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God's creatures count in Christ

Daryl Booth encourages us to stretch our ethical concern to include animals too

Sarx founder Daryl Booth asks whether Christianity is good news for animals and calls for a new season of animal advocacy.

The UK has long been considered a nation of animal lovers and millions of Christians are among these ranks. Yet rather like other British interests such as football, Doctor Who, incessant queueing and soap operas, animals are rarely thought of as a faith concern which we expect to hear discussed within church.

We confess faith in Jesus Christ. We are proud animal lovers. But we don’t often put the two together. This seems to be a rather odd situation to find ourselves in, particularly when the Bible has so much to say about animals. According to scripture animals are:

  • created by God and declared good (Genesis 1:24 – 25)
  • recipients of the breath of God (Genesis 7:15)
  • provided for (Matthew 6:26)
  • delighted in by God (Psalm 104:31)
  • communicated with by God (1 Kings 17:4 – 6)
  • able to worship God (Psalm 148:7 – 13)
  • reconciled in Christ (Colossians 1:20)
  • going to be present in heaven (Revelation 19:11 – 14).

This strikingly rich account of animal life was not lost on previous generations of evangelicals. As early as the mid-16th century, John Calvin warned his Genevan congregation that God will condemn us cruel and unkind folk if we pity not the brute beast”, and, remarkably, asserted that we owe an equal duty to animals as we do to people.

It is time for evangelicals to reclaim their connection between animals and Christian faith.

Some 30 years later, the English Puritan Philip Stubbes condemned those who hurt animals as mere pseudo-Christians’. He was the first of many prominent Christian voices in the UK who campaigned the cause of animals. In 1776, the Anglican clergyman Humphry Primatt wrote: We may pretend to whatever religion we please, but cruelty is atheism. We may make our boast of Christianity, but cruelty is infidelity. We may trust to our orthodoxy, but cruelty is the worst of heresies.”

John Wesley’s love for animals was such that Methodism became synonymous with animal advocacy: I believe in my heart that faith in Jesus Christ can and will lead us beyond an exclusive concern for the wellbeing of other human beings to the broader concern for the wellbeing every living creature on the face of the earth.”

Famed Baptist minister Charles Spurgeon wrote that animal cruelty: “…hardens the heart, deadens the conscience, and destroys the finer sensibilities of the soul… 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.”

These words rang in the ears of many 19th century reformers including William Wilberforce, Hannah More, Albert Schweitzer, Lord Shaftesbury and William and Catherine Booth, who were inspired to take practical action to champion the cause of animals.

Given the cruelties currently inflicted upon animals, particularly through intensive farming systems, it is time for evangelicals to reclaim their connection between animals and Christian faith and put themselves at the forefront of campaigns to resist production systems that have no regard for the flourishing of God’s creatures. With a skyrocketing interest in animal issues and plant-based eating within the UK, animal advocacy is not only a biblical duty but a powerful and relevant Christian witness to wider society.

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