Articles From The Writings of Vasu Murti

A Real Christian Radical

The early American feminists Lucy Stone, Amelia Bloomer, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met with anti-slavery editor Horace Greeley to toast "Women's Rights and Vegetarianism" ... seeing animal rights as social and moral progress for all mankind, in the tradition of the abolitionists, suffragists, feminists: women’s rights and civil rights.
 
Emma Goldman and the IWW free-speech campaigners were jailed for organizing workers, advocating contraception, and resisting World War I. Suffragists picketed the White House for the right to vote and, when jailed, went on hunger strikes. 
 
Feminists For Life, too, has many vegetarians and vegans in its ranks, printing its newsletter, Sisterlife, on recycled paper with soy ink, and working with PLAGAL (the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians). Well-behaved women rarely make history. 
 
In the tradition of the abolitionists, suffragists, feminists, and vegetarians before her, the late Reverend Janet Regina Hyland (1933 - 2007), a real Christian radical, was the author of Sexism is a Sin: A Biblical Basis for Female Equality. Regina Hyland was involved with the plight of migrant farm workers, women's rights, and animal rights. She supported the sanctuary movement during the 1980s, and opposed Texas governor George W. Bush's execution of Karla Faye Tucker in 1998. 
 
Regina Hyland was raised Irish Catholic and attended Catholic school as a youth, but went over to the Protestants to become an evangelical minister, since the Catholics do not (yet) ordain women. She studied Western theology and was familiar with East Indian philosophy (Hinduism and Buddhism), and even reverently referred to Jesus as "...my guru."
 
When I visited Regina in Sarasota, Florida, in August 2003, I gave her a japa mala (Sanskrit for "prayer beads," a Hindu "rosary"), for the purpose of mantra meditation: chanting the holy names. But I couldn't show her how to properly use the beads in the bead bag, since she was left-handed. Regina said she saw points of similarity between Hindu and Christian monasticism: "When Catholics say the rosary beads, they are repeating the same prayers, over and over..." Regina told me she believed in karma and reincarnation and was familiar with Western astrology, but not Hindu astrology. Regina appreciated people of faith in all the world's religions glorifying God in their own vernacular through music, song, and dance as well: "When I was at the Assembly of God Seminary, we would attend revival meetings at local and rural churches... ecstatic behavior pretty much defined the services."
 
Regina told me she began seminary studies in biblical theology in 1955-58, but didn't complete a Masters in Theology until the late '70s through early '80s. She studied with the Assembly of God Home Missions beginning in 1982, and was ordained on November 24, 1984.
 
Regina told me she was vegetarian since the 1970s, but found it odd that some religious vegetarians also consider mind-altering substances to be "unspiritual." Regina admitted that having been raised Irish Catholic, she enjoyed an occasional drink, and believed (like some Christians) that the Bible permits alcohol in moderation.
 
Regina was the author (in 1988) of The Slaughter of Terrified Beasts, which was revised and expanded in 2000 by Martin Rowe of Lantern Books (which publishes books on animals and theology) as God's Covenant with Animals (available through PETA, which describes the book as a must-read for anyone tired of hearing the Bible misused to justify animal cruelty).
 
Regina cared deeply for animals and, as a progressive theologian, was in the forefront of social change: religion and animal rights. Years before SERV (the Society for Ethical and Religious Vegetarians) was founded, she published Humane Religion, a Christian vegan periodical.
 
Regina wrote the foreword to my 2003 book on religion and animal rights, They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy, and endorsed the book while it was still in manuscript form in a book review in Humane Religion: years before it was finally published by Steve Kaufman of the Christian Vegetarian Association. She referred to the book "a valuable resource," and "a must for every humane library."
 
Reverend Andrew Linzey, contemporary Anglican priest, and author of several books on animal rights and Christianity (some of which are available through PETA), tells Christians still eating meat to, "Give it up." Regina Hyland, similarly, told me plainly about the killing of animals and the eating of meat: "It's a sin."
 
Regina was an ardent feminist and described herself as a "dyed-in-the-wool Democrat." When I first contacted Regina in 1996, she was convinced the entire pro-life movement was a vast, right-wing conspiracy. Since then, I turned her on to Democrats For Life, Feminists For Life and the Seamless Garment Network (a coalition of peace and justice groups on the religious left that takes a stand against war, abortion, poverty, the arms race, racism, capital punishment, and euthanasia — His Holiness the Dalai Lama has signed their Mission Statement)... and before she passed away, she expressed the sentiment that as an alternative to abortion, science might come up with a form of contraception that even the Pope would approve of!
 
Regina told me she once attended a conservative Christian religious conference, but her reputation as a liberal Democrat, an ardent feminist and an animal advocate involved with the plight of migrant farm workers preceded her. She said when she arrived, they didn't recognize her. They were expecting a Gloria Steinem type, and instead saw (in her words) "an aging Debbie Reynolds."
 
On April 14, 2007, she wrote me:
 
"...I want to take this opportunity to tell you how very much I appreciate your friendship, both in a personal sense and also as colleagues / activists. You are a blessing in my life..."
 
Regina was planning to visit me here in Northern California at the end of September 2007, and to attend the World Vegetarian Festival in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, when she suddenly fell ill. I live in Oakland, and I was looking forward to seeing her again in person and selling her books with her.
 
I spoke to Regina Hyland over the phone shortly before she passed away. Among her last words to me were: "The Christian God cares (for animals)." Regina was pleased when I told her that I not only distributed her pamphlets on animals and Christianity at the World Vegetarian Festival, but that I managed to sell a copy of God's Covenant with Animals to Catholic high school students who had formed an animal rights group on campus. She had faith in the future: faith in the younger generation.
 
Regina died of breast cancer October 9th, 2007—one day after a "Day of Fasting," designated by the Network of Spiritual Progressives in protest against the Iraq War. Her Hindu astrological chart has Jupiter (representing piety and fortune) in the 12th house (representing the afterlife), indicating a fortunate next birth. 
 
Janet Regina Hyland is still missed by everyone who knew her. I know I miss her dearly.

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