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Dayton Daily News: How can so many Christians be indifferent to animal suffering?

Dayton Daily News (OH)
January 25, 2013

How can so many Christians be indifferent to animal suffering?
Larry Brown Guest columnist

You might believe that "preaching to the choir" guarantees automatic assent, but my experiences this past year proved otherwise. I have long been troubled by Christian indifference to the suffering of God's animal creation -- much of it perpetuated by our patronage.

The essence of a Christian life, according to Je-sus, is one of mercy, love, humility, compassion and selflessness. Yet, in 50 years as part of various congregations, never once did I hear a concern raised regarding the terrible cruelties that animals routinely endure. How, I've asked myself, can we properly reverence the Creator without respecting the creation?

To better understand the silence and to encourage a conversation, I visited 25 area Protestant churches, ranging in size from small gatherings to mega-churches. My suggestions were hardly complicated:

� 1. Let's acknowledge "Care of Creation" as a neglected form of stewardship.

� 2. Let's examine the impact of our daily choices.

Theologically, Christians are on solid ground to consider their relationship with animals seriously. It should be instructive that the biblical narrative is bracketed on both ends by scenes of harmony with all creation -- from Eden to Isaiah's vision. Contrary to the popular, self-serving belief, animals were created, not for human use, but as Adam's companions, according to Genesis.

After creation was pronounced good, their care was the first example of stewardship given humans. God then prescribed a plant-based diet for all beings. When sin entered the human state, however, three relationships were broken:

� Humans to God.

� Humans to humans.

� Humans to nature.

While Christians have sought to repair the first two, the third has been conspicuously neglected.

Though I did not expect enthusiasm for the topic, I was most disappointed in the behavior of a number of pastors. In fact, I finally decided I would need to attend church services -- because pastors were not returning calls and emails.

As the year went by, I found myself recalling Martin Luther King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail," written in 1963, in response to the white clergy's lack of involvement with civil rights and their criticism of his efforts.

Fourteen of the pastors did agree to meet and discuss the issue, as well as view a concise documentary about animal abuse. From those who did not consent to meeting, here are some representative comments:

� "I am not interested."

� "Animals don't have souls."

� "Humans have dominion."

� "You are elevating animals to human level."

� "Our focus is on souls." (Not one asked about my soul.)

� "You are excessive and a heretic."

� "Mercy does not apply to animals."

� "Yes, I can picture Je-sus hunting with a gun."

� "I feel no mandate concerning animals."

Those most adamantly opposed to meeting were seven pastors who identified themselves as hunters -- some of whom were overheard talking about shooting deer with their members.

Conversations with pastors revealed that a fair and sustained hearing had not been given the issue, despite the admonition in 1 Thessalonians to "examine everything carefully, hold on to the good and abstain from every form of evil." Contemporary realities -- such as factory farming, laboratories, puppy mills, hunting, fishing, fur trapping and rodeos -- rarely, if ever, came up -- though we now know so much more about these cruelties, thanks to undercover efforts.

Exploration of the subject has convinced me that the two main factors contributing to such widespread Christian indifference are lack of leadership and cultural entanglement. Resistance from pastors has already been noted, but a similar picture emerges from some seminaries and Christian colleges.

We can't easily fault lay members if leaders at the highest levels are not conversant in questionable societal practices with animals.

Equally important is culture � with its anesthetizing ability to reconcile citizens to all sorts of atrocities. We need look no further than the Founding Fathers and slavery, or subjugation of native populations, or Jim Crow laws. Never mind that the Bible emphasizes that Christians are not to be conformed to the world and its values.

I believe there is cause for honest concern in the Christian community when so many have become so comfortable trading opportunities to display mercy, compassion and selflessness, for the sake of maintaining their pleasure, convenience and tradition.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Do you think religion should play a role in a person's relationship with animals? Share your thoughts about the issues raised in this commentary by emailing edletter@coxohio.com.


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