Consider the Animals
by Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper
We started hearing the statistics of the devastation: 6000 acres, 1100 homes, and 2 human deaths. There was always a vague acknowledgment of the numerous deaths of wildlife, pets, and animals. And yet, as we heard the specific statistics concerning land, houses, and human casualties, there was nothing but a generalized mention of the numbers of pets and wildlife lost. I wondered aloud why don't we count the animals? Is it too hard? Do we think, oh well, they are only animals? Do their lives not matter?
It's not a surprise because for decades, people of faith discussed climate change and environmental justice, but we often didn’t make the connection to the animals that share this planet with us. We don’t realize that God calls us to make a difference. Animals matter to us, and we are responsible for protecting species and providing them with conditions that bring forth their best living intentions.
As a person who for decades has been an animal advocate, a spokesperson for the endangered species act, and who built a business on what we can learn from animals, I often receive the same response. Well, isn't that cute? You have a tender heart for animals. My reaction is not as cute. Demonstrated throughout scripture, we are called to protect the earth's species and challenged to consider our relationship with them as teachers and colleagues, not just objects that we exploit.
We are quick to focus on water, air, earth, trees, pollution, natural disasters, and the impact of climate change on humans. We often leave out another considerable component of our ecosystem and this earth. The animals. Those characters of the creation story were birthed on this earth before humans took their first breath. Those that:
~Creator God used the same matter to create us from that they were already created.
~Loving God entrusted Adam and Eve to name, thus seeing, recognizing, and understanding they are a part of this beloved community.
~Covenanting God commanded Noah to provide for the survival of the species.
~Inviting God shared with Job and us to consider the animals' healing wisdom and nature.
~Comical God used Balam's ass to vocalize human words of justice to confront harm and abuse and violence.
~Imaginative God chose to infuse the prophets with imagery from the animal world of what the beloved kin-dom would look like.
~That our beloved God, through Jesus, loved, illustrated, and engaged throughout his ministry on earth.
As much as we can easily see the through-line in scripture that brings forth an invitation for love, there is a through-line that says we are to care for this creation, which includes her creatures!
The animals are part of creation. We must grasp this reality. As a denomination, we are engaged in the Matthew 25 call that includes environmental justice. As an activist for environmental justice on many levels, I notice that there is a lightbulb moment when I speak to groups. Oh yes, we love animals, AND we are given a huge responsibility to support them in their existence, prevent exploitation and habitat destruction, recognize that pollution impacts them, and realize their survival is consequentially linked to our survival. So these days, as we have found such deep healing in being with our furry companions, learning from feathered friends in the air, and the finned creatures of the deep, consider this question. Might we expand our understanding of environmental justice to include their voices, to be their voices, in making a difference in this world? Might their lives matter and be counted in our awareness and in the practice of faithful stewardship?
Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper is the Gap Presbyter of Coastlands Presbytery (New Jersey). She is also a Certified Coach through the Hendricks Institute. Dee serves on the Presbytery Mission Agency Board and is the moderator for the Presbyterian Mental Health Network. Dee has her own business, Adventures for the Wild at Heart, where she connects people with animals in the wild or in rescue.