I had a chance to interview one of the nation’s leading evangelical Christians, Dr. Ed Stetzer, and his daughter Jaclyn, a powerful duo advocating for animal welfare. The discussion is part of our larger Faith Outreach program at The HSUS, which seeks to engage religious leaders and scholars and to remind people of faith that their own traditions condemn cruelty and uphold mercy and kindness toward all creatures.
Dr. Stetzer is Executive Director of LifeWay Research, an organization that advises church leaders on church health and effectiveness, and the lead pastor of Grace Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee. He has planted, revitalized and pastored churches, and trained pastors and church planters on six continents. Dr. Stetzer holds two master’s degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books. "He is one of the leading thinkers on the earth in the areas of evangelism, church planting, and movements," according to one Christian publication. He is contributing editor for Christianity Today, and is frequently cited or interviewed in national news outlets such as USA Today and CNN. He is also executive editor of The Gospel Project, a Bible study curriculum used by over 400,000 individuals each week.
It’s been particularly exciting for me to see the response to our message of concern for animals within the evangelical Christian community, and I so enjoyed my conversation with Dr. Stetzer and Jaclyn who, among other things, is a passionate equestrian.
WP: I understand that a passion for animals is a family affair in the Stetzer household. How did the topic first come up as a family discussion item?
Jaclyn: The topic first came up as a family discussion item about a year ago before church. When we were driving to McDonald’s, I remembered watching Eating Mercifully the day before, and I asked my parents if we could change our eating habits.
Ed: Yes, we continued the talk over dinner conversations—and, talking about animal welfare over dinner seems odd but actually makes a lot of sense. It helps us connect our lives—even our eating—to bigger issues. Jaclyn would be the one who has been most vocal, but it has impacted all of us.
First, there was a general concern about animal welfare around us. We are involved with a local shelter— we give financially and Jaclyn volunteers there. Second, there was a concern for factory farming and how we might eat in a way that is the most humane way possible. We want to be sure that our lifestyle does not cause animals to be treated in an inhumane manner.
I think Jaclyn would prefer us all to be vegans, but we have all agreed that it is part of our stewardship to care what happens from the farm to the table.
Third, we have our own pets— dogs, birds, and a (shared) horse. Our home too often smells like a barn, but our animal friends know they are part of our family!
There are plenty of apologists for cruelty who invoke the Bible to justify exploitation of animals, saying that man has “dominion” over the animals. But dominion, to those of us at The HSUS, is not a synonym for domination. What’s your view?
Ed: Our view is that is stupid — animal cruelty is not a result of dominion. Actually, stewardship should be the result of dominion.
Jaclyn: My view about God giving us dominion over animals is that we do have the right to rule over them, but in a kind and humane way. Since God has given us dominion over animals, we should rule them like any good ruler — with love, kindness and respect. And that applies to all animals; not just our dogs and cats. The excuse for cruelty, “God gave us dominion over animals,” is invalid because God knows we should take care of animals. The Bible even talks about being kind to animals: “A righteous man cares about his animal’s health” (Proverbs 12:10). We should be kind to animals because dominion is a responsibility we shouldn’t abuse!
We refer to a band of states from Alabama and Mississippi up through Ohio as the cockfighting corridor, because anti-cockfighting laws in this region are so weak. Do you see some potential for an alliance between animal protection groups and evangelical Christians to allow us to turn around this problem?
Ed: I hope so. A lot of evangelicals are wary of animal rights groups (and are more open to animal welfare groups), but they often do not distinguish between the two. However, if there is a correlation between Bible belt locations and cruelty locations (and there is), I think that churches need to teach people what stewardship is and why it matters. I appreciate the work your faith outreach people are doing to bridge that gap.
Jaclyn: I do believe that Christians and animal protection organizations can come together to help end cockfighting. Both Christians and animal protection organizations believe that we should respect living creatures. We both believe that animals should be treated humanely. The Humane Society of the United States was founded by a pastor. Maybe that’s a sign of how we can work together!
Horse soring — where trainers intentionally and illegally inflict injuries to the feet of Tennessee walking horses to induce an exaggerated gait for horse show performances — is centered in your home state of Tennessee. Two Tennessee lawmakers, Senator Lamar Alexander and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, want to maintain the status quo and they are leading the fight to block enactment of the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act in Congress. Where do you stand on these issues?
Ed: I asked my member of Congress about this since she has been involved with the issue. Congresswoman [Diane] Black sent me helpful information and a very nice note. She is co-sponsoring the Horse Protection Amendments Act, which has a lot of support among the Tennessee house delegation, and is particularly championed by the people you mentioned.
But, that does not do all that Jaclyn and I think it needs to do.
Ironically, this is not a Democrat vs. Republican thing here in Tennessee. It’s just a difference in perception about what is needed. I think that some leaders think that the industry needs more time to figure it out (and need some limited pressure to do so), but as Jaclyn just said to me, “They don’t seem to be figuring it out.”
So, we are actually supporting another bill (also by a Republican, ironically, but this time from Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield). H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act provides the necessary systems and focus needed to address this issue.
We’re encouraging Congresswoman Black, Congresswoman Blackburn and Senator Lamar Alexander to change course and support H.R. 1518. Tennessee can do better and Tennessee walking horses need better.
Jaclyn: Thanks, Mr. Pacelle for sending me Eating Mercifully and letting us do this interview!