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Animal Welfare Sunday

Of course, it’s an essential part of our discipleship, says Rev Dr Helen Hall


lection night has always been a big event for Jack* (name has been changed to protect the embarrassed). As a university lecturer with a professional

interest in the field, he prepares for the five-yearly ritual in much the same way as other (dare I say normal?) guys might prepare for the Cup Final or the closing race of the Formula 1 season. A collection of snacks are arrayed in bowls, cold drinks have been placed in the fridge and the remote control has been taken into secure custody. Nothing must interrupt the hallowed hours. I was therefore stunned when Jack called me anxiously about a little cat he’d seen hanging around the front garden. It was small, almost kitten-sized, and looking pitifully hungry. He’d made the mistake of opening the window for the fresh air, spotted the cat and that was it. He couldn’t get the image of the helpless animal out of his head, and couldn’t settle

to the TV coverage he’d spent

months anticipating. I must confess that I loved Jack even more than usual at that moment. His change in priorities showed the person he is. Something of a pantomime ensued,

involving tuna, cat-boxes and a pyjama- clad chase, but the missing moggy was eventually returned to the home from which he wandered and nobody was any the worse for their adventures. But I was deeply touched by Jack’s instinctive response, and in all seriousness have no doubt whatsoever that it was a God- given impulse. We have compassion as human beings because we are made in the image of God, and an outpouring of

12 October 2015 womanalive

that compassion is an expression of our true and eternal nature. There are many reasons why Christians should take animal welfare seriously, but for me the most profound relates to something very simple: what kind of God do we believe in? Both our own experience and modern, scientific knowledge teach us that animals are capable of thought and feeling; they can experience pain or pleasure. What kind of God would create animals able to suffer or to know contentment, and would then be indifferent to the sort of lives they lead? A callous God like that is not one to whom I would wish to dedicate my life, nor one which I can reconcile with my understanding of Jesus. Scripture talks about God’s care for the

creatures he has made; think for example of Psalm 147: “He gives the animals their food, he feeds the young ravens when they cry”. In the Old Testament, animals share in the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10) and are protected from cruel treatment (eg oxen must not be muzzled to prevent them from eating whilst working in fields. Deuteronomy 25:4). In Genesis, humankind is given

“dominion” over the animals. Many modern theologians argue that dominion should not be understood as a right to exploit. Rather, it should be interpreted as a duty to care for our fellow creatures, a call to be stewards of Creation. When God gives power to someone, it


enable them to serve and to care for the weak and powerless, not to trample them. Kings and religious leaders who forget this are condemned. This isn’t to say that there is no

difference between human beings and animals in Christian teaching. Human beings are unique and special because they alone are made in the “image” of God and are capable of moral thought and understanding. Animals do not have the capacity to sin, neither do they have the capacity to make moral choices. A slipper-chewing or fox-poo rolling puppy might be a source of frustration, and/or bad odours, but he is not a sinner in any meaningful sense. Our species alone has the ability to make moral decisions and to act in a way which is good or bad in ethical terms. To be human is to have the freedom to

choose to respond to God, and endeavour to live in a way which draws us closer to him. Most people would readily say that claiming to live a Christian lifestyle, whilst dismissing the needs of the poor and marginalised, was a contradiction in terms. Similarly, caring for the welfare of animals is not something which is an optional part of being a Christian. It is a duty which comes with discipleship, and if we are truly growing more like our compassionate God, it should be our instinct as well as our duty.

+ The Revd Dr Helen Hall is Chair of the Anglican Society for the Welfare of


Animals, priest-in-charge of the parish of Lliswerry and Wales representative for the International Anglican Women’s Fellowship

+ Find out more about the work of the

Anglican Society for the Welfare of Animals at or write to them at

P O Box 7193, Hook, Hampshire RG27 8GT + Animal Welfare Sunday is celebrated on 4th October

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