Peeking at animal cruelty


Karen writes... I grew up on a gentleman’s farm in rural Maine, the daughter of the daughter of folks who lived—literally—off the land. My father being a white collar businessman, we raised animals for food and companionship by choice rather than necessity. But we executed that choice knowledgably, responsibly, and—I think—biblically.

Though I tended then (and still do today) toward a romantic and sentimental affection for all of the animals we raised, I also knew the facts of life. I knew that Billy, the kid goat which came with the mother goat we purchased for milking would eventually reach our dinner table. I knew that the little baby chicks we brought home as eggs would wind up in our freezer--even Peeper, the little rooster I hatched myself by breaking little pieces from his shell over the course of days when he was too weak to do so himself (he gained his name from the fact that we “peeped” at each other through the entire process).

Despite the fact that I was imprinted as his surrogate mother and that he would, throughout his later chickhood in the coop, fly up to me and sit on my head or shoulder when he saw me did not prevent him from growing eventually into a cocky, aggressive rooster whose fate was the same as his brethren: his neck under my mother’s axe and his carcass in a pot of boiling water.

While my understanding of scripture leads me to view meat-eating as a result of the Fall (not until then was the first animal slaughtered, albeit for its skin not its flesh), I struggle to find and even more to adhere to that balance between prelapsarian idealism and postlapsarian realism. While, clearly, meat eating is not forbidden in scripture, I need to consider whether it is profitable (to my health, to my economy, to the natural order, to the world’s economy). I believe the answer is a qualified “yes” -- a “yes” qualified by the scripture’s admonition toward moderation. Yet, factory farming and slaughtering practices are nothing if not immoderate.

Like many other “younger evangelicals,” these are issues that have been gradually gaining importance in my attempt to live out a more seamless biblical faith. I confess that I am still at the consciousness-raising phase and not yet sure how to answer these concerns realistically, consistently, holistically, and biblically.

My consciousness about animal welfare, though something I am cognizant of from my youngest years, has been heightened in recent years because of the community in which I now live. Making my home in a rural region that includes many conscientious and responsible farmers and animal owners, I also often encounter here—ironically, in the buckle of the Bible belt—a mentality that deems animals as commodities, possessions, or mere ornamentation.

This is, after all, the land that bore, raised and lionized as a national athletic hero the notorious dog fighter, Michael Vick. But in living here, I have heard the “Macedonian call” to “come and help” the animals, as well as their God-ordained stewards, by exemplifying and exhorting a more biblical and humane attitude toward animals.

Yet, I recognize that there are many Macedonias and many calls. During another period of my life, I lived in a very different sort of community, one peopled by those with more enlightened views toward animals, but with far less humane attitudes toward unborn humans. Making my home in an area plagued by many abortion centers, I heard a similar call to speak out about the defenseless unborn humans being slaughtered on a daily basis in my own neighborhood.

In answering both of these categorically distinct but not unrelated calls, I have experienced similar responses from the church and the larger community. Many prefer the comforts of the status quo and blissful ignorance over change—whether small or radical.

On the other hand, it is easy for those who have heard the call to “come and help” the animals—or for that matter, the environment, the impoverished, the unsaved, or the unborn—to turn passion into pride and urgency into arrogance.

I remember and understand the outrage that passersby would express when they saw our graphic anti-abortion signs outside the clinics: just as they did not want to face the truth about the violence of the abortion procedure, I too want to close my eyes to the torture and cruelty done to animals in the name of cheap meat.

While abortion is an issue I can approach from a detached, intellectual and biblical perspective, I respond to cruelty to animals on a much more visceral, emotional level. I can imagine but not fully face what they experience at the hands of an impatient electrocuter or a soulless Michael Vick. Yet, still I find myself buying and eating that meat sacrificed to the modern day idols of convenience, efficiency, and greed.

Yes, I want to shut my eyes. But peek. How about you?

Karen Swallow Prior