Vegangelical: How Caring For Animals Can Shape Your Faith is a rare book. Evangelicals may be known for their social concerns, but care for animals doesn’t usual make a blip on our radar. But this book is rare for another reason. Sarah Withrow King has written a book that is warm, accessible and challenging and theologically robust. She is an animal rights activist who has worked for PETA and is now the deputy director of the Sider Center of Eastern University and the codirector of Creature Kind. She has a masters of theological studies from Palmer Theological Seminary. In Vegangelical she weds social concern with astute theological analysis.
Part one of King’s books explores the theological foundations for veganism and animal care. Rather than start with the dismal reality of how animals are treated in our culture (and trust me she gets there) she begins with an exploration of what it means to be made in the image of the Triune God (chapter 1), the biblical concept of dominion and stewardship (chapter two), and the biblical injunction to love the other (chapter three). In part two, King explores our relationship with animals in the home and wild, our use of them in research and for food and clothing.
King builds her case for animal care in our being made in the image of the Triune God. This means she explores what kind of God the Trinity is and the implications of what it means for human persons to be like this God. This involves an examination of history of sacrifice in worship of this God, as well as trajectory of the Cross. “How can God—whose nature is to be in relationship and who desires that the work of his hands be restored—insist that humans kill animals as a condition to their approach, when the act of killing is the ultimate severance of relationship between victim and killer, between killer and the killer’s self (for surely everytime we take a life we turn further inward)?” (47). She argues that the sacrificial system in the Old Testament was a visceral reminder of the broken relationship between God and Creation caused by human sinfulness. However, “Jesus’ sacrifice restored the break and bridged the deep divide that sin created, so we no longer need to feel the blood on our hands, we no longer need to break a neck, we no longer need to be the cause of fear and suffering in our approach to God” (48).
King’s look at the concept of dominion and stewardship includes what it meant for God’s people to ‘fill the land and subdue it’ in the Old Testament. While the language of dominion and subduing implies domination and control to modern ears, King advises that we view human dominion in light of both what it means to be created in God’s image and God’s intent for creation (61). When we do this, we are drawn to protect, cultivate the earth in order to ensure the flourishing of all life. King concludes her theological case for animal care bu insisting that we think of it in terms of care for the other. Quoting Volf, “God’s reception of hostile humanity into divine communion is a model of how human beings should relate to the other” (72), King argues that the implications of this challenge extend to our care for the animal Kingdom as well.
The second half of this book explores the ways humans use (and abuse) our animal neighbors. This includes cruelty to pets, a billion-dollar-breeding industry which results in the commodification and objectification of animal lives, circuses, animals, hunting, animal vivisection and experimentation, and the inhumane treatment and environmental impact of using animals for our food and clothing. King shares her own story of moving towards veganism and animal activism and how she has learned to navigate these issues as a person of faith.
For the past several Lenten seasons I have done a meatless (or near meatless) Lent. I have done so while also exploring some of the issues that surround our industrial agricultural complex, the treatment of animals and consumerism. As a result our family has reduced our intake of meat, though there are ebbs and flows in our practice. I like a good burger and meat is the centerpiece of family feasts. As I read through Veganelical I am convinced that people like King who take a courageous, counter-cultural stance against the comodifaction and abuse of animals occupy the moral high ground. I know some of the issues but don’t live up to my ideals. I feel the prophetic challenge to live more consistently by King’s book. I am not totally where she is at, but I think she is right to raise the issue and root her concerns biblically and theologically. I am a sympathetic reader even if I read parts of this book while eating a fast food taco. I give this four-and-a-half stars.
Note: I received this book from Book-Look Bloggers and Zondervan in exchange for my honest review.