As Christians we must apply our God-given right to rule creation to our daily choices.
When I mention that my firm, The Clapham Group, works on faith and animal welfare, I often get a quizzical look, followed by a line of questioning. Why does a conservative evangelical care about animals? Why should any of us worry about animals?
For starters, prominent evangelicals have long cared for animals. John Wesley, William Wilberforce, C. S. Lewis, Hannah More, and Billy Graham all thought animal welfare was worth worrying about. In fact, William Wilberforce, the great nineteenth-century British abolitionist, founded the first organized animal welfare movement in England in 1824, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The RSPCA still exists today and is the oldest and largest animal welfare organization in the world.
In her most recent work, Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, Dr. Karen Swallow Prior of Liberty University introduces readers to Hannah More, another member of Wilberforce’s community who cared for animal welfare. In the chapter “Burdened for the Beasts,” Prior highlights a holistic commitment to animal suffering motivated by evangelical faith:
As More’s Christian convictions grew, so, too, did her conviction that benevolence toward animals was part of a holistic Christian worldview, and her writings came to reflect these evolving views. She and her fellow reformers considered reading in particular as central to moral reform because of the ability of reading to cultivate empathy deeper than what the senses can communicate, whether the issue was slavery or animal welfare . . .
Although animal welfare was never a central focus of her work, More shared Wilberforce’s conviction against cruelty to animals, most dramatically in her Cheap Repository Tracts. The tracts explicitly correlated kindness toward animals with Christian piety and virtue.
Although the individual reasons for evangelicals’ involvement may vary, it seems that respecting animal welfare is a universal moral law. Hunters recognize this through “fair chase,” as do farmers through “husbandry.” Animals are not commodities, and our pets remind us of this daily.
Because of this, and the fact that there is no unified evangelical creed on animal welfare, we have developed The Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals. But why have we devoted time and effort to develop a biblical statement on animal ethics?
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