POPE FRANCIS has the world buzzing about caring for God’s creation—but he is not alone! Following Francis’s triumphant tour of America, this week, The Humane Society of the United States is publishing a landmark book that adds a chorus of “evangelical” Protestant voices to the pope’s Catholic call that we show greater concern for the non-human creatures sharing this fragile planet with us.
The world finally is witnessing a reunion, on this crucial issue, of two of the largest branches of Christianity in concern for the creatures living around us on planet Earth.
Yes, mainline Protestant churches and a few evangelical and Pentecostal churches already have been calling for compassion toward animals. And, yes, some denominations have been preaching this message for centuries. But, now, the full range of American Protestant voices is represented by the addition of this new and religiously conservative Protestant chorus that will emerge in Washington D.C. on Wednesday (September 30, 2015) with the unveiling of their new “Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals.”
Our readers might ask: Where is evidence of this major buzz that Francis supposedly has touched off on creation care? Where can we see the pope’s voice echoing on this issue? Well, just check out some of these headlines:
- The secular-minded New Yorker magazine published a Katy Lederer column about Francis’s visit that extensively quotes Francis’s religious arguments and concludes: What is hard but imperative, if we are to have any chance of changing course, is to become, as Francis describes it, “painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening in the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
- A Washington Post headline proclaimed “How Pope Francis helped awaken a deep religious tradition for care for the environment“
- Coverage in SkyNews emphasized this theme—”Pope Laments Destruction Of God’s Creation“—over other hot topics in SkyNews coverage of Francis’s message to the world.
- And National Geographic published Pope Francis’s Greenest Quotes, including the unforgettable: “God always forgives, we men forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives. If you give her a slap, she will give you one.”
EVANGELICAL LEADERS JOIN FRANCIS
IN COMPASSIONATE CARE OF ANMALS
So, this week, after several years of dialogue, planning and collaboration in drafting a religiously conservative Protestant manifesto on animal care, evangelical leaders will unveil the new “Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals.” At the same time, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) will include that lengthy statement—as well as a very helpful annotated guide to the statement’s significance—in the form of a book, Every Living Thing.
Concern for animals by evangelical leaders may surprise some readers who haven’t heard this message in their congregations, but this new collective evangelical message draws on centuries of such teachings by spiritual giants from John Wesley and William Wilberforce to Sunday school pioneer Sarah Trimmer. In her Foreword, Christian scholar and author Karen Swallow Prior points out that this theme dates all the way back to passages in the Bible.
“People should not be surprised to be hearing our religious leaders speaking on these issues,” says Christine Gutleben, Senior Director of Faith Outreach for The Humane Society of the United States. “Today our mission is, ‘We celebrate animals and confront cruelty,’ but these efforts really go all the way back to the earliest societies that were formed to prevent cruelty to animals. Our organization is marking its 60th anniversary, but we can trace this kind of work back two centuries to one of the earliest groups—the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals that was co-founded by William Wilberforce.”
In addition to preaching compassionate care of animals, John Wesley also was an early opponent of slavery. Eventually, Wilberforce became a leading figure in the international movement of abolitionists.
“Faith leaders have been at the forefront of so many major social changes,” Gutleben said. “They were leaders in the fight against slavery, in the civil rights movement and other causes. Today, in efforts to protect animals, we see this again.”
Beyond general concern for animals, religious groups are focusing public efforts on a wide range of specific issues, reflecting the Humane Society’s concern for combating large-scale cruelties such as puppy mills, animal fighting, factory farming, seal slaughter, horse cruelty, captive hunts and the wildlife trade.
“When we reflect on this within the context of faith—and we understand that this is both a moral concern and a biblical call—then we realize that this is urgent enough that it can change people’s thinking. This is not a fleeting preference. This is a deep concern related to our faith,” Gutleben said.
Included in the new book are teachings from the Roman Catholic Church (and especially from Pope Francis) as well as the new “Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals.” Sections of the book also are devoted to teachings on animal care from the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Church of God in Christ and the Assemblies of God.
FAITH WAS CENTRAL TO HSUS
FROM ITS FOUNDING
“You can trace a long history of faith leaders being involved in the issues that concern us; and you can trace a long emphasis on faith through our history, too,” Gutleben said. “Sixty years ago at the first board meeting of The Humane Society of the United States, our chairman Robert Chenoweth said, ‘Our faith is that there is a God who created all things and put us here on Earth to live together; and our creed is that love and compassion are due from the strong to the weak.’
“From that point, we’ve had a history of working with faith leaders. Two of our CEOs were clergy, Methodist and Presbyterian, and their leadership spanned 35 years, or more than half of our organization’s history.”
Although some early HSUS faith leaders would be described as “mainline Protestant,” many evangelical leaders also have joined the chorus in calling for compassion toward animals.
“Perhaps the most famous is the beloved evangelical writer C.S. Lewis,” Gutleben said. “Clearly in all of his works, we see a theme of compassion for animals. We uploaded some YouTube videos with Dr. Jerry Root, a C.S. Lewis scholar at Wheaton, who shares stories about Lewis and his concern for animals.”
GET INVOLVED: HSUS RESOURCES
The Jerry Root videos on Lewis are inspiring clips to show during small-group discussion of HSUS’s new book, Gutleben says. “And, we provide lots of other resources to faith groups that are interested in animals.”
‘EATING MERCIFULLY’—This short documentary from The HSUS is now available on DVD. HSUS describes the film this way …
Twenty-six minutes may forever change the way you look at food and faith.”Eating Mercifully” examines critical findings of a Pew Commission report on U.S. industrial animal agriculture and considers factory farming practices from several Christian viewpoints. The film features Robert Martin, Executive Director, Pew Commission; Southern Baptists Elaine and Dale West, Rooterville Sanctuary, Florida; the Rev. Dr. Laura Hobgood-Oster, Southwestern University, Texas; Greg Boyd, Ph.D.,President, Christus Victor Ministries; Sr. Rosemarie Greco, DW, Connecticut; Farmer Peter McDonald, New York.
Click here to visit the HSUS webpage where you can request a free copy.
ST. FRANCIS DAY IN A BOX—If you’re interested in “Eating Mercifully,” you also can get the DVD as part of a resource-packed kit from HSUS, especially designed for congregations marking St. Francis Day. HSUS describes the kit …
Celebrate the season of St. Francis with our free limited-edition St. Francis Day in a Box. Put the message of Pope Francis’ encyclical into action with resources designed to inspire projects and events in your community year round. Try a pet food collection, small group discussion or film event—St. Francis Day in a Box has the tools to get you started!
Click here to visit the HSUS webpage where you can request your free kit.
‘humane back yard’—This is a very creative and highly adaptable HSUS program that helps participants think about ways to welcome wildlife wherever you live. HSUS says …
Whether you have an apartment balcony, suburban yard, corporate property, place of worship, or community park, you can turn it into a habitat for wildlife, people, and pets.
Click here to learn about this HSUS resource. Want more? On the website, you can learn about 13 ways to make your yard more welcoming.