Practical Issues > Things to do > Religion and Animals
Animal Advocacy (bridging a gulf between the Church and the outside world)
Animal Advocacy (bridging a gulf between the Church and the outside world)
Sue from Round Lake, IL
I am an Episcopalian and a vegan. I went vegetarian for spiritual reasons (not Christian, since I didn't know of any precedent or respected tradition to support it at that time) about 9 years ago. I gave up eggs and dairy as soon as I found out how battery hens and veal calves are kept in close confinement, along with other agricultural practices that I didn't want to support, and could live just as well without supporting. But shortly afterward, I discovered two clergypersons: J.R. Hyland (an evangelical pastor who wrote the "Humane Religion" magazine articles and God's Covenant with Animals), and Andrew Linzey (an Anglican theologian, who wrote a pamphlet, "Toward a Prophetic Church for Animals", Animal Gospel, Animal Theology, and many others). Andrew introduced me to the Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals. That was when the (mis)treatment of animals became a Christian concern for me. And I wondered about the gap between God and religion -- and if there would be any way to close it. I stand with one foot in the Church and one foot in the Animal Rights community.
Church members tend to think of animal rights as being a secular movement, not recognizing that there might be activists sitting in their pews or standing at their altars, and praying their prayers. I advocate on behalf of the Church to the "anti-religion" detractors who publicly blame practicing Christians for various injustices and abuses perpetuated over history against both humans and non-humans out of some sense of "domination theology" and adherence to a bloodthirsty God, and to a Bible that accepts social wrongs such as human slavery. They aren't aware of recent paradigm shifts, or that they have people of faith as close allies in their cause. And I advocate for the animals to anyone in the Church who is willing to listen with an open heart, and without a vested interest in animal use. On a good day, it is energizing. But over the long term, when left to the benign neglect of silence and the general tolerance of my own faith community (tolerated as long as I keep silent on any topic that might be perceived as controversial or offensive in some way), it is spiritually draining.
One problem with being invisible, is a non-acceptance on both secular and religious fronts, and loneliness at the core of one's being. One solution to that is to find allies across the Church who are either like-minded, or who are openly supportive, or who are willing to "coalition" on common causes where our diverse interests intersect, such as Global Warming, non-violence, and humanitarian aid. The exploitation, oppression, abuse, and violence inflicted on literally billions of animals in this country each year, particularly under accepted standard industry practices that are (mostly) legal but hidden from public scrutiny, are as much a peace and justice issue as domestic abuse, human trafficking, or any other type of human oppression and violence that Episcopalians are already vocal about. The difference seems to be that there is a perceived benefit by humans who are the dominant culture of this world, in using animals for food, fur, entertainment, sport, and science. We accept or defend: killing them if they are worth more to us dead; killing them if they have no use to us at all; killing them if they eat our food, or the food of our livestock, or our livestock in the case of predators who become victims of our "management". And if we can earn money by some sort of animal use, we vehemently defend our exploitation-of-choice.
We don't live peaceably with nature, with wildlife who have the audacity to encroach on our suburban sprawl, or with the animals who are bred for our use, even if we can talk about "Stewardship of Creation" on a superficial level once a year at our annual "pet blessing" services. We don't even have one prayer for animals in any of our authorized prayer books. If people believe they benefit in some way at the expense of animals, or that animals are "the least of these" on the back burner of a long list of world problems, who is willing speak out on their behalf? Who will challenge people and institutions to seek the most humane or cruelty-free alternatives that are available, to make personal changes in the way they choose to live, to support charities that don't exploit animals or fund animal torture, to get active supporting animal protection legislation, and to create a serious Christian standard of what it means to be "Stewards of All Creation" which includes the overlooked captive and domestic ("property-status") animals. And we must focus attention on inanimate resources like fossil fuel, water and soil. But animals should not be neglected in the process.
Taking a stand for animals isn't a matter of "either/or", or even a matter of spending money that could otherwise go toward helping people in need. It is a matter of "both/and", and a willingness to become informed, to look beneath the myths that industries and marketers perpetuate to make us feel comfortable about our choices, taking a look at who's profit interests are threatened whenever activists are ridiculed or denigrated in an attempt to discredit their message and sway public opinion, making connections in the underlying causes of all suffering, all oppression, all violence, and then caring enough to do whatever is within our power to break the silence, and to stop supporting those things.
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I could not have stated this better. Your post captured my thoughts exactly. So many Christians think that taking action for animals and being a follower of Christ are mutually exclusive things, when they are not. As you said, contrary to that belief, Christians have a GREATER responsibility to care for the welfare of animals since they are part of God's creation! I've shared your very eloquent story on Facebook too. Thank you!
Good Friday; More from ENAW
Dear ENAW friends,
The readings of Maundy Thursday are difficult to hear as we read about Passover, but they are no more difficult than the many violent passages in Scripture, in my opinion. The Old Testament is, frankly, full of blood shed, and much of the violence is attributed to God. We can only look back and say that whatever people thought thousands of years ago, we now know what God is most fully like in the Incarnation, in his Son, Jesus Christ. And Jesus turns over the tables in the Temple and releases the animals who were to be sold for sacrifice and instead, sacrifices himself, right at Passover. That's the punchline of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
And the church, just as society as a whole, is certainly not ready to stop all that they're doing or believing in relation to animals immediately. We're talking thousands of years of conditioning on this issue, it's not going to happen over night. This is where we must PRAY, PRAY, PRAY and be long suffering. To leave the church because it is not doing what we believe it should be, is essentially to give up any prophetic role we might have in it. To leave is to allow ourselves to be further alienated, because despite the problems in the church, we are still called to be a part of her and shape her. As St. Augustine once said, "The Church is a whore, but she is my mother." The Church is a sell out at many times and it has committed many evils...this is nothing new, but the fact is, we are called to be in the Church, not just for our sakes, but the sake of others.
I almost did not get ordained because I disagree so fundamentally with so
much of what "the Church" does. And it is convenient to say, "I'm not one of
them." And sometimes people really do need to leave the church for a time for
pastoral reasons and I totally understand that. But I will always challenge
people to come back because the Church needs you, your voice, and your witness.
Who said being a faithful disciple would be easy? People spat on Jesus and they
spat on St. Francis, and they spat on pretty much anyone who dared to challenge
the status quo. So be it. Fight back with love and humility and keep persisting,
be a thorn in their side, and keep planting seeds. If you don't do it, who will?