Over the last few weeks I have heard a number of comments from people—some directed at me, others not—about how they don’t like “preachy vegetarians/vegans”. The comments (in varying degrees of hipster snide) usually go something like this:
“You can make your own dietary choices, but don’t push them off on me or flaunt your personal choices in my face. There’s no need to be preachy about it.”
“How do you know if someone’s a vegan? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”
“Bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon, blah, blah, blah…”
When my spouse and I made the choice to go veg over four years ago, we were very cautious not to offend. Hospitality was (and still is) extremely important to us, and so when it came to sitting down to eat with people who did not share our dietary inclinations (or who might otherwise have just simply been uninformed about how vegetarians/vegans eat) we sought to accept whatever they offered with as much grace as we could. More to the point, we were also very careful about the way we spoke of our beliefs. We typically avoided conversations about animal rights, and almost never interjected when we went out with friends to restaurants with few vegetarian options because we didn’t want to be a bother.
I now no longer make such an effort, nor do I attempt to apologize for what I believe is the right thing to do. The indictment, “You’re being preachy!” just doesn’t strike terror into my heart the way it used to.
Look. I get it. Preachy people are annoying. They make us feel inferior, they’re condescending, they often seem to speak more than they listen, they often appear closed-minded, and they never seem to shut up about that one topic (whatever that one topic may be). But preachy people also remind us how the world could always be a little bit better. They envision a more just society. And they call us, however patiently or impatiently, to a higher standard of ethical living. There is a reason preaching was considered a sacred vocation in the early church: it was the proclamation of a new, God-inspired way of understanding the world in the middle of a reality that seemed hopelessly unjust.
Today in church I listened to a friend of mine discuss how outrageous it is that women’s rights issues are often tied up in ridiculous bureaucratic legislation, both in secular and ecclesial government, when what we really should be doing is taking a courageous stand against violence and oppression wherever we see it. I agree. But somehow that same logic is often ignored or undervalued when applied to nonhuman animal rights. I attend an extremely progressive church community with serious commitments to Anabaptist values of nonviolence and peacemaking. But the few times that I have suggested that to slaughter an animal is to commit an act of violence, many of those same people have grown defensive. Why? I’m not sure. One person even told me (with a wry smile) that he would be in favor of granting rights to animals “when they were able to ask for rights for themselves”.
Discriminating against someone based on the color of their skin? Wrong. Denying someone service based on their sexual orientation? Wrong. Women making 1/4 less on their paycheck than men who work the very same jobs? Wrong. Children who die as a result of irresponsible gun owners in a culture of violence? Wrong. Clear-cutting U.S. wild lands to pave the way for yet another oil pipeline? Wrong. Many (though unfortunately not all) people would agree with these statements. To these I would add: Funneling millions upon millions of sentient nonhuman animals into slaughterhouses on a daily basis simply to satisfy your cravings for a bacon cheeseburger? Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Dismissing a person or ideology as “preachy” is no excuse for sloppy ethics and immoral choices.
So I will continue to preach. I will stand firm in my conviction that God loves each and every one of God’s creatures, and grieves at the suffering of creation—including the suffering exacerbated by a system predicated upon industrialized capitalism and the idolatrous Western sense of entitlement to eat whatever-the-hell-I-want, consequences-be-damned. I will stand firm in my conviction that meat-based diets are objectively worse for the environment than plant-based diets, and that factory farms are the single greatest contributor to the climate change that is currently threatening long-term human existence. I will preach because I feel empathy for suffering creatures, and I feel very strongly that if Christ himself—who died on behalf of all creation—does not inspire us to feel more empathy, to move toward greater kindness and compassion, I am unsure who or what will. I will preach because I recognize that, as Dr. King wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I will speak up for animals because so few recognize them as being worthy of a voice.
And if or when you get offended at the things I say, I hope that before making a snide joke about my preachiness or simply unfollowing me on social media, perhaps you will take a moment to consider your own choices and how you can make better ones, and maybe even help me to be accountable to make better choices, too.