Christians and Animals (Reconsidered)

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Ben writes... I should admit I’m fairly recent to this subject myself. It was less than a couple of years ago that animal welfare began to tugging on my heart, but as a bible college graduate and seminary student I didn’t know if a faithfully Christian theology or ethic allowed for a thorough concern for animals.

The New Testament seemed to emphasize evangelism, discipleship and Christian community above anything else, and its other priorities were almost exclusively humanitarian. I remembered the odd verse about God remembering the sparrows or the righteous person caring for their beast, but that was about it.

But as I became increasingly fascinated by the unique personalities of the pets in my home and more distracted outdoors by the various wildlife which I stumbled across, I began to realize just how much thoughtfulness God had invested in each one of his animal creations. And if he created them with such apparent attention to detail, then he can’t help but continue to care about their wellbeing.

It was then that I remembered the total trajectory of Scripture: the innocence with which creation was once described as well as God’s intention to redeem all of it one day, and the fall sandwiched in between.

It dawned on me that every permission which God gave humanity to benefit from animal suffering was a concession to human fallenness and need, and at the same time it was quite clear that God still meant for us to honor the life of the animal in the process.

This truth immediately hauls the entire factory farming industry into question, through which literally billions of animals are funneled each year with hardly a concern for some of their most basic needs, let alone dignity. And it equally condemns other gross abuses which happen on both an isolated and institutional level: from recent dog fighting scandals and puppy mill profiteering, to relentless experimentation upon countless animals for the sake of cosmetic product development and jeopardizing entire ecosystems and species through environmental degradation, along with just about every other stomach-turning atrocity imaginable.

But as Christ-followers we belong to a new order, and one which recognizes the groaning of all creation and all of its creatures. Paul explicitly tells us in Romans 8 that our own redemption through Christ is creation’s only hope, which means that animal advocacy is ultimately nothing but a Christian proposition. My hope is that the Church will begin to acknowledge its responsibility to work towards the welfare and redemption of all God’s creatures, “great and small” as the hymn suggests.

How can the emerging church step forward to take the lead in this most urgent matter of creation care?

Ben DeVries