“Who Is My Neighbour?” – Lois Godfrey Wye

Animal advocate and environmental lawyer Lois Godfrey Wye speaks to Sarx about discovering the true meaning of dominion and humanity’s call to reflect Christ’s love to all its neighbours within Creation.

I had been a Christian and an animal lover for many years before I ever saw a connection between the two.  That all began to change one day, not long after I had become active with a local animal shelter, when I read about an animal blessing service.  I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if the church included animals who really need a blessing – the blessing of a loving home?”  I contacted the local Episcopal cathedral and the animal shelter, and arranged to have adoptable animals at the next blessing of the animals service, a tradition that has continued for more than a decade now.  Making that connection got me started seeing new connections between animals and Christian teaching everywhere I looked.

Lois and Animal CompanionAnd I looked a lot.  About the same time, I entered seminary to purse a masters degree in theological studies.  With my eyes newly opened, I began to see lessons about animals in every class.  As I studied the story of David and Bathsheba, involving David’s abuse of power and its consequences for David, his family, and his kingdom, I saw lessons about human abuse of power over the animals and the consequences of that cruelty for individuals, communities, and the planet.  As I studied Catherine Mowry Lacugna’s vision of the Trinity as God reaching out to His creation (God For Us), I began to realize that vision must include God reaching out to the animals as well as to humans, which has specific ethical implications for how humans are to live.  As I studied the Gospel of Luke and read of the lawyer asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbour?”, I knew my neighbour included all those who are suffering, including the animals.  And as I studied the creation stories and came to understand that our creation in God’s image is a calling to reflect God’s character into the world, it became clear that our “dominion” over the animals is a calling to care for them as God would.

At the same time, I began to learn more about the nature of animals, how they think, what emotions they feel, and how they experience the world.  I learned that all animals, not just the dogs and cats I had loved for so long, are each unique individuals capable of happiness and sorrow, contentment and despair.  As I put all that information into the context of factory farms, animals used in experiments, animals in entertainment, and other venues in which animals are manipulated for a perceived human benefit, I came to understand that the structures we all unwittingly support are not consistent with Christian teaching.  It has been my prayer ever since that I might be a voice in our faith communities for our fellow creatures.  I believe that the same gospel that requires us to help the dispossessed and to speak for the voiceless also requires us to treat all the animals we encounter – directly and indirectly – with mercy and compassion.  I believe that every step we take in that direction is a step toward living more fully into the image of the loving and merciful God who created us.

Lois Godfrey Wye is an animal advocate, a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary, and an environmental lawyer.  She serves on the Board of Directors for the Washington Animal Rescue League and blogs at Dominion In The Image Of God, www.dominionintheimage.com.  She lives and works in Washington, D.C.