Animal welfare and advocacy often raise understandable questions among Christians, and we've had to work through many of them ourselves. Perhaps the following Q&A will help you navigate not one sparrow and these issues just a bit:
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Caring for animals doesn’t typically receive much attention in Christian communities, and we're even prone to wonder if the Bible has much to say about the subject at all. But there are many scriptural references to animals and their well-being and suffering, and from start to finish the Bible is clear that God cares very much for every creature He has lovingly made.
God desires for us to relate to animals with compassion and appreciation, just as He does, and has given us the responsibility of caring for them as stewards of all of His creation. As Christians, we have the hope of belonging to a new creation in Christ, which also calls us to work toward the time when abuse and suffering will not affect any creature.
It's natural to wonder whether caring for animals will take away time and resources from evangelism and discipleship, and other pressing community and humanitarian needs. And while the Bible makes clear that the first priority of God's kingdom is to respond to these needs, we also must remember that the first responsibility which God gave humanity in Genesis was to care for His creation and creatures.
We can’t simply set this responsibility aside, especially when animals are often suffering exactly because of our own neglect and misuse. The apostle Paul tells us they are waiting for our redemption in fact, and our community's response to the gospel must in some way involve caring for God's creatures. But we can also celebrate knowing that different members of Christ's body bring different passions and callings to the table.
Even those who care about animals are confronted with conflicts between human and animal welfare. From bugs in the kitchen to animal products on our dinner tables, cutting down trees for community developments to cancer research on animals, human and animal needs often seem at odds. We know that God cares about animals but that He also prioritizes the well-being of His human children, and so we can protect ourselves from a charging predator in good conscience.
But is every conflict a real one? Are our needs really needs, or sometimes just wants? Do we need new real estate developments when we could reuse old ones? Do we need to factory farm animals for sustenance when our current eating habits aren't healthy for us or the planet anyway? Some issues are even more complex, such as animal research which might contribute to life-saving medical treatments, but which is often duplicated and irrelevant just as well.
not one sparrow was begun largely because of how little voice for animals existed among evangelical and other confessional Christians. Ben DeVries, our admin., launched not one sparrow after completing his capstone project at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on a Christian foundation for animal welfare, and we want to help other evangelicals understand and engage this issue better which is close to God's heart.
At the same time, we know that there is only one collective body of Christ, and we have many brothers and sisters in other traditions. We want very much to welcome anyone who holds to an orthodox faith (e.g. the Nicene Creed) in not one sparrow's community, including several of our regular blog contributors. But please know that we're open to interacting with anyone, Christian or otherwise, and we're grateful for our friendships in the broader animal advocacy movement.
Sadly, animals haven't had many champions through the two thousand year history of the church, at least not prominent ones. Who knows how many showed compassion to God's creatures without notice or record? But there have been a few standout voices scattered through the years, from St. Francis of Assisi to John Wesley, William Wilberforce, Leo Tolstoy and even C. S. Lewis more recently, among others.
As for contemporary Christian voices for animals, we make an effort to feature as many as we can on our blog: from friends and regular contributors to not one sparrow, to more occasional but noteworthy attention from faith leaders such as Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd, John Stott and Billy Graham. We're also deeply appreciative of the hard ground plowed by other Christian animal advocates and groups in recent years, and refer to some of them often, though many tend to work with a more progressive Christian theology.
There has been a fair amount of debate as to whether animals actually feel pain and suffer emotionally, or if we're just projecting human characteristics onto them. But many animals, including those we interact with most, have highly developed nervous systems. And they react to pain and psychological distress, even the threat of both, in ways we would expect them to given their physiology and cognitive abilities.
It takes a lot of manipulative, and honestly shoddy, reasoning to suggest otherwise. It helps to remember that the Bible assumes animals suffer, and we know that God suffers with His creatures who are affected in so many ways by the Fall and human sin. It also helps to keep in mind that those who preach the loudest against animals' capacity to feel pain and suffer are generally those who stand to profit the most from both.
The animal rights movement has been one of the loudest and most intense voices in animal advocacy. While it has accomplished much good for animals, its ideology can also blur the differences and dynamics between humans and animals, at times compromising both from a Christian perspective. And some leading spokespersons and groups are especially known for their eccentric and even offensive philosophies and tactics.
As an effort, not one sparrow wants to interact with and learn from the animal rights movement where we can, especially from Christians who represent a more biblically faithful animal rights perspective such as Andrew Linzey and Matthew Halteman. But we're generally more at home in the animal welfare ethos and a softer mode of dialogue, and above all we're accountable to pursuing God’s perspective on animals and the relationship he wants us to have with them.
Some animal advocates and groups concentrate mostly on pets, or companion animals, and their efforts are incredibly heartfelt, tireless and needed. not one sparrow is very concerned with the well-being and suffering of pets as well, including the millions of homeless cats and dogs needlessly euthanized each year. In fact, many of us grow to care about animals in general because of our connection to the animals in our homes.
But for the same reason, we’re very concerned about the welfare of God's other creatures as well (see our causes section). Each animal life is valuable to God, and all animal suffering is just that, suffering. Countless animals are largely hidden from society while they're used for human purposes, often with no consideration for some of their most basic needs or dignity. But we're all the more obligated to care about their suffering when it serves our own interests.
As the last FAQ suggested, not one sparrow is concerned about the welfare of all animals, wherever they might be vulnerable. We're not focused on vegetarianism or any other diet exclusively, but we do believe there are legitimate connections which should be drawn between how animals raised and harvested for food are treated, and our own consumption habits. If this happens in a way which doesn't honor their basic needs and dignity, which certainly isn't the case when it comes to the "factory" farming of animals, then we should look for more compassionate alternatives.
A good rule of thumb is that if we can’t bear to see or think about how particular animal products are produced in reality, then we should ask ourselves if we can genuinely say “grace” over those foods. Some Christians personally go a step further and avoid meats (vegetarians) or animal products (vegans) altogether. We respect (and sometimes share) their desire to honor their conscience and witness toward God's future peaceable kingdom in this way. Regardless, please don’t feel like you have to have this issue resolved as you get to know not one sparrow or animal causes in general.
It's been great to see Christians begin to take more ownership in recent years of our calling to be stewards of God's creation and creatures, the first God gave humanity in fact. not one sparrow believes that a concern for animal welfare is an integral component of this calling, often called "creation care," and we're honored to be part of this growing movement and community alongside supportive friends.
But just as naturalists and environmentalists have generally been more concerned with species conservation and ecosystem preservation, as vital as those concerns are, the well-being of individual animals, whether wild, farmed or companion, hasn't generally been a focus within the creation care movement either. There have been some encouraging signs of late, however, and not one sparrow hopes to gently continue to expand our community's calling to caring for each and every creature lovingly made and known by God.
Most of us can understand caring for pets and even wildlife and farmed animals on some level, but insects? Bugs and spiders by the thousands constantly find their unwelcome way into our homes, gardens and food, and some seem hell-bent on biting or worming their way into our bodies and other animals, causing discomfort or even sickness. Surely God doesn't delight in them the same way He does His other creatures, or expect us to watch over them in the same way?
We do need to protect ourselves from some insects, anthropods and other invertebrates, and practically it would be impossible care for the trillions of others we share this world with in the same way we do other animals. It would be hard to take a walk through the grass or Summer drive otherwise. But at the same time, we can't deny that these are also God's unique creatures, with some form of sentience, exquisiteness and purpose according to their kind. And we should make an effort to understand and respect them, and not cause them any more suffering than necessary.
Anyone who's ever known the pain of losing an animal finds themself wondering if they will ever see their beloved companions again. And as Christians, many of us naturally long to be reunited with our animals in Heaven, and wonder if even farm animals and wildlife will be there. While the Bible is clear that animals will be part of the new heaven and new earth, and free from death and suffering along with the rest of creation (see for instance Isaiah 65:17-25), it doesn't tell us whether individual animals will be restored to life.
As to whether animals have souls, it would be hard to improve on our friend Dean Ohlman of RBC Ministries' eloquent and thoroughly biblical response to the question. He points to the use of the Hebrew word nephesh to describe animals, which indicates a conscious life source and is consistently translated as 'soul' throughout the Old Testament for humans. But where Scripture promises eternal life for people who put their faith in Christ, it doesn't explicitly promise eternity for individual animals. Though it seems fair to hope that God's grace might extend that far, as He knows and loves each of them.
Please feel free to contact us if any other questions come to mind. I very much hope not one sparrow will be a help to you in terms of understanding animal advocacy from a Christian perspective, and maybe even point to some ways you can get involved yourself. Our causes section has information and resources related to a number of practical issues and concerns, and the same goes for our blog which also has some more lighthearted material. Please see our connect page if we can help in any other way, or if you want to get more involved with not one sparrow specifically. We’d be tremendously grateful for the support.
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