A Prayer for Compassion: Religious leaders make the connection between veganism and spirituality

Victoria Moran first began researching vegans’ religious and spiritual lives as part of her undergraduate degree in religious studies back in the 1980s. Now, the bestselling author whose books on self-help, spirituality and veganism have been endorsed by Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres and Bill Clinton, has produced a groundbreaking documentary: A Prayer for Compassion.

The movie follows award-winning director Thomas Jackson on a quest across America, to Morocco for the UN World Climate Conference, and throughout the Indian subcontinent, asking the questions: ‘Can compassion grow to include all beings?’ and ‘How will people of faith respond to the call to include all of the planet’s inhabitants in a circle of respect, caring and love?’

Jackson interviews a plethora of leaders from a wide range of traditions, including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism; the Native American tradition, Unitarian Universalism; Zoroastrianism, and the ‘spiritual but not religious’ perspective.

When the Million Dollar Vegan campaign team heard that A Prayer for Compassion would be launching around the time of our own first campaign that involved asking Pope Francis to go vegan for Lent, we knew this was a collaboration that had to happen and Moran, who lives in New York, agreed.

“From the minute I heard the concept, I was on board personally, and as things developed for Million Dollar Vegan to approach Pope Francis during this Lenten season, the fact that I had produced A Prayer for Compassion made for a perfect partnership,” says Moran. “I also have so much admiration for the people involved with Million Dollar Vegan. Genesis Butler and everyone else that I know personally who is part of this is selfless and dedicated. It is an honour to be a part of this important initiative.”

Among the religious and spiritual luminaries in the film is Suzy Welch, renowned business journalist, TV commentator and author. New York-based Welch is a supporter of the Million Dollar Vegan campaign and an evangelical Christian – or ‘vegangelical’ as she likes to call it.

“For so many people of faith, life is a long journey ‘back to the garden – yes, that garden, a place of peace and harmony, created by God in total perfection,” says Welch. “So why do so many of us forget that Eden was vegan? It was! And in fact, the Bible is filled with God’s plea that we show mercy to all living creatures, that is, to animals. That’s why I’m part of the growing movement of people who embrace veganism as an act of faith, and why this Lenten season, I so deeply support Genesis Butler and her campaign for ever wider circles of compassion.”

A Prayer for Compassion is pioneering in that it’s the first film to truly make the connections between veganism and spirituality and it’s heartening in that regard. When asked why she believes there is still a blind spot in regards to veganism from many religious and spiritual leaders, Moran says it’s largely due to the fact that humans have our most intimate relationship with food.

“We actually take food into ourselves and it becomes our physical structure. I think that people sense this at some visceral level and when anyone suggests a change in food choices, it sets off a series of biological and emotional defences. We’re implying that what their mothers fed them was not the best choice. We’re suggesting that long cultural traditions around animal foods need to be changed. This is all very threatening.

“When it comes to people in positions of power, things get complicated. Among their followers are people whose livelihood currently depends upon animal agriculture. It takes extraordinary courage for these leaders to come forward with a vegan ethic but many are doing just that. Some of them appear in A Prayer for Compassion.”

Moran is even more forthright about white, western spiritual gurus who express gratitude towards animals who they argue willingly ‘sacrifice’ themselves to become our food. “I realise that these beliefs are part of certain indigenous cultures and I don’t presume to present these people, who are living far more harmoniously with nature than I ever will, with my beliefs,” says Moran. “Where I hear these arguments, however, is from people who are socially and culturally like me, when it seems far more often that the argument comes not from a deep spiritual belief, but as an easy way to salve a guilty conscience.

“No one has a physiological need for animal products and prosperous people in modern cultures simply have no excuse for eating our fellow beings. It can be convenient to whitewash the practice with flowery speech about praying for an animal’s soul, but I think we would all agree that if someone wanted to murder us, we would be far more concerned about what was about to happen to our bodies than what benefit we might garner from a prayer for our souls.”

The aim of the film, says Moran, is to create more vegans and to get a conversation happening in religious institutions about veganism and faith. “Nearly 7 billion people on earth are part of some religion. If even a tiny fraction of these believers awakened to the ethical and environmental imperative to stop eating animals, life on this earth would change for the better quickly and dramatically. It’s an insult to every non-human being God created that their needs are not part of widespread moral and theological discourse.”

If the world premiere, held in New York recently is anything to go by, A Prayer for Compassion’s themes are resonating with more and more people. The sold-out event, which took place at a 500-seat theatre in Manhattan, drew a number of vegan personalities including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Suzy Welch, Vegans of New York co-founder Marc Wood, and Freya Dinshah, cofounder in 1960 of The American Vegan Society.

Million Dollar Vegan campaign supporters, actor Evanna Lynch and musician Moby also praised the film. “I was very moved by the many voices that make up this powerful documentary and by the unwavering conviction with which so many spiritual leaders spoke of the imperativeness to act now, align our actions with our spiritual values and take moral responsibility for humanity’s treatment of animals,” says Lynch, while Moby notes: “This film reminds us that no being should be exempt from grace, kindness and compassion.”

Moran, who hosts the Mainstreet Vegan podcast on the Unity Radio Christian network, will be teaching a ‘Go Veg for Lent’ class for the Unity Church of New York on Tuesdays between 12 March through to 23 April.

She has this message for Pope Francis: “Holy Father, I know you see the suffering of our fellow beings. You are in a position to end a great deal of it. Please give a voice to them and to the vegan cause. It would cause controversy, but changing the world always does that. I have great faith in the words that you have written in your Laudato Si. Please join us in dining in a kind and sustainable fashion.”

A Prayer for Compassion is now on general release via the Tugg demand-it platform. Find out more, including dates and locations, and how you can organise a screening at your local church or community centre at the film’s website here.

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