June 26, 2002
ST. JOSEPH – An animal rights group is purchasing a billboard advertisement on Interstate 229 featuring an infant, portrayed as Jesus, being breast-fed by a woman, portrayed as Mary.
The ad, placed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), is designed to herald the group’s anti-dairy industry/pro-animal message.
"I would expect an organization like PETA — that wants to raise animals to the same level as people — to do something like this," said David Mason, pastor of Green Valley Baptist Church.
"Everyone wants to use Jesus, but don’t necessarily want to follow Him. I don’t like this anymore than I like Jesus in a jar of urine," he added, referring to the controversial Robert Mapplethorpe art exhibit in Cincinnati, Ohio, that drew widespread criticism more than a decade ago.
"It is really unfortunate PETA would attack such a standard, backbone enterprise of American society as the dairy farmers," Mason said.
The billboard ad will contain the phrase, "If it was good enough for Jesus," in large type followed by "The breast is best – DumpDairy.com" in smaller letters.
Dairy industry leaders agree that children under 12 months of age should be breast-fed or given fortified formula, Kathleen Cuddy, nutrition and public relations manager for the Midwest Dairy Association in Kansas City told the Associated Press.
However, PETA’s anti-milk campaign is based more on an animal-rights agenda than nutrition, she said.
"People should follow the advice of their health professional and not listen to animal-rights groups," she added.
PETA realizes that using Jesus in its ad campaign is offensive to Christians, said Bruce Friedrich, outreach director for the organization.
However, he said, "It’s more offensive that cows are being abused and mothers are misled to feed milk to their children."
Friedrich said PETA wants people to stop drinking milk because cows on dairy farms are treated like milk machines.
"There’s a serious dark underbelly to this industry," he said. "The message is that cows, calves and human beings are all victims of the dairy industry."
Don Combs, pastor of McCarthy Baptist Church, said PETA clearly does not hold to a biblical worldview, one in which God created mankind higher than the animals by giving man a soul with which to relate to God and a moral compass with which to be responsible in caring for animals.
"A benefit of man being in a right relationship with God through Christ is the proper use and care of animals and the environment as taught in Scripture," he said.
"PETA’s worldview of wanting to raise the awareness of the position of animals, is in reality, seeking to lower the place of mankind to nothing more than an animal. This worldview would either do away with God as Creator, Sustainer, Provider, and Savior – or seek to make gods out of creation itself."
Dan Hegeman, a dairy producer from Cosby, said cows were made for giving milk.
"We do everything we can to make those animals comfortable. We pamper these animals to give them as little stress as possible," he said.
PETA has already placed the same message on a billboard in Mississippi and is expected to place its billboard ad in St. Joseph this week. The group told the Associated Press that it chose St. Joseph because PETA believes the city was named after Mary’s husband.
PETA has been at odds with Southern Baptists for several years, protesting at the Southern Baptist Convention’s meeting each year. A PETA activist – portraying Jesus – picketed outside the America’s Center during the just completed SBC meeting in St. Louis. He carried a sign saying, "Save the animals, go veggie."
The activist’s costume and his accompanying sign were in reference to one of the group’s more outrageous claims: that Jesus is a vegetarian. The organization began running billboard ads claiming as much in 1999. It was immediately challenged by Bible scholars who noted that it would have been impossible for Jesus to participate in Passover celebrations (as He did) without eating lamb.
The Gospels strongly suggest the Messiah ate meat. "Jesus said unto them, "Have ye here any meat? And they gave him a piece of broiled fish. … And he took it, and did eat before them" (Luke 24:41-43).
PETA has come under greater scrutiny in recent years due to its links with domestic terrorists like the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). The FBI has called ELF "the largest and most active U.S.-based terrorist group," according to the Washington-based Center For Consumer Freedom (CFCF).
PETA served as the de facto spokes group for ALF in the 1980s and gave $2,000 to David Wilson, then a national spokesperson for ALF, who once told the news media: "We started with animal rights, but we’ve expanded to wildlife actions like the one in Vail." "The one in Vail" was the 1998 ELF firebombing of a Vail, Colo., ski resort, which destroyed $12 million in property and endangered dozens of firefighters.
In 1995 PETA gave $45,000 to the "support committee" of Rodney Coronado, a convicted arsonist who firebombed a research facility at Michigan State University, according to the CFCF.
PETA leaders have made no secret about their feelings toward those who hold different views from their own. Friedrich told an animal-rights convention in Virginia last year that, "It would be a great thing if, you know of these fast-food outlets and these slaughterhouses and these laboratories and these banks that fund them exploded tomorrow."
After the audience’s applause died down, according to a tape of the event secured by CFCF, Freidrich added, "I think it’s perfectly appropriate for people to take bricks and toss them through the windows … Hallelujah to the people who are willing to do it."
Kerry Messer, chairman of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s Christian Life Commission and president of the Missouri Family Network, said PETA "just shoots itself in the foot.
"They’ve done more damage than good to themselves because of their radical position. PETA is working on pure emotion. They have no balance whatsoever on these types of issues," he said.
Combs does not want to waste time "protesting PETA’s use of religious imagery to make its misguided point. Let’s promote the glory of having a life changing relationship with the one true God," he said.