PETA Seeks 'Converts' at Southern Baptist Meeting

PETA members will be bringing a pro-vegetarian message to those attending the annual gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination.

Among the demonstrators who will be standing outside the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville as the SBC opens its two-day meeting on Tuesday will be one dressed as Jesus, carrying a sign reading "For Christ's Sake, Go Vegetarian," and another dressed as a chicken with a sign reading "Jesus Loves Me Too."

Other members will be holding signs reading "Thou Shalt Not Kill. Go Vegetarian" and "Blessed Are the Merciful. Go Vegetarian." They will also hand out leaflets that relate vegetarian living to Christian teachings.

"Factory farms and slaughterhouses are a source of constant violence and bloodshed, and they cruelly exploit God's creatures," says PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich in a released statement.

"For Christians, the peaceful message 'God is love' extends to animals too – and to embody His compassion, we must stop eating them," he adds.

Not all – or even most – Christians would agree, however, as the Bible records Jesus eating fish and lamb and miraculously feeding a large crowd fish and bread. Furthermore, according to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus declared all foods "clean" – a declaration recorded again in the Book of Acts.

"[T]here is nothing wrong with a Christian being a vegetarian," notes the ministry behind GotQuestions.org. "[But] there was never a command against eating meat."

"What the Bible does say is that we should not force our convictions about this issue on other people or judge them by what they eat or do not eat," it adds, pointing to Romans 14:2-3.

But Dr. Stephen R. Kaufman, who serves as chair of the Christian Vegetarian Association, says times have changed and that the imperative to choose a plant-based diet is much stronger today than in the past.

This, he adds, is because modern animal agriculture features factory farming, which is "inherently cruel to animals; is poor stewardship because it depletes the scarce land, water, and energy resources on which all humans and animal depend; damages God's earth; and harms our God-given bodies, the 'temple of the holy spirit.'"

"I don't believe that salvation depends on diet, but I do think there is a moral imperative to do what we can to reconcile the world to God's original, harmonious, peaceful intentions," Kaufman says.

"I think a plant-based diet is a Christian ideal, as depicted in the vegan Garden of Eden, the Peaceable Kingdom, and the Millennial Age when 'death shall be no more,'" he states, noting verses in the Bible that support his thoughts.

Like Kaufman, PETA also refers to the supposed diet in the Garden of Eden as ideal, noting that "God's perfect world ... was vegetarian" in jesusveg.com, a PETA website designed to reach Christians and Jews.

PETA's faith-based arm also makes its case by directing believers to words expressed by Pope Benedict XVI after he was elected in April 2005 and when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2002.

In the 2002 interview, the Catholic leader affirmed that "[a]nimals, too, are God's creatures" and that the degrading of living creatures to a commodity "seems to me in fact to contradict the relationship of mutuality that comes across in the Bible."

"Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness," he stated. "It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly."

Though PETA will likely get few, if any, "converts" during their outreach Tuesday to members of the most conservative denomination in America, the organization will likely draw the attention of the media, as it has done with past publicity stunts.

Earlier this year, a sexually-explicit ad PETA submitted for the Super Bowl was flatly rejected but still drew the attention of thousands through the media and through social networks including YouTube, where it drew half a million hits. Over a two-day period, PETA's website reportedly picked up more than one million hits following its rejection.

"According to advertising professionals, the three most popular elements in winning television spots are sex, humor, and animals," the group states in its website.

PETA, however, itself has received criticism for its hyper-sexualized marketing approach, which critics say are offensive and degrading to women.

But that hasn't stopped the organization so far. Over the last 10 years, PETA has submitted at least five Super Bowl ads.

It was also around 10 years ago that PETA made Jesus its newest pro-vegetarianism endorser and launched its Christian-catered website, then located at jesus-online.com.

"Jesus was the 'Good Shepherd,' not a bloody butcher," they stated.

PETA's Southern Baptist outreach is scheduled for noon Tuesday.