Carlos L. Malavé, Executive Director of Christian Churches Together, works to enable churches and national Christian organizations to grow closer together in Christ in order to strengthen their Christian witness in the world.
Carlos speaks to Sarx about the treatment of animals in today’s society, human dominion and role of the church in caring for Creation.
What would Christ make of the way we treat animals in today’s society?
In Mathew 11:29, Jesus reveals the essence of His character. He said, “I am gentle and humble in heart”. The soul and heart of Jesus is characterized by his gentleness. The purpose of his coming to earth was so that “all may have life” (John 10:10). This verse obviously refers to human life, but when we understand the statement in the context of Jesus’ redeeming purposes for the whole of creation, then it is not difficult to apply the statement to all manifestations of life. Jesus came to earth to begin a process of destroying death and restoring the fullness of life.
For these reasons I believe it is logical to conclude that in Jesus we witness the formulation of the ideal humanity. This ideal humanity, in its personal interactions and in their interaction with creation, the destruction of life is not acceptable.
Jesus’ heart feels and aches for the suffering of all of creation. As followers of Jesus we must reflect and live by the intentions and principles that flows out of His character.
How would you interpret the human call to exercise dominion in the 21st century?
Scripture tells us in Psalms 19:1, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky displays what his hands have made.” The earth does not belong to us. We play a small role in the complexity of creation. Because of our capacity to understand how the world functions, we are capable of exerting control over it. As Christians we believe this is not by accident or an arbitrary act of nature. The Creator has assigned to us the responsibility to protect, care and restore creation; as well as to enjoy.
We have the capacity to destroy or to restore God’s creation. We are earth keepers; this involves extending the justice, peace, reconciliation, hope, and love of Christ to all creation.
God has shared with humans His authority over creation. Since this authority is derived from God, it must be exercised in accordance with God’s principles and purposes. We now know that the Hebrew word for dominion does not mean “to dominate” or “to exploit.” Rather, it means, “to take responsibility for,” as a ruler would be responsible to assure the well being of those in the realm. God wishes for all species, not simply human beings, to survive and to thrive.
Why should animal suffering matter to individual Christians today?
I believe the way we treat animals in our society today is in direct correlation to the levels of violence we see at all spheres of society. Because of our constant exposure to violence through out the media we have been desensitized to the inflicting of pain. Violence is something we consider as entertainment today. In general, we are in a downward spiral when it comes to our understanding of the sanctity life; both animal and human. This tendency to enjoy watching the suffering of others (including animals) goes right against the spirit of Jesus and the teachings of the gospel.
At the core of the Christian message is the hope of the restoration of creation. The most basic problem in creation is death. Death happens by a natural process (although foreign to God initial intentions), or by violent means. We can’t do anything about the natural process, but we must do anything necessary to avoid the inflicting of pain and death by acts of violence. The Creator calls us to be partners in His process of redeeming and restoring the earth to its original purity. The scriptures tell us, “For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Rom. 8:22
What prompted you to adopt a more peaceable diet and what personal benefits have you found from it?
My transition to vegetarianism occurred in 2005 when I began to develop a new understanding on the sanctity of life, including the sanctity of animal life. One thing that I have learn when I began to study the Scriptures was that the original diet given to humans by their Creator was a vegetarian one. It was because of the effects of sin in the world that God allowed humans to eat animals, although with certain restrictions.
I do not believe that people who eat animals are worse or more sinful than those who don’t. But at the same time, I believe that inflicting violence and killing any living creature is a violation of God’s original design. I believe there are clear connections between violence against animals (and humans) and our journey towards a peaceful existence and eternal life.
I don’t think I can measure the physical benefits of a vegetarian diet. Even though that may be possible through longitudinal medical studies. My primary concern is the well being of my soul. Practicing a vegetarian life style allows me (and also challenges me) to make a conscious decision in favour of life every day. I have the choice, the freedom, to consume meat from animals that have been deprived of their life. I choose everyday not to do so. The outcome of that daily conscious decision is a deeper commitment to defend and protect life in all its manifestations. Vegetarianism helps me to develop an increasingly stronger sense of respect for life.
Do you perceive a link between the disregarding of the needs of the poor and the disregarding of suffering creation?
We are not only violating the natural state of the Earth but also violating moral and ethical principles by the way we are mistreating and abusing animals. As someone who is actively involved in eradicating hunger and poverty, I could have the opinion or excuse and say that there are issues more important than how we treat animals. But I see a direct correlation between how we disregard animals and the earth, and how we disregard the plight of the poor and the hungry. The same profound respect for God’s gift of life will inform the way we treat humans, but also the rest of creation. Another negative effect of animal consumption and the industrialization of farming is the dependence on cheap labor, which is one of the primary causes of poverty today.
In the present condition of our society everything is commoditized. In our globalized capitalist economies we witness this downward spiral towards the use of the poor for the egotistic servitude of the powerful. I must confess my participation in these sinful systems.
How might churches of different traditions unite and present a uniquely Christian contribution to the matter of animal welfare?
I think we can help different streams of the church look at this, from each of their vantage places. We can help disciples of Christ from all denominations understand the concept of the sanctity of all life, which should include all of God’s creatures. At the same time, we can continue to advocate for more responsible farming practices. I believe that the increasing understanding of the church on our responsibility towards the care and well-being of the earth will continue to make progress. My hope is that the newer generations will continue to develop a better understanding of these issues and their relation to ethics and also spirituality.