The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


The Church and Animal Welfare

From Ag issue 62 (Feb/Mar 1981) - journal of Compassion In World Farming. Reproduced with Thanks:

On January 13th, a delegation from Chickens Lib. presented a wreath at Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, on behalf of the 50 million battery hens which will suffer life imprisonment followed by slaughter in Great Britain during 1981. The aim of the protest, stated on the wreath, was to urge the Church to more active condemnation of factory farming methods.

The visit was prompted by general dissatisfaction with the attitude of the official Christian Church on farm animal welfare. Although we accept that some individual members of the clergy are using what influence they have to good effect, their work is at present overshadowed by general indifference or fine words supported by little or no action.

In a recently written prayer, the new Archbishop of Canterbury urges the "Eternal Father...whose love extends to all creatures" to:-

"Grant us that reverence for life which
becomes those who believe in you;
Lest we despise it
or come callously to destroy it".

Isn't it about time that the Church made a more determined effort to promote "that reverence for life" which "extends to all creatures"? Policies like those recently expressed by the Bishop of York simply allow Christianity to become a party to evil. The Archbishop's spokesman said:...

"He is fully aware of the situation
and fears of people in connection with
battery and factory farming, but he
cannot become involved in the matter in
any personal or direct way. He receives
regular information on the matter, and
the Churches are watchful on the issue."

If the so-called moral guardians of our Society take this line, then how can we expect more from the consumer?

In fairness, we should once again draw attention to other clergymen who have spoken out strongly against modern methods of livestock farming. For instance, Canon Turnbull of Worcester has used his authority to call for both changes in attitude and new laws of protection for our farm animals. Unfortunately, his views do not seem to represent either the majority of Churchmen or the Church's official position.

When the Church Commissioners ownership of agricultural property was valued in March 1979, it was found to be worth 122.5 million. All of this property is let to tenants. In January 1980 we wrote to the Church Commissioners suggesting that they should implement a clause in rent agreements prohibiting tenants from employing factory farming methods on church land. Our grounds were that certain modern practises in agriculture are opposed to all Christian principles.

The Commissioners replied promptly, expressing their "dislike" of any farming practise that could lead to cruelty to animals. They added that farm tenants are entitled to follow whatever methods they choose, except that a clause is included in contracts, obliging them "not to permit any be treated in such a manner as to be caused unnecessary pain or distress".

On February 8th 1980, we responded to this, pointing out that it goes no further than the wishy-washy national laws on farm animal protection, and asking the Church to take a lead by at least banning the use of certain practises on church land. We specified the use of battery cages for hens, the tethering of pregnant sows permanently on concrete and in narrow pens, and veal crates. This call was in line with the recommendations of a Church working party report convened by the Dean of Westminster, Edward Carpenter and published in the report Animals and Ethics. At the same time we wrote to two supposedly sympathetic churchmen asking them to support our efforts with the Commissioners. We have not received replies to any of these letters.

Anybody who writes letters of protest over the Church's lack of commitment to animal welfare is likely to be directed to Animals and Ethics as a testament to the Church's wish for reform. Yet at present it seems that they are actually profiting from allowing their land to be used for farming methods that are condemned in this book.

Prayers for reverence and compassion for all life are all very admirable when allied to policies and actions which actively promote these qualities outside the Church walls. But prayer as an alternative or excuse for active compassion is nothing short of hypocrisy.

So where does the Church stand?


Since writing the above, copies of a new statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury have arrived in the office. I quote:

"Many have written to me on the subject of
hens in battery cages and veal calves in
crates. Of course these systems of extreme
confinement are to be abhorred..."

This condemnation of both battery hens and crated calves is certainly welcome, and the nearest thing we have seen to official opposition to factory farming from the Church. Yet for all that, it invalidates none of the arguments set down in this article. The time to praise the Archbishop's statement will not arrive until he delivers the same message from the pulpit of Saint Paul's Cathedral for the whole of the Anglican community to hear. Until then, who is to know whether or not it is just another in the long list of official attempts to allay public concern with easy words?

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