I welcome anyone who wants to work with us to protect animals.
Thanks to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for this article.
Evangelicals join animal welfare fight
By Stephanie Simon
LOS ANGELES TIMES
She spent years as an outspoken anti-abortion activist, and that cause remains dear to her. But these days, Karen Swallow Prior has a new passion: animal welfare.
She wasn’t sure, at first, that advocating for God’s four-leggeds would go over well on the campus of Liberty University, a fundamentalist Baptist institution founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
Among the Liberty faculty and conservative evangelicals in general the animal-rights movement is often disdained as a secular, liberal cause.
But animal activists have been working with increasing intensity to shed that image. They’re lecturing in Quaker meetinghouses and Episcopal churches, setting up websites that post Scripture alongside recipes for vegan soup and using biblical language to promote political initiatives, such as laws mandating bigger cages for pregnant pigs.
On Wednesday, clergy from 20 faith traditions including Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic signed a statement declaring a moral duty to treat animals with respect. At a ceremony in Washington, D.C., they called on all people of faith to stop wearing fur, reduce meat consumption and buy only from farms with humane practices.
The Best Friends Animal Society, which brought the interfaith group together, plans to recruit volunteers to bring that message into at least 2,000 congregations.
At Liberty University, meanwhile, Prior took a risk: She wrote an editorial for this month’s university journal declaring animal welfare an evangelical concern. She pointed out that British abolitionist William Wilberforce, an evangelical hero of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, pushed for laws to protect animals from human cruelty. And she cited “ample biblical support” for continuing such activism today.
To Prior’s surprise, she has gotten plenty of praise on and around Liberty’s campus in Lynchburg, Va. Her pastor even has asked her to lecture on the topic at Bible study.
“A lot of these ideas get dismissed out of a view that they fit into a conservative-versus-liberal (split). But there are some issues that transcend that,” said Prior, an English professor. To be sure, Liberty University isn’t about to turn its dining halls vegan. (Even Prior has not embraced every aspect of the animal-welfare cause: She admits to indulging in the fresh venison her husband brings back from his hunts.)
But animal activists say they’re encouraged by even modest efforts to raise awareness.
“The evangelical community … is expanding its definition of values to include work on poverty and the environment. We hope to insert concern for animal welfare as well,” said Christine Gutleben, who directs the new Animals and Religion Department at the Humane Society of the United States.
That department, funded at $400,000 a year, aims to persuade faith communities to take a series of small steps: offering a vegetarian entree at a fellowship meal or insisting that the coffee cake set out on Sundays is made with free-range eggs.
The Humane Society also is seeking to enlist religious leaders in its political campaigns. In California, for instance, the group has been pushing a ballot measure to ban certain confinement systems for farm animals. Promotional ads show photos of hens in crowded cages and ask: “Is This Faithful Stewardship of God’s Creatures?”
Some religious traditions have taken aggressive stances in support of animal welfare. The Episcopal Church encourages members to work against “puppy mills and factory farms.” The United Methodist Church advocates supporting farms where animals live as much as possible in their natural environments.
Before he became pope, Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) spoke against force-feeding geese to produce foie gras (a liver product) and packing hens so closely “that they become just caricatures of birds.”
The challenge for animal activists has been in translating those sentiments into concrete codes of behavior for congregations. They also must overcome a lingering distrust, especially on the religious right, where some people claim that the very phrase “animal rights” subverts God’s plan for mankind to exert dominion over the rest of creation.
In his radio broadcast planned for this week, evangelical commentator Charles Colson suggests that animal-rights activism implies that “humans are … just one of many living accidents roaming the planet.”
Christians must treat animals humanely, Colson says. But that doesn’t mean granting them the legal right to live in bigger cages. Such initiatives blur the distinction between humans and animals, he says: “Christians need to beware.”
Despite such cautionary voices, animal activists say they expect religious communities to become a major force in their movement within the next decade.
“God designed other animals with needs, desires and the full range of emotions,” said Bruce Friedrich, a Catholic whose faith brought him to a career in activism with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
A pig is designed to root in the soil, Friedrich said. A chicken is designed to build a nest. So keeping those animals and others raised as commodities in cramped cages, away from sunlight, dirt, grass and often, companionship, is a “denial of God’s will,” Friedrich believes.
He and others also point out that God set forth a vegetarian diet for mankind in the creation story in the Book of Genesis. Only after sin, fall and the expulsion from Eden does the Bible speak of man eating animal flesh.
The Bible, of course, is replete with examples of God ordering animal sacrifice. But animal-rights activists contend that God’s true ideal is compassion and dignity for all creation.
The religious argument can be so persuasive that even the nonreligious have learned to use it on behalf of animal rights.
Bernard E. Rollin, a noted animal ethicist, is not a person of faith. Still, he quotes the Bible when he talks to meat producers, trying to convince them that modern industrial methods trample on God’s ideals about respecting animals.