Despite some glaring black marks on the history of the Christian church, one of the key principles of Christianity is human rights. One of the most notable teachings of Christ Jesus was love for God and love for fellow man. Matthew 22:37-40 records Jesus’ words: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Christendom as a whole has embraced the principle of “love thy neighbour”. Various denominations and churches have founded schools, clinics and hospitals, non-profit organizations, mission work, and volunteer programs to reach out to our “neighbours” in our own neighborhoods and across the world in an effort to follow the example of Christ and touch lives for the better.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is no exception.
According to statistics gathered at the end of 2007, the Seventh-day Adventist Church is present in 201 of the 230 countries recognized by the United Nations; runs 7,442 educational institutions around the world (including primary, secondary, tertiary schools and worker training institutions); operates 168 hospitals and sanitariums, 130 nursing and retirement centers, 433 clinics, 33 orphanages, 10 medical airplane ministries; and the flagship humanitarian organization of the church, Adventist Development and Relief Agency International (ADRA), is present in 125 countries. [Source] ADRA is also gaining recognition in recent months for their relief work in Haiti after the devastating earthquake of January 12, 2010. [Source]
Adventists are serious about living the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) and answering their Lord Jesus Christ’s call to help the less fortunate (Matthew 25:34-46). Adventist Mission explains it this way on their website: “Through the years, Seventh-day Adventists have generously supported mission through their tithes and mission offerings because they believe the gospel commission. They believe we’re called to help the less fortunate, the poor, the sick, and those who don’t know about Jesus.”
However, for Adventists, caring for the physical needs and the spiritual well-being of our global neighbors is not enough. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a notable leader in religious liberties and “freedom of conscience”, especially in North America, but also throughout the world. The non-profit organization, Religious Liberty, explains on their website: “At the heart of the Adventist message is our abiding belief that freedom of conscience must be guaranteed to all. Freedom of conscience includes the freedom to believe and fully practice the religious faith of choice, the freedom not to believe or practice religious faith, freedom to change faiths, and the freedom to establish and operate religious institutions in accordance with religious beliefs.”
A cursory overview of the numerous humanitarian efforts of the Seventh-day Adventist Church makes it clear that the church on a whole is dedicated to human rights – of “loving thy neighbour” – and rightly so. The church’s humanitarian efforts and evangelistic out-reach remains the primary focus of the Adventist mission and has even been highlighted by the 2010 Adventists About Life video shorts with former General Conference President, Jan Paulsen.
Yet where does the church stand on the issue of animal rights? Is this issue important for Adventists and Christians in general? What does the Bible say regarding the treatment of animals?
Many throughout the history of Christianity have claimed that the dominion principle, found in Genesis 1:26,28,29, gives us, human beings, the right to do whatever we please to the animals that cohabit this planet. Does God giving mankind dominion mean that it is acceptable in God’s sight to mistreat animals? In the words of the apostle Paul, “God forbid!”
According to the Dictionary.com, dominion means “the power or right of governing and controlling; sovereign authority.” For example, a king has dominion over his kingdom, which means that he has the power to govern, control, regulate, and serve that kingdom. In the same manner, the Lord granted our first parents, Adam and Eve, dominion over the earth at creation. Adam and Eve were given the responsibility to govern, control, regulate, and serve the world around them.
However, Adam and Eve were merely caretakers or stewards of this world. The Lord still retained absolute control over His creation. Colossians 1:16-17 says: “For by him [Jesus Christ] were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” The Lord God is Creator of all life in heaven and on earth, and as Creator, all of the animals belong to Him, not man. “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.” (Psalm 50:10-11)
After reading the first few chapters of the book of Genesis as well as the verses previously mentioned, it becomes clear that the dominion granted to Adam and Eve in the beginning was not totalitarian authority to do whatever they pleased but was a responsibility to care for the well-being of the world around them. As Jan Paulsen, [former] General Conference President, said in the Adventists About Life video, Caring for the Environment: “God gave us this world to look after.”
Though not as widely known as the church’s efforts in human rights, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has a long history of advocating the fair treatment of animals. Our stance on the treatment of animals is founded on Bible principles. Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites were reminded by the Lord on the proper care of their animals. (See Exodus 23:10-12 and Deuteronomy 25:4.) In the New Testament, Jesus Christ shares of how God cares for nature and the animals. (See Luke 12:6,22-29.) Revelation 11:18 also gives humanity a stern warning: “And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.”
It should be clear to us all that the abuse of animals is not acceptable for a follower of Christ. When the topic of animal rights is discussed, I have heard some individuals express the opinion: “The abuse of animals is sad, but there are people dying every day. Which is more important? Obviously, people.”
Here is my answer to such comments: The treatment of animals and the treatment of people are connected.The treatment of animals and the treatment of people are connected. Click To Tweet
Modern society has only recently begun to realize the direct link between animal cruelty and human violence. An article on The Humane Society of the United States website states: “A 1997 survey of 50 of the largest shelters for battered women in the United States found that 85% of women and 63% of children entering shelters discussed incidents of pet abuse in the family. Children who have witnessed domestic violence or who have been the victims of physical or sexual abuse may also become animal abusers themselves, imitating the violence they have seen or experienced.” [Source] Another article reads: “Many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology during the last 25 years have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. The FBI has recognized the connection since the 1970s, when its analysis of the lives of serial killers suggested that most had killed or tortured animals as children.” [Source]
While not every case of animal cruelty will escalate into violence against a fellow human being, it is an undeniable fact that repeated cruelty to animals desensitizes an individual to the pain and suffering of another living being. After all, animals feel pain just like people do. In Your Home and Health, page 121, Ellen G. White wrote: “The intelligence displayed by many dumb animals approaches so closely to human intelligence that it is a mystery. The animals see and hear and love and fear and suffer. They use their organs far more faithfully than many human beings use theirs. They manifest sympathy and tenderness toward their companions in suffering. Many animals show an affection for those who have charge of them, far superior to the affection shown by some of the human race. They form attachments for man which are not broken without great suffering to them.”
In Patriarchs and Prophets, page 445, White wrote: “He who will abuse animals because he has them in his power is both a coward and a tyrant. A disposition to cause pain, whether to our fellow men or to the brute creation, is satanic. Many do not realize that their cruelty will ever be known, because the poor dumb animals cannot reveal it. But could the eyes of these men be opened, as were those of Balaam, they would see an angel of God standing as a witness, to testify against them in the courts above. A record goes up to heaven, and a day is coming when judgment will be pronounced against those who abuse God’s creatures.”
I do not deny that human life is of the upmost importance, but we would be amiss in our responsibilities as stewards of this earth if we neglected the well-being of animals. I am not advocating animal rights fanaticism, but as followers of Christ, we need to show respect to our Creator by respecting His creation.
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