Philadelphia, Pa. -- In a region where pig roasts are a common way for churches of various denominations to raise money and simply have a good time, the pigs themselves, while no doubt praised highly for their succulence, have not had many vocal champions. Now, they have one.
The folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have put a Chester County church on notice that its annual pig roast is unchristian and will be the subject of protest unless the church agrees to serve vegetarian food instead.
The roast is part of an annual country fair set for Saturday at Hibernia United Methodist Church in West Brandywine Township. It is an otherwise tame affair with craft tables, balloons, games for children, an antique car display... and more than one roast pig.
"The first pig will be done at about 10:30 a.m.," the church's Web site says.
To PETA members, this is no cause for salivation. Much less celebration.
"By hosting a pig roast, your church is lending its imprimatur to factory-farming practices that are clearly and completely at odds with Christian values," said PETA's Bruce Friedrich, who is coordinating the protest, in a letter to the Rev. David T. McMillan 3d, pastor of the church.
Friedrich also posted an "action alert" on PETA's Web site, www.peta.org , asking members to call Mr. McMillan to register their protests. But for at least an hour or so on Monday, the site listed the number of Mr. McMillan's home phone before it was changed to the church phone.
All afternoon, the church phone remained busy, and by Tuesday morning, calls to the McMillan home resulted in a recording saying that the number was out of service.
Mr. McMillan has not returned phone calls to either place.
Walter Werner, police chief of the small rural township, said the event is normally a quiet affair and, when told of the possibility of protesters crashing the party, he said in amazement: "What? Why here?"
PETA is not necessarily going to be showing up en masse at every church pig roast.
Friedrich said the organization became involved in this one after a receiving a complaint. "One of our members is a member of this church. He says he spoke to other people who are not going and have a problem with roasting a pig."
Friedrich said the man did not want to be identified but that the issue isn't the pig roast per se - as opposed to, say, a less vivid alternative, such as serving sliced pork instead of having an animal recognizable as a pig spitted and turned over a fire.
The issue is meat-eating itself.
"Christians, especially, who follow the prince of peace - not the bloody butcher - should be adopting a vegetarian diet," he said.
"The issue for the church members who objected is that these are God's creatures, designed by God to root in the soil looking for food, to form social relationships, to play, to breathe fresh air and so on," Friedrich said.
Pigs, he said, "are more intelligent than dogs or cats. They play video games more competently than some primates. And they form social relationships so complex that these relationships had previously been found only in primates."
Friedrich had offered to ship veggie dogs and chili, but he said later he'd be willing to deliver them personally. "We're likely to be coming along anyway" with other protesters, he noted.
If the pig roast goes on as planned, "in good Christian tradition, we will probably bear witness of some sort," he said, adding, "although I wouldn't rule out turning over tables."