What do the largest denominations and faiths in the United States say about animals?
Assemblies of God
Assemblies of God was founded in the United States in 1914 amidst a time of international Pentecostal revival. Today, it is the world's largest Pentecostal denomination. The Assemblies of God characterizes itself as having a fourfold mission: "Evangelism, Discipleship, Worship and Compassion."
"The Assemblies of God believes everyone needs to be a good steward of all God’s creation—including the earth. As clearly indicated in Scripture, we believe the earth was created by God (Genesis 1:1-31; Isaiah 37:16). "We feel Christians must act responsibly in their use of God’s earth as we rightly harvest its resources. As stated in Genesis 1:27-30, we believe God has given mankind alone complete dominion (authority) over the earth’s resources. These resources include the land, the water, the vegetation, and the earth’s minerals; as well as the animals, fish, and fowl. Like the earth, we acknowledge these to be gifts from God to mankind; and as gifts they are to be appreciated and cherished." —from Assemblies of God, General Council, Environmental Protection.
Church of God in Christ
The Church of God in Christ (COGIC) is the largest African American denomination in the United States and one of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the world. In a 2007 Apostolic Missive, COGIC's presiding Bishop called upon the Church to provide leadership in reversing current "ill-conceived" social trends, including trends that threaten the environment.
COGIC is also a signatory on two interfaith documents that identify environmental sustainability as essential for the achievement of basic human rights. These documents were prepared in anticipation of and support for the United Nations' 2008 "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" and its compendium "Millennium Development Goals."
"Millennium Development Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability. Target 1: Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs and reverse the loss of environmental resources. Target 2: Reduce biodiversity loss, achieving by 2010, a significant reduction in the rate of loss. (a) Marine areas and land conservation need greater attention. (b) Deforestation slows and more forests are designated for biodiversity conservation. (c) The number of species threatened with extinction is rising rapidly. (d) Fish stocks require improved fisheries management to reduce depletion."
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) traces its origins to the 16th century Protestant Reformation, although it achieved its current form in 1988 when three previously independent churches merged to form the largest Lutheran denomination in America.
Martin Luther on animals: "Thus Christ now speaks: [...] you daily see how your heavenly Father feeds the little birds in the field, without their having any care […] [H]e holds them in such high esteem that he daily feeds them, as if he had only these to care for; and he takes pleasure in it, that they quite without care fly about and sing, as if they should say: I sing and am cheerful." —from Martin Luther, Commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, trans. Charles A. Hay (Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1892), 341 (re: Matthew 6:26-27).
The ELCA's Presiding Bishop, Mark S. Hanson, explains that "we cannot love God or our human neighbor without caring for creation." From Bishop Hanson: "We cannot escape the interconnectedness of the earth’s fabric of life. Creation is the matrix of all our activities, both as human beings and as Christ’s church. God gives us and all creatures life through the water, air, food and all the other gifts that come to us from the earth. Everything we do both depends on these gifts and has some kind of impact upon them. If these gifts are treated with contempt and abused, people, animals and plants suffer together. If they are graciously received and cherished, people will flourish with the rest of creation. We cannot love God or our human neighbor without caring for creation." —Letter first published November 2003. Excerpt reprinted in ELCA, Awakening to Earthkeeping, 11.
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) describes itself as “a mission-oriented, Bible-based, confessional Christian denomination” that is “founded on the teachings of Martin Luther.” There are a number of theological, historical and contemporary references on animals in the faith’s longstanding traditions.
On KFUO’s "Book Talk" with host Rodney Zwonitzer, a broadcast ministry of The Lutheran Church, Reverend Peter Kurowski, author of Animals in Heaven; Pets in Paradise, talked about God’s love for animals: “As I started from Genesis and went through Revelation, I was struck by the fact that God’s intimate concern about the animal world […] I kept seeing these promises that would involve the creatures of God, the rest of creation […] Like, for example, in Genesis 9:12, after the flood, God said, ‘This is a sign of the covenant, the promise I’m making between me and you and every living creature with you. A covenant for all generations to come.’ Now we see and hear those words, ‘For all generations to come,’ but we don’t camp out at that important phrase, ‘every living creature.’ And so here we see God’s intimate, infinite love not only for mankind, but for the animals of the world.”
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), or PC (USA), traces its history to the 16th-century Protestant reformer, John Calvin. "The meanest animals are equally the children of God, because they were created of the original seed of the Word of God," Calvin stated.
The Presbyterian Church has statements on animals addressing wildlife, farm animals and more. From Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice:"Keep wildlife wild and free. Avoid irreversible change. Protect and expand remaining public wildlands. Respect life, the more sentient the more respect. Think of nature as a community, more than a commodity...Prohibit trade in endangered wild animals and endangered plants, or products derived from them. Stop indiscriminate killing of wild animals."
The Episcopal Church arrived in the American colonies in 1607. Originally an extension of the Church of England, it became an autonomous institution after the American Revolution. The Church has many statements and references on animals. The Episcopal Church was the first Christian denomination in the United States to issue an official condemnation of animal cruelty. A statement released in 1817 by the House of Bishops, called upon members to avoid "amusements" that involve "cruelty to the brute creation." Today, the Episcopal Church addresses specific issues to call for responsible care of God's animals:
- “The Episcopal Church encourages its members to ensure that husbandry methods for captive and domestic animals would prohibit suffering in such conditions as puppy mills, and factory-farms;
- “The Episcopal Church's Peace and Justice Office [is instructed to] identify existing guidelines to educate its members to adhere to ethical standards in the care and treatment of animals;
- “The Episcopal Church, through its Office of Government Relations, [is instructed to] identify and advocate for legislation protecting animals and effective enforcement measures." —from the Episcopal Church, Support Ethical Care of Animals.
The Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church is the world's largest Christian denomination, representing more than half of all Christians and more than one-sixth of the world's population. Final authority for the Church rests in the Magisterium: the College of Bishops headed by the Pope.
"Animals are the creatures of God, and, according to the Scriptures, he surrounds them with his providential care (Mt 6:26). Human beings should accept them with gratitude and, even adopting a eucharistic attitude with regard to every element of creation, to give thanks to God for them. By their very existence the animals bless God and give him glory: "Bless the Lord, all you birds of the air. All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord" (Dn 3:80-81). In addition, the harmony which man must establish, or restore, in the whole of creation includes his relationship to the animals. When Christ comes in his glory, he will "recapitulate" the whole of creation in an eschatological and definitive moment of harmony." —from International Theological Commission, Communion and Stewardship, Chapter 3, section 2, paragraph 79.
"Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals….It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly." —from Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part Three, Section Two, Chapter Two, Article 7, 2:2416, 2418.
The United Methodist Church
The United Methodist Church (UMC) traces its origins to the lives and ministries of John Wesley (1703-1791) and his brother Charles (1707-1788). Its current form took shape in 1968, when The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren Church merged into a single denomination.
The UMC emphasizes putting faith into action, an as such, the Church has a strong commitment to social justice and a long history of involvement in contemporary social issues—including issues that impact animals and their habitats.
"We support regulations that protect the life and health of animals, including those ensuring the humane treatment of pets and other domestic animals, animals used in research, and the painless slaughtering of meat animals, fish, and fowl. We encourage the preservation of all animal species including those threatened with extinction." —from The United Methodist Church "Social Principles: 160.I. The Natural World; Animal Life" The Book of Discipline, 99-100.
"We support a sustainable agricultural system where agricultural animals are treated humanely and where their living conditions are as close to natural systems as possible. We aspire to an effective agricultural system where plant, livestock, and poultry production maintains the natural ecological cycles, conserves energy, and reduces chemical input to a minimum." —from The United Methodist Church "Social Principles: 162.III The Social Community; Sustainable Agriculture," The Book of Discipline, 115.
Buddhism was founded some 2500 years ago by the Indian sage Siddhartha Gautama. "Buddha" is a title meaning "the enlightened one." Buddhism is reported to be the world's sixth largest religion and one of the fastest growing faiths in the West. There are approximately 385 million adherents, most of whom live in South Central, and East Asia.
Key teachings about Buddhism and animals include: animals and humans share the same essential nature; the highest Buddhist virtue is compassion, which we are to show to all sentient beings at all times; we should do all in our power to avoid causing suffering or death for any sentient being.
The researchers state, "All forms of Buddhist practice, in every denomination, are first and foremost programs for training the mind in gaining immediate, intuitive insight into the nature of the true reality and generating ever greater compassion for all sentient beings."
Hinduism, the world’s oldest living religion, is a rich collection of hundreds of spiritual and philosophical traditions followed throughout Asia for more than 5,000 years. Followers of Hinduism believe that the Divine (Brahman), the infinite reality or Truth, is beyond the comprehension of undisciplined minds and thus, is understood and worshiped by individuals in various ways. This is reflected not only in the diversity of practice, perspective and paths in Hinduism, but also in the fundamental belief that no one path can claim exclusivity or a monopoly over the ways of knowing the Truth. The Rig Veda, one of Hinduism’s earliest and most revered scriptures, articulates this pluralist ethos well: Ekam sat, viprah bahudha vadanti or “Truth is one, the wise call It by many names.”
Most Hindus believe in one, all-pervasive supreme Divine, though the Divine may manifest and be worshiped in different forms, both male and female, by different names and in different ways. As such, categories of either monotheistic or polytheistic are inadequate in describing Hinduism's complex understanding of the Divine. Also known as Sanatana Dharma (the Eternal Natural Law), Hinduism encompasses a broad spectrum of philosophies ranging from panentheism to pantheism or absolute monism to pluralistic theism—that the Divine's presence is in all of existence to all of existence is the Divine.
Another basic belief in Hinduism is that the soul does not die but is reborn into other life forms when the physical body dies. According to Hinduism’s law of karma, every act and thought affects how the soul will be reborn. Reincarnation or the cycle of birth and rebirth, continues until the soul achieves spiritual perfection and is united with the Divine, or moksha. Hindus believe that the Divine exists equally in all living beings, both human and non-human.
Governing Body: Hinduism has no identifiable beginning in history, single founder, central religious establishment or sole authoritative scripture. However, every individual, especially ascetics, monks, swamis, sadhus and gurus who are respected for their personal discipline and spiritual knowledge, is considered essential to the preservation and passing on of Hindu traditions.
Lay Hindus look to ascetics, monks, swamis, sadhus and gurus for spiritual guidance and as interpreters of Hinduism's sacred scriptures, which include, the Vedas and Agamas, Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, the Epics, such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana, the Puranas, lawbooks and many other philosophical and sectarian texts. Thus, ancient truths and wisdom are passed on from generation to generation and reinterpreted by living seers (wise people) and individual spiritual seekers.
The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) and the vast majority of Hinduism's leading sampradayas (traditions) regard the ethical treatment of animals as fundamental to the core Hindu belief that the Divine exists in all living beings, both human and non-human, and Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the whole world is one family. Animals and plants are not regarded as mere objects for wanton human use and consumption in the Hindu tradition. Rather, they are equally embodied with the existence of the Divine and are fully deserving of respect and human compassion. Therefore, the concept of ahimsa, or non-violence, which was popularized by Mahatma Gandhi's passive resistance movement in India, is central to Hindu thought and applies not only to how humans interact with each other, but also to how they interact with all living beings.
In the Hindu epic Mahabharat, Lord Krishna, who chastises his cousin for carelessly chopping down a tree to release pent up anger, states, "Humans should take from this planet only that which is necessary for our survival." He continues to explain that when societies begin to violate this principle, all of humanity will be forced to face the repercussions because all life, despite differences in intelligence and ability, is interconnected and serves its unique purpose in the world.
Fundamental to Krishna's explanation is Hinduism's law of karma, the basic principle of cause and effect that states that an individual's every action and thought produces an appropriate outcome for her which may be experienced immediately or extended beyond the individual's current lifespan and into future births. According to the Hindu principle of reincarnation, the atman, or soul, is everlasting and does not die with the physical body. Instead, the atman continues its journey, carrying forward unfulfilled karmic outcomes from previous lives, and takes on new physical life forms until it attains moksha, or spiritual perfection that provides freedom from the cycle of reincarnation.
All life, from the smallest plant to largest animal, must go through this process. Ultimately, there are serious karmic repercussions for taking an innocent life, causing unnecessary suffering and/or pain to another life form, as well as idly supporting such suffering and pain in some form. Accordingly, it is not only the man who kills the cow at a slaughterhouse who reaps some degree of negative karma, but also those involved in every step of the process, including the final consumers of the beef.