“A Gospel For Every Creature”

By Revd Dr. Andrew Linzey

I have been an advocate for the cause of animals for over twenty-five years. At first I did not believe that cruelty to animals, however important in itself, could ever become a big issue for Christians. An important but secondary matter, I once thought. Not now. In terms of pain, suffering and death, what we do to millions of animals constitutes, I believe, one of the major moral issues of all time. Moreover, I now see that it goes to the heart of the gospel that Christians profess.

This is a gospel of the invincible, unconquerable love of God – not just for human beings but for all creatures.

The God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, and especially of Jesus, loves all creatures. Christians have to find a new heart – a big enough heart to be open to two great gospel truths. The first is that animals are God’s creatures: not human property, nor utilities, nor resources, nor commodities, but precious beings in God’s sight. The second is the Christ-like suffering of animals. “Think then, my brethren”, preached John Henry Newman at Oxford in 1842, “of your feelings at cruelty practised on brute animals, and you will gain one sort of feeling which the history of Christ’s Cross and Passion ought to excite within you.”

Christians whose eyes are fixed on the awfulness of crucifixion are in a special position to understand the awfulness of innocent suffering. The Cross of Christ is God’s absolute identification with the weak, the powerless and the vulnerable, but most of all with unprotected, undefended, innocent suffering. I have spoken of how sensitivity to suffering should be a matter of obedience to the gospel. But, in truth, it is among Christians today that one will find the greatest
betrayal of this gospel.

In Spain not one Roman Catholic authority can be found which opposes bullfighting. In Canada, Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops support seal hunting and fur trapping. In Norway clergy defend whaling. In Ireland, Roman Catholic priests go hare coursing. And in England the General Synod of the Church of England will not oppose hunting for sport on church-owned land. This betrayal has a long and unflattering history. From the ninth to the nineteenth century, thousands of animals were subject to criminal prosecution and sentenced to capital punishment by ecclesiastical courts, resulting in barbarous cruelty. As late as the middle of the nineteenth century, Pope Pius IX forbade the opening of an animal protection office in Rome on the grounds that animals have no intrinsic worth, and the idea that what we do to them need not be governed by fundamental moral considerations has become standard theology in Catholic countries.

A God who remains passionless in the face of innocent suffering simply cannot be the Christian God. No theology which desensitizes us to suffering can be truly Christian theology. It cannot be stressed enough that the picture of God exclusively concerned with human salvation and indifferent to the suffering of the non-human creation has become a source of moral despair.

If Christians today care so little for animals, it is because the God they seem to believe in cares even less. For myself, I believe that if God is good and just and holy, it must follow that there will be redemption for each and every creature that suffers. Nothing less than that would make God a truly just God.

© Copyright, Andrew Linzey.