I thought Absolute Truth and Violence a great post, as posts on the ReKnew.org blog generally are. Greg Boyd is a great teacher; he is also a vegetarian. I’ve heard him teach some pretty powerful sermons, a couple of which included the animal kingdom. Apart from most teaching pastors and especially of most theologians, Greg Boyd does give mention of animals from the pulpit now and then, as well as in other works of his from time to time.
But what is most troublesome is that though there are a few leaders today, including Greg Boyd, who will say that addressing the issue of animal abuse and exploitation is urgent, little is still said from the pulpit, even amongst these. Little is done about teaching the masses of people who attend our churches the realities for animals, and how to live on a daily basis in such a way that puts our faith’s ethics and moral values into action when it comes to our carbon footprint on the planet, what we eat, what we wear, how we shop. Though they (animals) are included in the covenant between us and God, leaders have yet to address what it might look like if we were to truly follow Christ and worship Him when it comes to how we treat His animal kingdom. And bringing animals into the main teaching of church doctrine does not appear to be in any discussion or on the radar any time soon.
So where is the urgency that is spoken about? Animal welfarists absolutely feel it. They certainly see the desperation of the situations involving animal abuse every single day. And much of the time, we feel helpless in the face of the massive issues we face. We desperately need our leaderships help.
Teaching moments are often missed at the pulpit when it comes to animals. Though what is being taught is often fabulous stuff for human to human relationships, it does not plant in peoples minds anything at all about our responsibilities toward the earth and animal kingdom, what our relationship should be to both, when what is being taught well could include them.
Greg says some fabulous stuff in this blog post. I’ll quote my favorite part, and then add a bit that I think brings animals into the mix theologically. The whole point of leaders taking up the causes involving animals is that many people will listen to them. Most of us are not in leadership positions with theology degrees preaching to thousands of people; we are not in the lime light with a well established following; nor do we necessarily have the expertise that leaders who have the schooling, experience, knowledge, and understanding of Biblical text have that could be shared in such ways as to affect masses for their (animals) causes.
Quote from Absolute Truth and Violence (my own additions are not in italics and are in bold to distinguish my words from Greg’s):
“If one’s religion is their highest ideal, then at some point killing people, animals and planet to defend or advance their religion will seem justified.
If one’s nation is the highest ideal, then at some point killing people, animals and planet to defend or advance their nation will feel justified.
If democracy is one’s highest ideal, then at some point killing people, animals and planet to defend or advance democracy will be justified.
If the American way of life is one’s highest ideal, then at some point killing people, animals and planet to defend or advance the American way of life will feel justified.
Even if one’s own definition of truth and justice is held as the highest ideal, then at some point killing people, animals and planet to defend and advance this version of truth and justice will feel justified.
The only ideal that cannot result in violence toward people and animals, and that will alleviate destructive use of the planet, is the ideal of self-sacrificial love. And since Jesus incarnated this ideal and told us to follow his example, I would argue that, far from being dangerous, holding to the absolute truth of Jesus is the only truly safe candidate for an absolute truth on the table.”
“An absolute truth“, if one thinks about it, if the ideal is self-sacrificial love, and Jesus’ sacrifice was not only for mankind, would be to include ALL of creation in our church teaching. It would certainly make sense that to follow Jesus’ example would mean to include animals as part of what we are to be self-sacrificial about. Leaders need to teach with ALL of His creation in mind, since ALL is whom He died and rose again to redeem and to restore to the original created order and purpose.
We who enjoy a middle-class or higher lifestyle most likely don’t often think about, if we realize at all, that we contribute in many ways not so apparent to the masses of people and animals who go without the necessities in life or who undergo abuse/exploitation:
- We force folks into sweatshops to make a living;
- We contribute to the raping of the planet of all it’s resources, destroying species, causing pollution;
- We contribute to poverty in our own country and other parts of the world;
- We allow our palate to dictate what we put on our plate;
- Desires for our own comforts or vanity decree what we wear, how we shop;
- We cause much suffering in ways we’ll perhaps never know – all for stock piles of stuff we see neatly packaged everyday as we walk through the isles at our local grocers or Walmart. Most of what is seen on these shelves we could thrive without and don’t need; most of it ends up feeding our landfills.
Some pictures do say a thousand words. This little guy wandered back to his home in New South Wales, Australia last week only to find it had been cut down and chipped by logging operations. A volunteer with WIRES, a rescue operation licensed by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, said the koala had been sitting on top of the wood pile for over an hour looking confused
From vivisection labs, coal, gas and oil drilling, clearing of rainforest to use as packaging; destroying native lands, habitat, and grasses important to the ecosystem in order to raise animals for food; planting palm oil plantations or other human centered enterprises in the place of valuable natural systems; we build massive factory farms confining animals to live as mere machines, use their skins for clothing, use them in entertainment; we pollute our oceans/lakes/streams; rape the oceans of their sea life – and much more – all to preserve a life style that is anthropomorphic.
Churches should be at the forefront teaching their congregations these dynamics and are missing opportunities to do so. If we are to truly follow Jesus’ example, then shouldn’t it be with “The Doctrine of God” in mind? God’s doctrine includes ALL creation. How we live on God’s planet, how we treat His creations, is as important to Him as how we treat each other.
My friend Manny said something I think is quite profound: “I think Jesus would rather be followed than worshiped. To follow Him is to worship Him.” I quite agree. We need our leaders who are rich in knowledge of scripture to begin applying it to include the animal kingdom and care of the earth in church doctrine, teaching at the pulpit with messages that will awaken God’s people to our collective responsibilities to care for God’s creation – we need them to begin equipping the body of Christ to live in a self-sacrificial way with regard to creation.
Instead of using the creation for our own selfish ends, shouldn’t we respect the Creator’s right to have it serve His highest ideal, His highest good, His purposes, and begin exploring how to do that in today’s world? Shouldn’t we show Him our willingness to seek an understanding of the meaning of creation and His highest ideals for creation by making some sacrifices at the shopping center, setting aside our selfish palates at the grocers, let go of our vanity and leave the animal skin (leather/fur) out of our closets?
Insist (in love) that our church leaders take up these issues. It is going to take a community, indeed many communities, to consistently bring them up and tell leaders that the earth and animal kingdom are a part of the gospel message in which they are to teach – on a regular basis – are those, too, for whom we are to stand up for, protect, and love self-sacrificially.
Scripture reading: Psalm 104
Thanks for reading and following our blog – your comments are always welcome! ~Kathy