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Animal welfare: extending God's love

Surely it's our biblical responsibility to care for animals, too, says Sarx founder Daryl Booth

Around 10 years ago, I was exploring my vocation to be an ordained pastor and was trying my hand in all kinds of ministries including hospital chaplaincy, university chaplaincy, parish ministry, evangelism, preaching, serving at homeless shelters and volunteering at an anti-human trafficking charity. Despite engaging in such a wide variety of activities, not once did I consider involving myself with animals. After all, why would a potential evangelical pastor want to deal with animals?!

Indeed, I would have been rather taken aback at the idea of relating my Christian faith to the advocacy of animals. I suspect this is a not an uncommon attitude among evangelicals, and is reasonable given the cultural context. Yet several prominent evangelical leaders from previous generations may have taken issue with my assumed indifference to animals. 

The celebrated Prince of Preachers’, Baptist minister Charles Spurgeon, would surely have lauded my enthusiasm for preaching and evangelism, but might have reminded me that all of creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed” (Romans 8:19 – 23): A man of dead heart towards God has a heart of stone towards the Lord’s creatures, and cares for them only so far as he can make them minister to his own wealth or pleasure.” Spurgeon also wrote: The man who truly loves his Maker becomes tender towards all the creatures his Lord has made. In gentleness and kindness our great Redeemer is our model.”

There is little doubt that William Wilberforce, champion of the abolitionist movement and widely celebrated for his tireless dedication to that cause, would have approved of my volunteering at an anti-human trafficking charity. Yet Wilberforce’s faith also compelled him to lobby parliament to enact the first animal welfare legislation and led him to co-found what was to become the RSPCA. Like Spurgeon, he too may have reminded me that animals are also often exploited and in need of protection. 

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John Wesley, renowned for his devotion and generosity to the poor and destitute (it is estimated that, in today’s money, he gave away approximately £4.8m to the poor), would likely have applauded my service in a homeless shelter but wondered why I didn’t care about all of God’s creatures. Wesley wrote: I believe in my heart that faith in Jesus Christ can and will lead us beyond an exclusive concern for the well-being of other human beings to the broader concern for the well-being of every living creature on the face of the earth.”

These Christians, all inspirational during my walk of faith, dedicated their lives to realising God’s compassion and justice among the people they ministered to. Yet they were also united by the conviction that justice could not be confined to the exclusive realm of humanity.

This discovery, together with my subsequent exploration of the Biblical case for animal advocacy, was more than just surprising; it was really rather disruptive. It revealed the tension between my faith in God’s all-embracing love and an attitude which confined this love to just one aspect of God’s beloved creation.

The tension is dramatically illustrated by scriptural passages concerning birds. At the start of His ministry, Jesus received the Holy Spirit, which descended upon Him like a dove (Matthew 3:16). Expressing His love for the people of Jerusalem, Jesus said He longed to gather them together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” (Matthew 23:37). In His Sermon on the Mount, Christ referenced the sparrows, perhaps the humblest of birds and of little monetary value, and told the crowd that not one of them will fall to the ground outside the care of your Father” (Matthew 10:29 – 31). 

The tender care a hen displays for her chicks, so inspired Jesus, that He used it to illustrate the depths of divine love. Yet how do we treat chickens today? In the contemporary intensive egg industry male chicks are economically worthless. As a result, each week, millions of male birds are separated from the females, placed onto a conveyer belt, and dropped alive into an industrial macerator.

Other instances of animal suffering for the sake of our taste buds include pigs who live out their short, wretched lives in cramped and stressful conditions, or the countless dairy cows who cry for days after having their young snatched away from them.

I came to understand that these animals were victims of a profound injustice and, through my everyday eating practices, I was complicit in this wrong-doing. I became convinced that today’s followers of Jesus have a duty to engage seriously with animal concerns, and after much prayer and contemplation, my conclusion was to become vegan.

Every time I open a newspaper these days there always seems to be a story on veganism. Ranging from hilarious public squabbles over Greggs sausage rolls to alarming undercover investigations exposing the cruelty of intensive farms, veganism has never been such a hot topic. Little wonder the number of vegans in the UK has quadrupled since 2014 and signups for the 2019 Veganuary campaign exceeded 250,000.

Yet why are so many people rethinking their dietary choices? The reasons usually offered up include for the animals”, for the environment” or for my heath”. Yet, a rapidly growing number of people, are cutting back, or indeed cutting out, animal products from their diet as part of their Christian faith.

The fact that each chick which falls into those whirling blades of the macerator is not outside the care of the Father” poses testing questions for today’s Christians: fundamental questions of justice, mercy and compassion, which previous generations of evangelicals were not afraid to face. 

It was the exploring of such questions that led me to found Sarx, a charity which seeks to empower Christians to champion the cause of animals and live in peace with all God’s creatures. Sarx has grown tremendously since its inception, and our 2017 Creature Conference was possibly the largest Christian engagement with animal issues since the 19th century. 

Behind the success of Sarx is the rapidly growing number of Christians who, like the Wilberforces, Welseys and Spurgeons before them, consider it to be a pressing duty for today’s generation of evangelicals to ask tough questions about our use of animals and challenge the cultural status quo. 

If you too can no longer ignore the massive gulf between how animals should be treated, and the way we in fact treat them, I welcome you to join the conversation and take action. 

The September-October edition of idea magazine (entitled God is just’) showcases how Christian individuals, organisations and churches around the UK are demonstrating God’s heart for justice by taking care of the vulnerable, marginalised and oppressed, as well as the wider natural world, so do check it out.

Photo by Will H McMahan

About the author

Daryl Booth is the founder of Sarx, a registered charity which empowers Christians to champion the cause of animals and live in peace with all God's creatures. Daryl studied theology at King's College, London, and Heythrop College, London. He lives with his beloved Burmese cat in south-east London.

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