All Creatures Great and Small

Animal welfare is a neglected issue for many creation care advocates. A blind spot perhaps, or an area of carefully-maintained ignorance (as it has been for me). It wasn’t so for William Wilberforce. The Christian anti-slavery hero was also one of the co-founders of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He was a clear example of holistic thinking about mercy and justice.

My friend Christine Gutleben, the woman responsible for faith outreach at the Humane Society of the US, is currently touring the country with the band The Myriad, stopping at Christian colleges and universities (and plenty of other more hip spots) to promote the cause of animal stewardship. The tour schedule sounds exciting, and will continue through the first week of November. I hope she is able to inspire Christian students to follow in the footsteps of William Wilberforce.

I find it increasingly odd that many environmentalists are wary of animal welfare advocates; I’m sure it is partly because of the excesses of some extreme animal rights groups like PETA. I myself was pretty wary of the issue before meeting Christine, who helped me see what a no-brainer it is for creation care advocates to care about actual animals (as opposed to the more abstract idea of endangered species, or ecosystems). At the same time I became aware of the work of Ben DeVries, who runs the very informative blog and website not one sparrow . Ben is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Moody Bible Institute, and is one of the best thinkers I’ve come across on how faith connects to animal welfare. He’s neither strident nor ideological, and he has helped me tremendously in thinking about the issue biblically. You can see his gracious style of communication clearly even on his Frequently Asked Questions page! Read it for yourself.

I’m not ready to become a vegetarian (and no, I don’t think Jesus was a vegetarian, but please don’t email me about it…!), or to disparage hunting and fishing. But my family is already eating less meat, partly for environmental reasons, partly for economic reasons. Concern for humane treatment of farm animals plays a much bigger role in our consumption decisions now (and choosing humanely-raised meat automatically reduces our consumption, because it is more expensive). Most of the worst farm animal abuse comes from large-scale concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), so eating more ethically often coincides with supporting small-scale agriculture. Health concerns play a role too—but for many centuries the human problem was probably too little rather than too much meat. That’s changed remarkably over the last century, and my own waistline and blood pressure are warning me to eat more carefully.

The Humane Society video Eating Mercifully explores some of the faith dimensions of animal stewardship. It shows both vegetarians and meat-eaters who have made decisions to act more humanely in what they eat. You can view the 26 minute video online, or watch a 7 minute trailer, or order the DVD for use at home or in your church. HSUS also has a web page devoted to faithful stewardship of animals .

Christians ought also to be concerned about animal fighting, whether they minister in the country or in the city. The Humane Society is doing great work with Michael Vick, whose own crisis led to a renewal of his faith, to educate young people about animal cruelty. Check out their short video about his new effective work raising awareness about dogfighting.

We need more than ever to be animated by the same Spirit that drove Wilberforce to fight for mercy for all God’s creatures.

More details about the Human Society/The Myriad tour from the HSUS press release:

The Humane Society of the United States’ “All Creatures” nationwide music tour featuring The Myriad kicks off Tuesday, Sept. 29 in Washington, D.C. The tour will proceed with more than 35 stops at clubs and Christian universities around the country.

Christine Gutleben, director of The HSUS faith outreach program, will accompany the tour and speak to audiences about the work of The HSUS.

“Traveling with The Myriad is an opportunity to inspire people across the country to join with The Humane Society of the United States in protecting animals from needless cruelty, suffering and abuse,” said Gutleben, “Music moves people, and combined with a cause, it has the power to transform hearts and minds and to spread the message of compassion and mercy for God’s creatures.”

The faith outreach program of The Humane Society of the United States seeks to engage people and institutions of faith with animal protection issue on the premise that religious values call upon us to act in a kind and merciful way towards all creatures.

The Myriad was MTV’s 2008 Breakout Artist of the Year. The shows will feature video produced by The HSUS and the musicians will encourage audience members to consider their responsibilities towards animals.

The tour will stop at Christian universities across the country during a time when younger evangelicals are exhibiting a renewed attention to social issues like poverty and the environment. With faith elements woven throughout The Myriad’s lyrics, the band resonates with Christian audiences across the country.

The Myraid will join Tyrone Wells, who has just delivered his second major label album, Remain, for part of the tour.

The Myriad guitarist Steven Tracy believes it’s important to build awareness among Christians about animal welfare. “It’s something that I’ve felt strongly about for a while, and I think it’s an important issue for this generation,” he said.

The tour ends in California the first week of November.

For the tour schedule, please click here.

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