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October 20, 2011

Faithful Following: Compassion in the Pews

The HSUS's Faith Outreach Campaign brings the message of animal advocacy to an audience of believers

All Animals magazine

by Karen E. Lange

It has been at the back of her mind for 17 years, ever since the night she lay awake listening to the slaughter-bound pigs. A truck driver had pulled his rig in to the motel lot, and for hours Christy Tennant, 19 at the time and on a theater company tour across the Midwest and South, heard the cries of crowded, thirsty, hungry, frightened animals. “I was deeply convicted, like physically moved,” she says. “... They sounded almost human.” The next day, she became a vegetarian.

Some people took offense at her choice—they felt like she was judging them by her diet. And after about a year, she began to eat meat again, especially in situations where refusing might insult people. In February, when a wedding director pitched a backyard barbecue theme for her rehearsal dinner in southwestern Virginia—pulled pork sandwiches—she reluctantly went along.

Then in April, just a month before her wedding, Tennant is unexpectedly hearing the message again, at a conference for evangelical Christians: Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO, and Christine Gutleben, senior director of the organization’s Faith Outreach Campaign, are at the front of the hall speaking about people’s responsibility toward animals. They’re talking about the very sort of suffering Tennant heard that night as a teenager, the very sort of inhumanity the Bible itself condemns.

A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. (Proverbs 12:10)

Before the presentation is over, Tennant gets up and leaves the big room to contact the caterers for her wedding. She is decided: There will be no pulled pork at the rehearsal dinner, no bacon bits in the salad at the reception. Instead, guests will get fish and humanely raised chicken (Pacelle directs her to a website where she can find some). Not exactly a conversion. More like a confirmation of what she knows, already, is true: that the dominion humankind is given in the book of Genesis doesn’t mean people are entitled to just do anything they want. That instead it’s like God has given his followers stewardship of a gift. “How we handle that,” says Tennant, “is an exact reflection of how we feel about God.” In other words, she wonders, will people be faithful to God by taking care of his creation?

Evangelical Christian circles have gotten involved in so many causes that Tennant welcomes the attention given to animal advocacy at the conference. “Mercy is not a left-wing agenda,” she says.

Part 2: A New Generation of Disciples »

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