In SojoMail, "a weekly e-mail-zine of spirituality, politics, and culture" in cooperation with Sojourners magazine Sara VanScoy writes:
"I 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.
"The 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.
The 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."
The 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:
"Let 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)
Many 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.
Professor 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.
Some 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 Thoreau.
Abraham 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:
St. 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.
The 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:
"Religion 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.
"Some 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. "
In 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 liberation.
"Individual 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:
"The 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.
"To 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."
Reverend 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.
"According 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.
"Jesus’ 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 oppressed.
"Theologians 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."
A 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 Loyala University
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:
"It 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 reality.