Today, I was so pleased to participate in a press conference to announce the launch of “Every Living Thing,” a national campaign to engage the Evangelical community on animal protection issues. “Every Living Thing” is built around a statement of principles about animal protection from major Evangelical leaders. The plan is to appeal to Evangelical leaders throughout the nation to sign on to the statement, so that we can develop a consensus among Christians on the need for human responsibility toward animals.
While this campaign is an exciting and new high-water mark for us, it’s not a new thing for our organization. The HSUS has worked with people of faith for 60 years, and in fact, my two predecessors were clerical leaders before they took their turns in leading our esteemed organization. It was about a decade ago that The HSUS established a Faith Outreach Program, and the organization has proven to be a place for persons and institutions of faith to unite in a concern for God’s creatures.
In 2011, at a gathering of national faith leaders hosted by The HSUS, Evangelical leaders noted a distinct hole within the landscape of major denominational statements on animal welfare. There was no Evangelical perspective on animals. Dr. Barrett Duke of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, a longtime friend of The HSUS, gathered with Mark Rodgers, principal of The Clapham Group and former chief of staff for Senator Rick Santorum, and Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, to draft the statement, “Every Living Thing” as a derivative of their initial conversations.
Four years of Biblical study and reflection produced what was released today as an Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals. The phrase “Every Living Thing” is drawn from a scriptural refrain that acknowledges a mandate from God to care for every living thing. The campaign will include opportunities for congregations, communities, and Christian campuses to attend local events across the country, and if you are a person of faith, I want to ask you today to join the campaign.
It is often noted by faithful animal advocates that Evangelicals were some of the first public voices of concern for humane treatment. Indeed, William Wilberforce’s role in establishing the London-based Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in 1824 ties Evangelicals to the first organized animal welfare organization, still active today as the Royal Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Over the years, many historical Evangelical leaders have shared this concern, from C.S. Lewis and John Wesley to Reverend Billy Graham and Dr. Russell Moore.
In many ways, the release of today’s Evangelical Statement on Responsible Care for Animals can be viewed as a continuation of this important legacy of Christian commitment to the humane treatment of animals. It also comes on the heels of the Pope’s historic visit to the United States, and earlier this year, he had extraordinary things to say about fighting animal cruelty.
In his endorsement message of the “Every Living Thing” statement, Rev. Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention noted, “…we, as Christians, ought to be the most, of all people, opposed to cruelty or mistreatment of animals….We should be the people, because we’re formed and shaped by the Bible, who call the consciences of those around us to care about responsible treatment of animals.”
I am humbled by the work of these Evangelical leaders. And I am so excited about their leadership on this issue.I am hopeful that we will continue to make great strides on behalf of animals as we count people of faith as allies in the protection of every living thing.