Animal Protection and Being Completely Pro-Life

by Sarah Withrow King

elephant family

Photograph by Masud Pathan / iStock images

This article is excerpted and adapted from the forthcoming Animals Are Not Ours (No, Really They’re Not), Cascade Books 2015.

Advocates who argue for limitations or bans on abortion from a religious perspective usually make the following points:

  1. It is wrong to take an innocent life.
  2. At several points throughout the Bible, it is clear that God sees and knows humans from the womb. It is also clear, from Genesis to Revelation, that children are blessings.
  3. The Christian God is a God of love, justice, and mercy. This point is made particularly known in the person of Jesus Christ, who paid special attention to those who were marginalized and vulnerable.
  4. Ultimately, life reigns over death. Abortion stops life and is therefore not a part of the eschatological hope of our new life in Christ.
  5. Humans are special, set apart. They are made in the image of God. Therefore, all human life is sacred.

Evangelicals who identify as pro-life or anti-abortion would likely agree with each of these statements as they applied to unborn babies. George Carlin aptly pointed out, however, that this narrow vision of the sanctity of life translates to “if you’re pre-born, you’re fine; if you’re pre-school, you’re &@#%.” As I have discovered the connections between my evangelical faith and my ethical views of animals, I have begun to see and identify with the term “completely pro-life,” but I was (and am) disappointed that the term is still narrowly defined. Each of the five religious arguments above can extend beyond pre-born human babies to encompass both post-born humans and nonhuman animals. Let’s look at each one:

It is wrong to take an innocent life.

I used to be an avid supporter of the death penalty. To me, as one committed to justice, it seemed fitting that persons who took the lives of other persons should pay with their own. My support for capital punishment began to wane when I heard these words from Gandhi (okay, actually, it was Sir Ben Kingsley in the biopic of Gandhi): “An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.” Gandhi wasn’t a Christian, but he captured a decidedly Jesus-based principle and forced me to reconsider the place of grace, forgiveness, and love both in my own life and in the lives of others. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he cried out for his murderers’ forgiveness. In physical agony, knowing death would come slowly, Jesus could have called for retribution, but he chose mercy. In their book Kingdom Ethics, Glen Stassen and David Gushee argue that Jesus consistently avoided furthering the violent or vengeful teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures and, instead, sought to expose and heal the roots of violence. So, with the help of good teachers, I began to see all the ways in which the Bible was teaching me that mercy and justice weren’t mutually exclusive pursuits. And then I began to apply those lessons to what I knew about factory farms. “If you find yourself unable to consistently apply a principle, then perhaps you need to ask yourself honestly whether you actually believe it is true,” Catholic theologian Charles Camosy states in For Love of Animals: Christian Ethics, Consistent Action. I believe it’s wrong to take an innocent life. And yet, humans are breeding billions upon billions of nonhuman animals for the express purpose of killing and eating them. It just doesn’t jive. We’re not killing cows and chickens and pigs to protect ourselves. And we certainly don’t need their flesh to survive. So, we’re taking life for our own pleasure. And this is most definitely not what Jesus would do.

At several points throughout the Bible, it is clear that God sees and knows humans from the womb. It is also clear, from Genesis to Revelation, that children are blessings.

The scriptures also contain repeated reminders that God sees and cares for the whole of creation, not only us humans. The whole earth is full of the glory of God, says Isaiah. God’s sanctuary is the earth, the psalmist praises. God reminds Job that the Creator sees the mountain goat give birth and gives the hawk wings to soar. The creation waits and groans, assures Paul. A consistent ethic of life should insist that we acknowledge that, like Job, we humans are “of small account.”

The Christian God is a God of love, justice, and mercy. This point is made particularly known in the person of Jesus Christ, who paid special attention to those who were marginalized and vulnerable.

If we believe that, as Jesus followers, we are to orient our lives around the eschatological hope of Christ, then we ought to fervently ask Jesus to help our words and deeds be “characterized by salvation, justice, peace, joy, and God’s presence.” (Stassen and Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 60) Watch any video or read any account of a farm, slaughterhouse, laboratory, or other human use of nonhuman animals, and then ask yourself if the actions taken by the people who pay for and perpetuate cruel acts are for or against salvation, justice, peace, joy, and God’s presence.

Ultimately, life reigns over death. Abortion stops life and is therefore not a part of the eschatological hope of our new life in Christ.

Do you think there will be slaughterhouses in the new Jerusalem? If not, why not start to make choices now that will reduce the demand for flesh and thus reduce suffering?

Humans are special, set apart. They are made in the image of God. Therefore, all human life is sacred.

Over and over, we have to ask ourselves what it means to be made in the image of God. If it’s true that we are set apart, what exactly are we set apart for, and how can we live into that privilege? Even more fundamentally: what is a human? What is a person? This is the argument on which all  others hinge. Some Christians use their idea of personhood as a defense for the exploitation of other creatures. I see it as an opportunity to exercise compassion, restraint, and, most importantly, humility.

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