Thursday 13 April 2017


" abuse creation is to disregard the Creator." - 

So I recently attended the Sarx Creature Conference which took place on Saturday 18th March at Oasis Auditorium, Waterloo. The one-day conference brought together the largest gathering of Christians concerned about animal welfare, providing attendees with an opportunity to engage theologically with the issue, discover relevant resources and connect with others with similar convictions. A separate post on the event is yet to come, with some of my own personal thoughts thrown in there too, but first a spotlight on one of the faces behind the charity organisation.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Daryl Booth, founder of Sarx and key organiser of the conference, and what an enlightening discussion it turned out to be.

About the Founder

Growing up in the Isle of Wight and being surrounded by nature from an early age, Daryl inevitably developed an interest in natural history and animals. It was later in life that he connected the dots between his faith and the issue of animal welfare - a connection, he explains, which enlivened his belief in God. Here was a God who, far from being distant or indifferent, had a profound love for every aspect of His creation. Daryl's switch to a vegan diet was a gradual process, spurred on by his increased engagement with animal theology and the deeper connections he was able to draw through his study.

Origins of Sarx

Founded less than three years ago, Sarx was borne from the simple conviction that animal welfare is and should be a faith matter, and that something needed to be done to push this to the forefront. Daryl brought together a team of like-minded individuals, including founding member Dr Kerry Young. By pooling their resources together, touching base with some of the leading experts in animal theology, and consistently posting relevant and thought-provoking information on their official website, Sarx has grown to be what it is today: a thriving community that includes over 23,000 followers across Facebook and Twitter. One of the primary aims of Sarx is to make animal theology accessible and relevant to new audiences, and Daryl explains that one of the ways that they go about achieving this is through speaking engagements - engagements that have seen them touch base in various churches across London (Richmond, St Pancras, Croydon), and beyond in places like Leeds, Oxford, Woking, and the Isle of Wight. When I ask about the general response generated from such speaking events, I am told that rather than being dismissive, audience members are usually either incredibly intrigued or simply concerned about what changes they can or should make.

Veganism vs Eating/Living Peaceably

When it comes to speaking explicitly about veganism or vegetarianism when addressing crowds, Daryl asserts that he avoids using those terms altogether. Although I am initially surprised by this decision, his explanation actually makes me appreciate the value of such an approach. The terms veganism and vegetarianism, he reasons, are an awkward fit in the context of biblical discussions. He prefers the terms 'eating peaceably' and 'living peaceably', and insists that focusing on what the Bible actually says about animals and how God views animals as part of his creation is a far more effective way of capturing the minds and hearts of his listeners. Equally as effective is his reference to prominent Christians of the past who were devoted to animal welfare, for example, William Booth and William Wilberforce, both of whom were vegetarians in their time. The distinctive interpretation of how the Bible wants us to regard animals as part of God's wonderful creation, he argues, is what leads people to connect the dots for themselves. While the weighty word 'vegan' can certainly cause a few to get defensive, and also lead them to find reasons not to embrace a lifestyle change, the focus on compassion and on our role as stewards, and the reinforcement of the lovingness of nature, is often powerful enough to evoke a real shift in conviction.

Dealing with Difficult Questions

Surely the difficult questions must come. You know, the ones that refer to the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament. Or to the fact that Jesus and his disciples ate fish (Christians love to bring that one up a lot). Or to the fact that nowhere in the Bible does it state outright that we should not eat meat.
All valid points. Points that, on the surface, should prove that animal welfare and Christianity are totally incompatible. BUT. These questions in themselves, Daryl explains, are defensive questions, designed to assist the asker in determining what they can get away with. Rather than asking questions such as 'is it a sin to eat meat?' Daryl advocates shifting the focus to grace. Since we are saved by grace and respond to God's will from a place of love and not mere duty (i.e. we are saved by grace and not by works, so the good we do is not to earn God's love but rather to acknowledge and revel in it), the question should rather be: as individuals living in the 21st century where the killing of animals is not essential to our survival, and in light of the cruelty and destruction that comes as a direct result of the industrial farming methods of today, is there a better way to respond as Christians? In looking at the way we treat animals and creation today, would God be pleased? It is by engaging directly with the facts surrounding animal welfare and weighing it against our position as stewards that each individual can come to an informed decision. 

Looking Forward

I'm curious as to how optimistic Daryl is about the future of animal welfare and Christianity, and he doesn't hesitate to respond that he is convinced that it will be a fast-growing movement. He poetically alludes to the scene in the Oscar-winning movie 'There Will Be Blood' where Daniel Day-Lewis' character treads upon untapped soil where oil runs deep. The potential is palpable, soon to be unleashed. Daryl explains that similarly, the issue of animal welfare in Christian circles has been lying dormant, with few mildly aware but waiting for someone to talk about it; to give it a voice. The increasing enthusiasm for the topic is unmistakable and manifesting itself in different ways. Since the Creature Conference, Daryl describes how he and the team at Sarx have received widespread interest from the press, along with an influx of requests for speaking engagements, both at home and abroad, and even a knock on the door from the folks over at BBC's Songs of Praise. Things are certainly looking bright.

Top Tips

Daryl offers a few tips for Christians who want to engage with these issues and share with the people in their lives. Firstly, perseverance is key because this concern is currently at the fringe of church culture. While culture may not be on your side just yet, he points out, Christianity certainly is, and you only have to read the scriptures to be encouraged and see that we do in fact have a pro-animal God, whose concern is not just for us, but for his entire creation, and that He intends for us to live at peace with the world. The message of causing the least harm to God's creation is good news worth talking about, worth considering, worth getting behind. Daryl further encourages Christians to be equipped with knowledge and sites his top three books to get you started:

1) For the Love of Animals by Charles Camosy

2) A Faith Embracing all Creatures: Addresses Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Care for Animals, edited by Tripp York

3) Is God a Vegetarian by Richard Alan Young

And Finally...

... because I can't resist throwing in a trivial question and because this is predominantly a food blog after all, I ask Daryl to divulge his favourite vegan meal. His conclusion: a vegan fry up. Can't argue with that :)

Connect. You know the drill:

Visit the official Sarx website.
Follow Sarx on Facebook and Twitter.


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