Fledgling Ministry Challenges Animal Testing
WAYNE, N.J. -- Last month an estimated 500,000 people across the United States took to the streets and raised over $90 million for the March of Dimes' WalkAmerica campaign.
But for Jan Fredericks, the annual event, the largest walk for charity in the United States, is offensive.
At the walk at a high school in Wayne, N.J., Fredericks and a few other activists handed out leaflets and held up posters urging donors to rethink their support of the charity, which fights birth defects.
"They think they're doing a good thing ... I want them to realize that their money might be going towards animal research," said Fredericks, 51, founder of God's Creatures Ministry, a fledgling group she hopes will put Christians in the forefront of the animal rights movement.
Not all passersby at the walk appreciated the ministry's message.
"We're supposed to kill animals to save people," yelled one motorist, punctuating his view of the three with an expletive.
God's Creatures Ministry is not alone in targeting the charity. Two closely linked organizations -- the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), based in Washington, D.C., and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), based in Norfolk, Va. -- have targeted the March of Dimes and other charities for using animals in research.
PETA and PCRM argue that money spent on animal research could be more effectively spent offering prenatal care and education to pregnant women.
Michele Kling, March of Dimes senior health and science press officer, said that in the United States "at least 150,000 babies are born with serious birth defects each year, and more than 470,000 babies are born prematurely."
Whenever possible, the charity funds non-animal research, she said from the March of Dimes headquarters in White Plains, N.Y. When funding research using animals, the charity endorses rules for humane treatment laid down by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kling added.
The soft-spoken Fredericks, who calls herself an introvert, doesn't like making dogmatic pronouncements. Her ministry is based on a personal conviction that God feels the pain of all living creatures.
Her ministry's motto is Psalms 145:9: "The Lord is good to all, compassionate to every creature."
The Wayne resident's home office reflects her beliefs. Animal rights leaflets are stacked everywhere.
"I've always had a heart for animals," said Fredericks. Raised in the United Methodist Church, she attended a variety of churches over the years. Ten years ago, the New Jersey native was received into the Roman Catholic Church.
Seven years ago, while living in the Scranton, Pa., area, and attending Marywood University, Fredericks got to know a PETA activist and learned a great deal about animal cruelty.
Fredericks believes that God was preparing her.
"I really felt he was with me, showing me," said Fredericks, who earned an MA in counselling from Marywood.
Her mission became evident -- to help change the hearts of activists who are cool to Christianity and of Christians who are unconcerned about animal cruelty.
"We (Christians) should be out there on the frontlines -- teaching things and doing things for compassion. We're not doing it," said Fredericks, a therapist at a psychiatric facility.
Fredericks says the Catholic Church's teachings on animal issues are a good start but should go further. The church's catechism says that animals should not be made to suffer or die needlessly; however, animals may be used for food, clothing, labour and leisure and for medical research "within reasonable limits."
She believes these principles should be taught to the faithful. "It should be coming from the top," said Fredericks, whose activism includes protesting at fur merchants, fast-food restaurants and last year's WalkAmerica event in Bloomingdale, N.J.
Fredericks promotes a vegetarian diet and links to other religious animal rights organizations at the God's Creatures Web site, www.GodsCreaturesMinistry.org
Her vision is big, though her group has only some 10 members. She wants to build a coalition among activist groups, educate teachers and parents about animal cruelty, and counsel animal abusers, said Fredericks.
"If you follow the Lord, you are probably going to be an animal rights person," she said.