Animal issues usually fall far from mainstream Christian discourse – but with news of the desperate war against the extinction of rhinos at the hands of poachers in South Africa, a number of Christian environmental leaders have come out to suggest that Christians need to care more about God's creations.
Although it is recognized that animal species come and go and there is a cycle of change in nature, few survival stories have been as gripping as the current battle white rhinos find themselves in.
In South Africa, poachers are waging a targeted and malicious war on the country's white rhinos, and last year alone killed 400 of them for their horns. At the turn of the 20th century, there were only 50 white rhinos left in the world. Thanks to successful conservation efforts over several decades, that number increased to 20,000, and today they are almost entirely confined to South Africa – but with park rangers and army recruits losing the war against heavily armed poachers, their numbers have rapidly begun to decrease again.
"It is an epidemic. It's a war that right now we're losing," said Graeme Rushmere, who owns a 25,000-acre private reserve. "It's not a South African issue as such, it's really a global issue." Both poachers and soldiers have lost their lives in the conflict.
So why should Christians care about the fate of a species that is being hunted down toward extinction half the world away? A number of Christian environmentalists told The Christian Post that all animals are part of God's creation, and that it is their duty to defend them, not stand by as they are being destroyed. One professor even suggested that mankind will stand before God one day and will have to answer for how His creation has been treated.
"We can start by talking about it in terms of God's creation rather than animal rights," said Tom Rowley, the Executive Director, former Chair and founding board member of A Rocha USA, a Christian environmental stewardship organization. "For Christians, we ought to care because God cares. He created it all and called it all very good, Christ created all through Him, by Him, for Him, and not just in terms of creation in the abstract, or the species scale, but even down to the individual animal. In Matthew 10, not a single sparrow falls without the Father knowing about it," he continued.
Rowley suggested that in the U.S., the politicization of these issues is what deters many Christians from getting engaged in environmental stewardships, a movement which has become associated with the political left.
Ben Devries, founder of Not One Sparrow, an advocacy organization that describes itself as a Christian voice for animals, and who has an M.A. in Christian Studies from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, explained in a statement to CP that it is God's command that believers should not tolerate cruelty against even one animal, let alone the destruction of an entire species.
"Christians are definitely called to care about rhino poaching, or any act of cruelty or disregard for the life and well-being of God's creatures. The Bible communicates that God takes delight and pride in His animal creations, and He has clearly called us to steward them with care and compassion on His behalf," Devries insisted.
"When the existence of an entire species is threatened, we as a collective humanity have betrayed the most basic component of that responsibility. And we run the danger of permanently snuffing out one of the unique 'lights' of God's creation, as Christian conservation scientist Kyle Van Houtan has described them. A staggering number of those lights have already been snuffed out, and many, many more are at risk if we don't intervene and change the way we relate to our Creator's world," he continued.
Stephen H. Webb, a professor of Religion and Philosophy at Wabash College, who has published a number of essays on animals and vegetarianism, argues that the concern for animals should not simply be a progressive, secular cause. He explained that one reason for the lack of concern for animals in the mainstream media today is that some Christians are wary of putting animal interests above the interests of the human species, but God will judge believers both by how they treat their fellow man and His creations.
"Christians have many reasons to be worried about extinct species. God called what he created good. What God values, we should value. Nonetheless, it is also true that animal species come and go, and nothing is permanent in nature, not even us. Everything will come to an end one day, and we will be judged by how we treated each other first and foremost, but also by how we treated God's natural world," he warned.