By Larry Brown
In 50 years as part of various congregations, never once did I hear a concern raised regarding the terrible cruelties animals routinely endure. How, I've asked myself, can we properly reverence the Creator without respecting the creation?....I believe there is cause for honest concern in the Christian community when so many have become so comfortable trading opportunities to display mercy, compassion, and selflessness, for the sake of maintaining their pleasure, convenience, and tradition.
You might believe that " preaching to the choir " guarantees automatic
assent, but my experiences this past year proved otherwise. I have long been
troubled by Christian indifference to the suffering of God's animal
creation-much of it perpetuated by our patronage. For the essence of a
Christian life, according to Jesus, is one of mercy, love, humility,
compassion, selflessness, and treating others the way we want to be treated.
Yet, in 50 years as part of various congregations, never once did I hear a concern raised regarding the terrible cruelties animals routinely endure. How, I've asked myself, can we properly reverence the Creator without respecting the creation?
To better understand the silence and to encourage a conversation, I visited 25 area Protestant churches, ranging in size from small gatherings to mega-churches. My suggestions were hardly complicated:
- Let's acknowledge "Care of Creation" as a neglected form of stewardship.
- Let's examine the impact of our daily choices.
Theologically, Christians are on solid ground to consider their relationship
with animals seriously. It should be instructive that the biblical narrative
is bracketed on both ends by scenes of harmony with all creation- from Eden
to Isaiah's vision. Contrary to the popular, self-serving belief, animals
were created, not for human use, but as Adam's companions according to
After creation was pronounced good, its care was the first example of stewardship given humans. God then prescribed a plant-based diet for all beings. When sin entered the human state, however, three relationships were broken:
- Humans to God
- Humans to humans
- Humans to nature
While Christians have sought to repair the first two, the third has been
Though I did not expect enthusiasm for the topic - after all we are only talking about God's creative handiwork- I was most disappointed in the behavior of a number of pastors. In fact, I finally decided I would need to attend church services - because pastors were not returning calls and emails.
As the year went by, I found myself recalling Martin Luther King's " Letter from Birmingham Jail " , written in 1963 in response to the white clergy's lack of involvement in civil rights and their criticism of his efforts.
Fourteen of the pastors did agree to meet and discuss the issue, as well as, view a concise documentary about animal abuse. From those who did not consent to meeting, here are some representative comments:
- "I am not interested".
- "Animals do not have souls".
- "Humans have dominion".
- "You are elevating animals to human level".
- " Our focus is on souls". (Not one asked about my soul)
- "You are excessive and a heretic".
- "Mercy does not apply to animals".
- "Yes, I can picture Jesus hunting with a gun"
- "Jesus ate fish".
- "I feel no mandate concerning animals".
Those most adamantly opposed to meeting were seven pastors who identified
themselves as hunters-some of whom were overheard talking about shooting
deer with church members.
Conversations with pastors revealed that a fair and sustained hearing had not been given the issue, despite the admonition in First Thessalonians to "Examine everything carefully, hold on to the good and abstain from every form of evil". Contemporary realities- such as factory farms, laboratories, puppy mills, hunting, fishing, fur trapping and farming, rodeos, and circuses - rarely, if ever came up-though we know so much more today about these cruelties, thanks to undercover efforts.
Exploration of the subject has convinced me that the two main factors contributing to such widespread Christian indifference are lack of leadership and cultural entanglement. Resistance from pastors has already been noted, but a similar picture emerges from some seminaries and Christian colleges.
We can't easily fault lay members if leaders at the highest levels are not conversant in questionable societal practices with animals.
Equally important is culture - with its anesthetizing ability to reconcile citizens, Christian or secular, to all sorts of atrocities. We need look no further than the Founding Fathers and slavery, or the subjugation of our native populations, or Jim Crow laws. Never mind the Bible emphasizes that Christians are not to be conformed to the world and its values.
I believe there is cause for honest concern in the Christian community when so many have become so comfortable trading opportunities to display mercy, compassion, and selflessness, for the sake of maintaining their pleasure, convenience, and tradition.
Larry Brown is a retired teacher, musician, and vegetarian/vegan since 1976.