There has been a lot of progress since I first became involved in animal welfare issues with regard to people of faith speaking out. A lot of Facebook pages have risen up; Humane Society of the United States has a Faith Outreach Program that has really grown over the last couple of years; my own local Church, Woodland Hills, has been attempting to host classes related to creation care, the most recent called
“Creation Keepers: Understand God’s Love for His Creation”; there are numerous authors who have written books on the subject, more coming out all the time; Pope Francis has spoken out and gotten a lot of press for it; and much more.
We have been discussing ways that Satan hijacks animal welfare efforts, dividing people on the subject thus weakening the movement. In Part One, we asked several questions pertinent to a faith based effort to reach not only our churches to awaken them to matters of animal welfare but secular animal welfarists for Christ. In Part Two, we discussed how Satan destroys God’s revelation. One of the major ways that Satan lies, divides and conquers is through the creation. In keeping us divided, he not only destroys the church’s outreach toward non-believers in the animal welfare movement, he can continue to convince us to use and ravage creation inappropriately in the ways we do, which destroys God’s physical revelation to all of us (read more here).
In this post, we want to suggest that one way we can counter this division is by reaching out directly to our churches. Holding classes at church exploring the theology of creation care is one idea. Starting book clubs, reading books by authors like Andrew Linzey and Matthew Scully is another. We can also do this by writing a letter to our pastor or leadership committee.
Lois Wye from Dominion In The Image Of God recently posted a piece on her blog that did just this. She has given me express permission to share this excellent letter here. It is a very good example of how we can address leadership.
One more word to the readership: It is imperative if we are going to see exponential change in our individual churches and in the faith community as a whole on the issues of animal welfare, that we all begin insisting our church leaders discuss these issues and develop ways to address them.
We mustn’t be afraid of push back from them and get discouraged. Perhaps find another person or group of people within your congregation or elsewhere that you can work together writing letters with, and/or brain storming ideas. Get connected with sites like Shepherding All God’s Creatures and Dominion In The Image of God for support and encouragement. We all need this!
Without further ado, I bring you:
AN OPEN LETTER IN GRATITUDE
TO THE MOST REVEREND MICHAEL CURRY,
PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH
“I do not want the Church to support animals simply to conform to secular pressure, rather I want the Church to see that its own Gospel requires opposition to cruelty.”
~Andrew Linzey, Creatures of the Same God
Dear Bishop Curry:
I do not mind telling you that as someone who tries to work for justice and compassion within the Christian community in general and the Episcopal Church in particular, I am often discouraged. But on the eve of Easter this year, I was blessed to be in attendance at the Washington National Cathedral to take part in the Easter Vigil and to hear your wonderful and heartening sermon. Your words have refreshed me and offered me encouragement, and for that I am grateful.
You spoke of us, a followers of Jesus, being Why Not People in a Why Weary World; of Christians – even Episcopalians – needing to press on with new ideas in both the Christian and secular communities to make the world a better place. In world beaten down and made weary by seemingly intractable injustice, we, as followers of the risen Lord, are to hold on to hope, to continue to ask “why not” for a better world. You asked, and recalled others who asked:
- Why not a world where children do not go to bed hungry?
- Why not a world where we are all the children of God and we treat each other as God’s human family?
- Why not scientific truth and knowledge instead of intractable fundamentalism?
- Why not an empire that is better and more noble instead of one trading in human flesh?
- Why not a world where women and girls are given equal access to education?
Why Not People dream of new possibilities and know that all things are possible with God, despite all evidence to the contrary in a Why Weary World. So, refreshed and encouraged, I will ask:
- Why not a church that recognizes the science that tells us that animals are sentient, that they know fear and pain as well as joy and contentment, and that they are capable of full and meaningful lives? (E.g., Bekoff, Marc. The Emotional Lives of Animals. Novato: New World Library, 2007, and numerous otherbooks.)
- Why not a church that is awake to unspeakable cruelties of factory farming and the unending misery it causes the animals we call food? (See, e.g., information at Farm Sanctuary, and Mercy For Animals)
- Why not a church that understands the connections between that misery and the misery factory farms also cause to the humans who work within those systems and the often economically challenged communities where they are located? (Summary of resources here )
- Why not a church that understands that animal agriculture is one of the largest contributors to global climate change? (See here and here.)
- Why not a church aware of the fact that resources used to grow grain for animals raised for food could be used to grow grain for hungry people throughout the world? (See here.)
- Why not a church that works to end laboratory testing on animals, fur and leather as fashion statements, and other forms of animal cruelty?
- Why not a church that recognizes that animals have inherent value and were not created for human ends; that God created, cares for, and covenants with the animals, and calls them “good” wholly apart from their relationships with humans? (E.g., Gen. 1:24-25, 9:9-17, Hos. 2:18)
- Why not a church alive to the first call given to us as humans at the creation, when we were created in the image of God: to reflect God’s dominion of mercy and compassion to the animals? (Gen. 1:26) (Explained more fully in this discussion.)
- Why not a church that recognizes that the power we were given at creation, like all power described in scripture, was given not so that we could exploit those at our mercy, but so that we might care for them, and that the misuse of power has consequences?
- Why not a church that can say, with Matthew Scully: “When a man’s love of finery clouds his moral judgment, that is vanity. When he lets a demanding palate make his moral choices, that is gluttony. When he ascribes divine will to his own whims, that is pride. And when he gets angry at being reminded of animal suffering that his own daily choices might help avoid, that is moral cowardice.” (Dominion: The Power of Man, The Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy); and with Cardinal John Henry Newman: “Cruelty to animals is as if man did not love God.” (Sermon Notes, 1849-1878 (Longmans, Green & Co, 1913), p. 113.); and with Edgars’ Mission and Farm Sanctuary: “If you can live well without harming others, why wouldn’t you?”
In a world so steeped in cruelty to animals that we can no longer even see it, this is a big ask. But we live now in a world where animals raised for food are treated with a cruelty once unimaginable and where the environmental and social justice implications of these systems demand attention. We also live in a world where there are an unprecedented number and variety of plant-based food available, most more cheaply and more healthfully than meat and dairy. Nor is there any longer any excuse to wear animal skins or test products on animals. Alternatives are readily available to us, making our cruelty unnecessary.
We also live in a world where science will no longer allow us to close our eyes to the suffering we cause. Animals are not automatons. They do not operate only on instinct. Science recognizes that animals – mammals, birds, even fish – are sentient. They know pain. They know fear. They know grief and loss. And mostly they know these emotions because of how we, created by God to care for them, treat them. Surely this is sin; surely we can do better. Changes can be made – more easily than most people would expect – step by step; but first we have to see and talk about the problem.
In your sermon, you told of how Sojourner Truth encouraged Fredrick Douglas when he thought the fight to end slavery in the United States might have been lost, when Abraham Lincoln said that his objective was to preserve the Union and his decision regarding what to do about slavery would depend on what would save the Union. Sojourner Truth took Douglas by the arm and asked, “Fredrick, is God dead? If not, then get up and fight!”
Alleluia! Christ is risen! God is not dead; hope remains and love will have the last word! I will keep fighting and keep praying for a church that will speak out to help bring all of God’s creatures to the dream of flourishing that God intends for us all.
Thank you for the encouragement you have provided to me and for your obvious and infectious belief that a better world is possible with God.
In gratitude for your leadership –
Lois Godfrey Wye
Dominion In The Image Of God
Thank you for reading and following our blog, we pray you are blessed by it and will share it with others! ~Kathy