The Christian Community is finally responding to the call for environmental responsibility that has been sounded by secular groups for many decades. Although individual believers realized that responsible stewardship of the earth and its resources are rooted in the biblical story of creation, such issues were not "officially" recognized within most church groups.
But that is changing. There is a proliferation of conferences and seminars as well as ecumenical and regional alliances of church members, diligently spreading the message that stewardship of the earth and its resources is a religious/spiritual issue. And their message is being well-received.
Various church groups have formed committees for Eco-justice, for Creation Theology, for Earth Ethics and other, similar, issues. There are literally hundreds of these local, regional, national, and international groups. Typical of their mission statements is the goal of "encouraging churches to become centers of reverence for God's creation". This development would seem to bode well for the animals. Unfortunately, it doesn't.
Reading through various newsletters and conference reports it becomes apparent that "reverence for God's creation" means that rainforests should remain uncut, water unpolluted, and the air free from contaminants. All these are self-serving issues which are presented as affecting human health and well-being and these are the issues which growing numbers of Christians earnestly promote.
But the conservation of natural resources is not particularly demanding. There is a certain feeling of righteousness that comes from being assured that by taking simple measures like recycling trash and conserving water and electricity, one is helping to preserve the planet. And for the most part, these concerns are not controversial. It is hard to imagine a committee of irate church members confronting their Pastor with a demand for their right to pollute air and water or to destroy the rainforests.
Of course most of these environmental groups are "for" a moratorium on killing whales and elephants —causes also unlikely to stir up church controversy. It has almost become axiomatic that the extinction of certain species would adversely affect the quality of human life. But the biblical mandate of Genesis 1:28 that gives human beings responsibility for all the other creatures with whom we share the earth, does not limit our stewardship to animals who have been designated as endangered species.
What about the lives of those creatures who are not threatened with extinction? What about the rabbits, birds, squirrels, and deer who are targeted by church members for recreational killing? No study groups are formed to consider the morality of killing God's creatures as a pastime and no minister addresses this issue from his pulpit.
Neither do church members concern themselves with the issue of vivisection. There are no church-sponsored inquiries about the gratuitous violence inflicted upon millions of helpless animals. There is no effort to determine the efficacy, legitimacy, or morality of these "scientific" torture chambers.
Factory farming is not investigated; there are no committees of concerned Christians to challenge the larger church membership with the immorality and brutality of the methods used to produce the veal they eat or the eggs they consume. These are issues which have been publicized in the mainstream media, yet they are still ignored by those promoting ecological awareness in their churches.
But many committees are formed to investigate ways in which to conserve water, restrict the use of pesticides, and keep the environment green because other church members are not offended by these proposals. Because following these guidelines does not demand a profound reevaluation of belief or lifestyle they are “ecologically correct"—acceptable topics for discussion or activity.
Most of those who are giving leadership to ecological causes within the Christian churches are promoting the conservation of resources while ignoring the plight of millions of animals who are being tortured, mutilated, and killed in a variety of obscene and ungodly ways. In this behavior they are repeating the failures of past generations—they are ignoring important matters of justice and mercy by focusing all their attention on the conservation of resources.
This is the same kind of failure for which Christ censured the theologians and church members of his own time. They ignored the most important elements of godly living by concentrating on lesser issues. In the strongest possible language, Jesus condemned this kind of religion as hypocritical.
"How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites!...[You observe such practices as paying your tithes] but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice, mercy, and honesty...Blind guides! You strain a fly out of your drink but swallow a camel!" (Matthew 23:23,24. Today's English Version.)
Animals are part of God’s creation and people have special
responsibilities to them. The Jewish tradition clearly indicates
that we are forbidden to be cruel to animals and that we are to
treat them with compassion.
Richard H. Schwartz: Judaism And Vegetarianism Micah Publications, Marblehead MA
Those who understand the hypocrisy of promoting a concerned and caring approach to the use of natural resources, while ignoring the fate of animals at the hands of unconcerned and uncaring humans, must challenge church policy. When environmental issues are publicized in church bulletins, the Pastor needs to be reminded that responsibility for animals is a biblical mandate that cannot be ignored. And when programs dealing with ecological concerns are scheduled, those assembled need to be reminded that while a concern for natural resources is legitimate, our primary responsibility for God's creation is to the animals who have been placed in our care.
Believers need to be reminded that when we are called to give an account of our stewardship of the earth, the number of cans we recycled or trees that we planted are not going to make up for the misuse and abuse of God's creatures that we did nothing to change.