I recently attended a meeting at the White House to discuss animal issues with religious leaders that was organized by the Humane Society of the U.S. It is very inspiring to see faith-based groups and the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships taking animal concerns seriously.
Throughout recorded history, religious institutions have grappled with major ethical matters while addressing fundamental questions about our place in the universe. Religious and spiritual leaders are seen as moral authorities and have been an influential force, sometimes defending the status quo and sometimes ushering in new understandings and change.
Members of the religious community are often at the center of highly charged debates when existing world views are challenged. Different religious leaders, each citing the divine, have taken opposing positions on contentious topics. Incendiary rhetoric can ensue, as was the case when slavery was debated in the U.S. Congress in the mid-1800s. In his book, Arguing About Slavery, William Lee Miller outlines how anti-slavery activists were demonized: “Who were these foul murderers, bloodhounds, incendiaries, agitators, instigators of midnight murder? These disturbers of our peace and enemies of our lives and liberties? These cold-hearted, base, malignant libelers and calumniators? These knowing accessories to murder, robbery, rape, and infanticide? In short, who were these fiends of hell? Churchwomen, mostly. Churchwomen and preachers, and Quakers, and a few teachers and lawyers and journalists – a powerless and marginal handful of practitioners of a new sort of reform.” (p. 65) These churchwomen and their cohorts took the side of the exploited against the powerful, and ultimately succeeded in changing people’s hearts and minds.
The positions and teachings of religious and faith-based organizations evolve over time and they reflect changes in our society which occur when injustice and cruelty are called out and challenged. For years, the factory farming industry has perpetrated various misdeeds, hidden from public view. It treats animals like inanimate commodities to be exploited, and most citizens have unwittingly supported this systemic abuse by purchasing meat, milk and eggs. But with increasing awareness about factory farming, we are now in the midst of a burgeoning food movement. People oppose animal cruelty and they are seeking to make choices that are better aligned with their values.
As citizens wrestle with moral questions surrounding our food choices, the religious community will be engaged. If you are involved with a faith-based group, please consider raising these concerns for deeper discussion. Our relationship with other animals is an important moral issue, and it is time for the abomination of factory farming to become a thing of the past.