New Project Announced at Society of Christian Ethics Conference
by Sarah Withrow King
I was thrilled to be a part of two historic gatherings at the 2016 meeting of the Society of Christian Ethics (SCE).
CreatureKind is a new way of thinking about Christian ethics, particularly related to farmed animal issues. Our vision for CreatureKind is that the church take her rightful place as the leader in the movement for animal protection, not only for animals, but for the health of her people. CreatureKind focuses on farmed animal issues, because worldwide, more than 70 billion fellow land creatures and up to 7 trillion sea animals are killed for food each year. The use of animals for food massively dominates all other human uses of animals, and the continuing intensification of animal agriculture imposes increasingly harsh burdens on them.
What is CreatureKind? We'll start with books and other resources for popular Christian audiences, online tools for learning and collaboration, support for Christians in the animal welfare movement, and speakers able to address congregations and faith communities on the theology and praxis of being CreatureKind. We will engage churches at an institutional and congregational level with the challenge to consider their policies in this area, using the CreatureKind Commitment.
We see this as an issue of Christian mission as well as ethics: David and I have met many people who tell us that their perception of a Christian disregard of animals is an obstacle to faith and church membership. Christians were at the forefront of the first animal cruelty legislation in the early 19th century, but since then we have allowed the issue to become seen as a secular one, often characterized in opposition to traditional Christian teaching. By affirming the call and meeting the spiritual needs of individuals working in animal protection and providing a community in which they can express their experience, strength, and hope among like-minded Christians, we will strengthen and grow the church and her capacity to foster flourishing for all God's creation.
Immediately after the reception, David spoke at the inaugural meeting of the Animal Ethics Interest Group of the SCE, SJE, and SSME. Convened by Charles Camosy and Grace Kao, David joined Jewish ethicist Aaron Gross and Islamic scholar Sarra Tlili in a discussion about the state of animal ethics in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim thought and practice.
Here's why these three hours are so important: We're at a moment in time, maybe a tipping point, where three things have become clear:
- All the old (EuroAmerican) ways of thinking about animals, assumptions about their cognitive abilities and emotional lives, have been systematically and thoroughly debunked. We are faced with the fact that animals are feeling, thinking creatures who have been mercilessly used and abused for millennia.
- The use of animals for food is not sustainable and is contributing to climate change, global hunger, and violence.
- The church must disciple her people towards righteousness, justice, and wholeness. It is impossible to attend to personal piety without addressing systemic injustice. It is impossible to address systemic injustice without spiritual health. The use and abuse of animals have serious implications for both human and animal well-being on both personal and systemic scales.
So a few people gathered in Toronto on a blustery day in January 2016 to talk about how we can encourage people of faith, including students and religious leaders, towards a theory and practice that recognizes the common creatureliness of all living beings and the special care human beings ought to have for "the least of these."
I'm excited to see what comes next.
p.s. There are some great resources available already for those who want to learn more about how Christian faith and animal ethics relate to and inform one another. A few of my favorites include:
- Richard Bauckham, Living with Other Creatures
- Charles Camosy, For Love of Animals
- Christopher Carter, "Eating Food and Justice" and "Identity/Politics: African American Christians and Animal Activism"
- David Clough, On Animals
- Grace Yia-Hei Kao, "Speaking Up for Animals"
- Tripp York and Andy Alexis-Baker, editors, A Faith Embracing All Creatures
Sarah Withrow King is the Deputy Director of the Sider Center and the author of two forthcoming books, Animals Are Not Ours (No Really, They're Not): An Evangelical Animal Liberation Theology. (Wipf & Stock) and Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith (Zondervan).