Monday, March 3, 2014

Saving Souls, Killing Elephants: The Link between Animal Rights and Evangelism

The Sunday market was the ultimate smorgasbord of odd items that you never would have dreamed someone would find valuable. Mixed amidst the antique toy cars and Raggedy Ann dolls were traditional Mexican pottery and beaded bracelets. There were so many things to see that it took us a good part of 2 hours to walk from one end to the other.
Near the end of the cobblestoned street that marked the end of the market, we came across a booth with antique furniture and rugs. In the back, sitting  on tthe threshold of a door, was a sight that caused a double-take.
The foot of an elephant was being used as a footstool.
The irony of the invention was lost on us. My gut twisted with disgust. Our remarks of “que horible” and “que mal” did nothing to faze the man selling the elephant foot. He only shrugged, as if to say, “It’s not like I killed the animal.” We moved away from his booth, but I couldn’t rid my mind of imagined images of someone sawing off the leg of an elephant and turning it into a stool. I didn’t even care if the animal was already dead. It felt so wrong.

I grew up surrounded by good, old republicans. I hung out in southern churches where Mother Earth was scoffed at and mocked. Animal rights was the lowest priority and care for the environment was a thing at which to roll your eyes.
            I’m not sure who it was who first introduced the idea to me that as humans, created in the image of God and given the mandate to “subdue the earth,” we are responsible for every aspect of creation. Not just the part where we win souls to Jesus and nothing else matters. The thought may have appeared on its own or someone may have suggested it to me a long time ago. I’m not sure.
            I’ve referred to this before, as it pertains to art. I am passionate about good art and doing art well, but not for the sake of winning souls or even intentionally expressing the gospel. I am passionate about good art because we serve a God who is an artist. He is a master designer, painter, and author. He is the only true creator. Anything we create is merely a copy or image of what God can do. But we create because we are made in His image. We are created to desire and love beauty and some of us are given the gift to build beautiful things. That alone is an expression of the gospel and the heart of God. Nothing else needed.
            Then there is nature. Nature as pertains to anything created by God. Trees, grass, sharks, dogs, elephants, water, babies, and pretty much anything you can see is, in some way, connected to or exists because God created it. That’s why when you play that 20 questions games and the first question is usually, “Is it manmade or Godmade?” is contradictory. This question is usually followed by “is it bigger than a breadbasket?” which makes no sense because very few people use breadbaskets and if they don’t use them they usually don’t know exactly how big they are or take into account that they come in different sizes and shapes. It’d be much better to use something that everyone is familiar with the size of, like, say a microwave, or an encyclopedia. But whatever.
            Back to nature. It’s made by God. We were charged with caring for it. That means caring for all of it. Not just the unborn babies—not minimizing this or ignoring its atrocity, or the fact that it’s justified and legalized murder. It’s just mentioned so often in Christian circles that it’s become, tragically, a redundant issue for some. I’d also like to put forth the idea that maybe one of the reasons this battle even exists is because creation—all of creation—has lost its value. Maybe, the Christian world turned so much attention to “winning souls” that we ignored Shark Fin Soup, endangered eagles, contaminated water, and pollution. Because we left these holes in creation, others felt obligated to fill them in. They interpret the fact that we don’t care about these things, or don’t stress much importance on them, that we just don’t care at all. Add the fact that in the name of Christ, some people have often been caught bullying unwed mothers who were seeking abortion, and you can’t ignore the fact that our actions indicate truth in this.
            I’m not here to discuss the difference between killing an elephant and killing a chicken. I’m not here to say that hunting deer is immoral. I’m not a vegan, bent on buying food and items free of animal products. I don’t think that a pet dog has more—or even equal—value to a child. I often feel like it’s stupid to invest finances into saving the earth when I feel like those finances would be better if used saving women from sex trafficking.
            I’m suggesting that all of creation has value and purpose. I believe that humans, as image bearers of God, are charged with caring for that creation, as much as they are charged with seeking justice and showing compassion. I believe that to fail in one area, often means failure in a thousand other areas.
            I believe that saving souls is not as narrow a focus as we might think or sharing the gospel does not merely consist of Billy Graham-proportioned, televised alter calls. It also is not the only calling or mission of the church.
            I once heard a missionary counsel a young girl who was pursuing veterinary school to switch her profession to nursing. The missionary said, “Who cares about the animals? What about the people?” This misguided view of animal care suggests that a nursing profession is a higher calling than a veterinary profession, that a job directly interacting with sick people is more important than a job helping sick animals.  It’s suggesting a dichotomy that ought not to exist. We shouldn’t be asking which role is more important. We should be asking, “Which role does God want me to fill?” We shouldn’t be asking which profession will win more souls to Jesus. We should be asking how to best glorify Jesus in the place we are standing right here, right now.
            God cares more about winning souls than we do and He’s the One who brought animals to Adam to name and gave the mandate to rule over creation. With rule comes responsibility, not just for one part, but for all.


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