Increasingly, Christians from all denominations are finding common ground in their concern for God’s creatures. There is a growing movement among Christians to relieve the unnecessary suffering of billions of animals each year, for example for furs, for entertainment, and on factory farms.
Modern factory farms treat animals like machines. Innocent animals experience painful mutilations without anesthesia, suffer greatly from stressful, crowded conditions, and are unable to perform any of the behaviors God designed them to do. Then, they experience terror, and often great pain, at the slaughterhouse. Many Christians justify such callous treatment of animals by citing Adam’s “dominion” over all the creatures in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:28). But, immediately afterwards, God prescribed a vegetarian diet of seed-bearing plants and fruits for everyone in the Garden. So, “dominion” must have meant benevolent stewardship, because God found this harmonious, peaceful, vegetarian world “very good.”
Matthew Scully, a special assistant and senior speechwriter for President George W. Bush, has generated widespread interest in animal issues in his book Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy. Scully believes that we are God’s agents of love and mercy for all animals, including those in puppy mills and those used for food, sport, and experimentation. Scully notes that the pain and misery inherent in factory farming is inconsistent with Christians’ calling to be merciful, and he encourages all Christians to avoid animal products, particularly those from factory farms.
Psalm 145:9 reads. “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” (NIV) One rapidly growing organization that applies this to dietary choices is the Christian Vegetarian Association. Co-chair Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D. says, “Plant-based diets honor God’s Creation by sparing animals the misery of factory farms; conserving scarce water, energy, and land resources; alleviating world hunger; and benefiting our bodies. We do not hold that eating meat is inherently sinful. Rather, we believe that it constitutes good, responsible stewardship of God’s Creation.” The CVA began in 1999 and has 1,800 members.
About 30 years ago, Rev. Frank Hoffman became aware of the suffering of calves raised to make veal. He and his wife Mary subsequently stopped eating all animal products, including eggs and dairy. Seeing animal advocacy as integral to their Christian calling, they later began an Internet ministry, which now averages more than 250,000 hits per day. Rev. Hoffman strives to heal Christians who have been met with indifference or even hostility after they’ve tried to encourage fellow Christians to apply God’s love and compassion to animals. He says, “We are ministering to many thousands of people a year who have been hurt by the hardness of heart they have encountered in churches.”
Like Rev. Hoffman, Rev. J.R. Hyland, an Evangelical minister, was inspired to help animals because of a single form of abuse. She was disturbed by the suffering and death of animals in a psychology lab class in the early 1970’s. She has a book defending humane treatment of animals based on Biblical principles (now titled God’s Covenant with Animals) and several tightly argued essays on the topic. She says that stewardship is humankind’s sacred responsibility: “The role that God assignedthe role of the compassionate caregiver for other species.”
Catholic Concern for Animals was founded in England 70 years ago and now reaches 52 countries. It works closely with the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals (ASWA) in the U.K. Sue Grisham is the U.S.A. Representative for ASWA. Despite diverse theological positions, these Christian groups and authors agree that animals belong to God, not humankind, and therefore animals deserve our compassion and respect.
Most Christians oppose cruelty to animals and recognize their duties toward them. Consequently, animal exploitation businesses go to great lengths to hide their mistreatment of animals. The agri-business industries (breeding and raising animals for food) have also invested heavily in misleading advertising to falsely convince people that animal products are necessary for good health.
God’s Creatures Ministry (GCM) encourages all churches to have their own animal ministry. GCM offers suggestions for parishioners to help pets/animals in their own congregations and communities, and gives general educational information about animal issues.
Despite theological differences, Christians universally recognize that animals belong to God. Many Biblical passages, cited in the web sites above, call for kindness and mercy toward animals. Contact these organizations to learn more about God’s concern for animals and how this applies to our daily lives. In a world desperately in need of compassion, perhaps one unifying concern will be for the animals.