On Being Vegan and Evangelical Christian, Part 2
In Part 1 of this post, I discussed my experience as a vegan in an evangelical* Christian community.
In this next part, I will discuss the alternate: being evangelical Christian in vegan/vegetarian communities.
To start out, I am going to throw out a disclaimer: I do not speak for all evangelical Christian vegans; this is a reflection based off my own observations of the vegetarian/vegan movement, encompassing it’s literature, films, and events, and conversations with other evangelical Christians vegetarians/vegans.
Nor is this meant to list the ways I feel evangelical Christians are in any way “marginalized” within vegan movements - at least, not in the U.S.
Nonetheless, I think that it is important to initiate conversations focusing on the intersectionality of vegetarianism with other identities if the movement is ever to escape from its confining stereotype as mostly white, wealthy, liberal, and bound to New Age spiritualism (with all due respect, of course, to individuals who identify as such). It is only through such dialogue that we are able to break down the barriers between “in” and “out,” “us” and “them,” “self” and “other.”
And while I emphasize that they are rarely intentionally treated poorly, mocked, or castigated, evangelical Christians are certainly “Other” within the vegan movement.
How does this come about?
Something interesting to note is that “vegetarian” and “vegan” in the United States denote a consumption choice, and really nothing more than that. Thus, an individual may go vegetarian or vegan for a myriad of reasons – animal ethics, physical/prenatal health, environmental sustainability, ahimsa, asceticism, taste, social justice, and many more. An individual need not be of a specific race, ethnicity, income level, spirituality, or political affiliation to alter their lifestyle in such a way.
Nonetheless, it is easier to be grafted into particular branches of the vegetarian/vegan community if one speaks, looks, acts, and thinks a certain way.
Oftentimes, it seems to me that evangelical Christians feel a bit “out of place” at vegan and vegetarian events which draw significant crowds. This is because, as mentioned in the footnote below, evangelicals subscribe to a relatively conservative spiritual way, and thus find it difficult to embrace the New Age-ish spiritual “openness” that so permeates vegetarian and vegan movements.
An analysis of the philosophical conflict between spiritual openness and evangelical impermeability is beyond the scope of this blog post, but what I’m getting at is that vegan and vegetarian movements, despite ultimately pointing toward a consumption choice, tend to subtly adhere to certain spiritual ideologies – particularly Buddhism, Hinduism, and New Age eclecticism - at the exclusion of others.
This is not mean to criticize, but point out a reality. After all, some historical and contemporary sects of Buddhism and Hinduism consider vegetarianism/veganism a fundamental aspect of spirituality, and New Age movements draw upon these as well as Native American reverence for the Earth as inspiration for vegetarianism, whereas Christianity, in general, has rarely associated with such a lifestyle due to a lack of acknowledgment for its practice within sacred Scripture. It thus makes sense that these religious/spiritual groups would find more of a home within vegetarian movements than those not historically affiliated with such a lifestyle.
However, this has contributed to feelings of nervousness, wariness, and self-consciousness in evangelical Christians in veg circles. The bottom line is that evangelical Christians are uncharacteristically quiet about their Christianity within vegetarian circles.
When I say “uncharacteristically,” I do not mean that they have a knee-jerk desire to preach to or convert every person in the room (at least, not all of them.) But many committed evangelical Christians consider their spirituality a core aspect of their identity – something they hold dearly close to their hearts. In other environments, it is perhaps one of the first things they reveal about themselves, secular or Christian.
In veg circles, this is rarely the case. Most evangelical Christians I’ve spoken with at veg events or read from in veg literature fear being labeled “backward,” “hateful,” “ignorant,” or “narrow-minded” because of their spiritual beliefs (newsflash: they’re not, you just have to trust me on this). Furthermore, due to the (again, understandable) lack of presence of Christians at the vegetarian pulpit, so to speak, at any given veg event they are likely to come across speakers with whom they disagree in a religious sense and practices they opt out of for spiritual reasons. This plays back into the fear of being labeled intolerant, and reinforces the overall “Otherness” that evangelical Christians may experience in veg circles.
As a tentative solution, I think that both structure and agent could stand to adjust a bit in this case. Perhaps if society admitted and fought against its tendency to judge evangelical Christians – and groups in general – by its extreme outliers, the environment would change for the better, in effect becoming more open for the exchange of ideas. On the other hand, if evangelical Christians came to recognize that not everyone is out to get them and that their beliefs (providing they are not overly-zealous) would be welcomed 90% of the time in veg circles, they would grow in confidence to express the intersection of their identities.
Either way, I pray that in the future, both veg movements and evangelical Christian movements become more open to different kinds of people, greeting them with outstretched arms and proceeding together with them toward a better future.
*I noted this in my last post as well, but the term “evangelical” is not to be confused with “evangelist.” While the latter tends to actively seek people out and convert them to a particular religion, “evangelical” denotes a person or group subscribing to a core set of Christian beliefs, namely the bodily sacrifice of Jesus Christ on behalf of humankind, salvation for the individual, adherence to Biblical principles, and the necessity of social action.