A few weeks ago, I was privileged to be interviewed by Vegan Spirituality on an online live webinar, broadcast to over 1,300 participants and shared on Facebook and YouTube. Judy Carman, a remarkable soul and author of Peace to All Beings – Veggie Soup for the Chicken’s Soul, led our conversation. It was a great opportunity for me to share my journey to becoming vegan, and my experience being a vegan minister. I was also able to share the fascinating history of Unity and its co-founders’ practice of ethical vegetarianism. In the early 1900's, Unity took a stand on the way humans used animals, going so far as to say, “Unity opposes the use of any product that necessitates the taking of life, whether it’s food substance, wearing apparel, or general utility.” Co-Founders Charles and Myrtle Fillmore established the Pure Food Company to provide the public with healthy alternatives to meat and animal fats, including butter. They opened The Unity Inn, Kansas City’s first vegetarian restaurant, to demonstrate that people could live well on a meat-free diet. Unity bibles were bound not in leather, but in a plant-based alternative called Keratol. They published a "Vegetarian" column in their weekly magazine, and they openly taught that our treatment of animals was connected to our ability to express Universal Love and manifest World Peace. As an ordained Unity minister, I am gleefully proud of this heritage, even though today’s Unity has sadly fallen away from it.
Opened in 1906, the Unity Inn of Kansas City served 10,000 vegetarian meals per week.
On the webinar I also shared my view that veganism is the inevitable result of living our spiritual beliefs. Unity Co-Founder Charles Fillmore asserted, “In the matter of animal slaughter, who countenances it or defends it, after his eyes have been opened to the unity of life?” Like him, I believe that people on the spiritual path will release flesh from their plates and take up a more nonviolent way of living once they awaken to the unity of life. How can it be otherwise?
But what struck me most coming out of this webinar was my own personal awakening. Recently, I’ve shifted my morning ritual to include thanking Spirit in advance for the person(s) who will awaken that day and lay down their practice of harming animals. I know people are making this change every day. Somewhere there is a farmer who will choose to no longer send his pigs to slaughter and instead take up plant-based farming or sanctuary work. Somewhere there is young person who will choose to not sell her precious 4-H ‘project’ lamb whom she raised and cared for from infancy. Somewhere there is a person who will discover the cruelty of factory farming and consumer product testing and will today choose to no longer eat animals or use products that test on them. And somewhere there is a worker who will choose to leave his slaughterhouse job to pursue new, life-affirming work. I give thanks for every awakening that is taking place on this day. The world changes one soul at a time.
During this prayer time, I also sometimes open myself to awakening, and I ask Spirit to show me what I have not yet been able to see and teach me what I have not yet been able to know. It’s a bold prayer and I only recommend it if you are ready to have your eyes opened. Because Spirit will show you something that will inevitably cause your priorities and commitments to change. It's a blessing with responsibility.
This prayer was answered in part during the Vegan Spirituality webinar, because through it, my eyes opened to the realization that spiritually-minded animal advocates/activists are often in great need of encouragement, as well as a spiritual structure for living that will support and lift them out of sadness and even depression. Smack my head, but this had not been clearly on my radar prior to this experience. The people who showed up to participate in the webinar came to be inspired by a vegan pastor, because when it comes to spiritual matters, a vegan pastor is who makes sense to them. They have all experienced the stunning disconnect in church, synagogue and temple settings between religious talk about Compassion, Peace and Love, and actual behaviors. On one hand, they hear:
"Let there be peace on Earth and let it with me" (The Peace Song), or
“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31), or
“Blessed are the merciful” (Matthew 5:7), or
"Blessed are the Peacemakers" (Matthew 5:9), or
“Put yourself in the place of others and harm none nor have them harmed” (Dhammapada 130).
And on the other hand, they experience sanctioned violence at pig roast fundraisers and meat-centered potlucks. They may also hear meat metaphors and jokes about vegans from the pulpit (yes, this happens). There is a huge blind spot in religious organizations when it comes to seeing the intrinsic value of ALL sentient beings and including them in the golden rule and the quest for World Peace and Love Universal. It’s no wonder that so many animal advocates have completely given up on religion.
Spiritual vegans are merciful Peacemakers. They are also mighty warriors because they face an acutely cruel world with courage. They don’t turn a blind eye like most people in our society who aren't willing to or can't face the fact that they are participating in cruelty to animals. Instead they bear witness to their suffering and deeply empathize with animals who are trapped, beaten, confined, skinned, mutilated, and slaughtered. And they fight for their liberation. Every day, they stand up boldly, undeterred, in staunch opposition to a majority view that can look overwhelming by its sheer immensity and ubiquity, and they advocate for a kinder, gentler world. It’s hard to keep one’s bearings and stay positive when the cultural tide of socially accepted violence is so enormous.
To put this in perspective, since you started reading this, 17,000 innocent animals have been slaughtered, and we don't even need to eat meat. This can be depressing, and spiritually-minded vegans need pastors who can lift them to a place of Hope while supporting the efficacy of their advocacy work. Today's vegans would pour into yesterday's Unity Church.
It is my life’s work to awaken people to widening our circle of Compassion to include ALL beings. And now it is also my life’s work to support the Ahimsa/Vegan movement in staying focused on the Good they are doing, and the Truths that God is Love, cruelty is not of God, and God as Love will ultimately prevail. A kinder, gentler world is coming into manifestation now through those who have the vision and are committed to manifesting it. Love, Freedom and Peace for all includes everybody. And it’s on our horizon if we work together and keep our intentions focused.
If you share this vision and want to accelerate its fulfillment, here are some things you can do:
If you are a vegan pastor, please make yourself known. You can add your name and ministry to a listing on all-creatures.org by emailing email@example.com. That's an easy step that will help spiritual vegans find you. The next step is admittedly harder. I encourage you to boldly teach Universal Kindness and Compassion from the pulpit – not the specific form that only includes humans. You can speak directly about it by making it a topic, or just be sure to include ‘all sentient beings’ whenever you talk about Oneness, Love, Peace, Nonviolence, God’s Creation, etc. Additionally, consider centering your community gatherings around plant-based foods versus flesh foods. You can promote it as a spiritual practice, encouraging everyone to reduce the suffering of animals and people, be more considerate of communities, improve the health of our bodies, and be good environmental stewards. These are all things we teach already! There will likely be resistance as your congregation comes face to face with an incongruity. They may experience cognitive dissonance. But ministry isn’t about retaining a complacent congregation. It’s about challenging people to live God-centered (aka Love-centered) lives, and to become the best form of themselves. It’s about being a living demonstration of Love and Peace for ALL, and inspiring others to do the same. With these few actions you wouldn't be forcing anyone to become vegan. You would be helping them awaken to living their beliefs. You would also potentially be creating a church, synagogue or temple that will attract a new set of very committed people, and one that your current congregation's grandchildren might want to attend.
Celebrating Earth Day with a plant-based potluck at my Unity spiritual center in Deerfield, IL, 2016
If you are a vegan activist and you sometimes needs support, or have no church/religious center where you feel comfortable, I invite you to consider joining with like-minded people in prayer and meditation to further your goals of Compassion and Nonviolence for ALL. The Ahimsa/Vegan movement will be even more successful when its vibration is high and when individuals and groups within it are consistently practicing Forgiveness, creative visioning and affirmative prayer. Judy Carman posts wonderful weekly prayers on the Vegan Spirituality Facebook page. I have some prayers on this site too. But there is power in focused group prayer and holding a sacred intention together. I’m not sure how this would look, but it’s an idea worth trying. I currently lead a weekly prayer call on Tuesday mornings at 7:30 am CT focused on animals and the awakening of humanity. This may not be convenient for a lot of people, so I would be happy to establish another call time, or support you or a group in getting one started. We could create multiple prayer, meditation and/or intention circles (via phone) with the purpose of supporting each other and advancing the movement in consciousness. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in partnering on this.
Together we are creating a new world. It will take all of us keeping our spirits high, our attention focused, and our consciousness expanding as we guide and inspire others to awaken to the unity of Life and enter a new relationship with all beings. I am grateful for my new awakening and happy to be in greater service to the vision and manifestation of a kinder, more compassionate world.
We are ALL One.
“’God is love.’ It is His love seeking expression in and through you that makes you question the advisability of killing animals for the provision of man, either for food or for raiment.” Unity Co-Founder Charles Fillmore
Note: If you are unfamiliar with the term, Ahimsa, it is a Sanskrit term used in the Hindu/Buddhist/Jain traditions. It is the practice of compassion and non-violence toward all living beings.
© carol saunders 2018
Rev. Carol Saunders
I am an ordained minister, speaker, writer and lover of all life. In 2010 I founded a spiritual community in Deerfield, IL, a suburb of Chicago, and have recently transitioned it to a weekly interactive gathering and podcast called The Spiritual Forum. Being a voice for the animals and a light for the spiritually-inclined who are willing to seriously examine the self and begin to awaken, are what Spirit has called me to be. I am here to support anyone who wants to move toward living in closer alignment with their deeply held spiritual values. Our world needs more Love, Peace and Kindness. We can make that happen. But we won't be able to until we transform some of the violent and unkind ways of living we inherited from our culture. Be Love. Be Peace. Be Kind. Today.