The Fellowship of Life
The Bishop Speaks Out
From the Winter 1993 edition of Agscene - journal of Compassion In World Farming. Reproduced with Thanks:
Just before the Rt. Rev. John Baker retired recently as Bishop of Salisbury, Joyce D'Silva interviewed him for Agscene. The Bishop is a patron of CIWF and has spoken up for farm animals on many occasions.
John Baker is one of a (very small) handful of senior churchmen who has not been afraid to stand up for the animal cause. But when I asked him when his interest had begun he was vague. Reading 'Black Beauty' as a child, family pets, and close contact with the former Dean of Westminster, Edward Carpenter, were all formative influences. As, I felt, was the deep concern of the Bishop's wife, Jill Baker. He could not forget a teenage experience when he shot an animal. "The whole idea of what had been alive now being dead was just too intolerable." Animals have to be killed, but killing must always be necessary and humane, he believes.
The Bishop recalls how the local National Farmers' Union had escorted him around some Dorset farms. "I was disgusted at the farrowing pens, but so was the stockman in charge. We also visited a battery hen unit which was as harrowing as they usually are." Happily, that battery has now been replaced by a specially designed alternative system. The Bishop is keen for us to welcome all improvements of this kind. As he points out, "Every painful inch is important."
Has he met with real opposition to his views? Rather than hostility, he feels a lack of understanding and concern on the part of clerical colleagues: "They are reluctant to make animals a priority." The Bishop despairs of the way the hunting issue "always hijacks the subject" as it did in the "shambolic" animal debate in the General Synod a couple of years ago. Although he opposes hunting, he believes "the scale of suffering" in intensive food production and the fur trade is so much greater.
Which is why he likes "to support CIWF because... everything you are talking about is such a vast urgent problem, it affects everybody's lives. This is why we feel you are doing such an important job."
The Bishop believes in three basic points to put across: the world needs food at an affordable price; people who work to produce this food deserve a proper living; and "it is wrong to exploit animals or be cruel to them in order to feed ourselves." He has always been deeply concerned at what goes on in the name of humane slaughter, right from a horrifying visit to a pork products factory and abattoir many years ago. He says, "The slaughter of poultry is absolutely appalling."
The Bishop believes too many of us "just pass by on the other side" when we see something wrong. But if we do this we have done ourselves an injury as "every negative act of that kind does affect people individually" and can "change the nature of society." He admires those who work to raise consciousness in countries "where animals are badly treated." He thinks it is possible that "cruelty in one community will actually increase cruelty in another community without people even realising what is happening."
He is cautious about genetic engineering of animals, suspecting "that you may get some pretty disastrous results" and feels that the criterion should be, "What kind of life are we producing...?" A bird without wings, for example, would "be a serious deprivation." The Bishop believes we have to tackle the scientists on their own ground and "be as good as the best."
Do animals have a divine destiny of some sort? "I do see God as concerned for the whole creation and for its future... There may be a redemption and a fulfilment for creation which we don't understand at the moment." But what we humans must do is have concern and love "at least to all sentient creatures" here and now.
I asked the Bishop what he felt about the annual turkey slaughter to celebrate Christmas. He was outspoken: "I wish people would boycott the turkey industry, then it would fold up and die." He feels the once active wild turkey of North America has become "a walking misery. It's absolutely scandalous the way those birds are both bred and treated."
Finally I asked the Bishop if he had a Christmas message for Agscene readers. He thought for a minute or two before giving his reply. "If God could live on our level to bring more love into our lives, then surely we can at least think on the animals' level to bring more love into theirs."
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