LET MY PEOPLE GO :Claiming the Bible for the Animals
By Revd Christa Blanke
Published by Animals’ Angels Press
From the outset Christa Blanke makes it plain that this is not a theological survey of what the Bible says about animals and their rights (there are other books on this, for example Andrew Linzey and Dan Cohn-Sherbok, After Noah. Animals and the Liberation of Theology,1997)), but rather it is a forthright attempt to show how the implications of justice issues in the Bible, notably in the story of the Exodus and in the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, might be extended as a freedom manifesto to embrace all Creation. As such it timingly echoes Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s recent endorsement for the Global Guide to Animal Protection that ‘we do not honour God by abusing other sentient creatures’. If I have any criticism it is that the author might have added that much of the specific abuse of animals she details is in fact strictly contrary to several compassionate provisions detailed in Biblical texts, notably Exodus and Deuteronomy. These enjoin humane treatment of domestic animals by ensuring they are adequately fed and watered and demand that the owner let them enjoy a Sabbath rest.
Christa Blanke’s focus is the work of Animals’ Angels which exposes the gross cruelties which human beings, motivated by greed, are still inflicting on countless animals sold for slaughter both in the marketplace and when they are then transported over long distances to a terrible fate in often unsupervised slaughterhouses. They try to provide a loving presence alongside the animals on their final journey and where possible to ameliorate their lot and this little book sets what is happening now against Biblical texts which proclaim God’s love and express a yearning for the freedom of creation. Each section ends with a prayerful, poetic reflection. While the writing is gentle, compassionate and often very lyrical, I found this quite a difficult and, indeed, tearful read because of the appalling suffering witnessed on a daily basis by Christa and her fellow workers.
Like some of the psalms, the book is shot through with a pious questioning of God, rooted in prayer (see p.36). Why is such terrible large scale suffering allowed to happen? This is a question which of course exercises all of us, of ten in relation to abuses against human beings such as the Nazi Holocaust. Like her, I think one simply has to trust in the loving purposes of God, and like the late Rabbi Hugo Gryn answer the question ‘where was God?’ with another question 'where was Man[kind]?' Christa Blanke fearlessly tackles the evil our species does while persisting in the faith that God loves all his creatures, that ‘He himself is with them, in slavery and during the mass killing.’ Although ‘humans can kill and eat non-human animals… they will never succeed in killing God’s love for His children.’(p.54).
The extended message of what should be seen as a powerful manifesto for animals is that Christians should go much further than simply ensuring half adequate welfare standards for them on the way to slaughter. Killing and eating animals is ultimately an offense against the love enjoined on us by Christ, an offense the freedom which all creation is destined to share. Moreover it is one aspect of the way in which we are destroying the earth and its delicate ecosystems (see p.67-8), though rather more might have been made of the fact that the clearance of tracts of forest in order to facilitate meat-production is one of the major factors in environmental degradation and species extinction. The Anglican church, indeed the church as a whole, has been silent for far too long in condemning the callous way in which our fellow creatures are reared in industrial squalor and slaughtered as commodity in their millions.
I am strongly recommending this book to my congregation for Lent reading this year, for its stark exposure of suffering in this world, for its helpful meditations and prayers, and finally for its Easter vision of a brighter future for us humans together with the other animals in the light of Christ.