God's Creatures Ministry
Why donít churches preach compassion for animals?
From the earliest days of the Puritans, the animal welfare movement in America, like so many other movements of liberation and social reform, was driven by people of faith. But in our own time, mainstream religion has tended to ignore our fellow creatures. In our continuing series about animals in religion, Best Friends executive director Paul Berry, who grew up in the evangelical Christian tradition, argues that itís time for the church to recapture the initiative and treat kindness to animals as one of the moral imperatives of our time.
By Paul Berry
hen I was four years old, I saw someone do the unthinkable - something so wrong that I blocked it from my memory until my brother reminded me about it years later.
We were at our house in New Orleans, playing under the carport with some puppies our dog had just had. She was a street dog, a sweet stray weíd named Skipper.
A man and a woman were arguing nearby.
Visibly angry, the man got in his car and sped down
the driveway. My brother and I screamed, "Donít go yet! Donít go yet!"
But the man was upset and mad, and he went anyway. He knowingly ran over
three of the puppies.
He was a troubled individual, and Iíve long since forgiven him. But such displays of rage and violence are scattered throughout my childhood memories.
Thanks to my mother, I donít look back on my youth
with any grief or sadness. She did a good job of making us kids feel
safe and loved. A devout Christian woman, she introduced us to faith and
prayer as a refuge for our struggling family. She upheld the life of
Jesus as the ideal role model: courageous, kind and merciful.
Mercy and nonviolence came naturally to us kids. My brother, sisters and I were always bringing home some lost pet or other. Seems we always had a house full of animals, and everyone was considered part of the family.
We were raised in the Southern Baptist tradition, and Sunday was reserved for church and family. If we missed going to church, Mom would make us all watch a church service on TV. Her favorite preachers were Oral Roberts and Robert Schuler. I liked Oral Roberts because he always began his service by saying, "Something good is going to happen to you." We all needed to hear that. But Robert Schuler was my favorite. With his booming voice and theatrical flair, heíd say audacious things like "Every problem is a possibility in disguise" and "Every person is a gold mine of hidden possibilities!" He was fun to watch, but he also had an empowering message of hope and personal transformation. And being my fatherís son, I needed to believe I could find goodness in myself.
With all the spiritual influences around me, I came to
believe that you could create that goodness in yourself by doing good in
the world - caring for all that God has given us: the animals, the
Earth, and each other.
Nature and nurture
Today, with kids of my own, Iím convinced that weíre all born with an innate sense of reverence and responsibility for animals and the earth; kids just need reassurance from their parents and role models.
Itís also clear that the concept of caring for all of nature is becoming more and more a concern for people all over the country, regardless of their faith or philosophy.
Last summer, when Best Friends commissioned a nationwide poll, we discovered that 89 percent of Americans agree that "we have a moral obligation to protect the animals in our care."
Thatís an astounding consensus. But how does it relate to people of faith?
In an informal survey of Best Friends members following the national poll, we asked them what their churches, temples and synagogues are talking about with respect to animals and morality, and how their religious leaders are teaching their congregations to act on those.
The answer: Beyond the human species - ourselves - Godís creation is barely talked about at all.
So if this moral obligation toward our fellow creatures is such a core moral value for people, why isnít it upheld by our churches?
The evangelical movement prides itself on taking
strong positions on moral issues. And congregations look to their
churches for leadership. But the churches arenít setting much of an
example on the subject of kindness to animals.
So is it any surprise that weíre not seeing much
follow-through from the congregations?
For myself, I long ago gave up even expecting to hear anything meaningful from the pulpit about the importance of protecting animals. And many people I used to go to church with and still meet up with occasionally tell me the same thing. We want our children to grow up in the church, but we want it to address all aspects of moral responsibility.
And if most of us are indeed born with an innate, God-given sense of moral responsibility, then surely it is the churchís business to foster this responsibility and remind us of it into our adulthood. Instead, it all gets lost along the way.
Worse, many of our members told us, their churches have become so politically organized, so focused on narrow wedge issues, that they have pretty much lost sight of the big picture stuff - universal kindness, compassion, mercy and nonviolence.
of reverence for animals and nature that So it should come as no surprise that when the churches start leaving their congregations, the congregations start leaving the churches. The Washington Post reported last summer that since 2000, more than 20 million Americans have left traditional churches to explore alternative venues of worship, including home churches, workplace ministries and online faith communities. And in early October, the New York Times reported that evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves.
"Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these..."
The founders of Christianity had a bold vision for a
universal church built on the Golden Rule as spelled out in the
Beatitudes. But with so much of its focus on issues that have more to do
with Caesar than with God, much of the church that I grew up in has lost
its sense of divine mission.
People want to have those meaningful conversations.
But in the follow-up to our national survey last year, we learned that
most people of faith who are practicing compassion for animals are doing
it in spite of the message they get from their religious institutions.
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God's Creatures Ministry is committed to spreading God's compassion to all He has made based on The Scriptures. Although we are a Christian Ministry, we encourage all to have their own animal welfare committee in their community. We extend our resources to those who would like to learn more or begin their own God's Creatures Ministry as an extension of us. God created us to have a vegetarian diet and commissioned us to protect His animals. Instead, we have exploited them for our entertainment, fashion, appetite and useless, torturous research. These creatures have the right to live as they were created to live. Because we live IN this world, but are not OF this world, we strive to bring God's mercy and justice to all. We live in God's Kingdom now where Jesus, The Sacrificial Lamb, The Prince of Peace, The Lion of Judah reigns. We look forward to that day when all of creation will be 'set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God' (Romans 8:21) where a little child will lead and guide God's creatures (see Isaiah 11:5-9).
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