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Our Living World, Part 1: Animal Life

Elephants, impala, rhinos, and wildebeest at Kruger National Park, South Africa, show the diversity of animals on the continent. Photo by Chris Eason, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Elephants, impala, rhinos, and wildebeest at Kruger National Park, South Africa, show the diversity of animals on the continent. Photo by Chris Eason, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Read the entire "Our Living World" series here.

The meaning of the word "religion" is "relinking." Religion describes the ways human cultures have sought to create, sustain, and renew links with one another, the world around them, and the powers or reality that lies behind it all. In this six part series, we explore how United Methodists seek to sustain and renew our links to our living world.  

When we consider what it means to be re-linked with our living world, we remember God’s first charge to humankind, recorded in Genesis 1:28, NRSVUE: “Have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” In short, be stewards of all animals in this living world.

This commandment from Genesis mentions fish first, then birds, then living things on the earth. This reflects Israel’s profound and abiding connection to and dependence upon seas, both coastal and inland, as a primary means to provide life and livelihood. But it is just as important that animal life, wherever it is found – sea, air and land – is commended to our care.

United Methodists take seriously the charge to be good stewards of all animal life. Here is our statement on animal life from the Social Principles:

"We support regulations that protect and conserve the life and health of animals, including those ensuring the humane treatment of pets, domesticated animals, animals used in research, wildlife, and the painless slaughtering of meat animals, fish, and fowl. We recognize unmanaged and managed commercial, multinational, and corporate exploitation of wildlife and the destruction of the ecosystems on which they depend threatens the balance of natural systems, compromises biodiversity, reduces resilience, and threatens ecosystem services. We encourage commitment to effective implementation of national and international governmental and business regulations and guidelines for the conservation of all animal species with particular support to safeguard those threatened with extinction."

While this is the extent of official United Methodist statements about animal life, we find much here to unpack, consider and act upon as we seek to live as those re-linked with all other animals that inhabit our living world with us.

Protecting animal life and health

Just as the commandment in Genesis 1 to care for all animal life begins with the habitat of most significance to ancient Israel, so this section of the Social Principles on animal life begins with a reference to the animals nearest and dearest to many humans, our pets.

Many consider pets to be part of their families.  We are invited, then, to contemplate the closeness of our relationships with all other animal life, from primates and other mammals, to birds, reptiles and amphibians, arachnids and insects, fish, cephalopods, mollusks and jellies, to single-celled creatures, such as bacteria and zooplankton.

All of these are our animal neighbors, whose home is no less in this same living world than is our own. All require our diligent protection, whether from our overreach, our neglect or the result of circumstances we do not directly control.

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Ensuring healthy ecosystems

The protection we seek to offer for all animal life through legislative and other initiatives is not solely for the sake of the animals themselves. It is for the sake of the good of the whole of our living world, the many ecosystems on our planet that make all of life possible.

We care about balance, and so may advocate to take steps to reduce the proliferation of species in areas where they have few, if any, natural predators.

We care about the diversity of life in all its forms, recognizing that each form of animal life has a place and makes an important contribution to the whole. Especially in a time when climate change is altering living conditions for all kinds of life, we care about helping animals to survive, even if they can no longer easily thrive.

Enacting protective policies

Governmental regulation alone does not and cannot secure the safety of animal life. Much of what is required reaches beyond what governments have the authority or the ability to do. Governments are limited to acting within their political borders, borders which do not exist for animals. In many situations, businesses, rather than governments, may be better poised to respond.

This is why United Methodists support the development and universal enforcement of international governmental and business policies for the sake of the welfare of all animal life, and particularly for those species that are most endangered.

In all these ways, United Methodists have committed ourselves to care for our living world, starting with our nearest relatives, the animals.

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