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Is Vegetarianism Killing Adventism?

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I was sitting on a plane heading east, drenched in paraphernalia from an Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) school in the west, when someone sitting next to me leaned in uncomfortably close to ask if I was SDA (the conversation quickly went south). When she asked if I was “a Sevy”, I plead guilty. While I tried to steer our talk to the more salient points about being an Adventist (Jesus, the cross, redemption, and such), my new temporary neighbor could only seem to focus on one thing – the fact that I was vegetarian.

It took all of ten seconds for me to realize that this lady was from the South. After spending four years of undergrad in the South, I learned one or two things about the food there. The South is an area where many people bathe their food in butter as often as they bathe themselves in water. It’s also a place where young kids learn more from their plates about pigs, cows, and chickens than they do from their schools. It’s a place where people can sniff out a vegetarian a mile away – just as this lady had.

However, it wasn’t the fact that she was perseverating on me being vegetarian that bothered me; it was the fact that, to her, me being Adventist meant me being vegetarian. (I write this being well aware that at least half of the “Sevys” that I know are not actually vegetarian -even though I have a solid friend who once sworn to me that he was…while he was simultaneously downing a piece of fish.) What struck me most is that this lady was one of many strangers I’ve seen instantly associate being SDA with being vegetarian.

When did Adventist Christians stop being known as loving, devoted followers of Christ, and start being known simply as vegetarians? I understand that it is very possible to be both at the same time, but I worry that the world is no longer seeing both. It’s a troublesome explanation as to why so many people instantly think of Adventists as vegetarians and not as “loving neighbors” or “kind-hearted strangers” or as “ helpful citizens”, and instead, think of them as “vegetarians who go to church on Saturday.”

The health message is a vital one. The importance of a healthful, balanced diet is indisputable. But what good does it do if eating well does not come with infectious, God-fearing passion? And none of this is intended to chastise either vegetarians or meat eaters. It is meant to encourage both #teamVegetarians and #teamMeatEaters to love their neighbors as much as they love their stomachs. Our desire to live healthful, whole lives should never overpower our desire to live helpful, holy lives. Because if all the world ever sees is a bunch of picky eaters, then they will never truly see Jesus – and that could have devastating outcomes.

When my new friend on the plane moved the conversation from food to music, we found a common interest. The lyrics from a song we both loved while we were growing up read, “They will know that we are Christians by our love” (not by our diets).

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Nelson Fernandez

Nelson serves as a pastor in a growing in a bilingual and multicultural church district in Greenville, South Carolina in the Carolina Conference. He is married to the love of his life Sarah, who is Venezuelan and American. Born and raised in Miami, FL, he is a second-generation Hispanic of Dominican-Salvadorian decent. He loves reading, learning and blogging about leadership, church growth, discipleship and practical Christianity at www.nelsonsblog.com

This Post Has 14 Comments
  1. Maybe the reason vegetarianism jumps out at people is because it has so little scriptural support. Can you name one post-flood vegetarian mentioned in the Bible?

    1. Can we find anyone post-flood living up to 800 years? That should be the question.

      The Bible supports the diet of Adam and Eve and the return to the Garden State in Revelation so its there if you want to find it. My observation from my wide array of life experience has opened my eyes to the disdain for health in the south and to certain people here in America. One thing I also observed is how much The First Lady Michelle Obama has been slammed for her pushing of better pseudo-health standards. The resistance she faced has been telling that some people wish to die at the hands of their belly and mouth. Wonder how we as Adventist people of the book who live 10 years longer and have a blue zone in Loma linda will not shy away from that and add a multifaceted dimension to our attributes. Jesus was not a flat or 2d character. People need to wake up and embrace who we are and not shy from it. No peoblem with being vegan use that to share the benifits with others and help share our other atributes as well.

    2. That’s not necessarily the issue. History shows us that people prior to refrigeration ate little meat. They weren’t vegetarians…but they weren’t copious meat eaters like us today. People want to do what they want to do…and it you tell them something like this…they aren’t usually prepared to receive it. Most people agree that vegetarianism is a healthier diet…but most of us(myself included) aren’t willing, prepared or able to subscribe to it’s practice in a meat eating society….

    3. In response to Kreed – Vegetarism isn’t really something you have to do to be Adventist and that is because it isn’t something required by scripture. Part of the culture? Sure Proven to be a fairly healthy option? True. Spoken highly of by EGW? Yep. A requirement to be an Adventist? Nope.
      As a general response to the article, there appears to be more and more vegetarians these days. I’m sure that as a distinguishing item it will become less noteworthy, but I don’t think we should be bothered that people notice it. I think the idea that they should notice other differences as well is on point but this is a stranger. The question should really be does your non-sda neighbors, coworkers, and friends notice that there is any different in the ways mentioned.
      The health message is a hook like many others (health care system, school system, unique biblical views). Someone may be willing to talk about food more easily than they will jump straight into theological issues. I’m all for sharing our faith but talking about religion can sometimes shut down a conversation very quickly. The health message (even though not biblical and therefore not required) is a way to engage people and it is one useful tool among many.

  2. The media attention I have seen about vegetarianism involved LLU and Loma Linda, California residents who are living longer, healthier lives due to their vegetarian eating habits. Popular TV shows such as The Doctors, Dr. Oz, etc…discuss virtues of plant based diets and exercise. The name Seventh Day Adventist has frequently been tied to these types of discussions. Due to this attention, it seems that SDA’s are given nods since the church body has largely boasted vegetarianism for many years.

  3. I think the reason that vegetarianism sticks out the most is because America is obsessed with food/diet. EVERY Christian believes in (the cross, redemption and such) so it really isn’t as interesting to them when they meet a SDA. What’s interesting is our differences (not in the “bad” way)… If you meet a someone from a different country on a plane you usually ask them about different cultures and customs and things that are different from here.. differences are exciting and new…. so VEGE and SAB are what makes us interesting… They may not be the “most” important things, but they are definitely super interesting and attract attention no matter how we try to hide it 🙂

  4. Meat is a by product of death.That is an indisputable fact.And death is a result of sin which in turn was brought by the devil. In other words enjoying meat is enjoying the fruits of death. God’s people should not be promoting or spreading the fruits of death and sin. They should be a light to the world,manifesting the fruits of the Law of Love to all people,and to God’s creatures which are entrusted to our care.

    *Dead bodies are buried in tombs.When you eat meat you in essence convert yourself into a walking tomb-Rom.3:13, …and their throat an open tomb. Psalm 5:9.

    *Those who lament that they cannot make the necessary changes regarding diet make” their stomachs their god”-Phil.3:19.

    **He courses the grass to grow for cattle,and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring FOOD FROM THE GROUND”-Psalm 104:14

  5. James L Johnson Well… first off… HE’S CUTE. wink emoticon
    The second part… No Vegetarianism is NOT killing us. Our refusal to truly adopt it is killing us. This new generation is much more concerned with that they put in their bodies. This is why places like McDonalds and Wendy’s are losing their preeminence in our society. They cannot get people in the restaurants any longer.

    In this article he didn’t explain WHY many of us are vegetarian and the premise of the health message. Some people do a bad job of explaining the health message and that turns people off. But people in the south like most people are open to hearing new information, it’s about HOW YOU PRESENT IT… If you tell someone this is so you won’t go to HELL… They are automatically going to close their ears to it. If you tell someone this is a healthier diet, and I want to preserve what GOD has given me…his temple…they are more likely to be receptive to this. They are also more receptive to hearing the SDA’s live on average 10yrs LONGER than the average American based in part to their Vegetarian lifestyle!

    In Atlanta I’ve met MORE people who aren’t Adventist that are vegetarian or vegan or raw foodists and they are intrigued with the fact that I belong to a denomination that PROMOTES vegetarianism! But when people come to the church and find that many people, including myself don’t actually practice vegetarianism or practice is wrong(over consumption of vegetarian meat and processed sugars(deserts) etc… they are disappointed.

    Short answer, it’s not an issue of Vegetarianism that people have a problem with in regards to SDA’s, it’s lack of comprehensive information and application people have issue with….

    1. I completely agree James!! Being a Christian Seventh Day Adventist is such a privilege and honor! And to be able to represent Jesus in what we say, DO, and put into our bodies! To be able to share our wonderful health message with others on how to treat the temple of the Holy Spirit with healthy and tasteful foods (free of preservatives, additives, processed sugars, etc…) should only be an avenue that brings people closer to Jesus or into a loving relationship with HIM!!

  6. I for one believe the world is associating the SDA Church with vegetarianism than any other in your case because many people our century are dying and afflicted diseases and thus pay much attention to health issues rather than everyday “goodwill sermons”.

    Health reforms are gaining currency as the clock ticks ……may be, it could a new research concern (why people are interested in health issues rather than messages of the second coming)

  7. I understand the point of your article, but it is somewhat disheartening to read your stereotypes about the south. I was born and raised a Seventh-day Adventist vegetarian in Tennessee, where I still live and attend an SDA church. In fact, the only time in my life that I haven’t lived here was during my attendance of Andrews University, where one can buy meat ON CAMPUS — something you can’t do at Southern. Your statement, “It’s also a place where young kids learn more from their plates about pigs, cows, and chickens than they do from their schools,” is blatantly insulting, and perpetuating an ideal that people in the south are ignorant hicks. I find it unfortunate and sad that an article that is otherwise relevant had to include what appears to be a personal bias that isn’t really signicant to your point.

    1. Business Insider presented an article in April of 2014 that showed that states that are typically considered a part of “the South” consumed more meat, more fast foods, and less green leafy vegetables and fruits/fruit juices than other regions of the United States. I don’t believe I was endorsing stereotypes as I was conveying this data, minutia that to a large extent has become common knowledge – and if you were insulted by this, that wasn’t my intention. I know dozens of Southern Adventist University students who endorse the idea that SAU (“Southern”) supports exemplarly lifestyle choices and habits, and I know just as many Andrews students who say the same of their school. The reference to kids having consistent access to meat choices has literally nothing to do with “perpetuating an ideal that people in the south [are] ignorant hicks”, as people in various parts of the country eat meat more regularly than in other parts of the country – oftentimes regardless of educational backgrounds or socioeconomic status. That was included as additional background knowledge as to why a stranger may find deep interest in someone who chooses to not eat meat, since people raised in the south more traditionally grow up on meat-based diets than people raised in the west do.

      If any personal bias was included in the article, it was included in the sense that I do personally hope that the world sees the heart of why we choose to eat what we eat (Christlikeness) without falling towards focusing solely on what we eat.

      I do wish you the best, and I hope I clarified any potential points of error.
      VSpell

  8. Kari I am having a hard time understanding why you took offense to those statement about Southern folk. I was born to a country family in central Florida and move to South Alabama when I was five and stay there until I joined the army. Everything he said was true of my up bringing. My family roots are in South Alabama and date back at least to the early 1800s. My granddaddy was a farmer from the Great Depression until he retired and move the Florida (I was raised by him). Not only did we eat meat three meals a day we ate every part of just about any animal that could be killed there. I had never even heard of a vegetarian until I met my know wife who was SDA (and still is). The only thing that would be different is we used lard in everything and butter was used but not in everything. Since becoming an Adventist and later a pastor many times I have been told that someone wanted to know more about our church because the only thing they knew was we don’t eat meat. The point I think the author is trying to make, and correct me if I am wrong, we are better know what we don’t do (no meat, no church on Sunday, no dance, rock music…)then what we do most of the time. in fact I have been heard is called the church of the do nots here in eastern Kentucky that I now call home. We should be know as much as if not more because of our love for each other.

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