What would Jesus eat?
Some vegetarian Christians say meat wouldn’t be on the menu
By MAUREEN HAYDEN
SCRIPPS HOWARD NEWS SERVICE
According to the Bible, when Jesus found himself surrounded by 5,000 followers eager to hear his divine message but hungry for some earthly food, he turned five little loaves and two scrawny fish into a banquet for the masses.
But some Christian scholars think if he were alive today, he might rethink the menu.
In books, on Web sites and in scholarly research, they’ve created a new acronym for Christians questioning how to live their faith. It’s WWJE: What Would Jesus Eat? It’s a spinoff of the widespread term WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?
Citing a range of Scripture passages, from a Genesis account of the diet of Eden to the apostle Paul’s admonition to treat the body as a temple, Christian vegetarians claim that if Jesus were alive today, he’d be a vegetarian.
“Jesus taught a ministry of love and compassion,” said Stephen Webb, author of “Good Eating (The Christian Practice of Everyday Life)” (Brazos Press, 2001). “It was love and compassion for all of God’s creation.”
Webb is an associate professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., and the co-chairperson of the international Christian Vegetarian Association (www.christianveg.com).
He describes himself as an “evangelical theologian” whose vegetarian lifestyle is biblically based. He argues that the Eucharistic celebration itself may be one of the most powerful symbols of a divine diet: a vegetarian meal that harks back to the meatless Garden of Eden and looks forward to the Revelation promise of the lion and the lamb coexisting in peace.
It’s a theology, he admits, that departs from the mainstream Christian view of the animal kingdom, where a glazed ham is the Easter bounty and a baked turkey is the centerpiece of the Thanksgiving meal.
"It's rarely on the radar screen of traditional Christianity," Webb said. "It's a topic almost too hot to handle. Any minister who would preach it would risk coming off as 'holier than thou' to his congregation. It's easier to say we should not engage in adultery. People will still do it, but at least they don't do it so openly."
The leaders of the Christian Vegetarian Association come from a variety of Protestant and Catholic denominations.
There is a wave of books on the market that encourage Christians to go meatless and all launch their arguments beginning with Genesis 1:29. In that verse, God presents Adam and Eve with the menu of paradise: "I give you all plants that bear seed everywhere on earth ... they shall be yours for food."
In the Genesis story, God also creates the animals and gives Adam "dominion" over them, but Christian vegetarians would argue that God created animals as Adam's companions and helpers, not as his supper.
"I read the passages to mean that all God's creation is sacred," Webb said. "All creation is made to glorify and magnify God."
What Jesus ate 2,000 years ago is a subject of debate among Christian vegetarians. Some argue that Biblical passages describing Jesus eating and multiplying fish have been incorrectly translated through the centuries, with fish incorrectly imposed for fruit.
Webb, though, would concede that Jesus likely ate fish with his disciples, as described in Luke 24:43, but he'd argue that if Jesus found himself in a modern-day context of factory farming, environmental pollution from animal waste and rampant cancer and heart disease, he'd turn to a vegetarian diet.
"In some parts of the world, humans need to eat meat to survive," Webb said, "but not in America. We eat meat to satisfy our taste."
To abstain from meat, Webb said, is an act of Christian self-sacrifice, part of a long tradition of abstinence and fasting in the name of faith.