By Kris Haley, Manager of Multifaith Outreach
It is the kind of electricity you rarely feel, that sense that
something very significant is happening. Such was the energy in the
Cannon Caucus Room in Washington D.C., a room rich with history that
served as a platform for even more history made today.
People entered the room for the unveiling of 'A Religious
Proclamation of Animal Compassion' with smiles on their faces as some
old friends caught up and new ones were made. Guests shared in a vegan
continental breakfast while key speakers rehearsed their talks in
preparation for the start of the event.
The event began with a welcome from Best Friends’ President, Michael
Mountain and Chief Executive Office, Paul Berry. Mountain gave a brief
history of the organization and of how interest arose around the need
for a faith component, and Berry talked about the events leading up to
the Proclamation and how the religious leaders gathered in Utah last
July. Then Berry introduced the first of the political speakers who had
agreed to speak at the Proclamation signing.
Representative Tom Lantos (D - Calif), who co-authored a bill that
gives pets safe haven with their owners during catastrophes, credited
his wife with inspiring his commitment to animal welfare. He also talked
about his love for his own dog Macko, who accompanies him to his office
on the Hill. As the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in the House,
he particularly resonated with Best Friends' mantra, “Kindness to
animals builds a better world for all of us," and added that, with the
help of religious organizations, change for the better was inevitable.
Rep. Lantos then introduced his friend and colleague, fellow
Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus co-chair, Rep. Christopher Shays
(R - Conn), calling him “…the most powerful friend for animals in
Congress.” Rep. Shays referred to today’s event as, “…a consensus of
principles that puts compassion into action for all of God’s creatures,”
and received enthusiastic applause when, referring to the treatment of
animals, stated that “global warming is not the only inconvenient
Next to take the stage was Rep. Betty Sutton (D- Ohio), who shares
her home with her two rescue dogs, Cody and Bear. A long-time supporter
of Best Friends, Congresswoman Sutton invited all people of faith to
join the cause for animals and said that she would be fighting for
animal rights “right alongside you!” Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) also stopped
by to lend his support.
The event then shifted to the faith leadership. Best Friends
Multifaith Outreach Director, Michael Bruner, opened his comments with
an invitation to the audience to not only change the course of history
but to “keep history going” by supporting the intirinsic rights of
animals as God's creation to live lives free from abuse and cruelty.
Bruner connected the welfare of animals to the ongoing crisis of global
warming and the environment by reminding the audience that ”animals are
the environment.” He also insisted, speaking as an evangelical, that
“dominion is not domination" and that Christians have a biblical mandate
to care for animals.
Rabbi Robin Nafshi followed by quoting her favorite verse from the
Talmud where it states that "the highest wisdom is kindness.” She
extoled her fellow Jewish believers to take specific steps to end
traditional religious practices that inflicted pain and suffering upon
animals and she reminded everyone that kindness is not merely a virtue
but a religious duty for all people of faith.
The second religious speaker, Imam Yusuf Saleem, Resident Imam at
Masjid Muhammad in Washington, DC, encouraged compassion for all
sentient beings and invited the audience to remember the importance of
“balance for all creation…including animals and plants.” Imam Saleem
quoted from the Koran and spoke of the care all people are to show for
their fellow creatures, and that the Prophet Muhammed always enjoined
his soldiers never to harm women, children, or animals.
The final religious leader to speak and also a co-author of the
Proclamation was Rev. Steve Keplinger, Rector of St. David’s Episcopal
Church in Page, Arizona. Rev. Keplinger, who has authored a number of
creation liturgies, challenged those in attendance by saying that there
is nothing we devalue more in God’s creation than when we turn animals
into objects. "This is our fault," he insisted, "because we are not
correctly interpreting sacred texts and applying it to today’s culture.”
The moment everyone awaited finally arrived when Rev. Michael Bruner
returned to the podium to read aloud "A Religious Proclamation for
Animal Compassion" as the co-authors of the document came up to sign
their names to the Proclamation (http://www.bestfriends.org/signproc).
He closed the reading of the Proclamation by inviting all people and
leaders of faith to step in to this new paradigm of animal welfare, for
which this Summit was only a beginning.
As the co-authors gathered to add their signatures to the
Proclamation, Paul Berry officially closed the event with a call to
action to all people of faith to add their names to the document
unveiled today. Among those in the signatory gathering was Moseby, a
rescue dog who added his “paw-to-graph” to the Proclamation,
representing his canine brethren.
Best Friends is encouraging people to sign an online version of the
http://www.bestfriends.org/signproc. The goal is to collect one
million signatures by the 2009 Summit of Animals and Religion: A Call to
Compassion in a show of support for kindness and compassion as key
spiritual values. To achieve this, Best Friends' Animals & Religion team
will be facilitating an effort to reach 2008 churches, mosques,
synagogues, temples and faith organizations by the end of 2008 in
anticipation of global conference for Animals & Religion in 2009. If
you’re interested in joining this effort, or have a faith organization
that may like a Best Friends representative to visit, or simply want
more information, please contact Kris Haley at
After the event, Michael Bruner charged the group to go beyond just
signing the document themselves. “If each person in this room gets 50
others to sign, and those 50 inspire 50 more, and so on through two more
generations of signatures, we would achieve our goal of collecting one
million signatures in support of the Proclamation and would stand as a
united and compelling voice of compassion for animals around the world.
Please join us by signing your name today and ask your friends,
family and faith leaders to do the same. In addition, to stay connected
to the latest events in the Best Friends Multifaith Outreach Program,
please join the Best Friends Animals & Religion Network Community at
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