note: As a part of editing one of my previous blog submissions, Nekeisha and I had a dialogue about whether or not to include an anecdote about my personal meat-eating practices. It was in this dialogue that I learned about her deep political and spiritual commitment to veganism. That dialogue led me to invite Nekeisha into an intentional exchange in which we would question each other about the political and spiritual dimensions of our food choices, and each take space to more fully and deeply explore the journeys that have brought us to similar political realities, but very different food choices. Here is Part 1 of our exchange.
Autumn: Some of our readers may not realize that veganism can be a politically motivated lifestyle choice. Nekeisha, can you share some about your experience of becoming vegan? What inspired you to make this choice and how is it a manifestation of your politics?
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Nekeisha Alayna Alexis
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