How often does a child watch Charlotte’s Web, or the film Babe, cheering for the pigs Wilber and Babe to live, only to have the film end and their parents take them to McDonalds? There was even a Babe-themed Happy Meal at one point.
Faith Outreach, an interfaith council, was held by the U.S. Humane Society in Washington D.C., Nov. 10 and 11. In an attempt to gather animal activists from as many different religious backgrounds as possible, The Humane Society recruited the best animal advocate from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Dr. Chris Foster of UVU.
Foster was an animal activist years before he joined the LDS Church. At age 17, he became a vegetarian because he believed it was wrong to kill animals. While studying at UC Davis, he became the vice president of the Animal Allies Club. Going on to University of Kansas for graduate school, majoring in philosophy, he was approached by the LDS missionaries. He investigated the Church for a year before joining, and some of his primary questions to the missionaries were about how the Church views animals. He was assured by the missionaries that the Church respects animals, and that his vegetarianism would also be respected.
Foster did some research of his own and found that doctrinally, it was true. The history of the Mormon Church reveals a great deal about animal ethics. Presidents of the Church from its foundation, such as Joseph Smith and Brigham Young all the way up to Spencer W. Kimball have issued statements that one should not inflict pain on an animal, nor should an animal be killed or eaten unless absolutely necessary for survival. Lorenzo Snow supposedly became a vegetarian when he realized, while hunting, that he was taking life which he could not give.
According to Foster, Snow believed that a day would come when Latter Day Saints would be advised to refrain from eating meat.
The cultural reality of the religion, however, was not congruent with these statements. They were a big hunting and meat-eating people. Over the years he chose to remain an active Mormon as well as an animal advocate, but kept them separate in his life.
When he finally decided to combine these two beliefs, he founded Mormons for Animals. His 50-page powerpoint presentation includes a plethora of quotations from past LDS prophets and church leaders, as well as solidifies his rational argument for vegetarianism. He also began lecturing at the local colleges and universities.
“Mormons either didn’t know or didn’t care about their own doctrine,” Foster said. “I was informing Mormons about their own doctrine.”
Foster had to wage a bit of war to establish the BYU Vegetarian Club, but eventually it was accepted.
“We resurrected Humane Day,” Foster said. “Joseph F. Smith encouraged the last Sunday of every month to focus on kindness to animals.”
Foster is a philosopher allowing him to look at both sides of the issue of eating meat rationally. He has been a vegetarian for 25 years and is confident that killing animals is not necessary for survival. The only remaining rationale for killing animals for food is because it tastes good. He feels the only justification for that is to say that animals don’t count morally, at least not to the degree that humans do.
“Joseph Fielding Smith and others have affirmed that animals have reason, intelligence, language and love,” Foster said.
Foster was delighted to attend the conference. Among the other speakers was the head of Walden Media, who did the Chronicles of Narnia series, and Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society, who said that the Humane Society tries to work with people where they’re at and try to get them to improve. They just want to work with people and help them improve their stance about animals.
Written by Lindsey Nelson
Photo by Gilbert Cisneros