In SojoMail, "a weekly e-mail-zine of spirituality, politics, and culture" in cooperation with Sojourners magazine Sara VanScoy writes:
have both an MD (psychiatrist) and master’s degree in divinity; I grew
up in a Southern Baptist church in Jonesboro, Arkansas. My congregation
likes to think of itself as moderate — and I guess that we are, in
Baptist circles. But we don’t ordain women, we don’t have women
deacons, and we will never call a woman 'pastor.' What we do have is
women who do most of the grunt work, and women who teach and lead
children and youth and a few adult Sunday school classes.
prophet Joel said that when the Spirit comes, sons and daughters would
prophesy (that is, preach). Peter proclaimed the coming of the Spirit
at Pentecost, once and for all abolishing any ordering with regard to
gender. But I really think it starts much earlier — Genesis records
that God created men and women equally in God’s trinitarian image. Any
sort of gender ordering is the result of fallen humanity. When churches
regard women as second-class citizens, they are espousing an ideology
that is less than God’s ideal!"
A 1980 United Nations report states that women constitute half the world’s population, perform nearly two-thirds of its work hours, yet receive one-tenth of the world’s income and own less than one-hundredth of the world’s property.
impact of the women’s movement upon the church is being heralded as a
Second Reformation. Women are now being ordained as priests, pastors
and ministers, while patriarchal references to the Almighty as "Father"
are replaced with the gender-neutral "Parent." Jesus Christ is
designated the "Child of God."
words of Scripture—perhaps, more accurately, the words of the apostle
Paul—on this subject are seen today not as a divine revelation, but
rather as an embarrassment from centuries past:
the women keep silent in the churches, for they are not allowed to
speak. Instead, they must, as the Law says, be in subordination. If
they wish to learn something, let them inquire of their own husbands at
home; for it is improper for a woman to speak in church...let a woman
learn quietly with complete submission. I do not allow a woman to
teach, neither to domineer over a man; instead she is to keep still.
For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the
woman, since she was deceived, experienced the transgression. She will,
however, be kept safe through the child-bearing, if with self-control
she continues in faith and love and consecration."
(I Corinthians 14:34-35; I Timothy 2:11-15)
churches now claim these instructions were merely temporary frameworks
used to build churches in the first century pagan world—they are not to
be taken as universal absolutes for all eternity. If churches,
Scripture and Christianity can adapt and be redefined or reinterpreted
in a changing world to end injustices towards women, they can certainly
do likewise towards animals.
Henry Bigelow observed: "There will come a time when the world will
look back to modern vivisection in the name of science as they do now
to burning at the stake in the name of religion."
Animal rights, as a secular, moral philosophy,
may appear to be at odds with traditional religious thinking (e.g.,
human "dominion" over other animals), but this is equally true of
democracy and representative government in place of the divine right of
kings, the separation of church and state, the abolition of human
slavery, the emancipation of women, birth control, the sexual
revolution, LGBT rights, and all social progress since the end of the
Dark Ages and the beginning of the Age of Enlightenment.
of the greatest figures in human history have been in favor of ethical
vegetarianism and animal rights. These include: Albert Einstein,
Leonardo da Vinci, Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, Alice Walker, George
Bernard Shaw, Robert Browning, Percy Shelley, Voltaire, Thomas Hardy,
Rachel Carson, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Victor Hugo, John Stuart Mill,
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pythagoras, Susan B. Anthony, Albert Schweitzer,
Isaac Bashevis Singer, Gertrude Stein, Frederick Douglass, Francis
Bacon, William Wordsworth, the Buddha, Mark Twain, and Henry David
Lincoln once said: "I care not for a man’s religion whose dog or cat
are not the better for it." Some of the most distinguished figures in
the history of Christianity were vegetarian as well.
A partial list includes:
James, St. Matthew, Clemens Prudentius, Origen, Tertullian, Clement of
Alexandria, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, St. Jerome, Aegidius, St.
Benedict, Boniface, St. Richard of Wyche, St. Filippo Neri, St.
Columba, John Wray, Thomas Tryon, John Wesley, Joshua Evans, William
Metcalfe, General William Booth, Ellen White, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg,
and Reverend V.A. Holmes-Gore.
International Network for Religion and Animals (INRA) was founded in
1985 by Virginia Bouraquardez. Its educational and religious programs
are meant to "bring religious principles to bear upon humanity’s
attitude towards the treatment of our animal kin...and, through
leadership, materials, and programs, to successfully interact with
clergy and laity from many religious traditions."
According to INRA:
counsels the powerful to be merciful and kind to those weaker than
themselves, and most of humankind is at least nominally religious. But
there is a ghastly paradox. Far from showing mercy, humanity uses its
dominion over other animal species to pen them in cruel close
confinement; to trap, club, and harpoon them; to poison, mutilate, and
shock them in the name of science; to kill them by the billions; and
even to blind them in excruciating pain to test cosmetics.
of these abuses are due to mistaken understandings of religious
principles; others, to a failure to apply those principles. Scriptures
need to be fully researched concerning the relationship of humans to
nonhuman animals, and to the entire ecological structure of Nature.
Misinterpretations of scripture taken out of context, or based upon
questionable theological assumptions need to be re-examined."
the winter of 1990, INRA’s Executive Director, the Reverend Dr. Marc A.
Wessels wrote: "As a Christian clergyman who speaks of having
compassion for other creatures and who actively declares the need for
humans to develop an ethic that gives reverence for all of life, I hope
that others will open their eyes, hearts and minds to the
responsibility of loving care for God’s creatures."
In a pamphlet entitled The Spiritual Link Between Humans and Animals,
Reverend Wessels writes: "We recognize that many animal rights
activists and ecologists are highly critical of Christians because of
our relative failure thus far adequately to defend animals and to
preserve the natural environment. Yet there are positive signs of a
growing movement of Christian activists and theologians who are
committed to the process of ecological stewardship and animal
Christians and groups on a variety of levels, including denominational,
ecumenical, national and international, have begun the delayed process
of seriously considering and practically addressing the question of
Christian responsibility for animals. Because of the debate surrounding
the ‘rights’ of animals, some Christians are considering the tenets of
their faith in search for an appropriate ethical response."
According to Reverend Wessels:
most important teaching which Jesus shared was the need for people to
love God with their whole self and to love their neighbor as they loved
themselves. Jesus expanded the concept of neighbor to include those who
were normally excluded, and it is therefore not too farfetched for us
to consider the animals as our neighbors.
think about animals as our brothers and sisters is not a new or radical
idea. By extending the idea of neighbor, the love of neighbor includes
love of, compassion for, and advocacy of animals. There are many
historical examples of Christians who thought along those lines,
besides the familiar illustration of St. Francis. An abbreviated
listing of some of those individuals worthy of study and emulation
includes Saint Blaise, Saint Comgall, Saint Cuthbert, Saint Gerasimus,
Saint Giles, and Saint Jerome, to name but a few."
Wessels notes: "In the Bible, which we understand as the divine
revelation of God, there is ample evidence of the vastness and goodness
of God toward animals. The Scriptures announce God as the creator of
all life, the One responsible for calling life into being and placing
it in an ordered fashion which reflects God’s glory. Humans and animals
are a part of this arrangement. Humanity has a special relationship
with particular duties to God’s created order, a connection to the
animals by which they are morally bound by God’s covenant with them.
to the Scriptures, Christians are called to respect the life of animals
and to be ethically engaged in protecting the life and liberty of all
sentient creatures. As that is the case, human needs and rights do not
usurp an animal’s intrinsic rights, nor should they deny the basic
liberty of either individual animals or specific species. If the
Christian call can be understood as being a command to be righteous,
then Christians must have a higher regard for the lives of animals.
life was one of compassion and liberation;" concludes Reverend Wessels,
"his ministry was one which understood and expressed the needs of the
oppressed. Especially in the past decade, Christians have been reminded
that their faith requires them to take seriously the cries of the
such as Gutierrez, Miranda, and Hinkelammert have defined the Christian
message as one which liberates lives and transforms social patterns of
oppression. That concept of Christianity which sees God as the creator
of the universe and the One who seeks justice is not exclusive;
immunity from cruelty and injustice is not only a human desire or
need—the animal kingdom also needs liberation."
growing number of Christian theologians, clergy and activists are
beginning to take a stand in favor of animal rights. In a pamphlet
entitled Christian Considerations on Laboratory Animals,
Reverend Marc Wessels notes that in laboratories animals cease to be
persons and become "tools of research." He cites William French of
as having made an identical observation at a gathering of
Christian ethicists at Duke University—a conference entitled
"Good News for Animals?"
In a speech delivered on Earth Day, 1990, Reverend Wessels acknowledged:
is a fact that no significant social reform has yet taken place in this
country without the voice of the religious community being heard. The
endeavors of the abolition of slavery; the women’s suffrage movement;
the emergence of the pacifist tradition during World War I; the
struggles to support civil rights, labor unions, and migrant farm
workers; and the anti-nuclear and peace movements have all succeeded in
part because of the power and support of organized religion. Such
authority and energy is required by individual Christians and the
institutional church today if the liberation of animals is to become a