A five-day environmental meeting at Prague’s International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS) made the connection between global warming and meat consumption.

According to the European Baptist Press (EBP) service, 85 delegates from 23 countries attended the eighth congress of the European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN), a wing of the Conference of European Churches. The theme of the congress was “Our Daily Bread – Living in a Time of Climate Change.”


Delegates “stressed they meant business by eating mainly vegetarian during the course of the conference,” reported EBP.


Keith Jones, IBTS’ rector, and Lina Andronoviene, an IBTS staff member, wrote on the seminary’s blog that the congress “opted for a vegetarian diet – itself an unusual feature in central Europe, where meat is the main part of any diet and cooked vegetables, certainly, are an afterthought.”


Jones and Andronoviene blogged: “Debates go on with great intensity about mobility – issues of transport, the place of renewable energy and the place of animals in the whole created order. We, Baptists, certainly have much to learn and only a limited amount to contribute to the debate.”


ECEN issued a letter to the churches and Christians of Europe, noting that delegates had “heard compelling evidence of the links between the ways we produce our food and environmental damage.”


The letter said: “Modern lifestyles and patterns of food consumption pose great risks for our future. For instance, current intensive meat production is the number one contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions … and the drive to provide cheap food comes at an environmental cost.”


The statement pointed out the results of “cheap food” – soil stress, excessive chemical usage, biodiversity depletion and the loss of natural habitat.


“The quantities of energy and water required by agro-businesses are unsustainable on current demands. Additionally, ‘food miles,’ the risks of the genetic modification of organisms, food insecurity and an excessive dependency on intensive meat production, all raise serious ethical questions for Christians in all our churches,” the letter stated.


“[I]t is our wish to encourage church leaders, church councils and all believers in Christ to respond to such food issues and to demonstrate their concerns with us to our wider society and to lead by examples of new ways of sustainable living,” urged the open letter.


Making the connection between meat consumption and climate change will no doubt stretch many EthicsDaily.com readers.


I have shaken my head in disbelief about the anti-meat consumption agenda of some within a climate action group of which I am a member. I have thought that their moral perfectionism is unrealistic and counter-productive to redressing global warming.


As a Baptist of the southern United States, I know that excessive and unhealthy food consumption verges on being a sacred right. Southern Baptists would sooner give up their traditional opposition to social drinking than give up their consumption of grilled steak, charred burgers and fried chicken to the point of excess. Acceptance of gluttony is one reason Baptists have only six deadly sins, not seven as most of Christianity has.


But a National Public Radio story about Meatless Mondays and a quote from Dostoyevsky compel me to walk the moral plank about our food consumption patterns and the corporate food industry.


An NPR story disclosed how much water was needed to grow enough grain for cattle to produce a ton of beef.


“It takes 140,000 bathtubs full of water – that’s millions and millions of gallons,” said Peter Gleick, an environmentalist with the Pacific Institute.


That’s a lot of water – to put it mildly. When one adds in the fuel needed to transport cattle to a slaughterhouse and on to the grocery store, a moral person must ask if what they are consuming is the right thing to do.


However, the Meatless Monday campaign is about giving up meat for only three meals on Monday. Can that be too hard to do?


The quote from Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky is far more demanding.


“Food for myself is a material concern; for my neighbor is a spiritual matter,” quoted the ECEN letter.


Food is a spiritual issue – in terms of our unhealthy consumption habits, our harmful industrialized supply system and our seeming indifference to those without food.


Paul Msiza, general secretary for the Baptist Convention of South Africa and president of the All Africa Baptist Fellowship, underscored the relationship between spiritual poverty and material poverty at the 20th Baptist World Congress.


“It … becomes clear that spiritual poverty, in a way, exacerbates material poverty. Because those who are rich materially but poor spiritually usually fail to share their riches with others,” said Msiza.


“Sin brings blindness to the truth, oppression of the weak and the suffering of God’s people,” he said. “When we stop hearing the voice of the Spirit and become selfish and arrogant, our lives become destructive even to the environment that God gave us to live in happily.”


Food for our neighbor, care for our environment and healthy choices for ourselves are interconnected.


Jones and Andronoviene are right: “We, Baptists, certainly have much to learn and only a limited amount to contribute to the debate.”


Let’s hope we are fast learners.


Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.

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