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Issues: Animal Rights
How do Christians feel about caring for animals?
As part of God’s creation, animals were part of the order he created. Humans were in God’s image, but they were told to care for the other creatures. They had dominion (the right to rule) but they were told to be good stewards who would care for these creatures. In the Garden of Eden, nature is in perfect harmony and Adam and Eve live with the other animals (see Genesis 2). It wasn't until the first humans are made to leave Eden, then the hunting of animals begins. In the story of Noah, the eating of animals is reinforced.
In the books of the law in the Old Testament, there are strict rules about which animals that you can eat and which you cannot. According to the stories about Jesus, he declared all foods clean and he certainly ate fish on more than one occasion.
A Christian Response to Animal Rights
We do know that at least one Christian community in Rome became vegetarian, as all meat was offered first to an idol (a statue of a god), which some of them believed contaminated it. Most Christian churches tried to teach that animals should be cared for, but it was not a large concern. St Francis of Assisi in the Middle Ages taught that animals and the creation had importance, and in his prayers and songs, he often talks of them and other aspects of the creation as 'brothers and sisters.'
In 1824, a group of Christians including the politician William Wilberforce (who had campaigned for the ending of the slave trade) and a priest called Arthur Broome met together in London to form a society to stop animal cruelty and to oppose any laws in parliament that might allow it. Their work was recognized by Queen Victoria and they became the RSPCA (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.)
Today, there are many debates about the treatment of animals. Some Christians, like Reverend Professor Andrew Linzey, believe that Christians should be vegetarians because of the pain the meat industry inflicts on animals, as well as the environmental damage it does. He also believes that meat production in rich Western countries like the UK and the USA makes it more difficult to feed the world’s poor.
You can read more about Linzey's views here.