Vegetarianism has been central expression of my Christian faith, because this diet expresses how I receive Jesus’s call to reflect God's pure love and compassion. The only prayer Jesus taught his disciples was that God's will be done "on earth as it is in heaven," and the biblical ideal, according to Genesis, is totally nonviolent and vegetarian (1:29-30). God found the Garden of Eden "very good," and God created animals as companions and helpers for Adam, not his supper (2:18-19). The Bible describes Adam's "dominion" over animals, but, because Adam was a vegetarian, many see this as a sacred responsibility to care for God's creation, not a license for tyranny and abuse.
Isaiah (11:6-9) prophesied a return to this vegetarian, non-violent ideal in the Messianic Age, when the wolf will dwell with the lamb and the lion will eat straw. Of course, outside the Garden of Eden, vegetarianism is not an option for many creatures, and some humans must consume flesh to survive. But vegetarianism is an option for nearly all Americans.
I strongly doubt that Jesus, who said, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice," would endorse the well-documented inherent cruelties of factory farms. Indeed, the Hebrew writings repeatedly encourage humane treatment of animals, and kosher slaughter requires minimizing pain. Jesus preached that God feeds the birds (Matthew 6:26) and does not forget sparrows (Luke 12:6).
Feeding the hungry is another central Christian concern, but converting grains to animal flesh wastes the vast majority of the grains’ proteins and calories, and all of their carbohydrates and fiber. While millions die of hunger annually and many more suffer malnutrition, worldwide one-third of all grain is fed to animals being raised for slaughter; in the United States the proportion is nearly three-fourths.
Christianity teaches us to respect the world, and Paul wrote, "all things were created by him [God], and for him" (Colossians 1:16). However, animal agriculture is a major contributor to local pollution, global warming, and to depletion of non-renewable energy and water resources.
Finally, many of the major killers in the West, such as heart disease and certain cancers, are associated with animal-based diets. Antibiotics added to animal feed yield “super-bugs” that can kill people and are antibiotic-resistant. Paul said, "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you" (1 Corinthians 6:19), and we should protect their bodies from harmful substances.
Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful," and it is a blessing to avoid harming God’s creatures and feel at peace with them. In so far as I am able, no innocent creature suffers to satisfy my need for sustenance, and consequently every meal is a prayerful expression of thanks to the divine source of creation.

Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Author's Bio: 

Chair, Christian Vegetarian Association,
Cochair, Medical Research Modernization Committee
Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Case School of Medicine