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Vegetarian Group Uses Jesus in Ads

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

An animal-rights group has turned to a well-known figure to promote vegetarianism: Jesus Christ.

About three dozen demonstrators from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals tried to deliver that message to Christians on Sunday outside the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. They carried signs proclaiming “Jesus was a Vegetarian” while a man dressed and groomed like popular depictions of Jesus waved at churchgoers stuck in traffic.

The demonstration was part of a campaign launched in 1997 to persuade Americans to give up all meat. “A diet without any animal products at all is what God intended,” said Bruce G. Friedrich, the “Jesus Was a Vegetarian” campaign coordinator of PETA.

“Anybody who eats meat is mocking God,” Friedrich said.

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PETA members greeted curious motorists with free T-shirts bearing pictures of Jesus with an orange slice shaped like a halo behind his head. Between church services, demonstrator Jerry Friedman entered the cathedral, shook a pastor’s hand and handed him a pamphlet entitled “Jesus Was a Vegetarian. Follow Him.” One sign read “For Christ’s Sake, Go Vegetarian.”

Friedman said he’s well versed in pro-vegetarian passages in the Bible and spent the hourlong demonstration repeating Genesis 1:29. “It states that God made plants for us to eat, not animals,” Friedman said. “Jesus preached mercy and compassion, and the way that we raise animals for food is not merciful or compassionate.”

Crystal Cathedral officials did not return calls seeking comment.

PETA officials said they combed the Bible for verses supporting the theory that Jesus was a vegetarian, fodder for their million-dollar drive. So far, the group has distributed more than 50,000 leaflets and started an $80,000 billboard campaign before Easter this year in 16 cities across the nation. They also paid $10,000 for high-profile billboard space outside the Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta last month.

Among slogans on the billboards: “Jesus Was a Vegetarian. Show Respect for God’s Creatures--Follow Him”; “Lamb of God: Please Don’t Eat His Creatures”; and “I Said, ‘Thou Shalt not Kill.’ Go Vegetarian.”

Though the campaign has drawn enthusiastic support from animal-rights activists, some scholars question how PETA interprets biblical accounts of Jesus’ diet.

“There certainly is nothing that would in any way suggest he was a vegetarian,” said Marilyn Harran, religion professor at Chapman University in Orange. There are many references in the Bible to eating fish, she said, also to Jesus participating in the Passover dinner, which would have included lamb.

“What about the division of the loaves and the fishes?” Harran asked. “I think it would be very antithetical to Jesus’ ministry to say that he went off and didn’t eat what other people did.”

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PETA officials say the parable about Jesus feeding thousands with a few fishes and loaves of bread is just that: a parable. Bread was used, they argue, but the fishes are symbolic.

Even if Bible verses do not say specifically that Jesus ate only vegetables, some animal-rights advocates say PETA’s point makes sense philosophically because it espouses mercy and compassion.

“Sure, there were animal sacrifices in the Bible, but Jesus was against them,” said Friedman, a vegan from Huntington Beach who helped organize Sunday’s event.

“The practices of food production today are so much more cruel, they are an abomination of what Jesus preaches.”

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