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December 18, 2008

Faithful Force: Animals & Religion

The Humane Society of the United States

Christine Gutleben is the director of Animals & Religion for The Humane Society of the United States. Here, she reflects on the progress of her program's first year.


It has been an extraordinary year of achievements for The HSUS Animals & Religion program, with the launch of the All Creatures Great and Small campaign, the release of our short film, Eating Mercifully, and the many partnerships formed with religious leaders across the country who, for the first time, spoke about animal welfare.

The All Creatures Great and Small campaign provided religious individuals and communities across the country with an opportunity to pledge compassion for farm animals.

"The issue is really about us"

The campaign was a great success in bringing the issue of factory farming to light among the faithful. After a year of outreach, I discovered the importance of sharing our philosophy upfront, and I encourage you to share this message when reaching out to others.  

The campaign highlights our responsibilities to animals. As noted throughout much of our literature, the issue is not whether animals have rights, the issue is really about us, about who we are in the face of a being far more vulnerable than ourselves. 

How we treat that being is arguably a reflection of our morality and our propensity to exhibit compassion and mercy. While there will likely always be disagreements over the rights or claims of animals, most people of faith can agree that human beings are to be merciful.   

Taking it to the Screen

Eating Mercifully, a primary resource of the campaign, brought the issue of farm animal cruelty to light through the powerful medium of film. Robert Martin, the executive director of the Pew Commission on Industrial Animal Agriculture, narrates the film as the audience is introduced to a range of Christians engaging the ethics of eating. The film takes a hard look at the hidden world of industrial animal agriculture and shows that anyone can take simple steps to change the system. 

At the Washington National Cathedral premiere, Bishop John Bryson Chane joined with Rabbi Fred Dobb in declaring the important role of animals in the created order. At that moment, I could not help but think about the future of the animal protection movement and what tremendous advancements we could make with religious leaders such as these at the forefront. 

In fact, the movement was started by English clergymen in the later part of the nineteenth century who formed the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the SPCA. I have a strong sense that Eating Mercifully, and other resources like it, along with the dedicated support of our members, will help bring religious leaders together again to fight animal cruelty.

In addition to All Creatures Great and Small, we solicited religious support for Proposition 2—The California Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act.  Sixty-four percent of voters elected to give pregnant pigs, veal calves and egg-laying hens enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs and wings. Time magazine named Proposition 2 the top animal story of 2008.

I remember feeling overjoyed upon receiving our first endorsement from Bishop Marc Andrus. We never imagined we'd receive so many more in the weeks and months to come. 

In the end, more than 100 clergy endorsed the measure, including religious leaders from all the major denominations in the United States. In an inspiring statement, Jack Hayford, Chancellor of the Kings Seminary in Los Angeles, sited his evangelical background as reason for his support for the proposition: "As an evangelical Christian, I not only seek to steward the Gospel of Christ to all humankind, but to seek to influence the stewardship of God's Creation unto the benefit of every creature. Proposition 2 is an opportunity for thoughtful believers in Christ to demonstrate this biblical responsibility."  

The Days Ahead

As I look to 2009, I see a better world for animals. With the momentum of the All Creatures Great and Small campaign, and the power the film, Eating Mercifully, we have so much to build on. And, we have the support of major denominations through the numerous and diverse statements they have made about the importance of treating animals humanely. Animal suffering, factory farming, puppy mills, species extinction and so on, have been addressed by some of the most well known religious leaders of our day, along with the major governing bodies of the largest denominations in the country. I encourage everyone to explore what their tradition says about animals and to share that information with their pastor, congregation members, friends or family.   

Supporting kindness to animals is a religious tradition. It is also intrinsic to who we are as human beings. There is not a more basic or universal virtue than compassion. In her essay, Just Like All the Other Animals of the Earth, Christine Korsgaard points out that "Humanity is the name of our species, but it is also the name we give to a particular virtue, the virtue of treating animals with kindness ... Whether we live up to that name is entirely up to us ... " 

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