Summary: Dominion – authority – brings with it responsibility. Angelina Grimké, the American abolitionist once said, “Duty is ours and events are God’s.” God has given us dominion over this earth, yes, and with it comes the responsibility to act on God’s behalf.
Entrusted, Genesis 1:26
This summer many of us watched the story unfold of animal cruelty charges being raised against Atlanta Falcons football player, Michael Vick.
The 19-page federal indictment, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, alleges the 27-year-old Vick and his co-defendants began the dog fighting operation in early 2001, the former Virginia Tech star’s rookie year with the Falcons.
Vicks and the others are accused of “knowingly sponsoring and exhibiting an animal fighting venture” and conducting a business enterprise involving gambling, as well as buying, transporting and receiving dogs for the purposes of an animal fighting venture.
(Modified From the Liberty Journal, Nov. 2007, by Dr. Swallow Prior)
The spotlight shone by the Michael Vick case on the issue of dog fighting and other forms of animal abuse has confused many Christians, leaving them to wonder where to place this barbarism on the scale of evils plaguing society today.
But our Christian ancestors in the reform movements of 18th- and 19th-century England would not have been so baffled, for even in the midst of their fight against slavery and other ills, they viewed animal cruelty as one of the most important moral issues of their day.
By fighting barbarism in all its forms, these Christians sought to cultivate universal benevolence throughout all of society. Benevolence toward even the lower creatures has been, in fact, a feature of the Christian resurgence movement from its beginnings.
John Wesley, noted in his “Compendium of Natural Philosophy” that animals “that want the help of man have a thousand engaging ways, which, like the voice of God speaking to his heart, command him to preserve and cherish them.”
William Cowper, co-author with John Newton of the “Olney Hymns,” linked love of man and love of animals in his 1785 poem “The Task,” declaring that he would not count among his friends “the man who needlessly sets foot upon a worm.”
Sarah Trimmer, a founder of the Sunday school movement in the 18th century, put animal welfare at the forefront of her program for moral education. And in the 19th century, the same parliamentarian who tirelessly spearheaded the anti-slavery crusade, William Wilberforce, also led the campaign against animal cruelty.
Indeed the group of believers of which Wilberforce formed a part, known as the Clapham Evangelicals, were not only staunch abolitionists but also helped enact England’s first animal welfare laws.
Wilberforce himself was part of an 1824 coffeehouse gathering that resulted in the formation of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He and several Christian clergymen superintended the publication of sermons and tracts designed to turn a hostile public toward support of animal welfare laws.
From its beginnings, then, the animal welfare movement was led by moral, Christian reformers who understood the link between one form of barbarism and another. Therefore, conservative, compassionate, Christians might be heartened by the widespread outrage against Michael Vick’s cruelty.