meaty Michigan

This is small potatoes in the big scheme of things, but as a window into how messed up life is in Michigan, our governor proclaimed tomorrow “Michigan Meatout Day,” in which she “encourage[s] the residents of this state to choose not to eat meat.”  This is part of a larger campaign by the “Meatout” folks who want all people to “transition toward a healthy, compassionate plant-based diet.”

Of course, the farmers and butchers are angry with our governor for picking on the one industry that still works in the state, and they note that our governor also picked tomorrow as “Michigan Agriculture Day,” in which she “urge[s] all Michiganians…to celebrate this day with meals made with a variety of local Michigan ingredients, including but not limited to meat, vegetables, and dairy products.”

So apparently regardless what I eat tomorrow, I will be observing either “Michigan Meatout Day” or “Michigan Agriculture Day” but not both.  This is probably a win-win, but it feels more like a lose-lose.

On a related note, Baker published a book a few years back called Good Eating. Its provocative thesis was that in light of the consummation, Christians can bear witness to their faith by becoming vegetarians.  When someone asks why we don’t eat meat, we can say that we are harbingers of the shalom that Christ will bring when he returns.  This book did not sell well, especially in Texas.

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  1. I think it didn’t sell well in Texas because of what Texans saw as a faulty basic premise. Their thought process goes something like this: “What do you mean ‘WHEN’ the consummation comes? It already has come! How else do you explain our state?”

    On another note, my children are clamoring for a Michigan Vegetableout Day…

  2. Mike,

    Well you succeeded in drawing a recovering politician back into the fray. When I was serving in the Michigan Legislature, back when we had a governor of substance, I participated with a group of legislators in making great sport with the so-called meatout day. We actually invited numerous restaurants from the Lansing area to bring various meat items from their menus directly into the rotunda of the Capitol for legislators and guests to sample in a taste competition between meat and tofu. It was great fun. In addition, when session began that day, I made an announcment from the House floor that I had venison salami at my desk for legislators to sample. I encouraged them to express their solidarity with the Farm Bureau in their attempt to reduce the whitetail population in Michigan, (a nice gesture to a significant lobby interest)
    and join with me in “taking a bite out of Bambi”.

    I also believe it is important for legislators to be careful and avoid the temptation to take themselves too seriously.

    As for the whole debate over healthy diets, all I can say is that in our household about 75% of the red meat that is consumed is from free range whitetail deer, naturally low in fat, chemical free, and harvested humanely by myself and our children as we enjoy the fields and woodlands just outside our door. As one of my favorite bumper sticker reads: “Vegetarian is an old Indian word for bad hunter”.

  3. Dr. Wittmer, you once asked in a class: “If death is a product of the Fall, does that mean Christians should stop eating meat?”

    Full disclosure: I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m very sympathetic to people who choose it on ethical grounds. I’m convinced that our dominion over beasts doesn’t give us a carte blanche in our treatment of animals.

    Has anyone read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer?http://bit.ly/bYyOgB I haven’t, and it sounds chilling.

  4. Oops, real link to Eating Animals

  5. Mike, thank you for this post. I have several friends at Calvin, professors Matt Halteman and Adam Wolpa among them, who are committed to a plant-based diet as part of their Christian witness. The book you referenced, “Good Eating,” was in fact written by a friend of mine, Stephen Webb, and is a very moderate look at the biblical call to humane animal husbandry and how our eating habits might better reflect a vision, as you mentioned, of both the innocence of original creation and the ultimate peaceable kingdom. While most will not choose to go vegetarian, and the Bible obviously allows us a good measure flexibility in deciding our consumption choices, I don’t think this is an issue which can be entirely written off.

    The staggering amounts of meat which Americans currently consume contribute significantly to our susceptibility to numerous diseases, contribute as much or more to environmental degradation as any industry on earth (vehicles included) and processes animals in a way which grieves God’s heart and bears no resemblance to husbandry standards depicted and expected in the Bible. This is all solely possible due to current modes of animal farming which have been grossly industrialized – taking sentient beings and treating them, in some cases according to literal industry handbooks, as machines.

    As Christians we should be concerned about this issue. It is part of our calling to stewardship, and close to God’s compassion and care for all His creatures. Please let me know if you’d ever like to connect further on this issue. I administrate an effort called Not One Sparrow (a Christian voice for animals), after completing my MA project at Trinity Evangelical on a biblical-theological foundation for animal welfare (http://NotOneSparrow.com). I’ve appreciated following your blog these past weeks, in particular your review of McLaren’s latest – Ben DeVries

    By the way, Adam F., very well said. I am currently reading Foer’s “Eating Animals” for a review, and it is both enlightening and challenging. I also significantly recommend Matthew Scully’s “Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy.” Scully is a Catholic and political conservative who worked with both Bush and McCain, so his writing carries extra weight in what is often perceived to be a liberal issue. He is also an incredibly poignant and and powerful writer.

  6. I heard all about this yesterday at my in-laws house. My father in law is a hog farmer, and did not take too well to the governor taking a stand against their family’s livelihood. They are also looking forward to “Michigan auto-out day” where the governor encourages citizens to stop buying cars.

  7. Jonathan Shelley March 19, 2010 — 6:50 pm

    Ben,

    Wait – are you implying that God’s care for his Creation extends beyond white males? Huh. I never thought of it that way before.

    (Yes, this is sarcasm.)

  8. I find it interesting that the people at Calvin and elsewhere constantly are pushing what amounts to a works salvation. (Of course, I suspect there are plenty of people on the Calvin faculty who don’t believe that people need salvation, except salvation from incorrect political thinking.)

    For all of the talk about “compassion” and “creation care,” I think that this “green theology” is another form of idolatry. I call it “Garden Theology,” in which God is mad as heck because we are walking on the grass and trampling his flowers. You see, according to the Greens, God pretty much is a card-carrying member of the Sierra Club and he most cares about the “natural” environment, while people are to take up the rear.

    The “creation care” line speaks of “stewardship,” but it has no methodology of how to engage in stewardship, except for spouting lofty rhetoric. (Yes, I had to read some stuff from Calvin when I was teaching a course at a Christian college about 16 years ago. They spoke of “joyfully and prayerfully” using resources, even though they could not even give an adequate definition of a resource.

    In the end, I find that the Neo-Calvinist crowd actually believes that its members are so endowed with wisdom that they can make government central economic planning work, and work perfectly. (After all, Wolters declares that Neo-Calvinists can restore the earth to “perfection.” That is heady stuff.)

    Now, Stalin had his gulags and Pol Pot exterminated nearly a third of the population of Cambodia, but neither made central planning work too well. No doubt, the Neo-Calvinists are so brilliant that they can just order a state of being, and that is that.

    Look for this vegetarianism movement to be pushed in churches more and more. I find it most interesting that the people (like Brian McLaren and Jim Wallis) who are at the forefront of trashing historic Christian doctrines suddenly have found that vegetarianism really is the path to salvation. I can hardly wait for the next installment of their Great Wisdom.

  9. I would like to add that it would be nice to see an evangelicalism that does not consist mainly of political talking points from one of the two political parties.

  10. William, it’s one thing to have legitimate questions about what a theologically grounded creation or creature stewardship will look like. Those are reasonable questions we need to work through as a community. But it’s another to throw out all forms of straw men and connections, and abandon the issue on those premises. Tending the garden was the very first responsibility given to Adam, and creation and creature stewardship are persistently presented throughout Scripture, as is their groaning, and hope for redemption and restoration. Also, I myself am evangelically trained and grounded, and have no direct affiliation with your so called neo-Calvinists or those who ‘trash historic Christian doctrines.’ Please choose your words, and arguments, more carefully and graciously. And while we’re on the topic of historic Christian doctrines, please flesh out your own argument for the despotic creation dominion our world, and church, have succumbed to. You’d have to contradict Romans 8 to affirm that this isn’t the case.
    Ben

  11. Indeed, the so-called Creation Care people have called for centralized government planning as the methodology that most fits with the Scriptures. Now, as an economist, I can see what happens when a command-and-control regime actually is put into place.

    I have not created any “straw men.” During the 1970s, Wallis believed that Mao and communism really were the Hope of the World. (While Pol Pot was exterminating a third of Cambodia, Sojourners never had one critical word about what he was doing. I have read all of the back issues of that publication during that period and have found nothing.)

    Speaking of “straw men,” you have accused me of making an “argument for the despotic creation dominion our world.” Will you explain what you mean, as opposed to making an accusation that is based not on fact or what I am thinking, but rather from your own environmentalist prejudices?

    Now, if you are saying that because I note that we need a real mechanism for stewardship apart from lofty rhetoric and top-down government planning, then you are claiming a decentralized view of things is “despotic” while central planning by the state is a good thing. Uh, I think that the latter is what is called “despotic.”

    McLaren openly has declared that the Doctrine of the Atonement is responsible for much of the violence in the world. He also has trashed the concept of original sin and holds that salvation is very different from what Christians have believed throughout the history of the Church.

    I like how you put things, however. You tell me that I am not being “gracious,” yet you then accuse me of promoting “despotic” doctrines. Hmm. Who is being ungracious here?

    By the way, methodology matters. The history of top-down central planning has been tyranny, poverty, and, yes, environmental despoilation. But, no doubt, this current group of Christian Sierra Clubbers will get it right. They will know EXACTLY what should be produced, when it will be produced, and how it will be produced? How do we know that? Their rhetoric tells us so.

  12. William,

    I’m not sure if your argument is more like a straw man or simply a slippery slope. However, I think you need to more clearly articulate how concern for the treatment creation and creatures leads to centralize murderous governmental regimes.

    I think you are correct that much of the discussion looks to government initiatives to find the solution. This is faulty at best. But you have not demonstrated how particular Christians abstaining from meat in anticipation of the consummation is idolatrous. Nor have you shown how said individuals are expecting God’s gracious favor in response to this good works.

    Abstaining from meat could be an excellent way to testify to your faith in God. For if one who does not eat is asked to explain her reason, she could readily share the hope she has that God has a plan to restore his fallen creation to a situation of peace, filled with His glorious presence. Though this must be done with honesty, admitting that God has not expressed an expectation that His people would live a vegetarian lifestyle, per se.

    Ben, William is correct that you created a straw man against him by claim he argued for the “despotic creation dominion of our world.” Though I’m not sure exactly what he is arguing for.

    (P.S. I am not a vegetarian)

  13. How is “the hope she has that God has a plan to restore his fallen creation to a situation of peace, filled with His glorious presence” tied to vegetarianism? Does that mean that anyone who eats meat (including Jesus) does not believe that “God has a plan to restore his fallen creation to a situation of peace, filled with His glorious presence”?

    Obviously, you don’t believe that, since you are not a vegetarian. However, this is an example of the kind of lofty rhetoric that ultimately is meaningless. Timothy Terrell and I had a paper in The Journal of Markets and Morality in 2003 that addresses both the rhetoric and the reality of the inherent statism that is found both in Neo-Calvinism and in the Emergent Movement.

    Look, the constant theme we hear from people in those camps is this: “We are to re-create a just society built upon all of the lofty things we believe, and the way to do that is to seize state power and to coerce others into acting in the way we want them to act.”

    However, what happens when this falls apart, when the use of raw state power does not deliver the promise? Well, from what I have seen, the people then claim that they have not had enough power, so they must have even more.

    That has been the governing philosophy of Progressivism from the start. Anyone who understands the intellectual underpinnings of historical Progressivism and its messianic message knows what havoc it actually wreaks in real society. I don’t think that the Christian Faith can be melded with Progressivism, as ultimately the statism takes over and God becomes the State.

    Going back to your original statement, you use the rhetoric, but in the end, you are left with only the rhetoric. Now, if one wishes to glorify God and not eating meat is part of that lifestyle, that is fine. A person should be free to do what he or she pleases as long as it does not violate the Scriptures.

    However, nowhere does the Bible tell us we cannot eat meat, yet the Emergents and others are trying to tell us that we must be vegetarians if we want to be “New Christians.” Why? I’m not going to depend upon the arguments of environmentalists to determine theology. The Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth are basically atheistic in their philosophies, and I am not going to have atheists tell me what I should believe about the Scriptures and about Christianity.

  14. William, Setherton’s response was articulate and on point, and I won’t respond much further, except to apologize (to both of you) if my comment on ‘despotic creation dominion’ was off the mark. I had the sense, William, that you were abandoning any faithfully grounded creation and creature care ethic, which if that were the case, would leave one with a view of creation dominion which runs contrary to the biblical ethic as well as narrative trajectory of Scripture (innocent/whole creation to peaceable new heaven/new earth). My one remaining request would be that you take the creation/creature care suggestions of faithful Christians on their own terms, with the charitable view that some of us (at least) may well be seeking to genuinely ground our work in Scripture and in systematic theological study, and after God’s heart. You may disagree with our various ethics, but please don’t immediately equate our work with secular organizations or ideologies (though some natural overlap exists), or even immediately assume someone like myself is exclusively advocating for vegetarianism. That’s not the policy of my own organization (http://www.notonesparrow.com/faq#7), nor was it the thrust of Mike’s original post or my subsequent comment, rather the possibility of a reduction in the amount of meat we consume. best wishes to you all – Ben

  15. It is my current conviction that eating meat is an issue that each person should be convinced of in their own mind. I don’t not think it is helpful to argue that those who do eat meat are violating God’s created order (fortunately, I do not hear anyone arguing that here), or to argue that those who do not eat meat are expecting the government to save the day. (Though, as I said above, there are many with that view)

    Interestingly, the vegetarian I personally know best is convinced that for Christians to have any involvement in the state is to neglect the ministry of the Gospel. He is convinced that God’s work is solely done in and through the Church. He is also convinced that the current method of production in the meat industry does violate God’s intention to steward the earth.

    If consumerism is the idol of the day, then perhaps the issue is not that far from the one in Corinth.

    “We are no worse off if we do not eat and no better off if we do. So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”

  16. *apologies for the double negative, I meant, “I do not think…”

  17. I am not sure what “consumerism” might be. I have heard the term, but never have seen or heard anyone define it. Is purchasing consumer goods wrong? What kind of goods?

    Now, I am agreed that all too often, we buy a lot of “stuff” that is just that: stuff. Nonetheless, when I have heard people condemn “consumerism,” what they meant was that they did not like to see purchasing goods which fail to meet approval by those who are doing the condemning.

    If there is an idol out there for those on the left, it is “Progressivism” and statism. On the right, it is the American state and especially the armed forces. (A friend told me of attending an evangelical church which on the Fourth of July showed a slide of three crosses with Air Force Jets flying overhead. If that is not idolatry and an abomination to the Cross, I don’t know what is.)

    I am not sure how to respond to this statement: “I had the sense, William, that you were abandoning any faithfully grounded creation and creature care ethic, which if that were the case, would leave one with a view of creation dominion which runs contrary to the biblical ethic as well as narrative trajectory of Scripture (innocent/whole creation to peaceable new heaven/new earth).”

    I have no idea what that means. It is pure rhetoric that sounds like something from one of Brian McLaren’s books. Furthermore, it tells us nothing of what actual decisions have to be made in real space and time. I see this alot not only with McLaren, but also others who make lofty statements that somehow we are supposed to believe that with their very utterances, the Law of Scarcity can be made to disappear.

    For all of the rhetoric, I never have heard the “Creation Care” people provide any meaningful methodology of decision-making. Their words sound great, but if they cannot be put into practice, or if the policies that come out of such rhetoric actually make things worse, then they are worse than meaningless.

  18. William, I welcome you to visit Not One Sparrow’s blog (http://NotOneSparrow.com/blog). There you will find any number of tangible creature care opportunities suggested and modelled: including homeless pet rescue and adoption, wildlife care and rescue, and the identifying and avoiding of meat and animal products which have been farmed by means of industrial methods which run entirely contrary to the biblical model of animal care and husbandry. I am much more concerned about this than any vegetarian ‘requirement.’
    Obviously, if our ethic is just rhetoric, it ends up meaning nothing to creation and its creatures themselves. That said, just as many members make up the body of Christ and the mission of the Kingdom, it is natural and logical that different people will take up different interests and causes in response to the broad call to tend the garden and steward God’s creatures. Ben

  19. Mike, this is my first time commenting on any of your posts. But as this is your own thread, do you have any input into our discussion? Thanks, Ben

  20. The term “Creation Care” means little to me, because it gives no methodology, just lofty language. By the way, you forget that “Creation” also includes human beings, but the environmentalist literature is decidedly anti-human.

    Because most “Creation Care” adherents believe that our society and economy must be governed via central government planning, I would like to know how you can deal with the very real problems of dispersed knowledge and the lack of a mechanism for economic calculation. Those bedeviled the communist countries for decades until they threw it off.

    There is a reason that both Haiti and North Korea are two of the poorest nations in the world. (Most of Haiti is common property and 80 percent of the people there live on land to which there is no clear title. That might have had something to do with the horrific results of the recent earthquake. After all, who builds a sound structure on land he or she cannot ever own and which can be taken away by force on a moment’s notice.)

    As I have said before, we are dealing with rhetoric. I want to see your methodology, not listen to high-sounding words. The methodology matters, but from what I can tell, the “Creation Care” crowd simply believes that the state can order any state of being into existence that it wants. In other words, we are dealing with something akin to Harry Potter Science.

  21. Ben:

    Sorry, I haven’t had access to the Internet for the past three days, and wasn’t aware of this threaded discussion. I quickly skimmed through the comments and my view, which you and others have expressed, is that we should care for God’s creation, including the animals (Prov. 12:10), and yet not forget that as image bearers of God we matter more. It shouldn’t be and doesn’t have to be an either/or but a both/and.

    I think that William Anderson is right to point out the danger of the slippery slope–as historically there are schools and movements which started out seeing creation care as an expression of their Christian faith and eventually allowed that concern to overwhelm more important matters. But just because there is a slippery slope doesn’t mean that we should avoid bringing every area of life under the Lordship of Christ, including what we eat.

    Personally, I was impressed by Webb’s book. He made a persuasive case for vegetarianism as Christian witness, and if I remember right, was careful not to imply that this was something that all Christians are obligated to do. After all, even after his resurrection Jesus still ate fish.

  22. Mike, thanks very much for the note. I was wondering if perhaps you were away for the weekend, but I do appreciate you taking the time to follow up. And again, thanks for the post.
    I appreciate what you wrote, and glad to know you appreciated Webb’s book as well. I think your assessment of the ethical call of his book is correct, he certainly isn’t vegetarian/vegan or bust, and you’re right – that would be a tough position to defend biblically. It would be good to see the Christian community take steps away from the factory farmed industry at least, which as I mentioned above runs completely contrary to the biblical model of animal husbandry, nor was it a reality the biblical writers had to contend with.
    best wishes – Ben

  23. Ben:

    I agree–I read Scully’s book and found it quite challenging and convicting. He has a message that we all need to hear.

  24. Excellent work on this article. It makes for an interesting and Thoughtful read.

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