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).[/box_holder]