In my family, we own two dogs.
Having met them, let me explain one other thing about them before I get to the real reason for this blog post. If we calculate what it costs to keep them up, and observe the amount of medical care they receive annually, and add in the dollars that my family spends to care for them when we travel and they cannot join us, I think it is entirely safe to say this: compared to most people ever, they are better fed; they have better physical health; they are more often warm when it is cold and cool when it is nekked-hot in Arkansas than most people who have shuffled off this mortal coil. To say they are beloved members of our family is probably an overstatement, but not by much.
I break my hiatus to bring it up because something happened last week which, frankly, shouldn't surprise anyone but it did surprise me: a moral crisis was ginned up by the evangelical conscience-builders regarding the ethical treatment of animals. I actually "got into it" with my internet foil Karen Swallow Prior, and the amount of venom I received in return (not from her, but from others who follow her on twitter) was also not surprising but still surprised me. Maybe in spite of being 20lbs down I am out of fighting shape for the internet. That's probably a good thing, but that's also a digression.
To further my surprise about this, something else happened in parallel a few days later. Al Mohler weighed in with this:
This statement achieves a very important balance, stating that we have a responsibility to the creatures that God made for his glory. That we have a responsibility to animals, but the first responsibility we have is to understand that human beings are not mere animals. That there is a distinction between human beings and other creatures that is not merely of degree but of kind. We come to understand that that is rooted in the fact the human beings and human beings alone are made in God’s image. But we have also come to understand that the animals are not evolutionary accidents anymore than ourselves. And we come to understand that God the creator, takes delight in these animals and that he created them for his glory and he created them for his pleasure. But he also created them for our use and they are as Scripture says, given unto us, for that use including explicitly for food. But even as we understand there is this categorical distinction between the human being and other creatures. We also understand that as we are given the responsibilities of stewardship and dominion in Scripture, we are given a responsibility to prevent cruelty to animals.And it seems pretty hard to argue with that sort of semantic and theological fire power, yes? What probably ought to happen at this point is that I ought to simply rethink my own biases here whenever the words "animal rights" come up because Al Mohler is Al Mohler. Unfortunately for everyone, that is not what is happening, and here we are.
First, let me flash you back to 2009 when the Manhattan Declaration was originally proffered, and which Dr. Mohler signed. I offered this response to the whole affair, Dan offered his 18-point assessment, and ultimately R.C. Sproul (not due to our involvement, but on the same page) had a few things to add which are probably worth your time. At the root of it, the major failing of that document was that it made a big wind when it came to the clarity of the Gospel, and it was because it confused co-belligerence with Gospel partnership. That's one kind of error that these sorts of declarations make, but fortunately for the "Every Living Thing" crowd they are all (at least at first glance) Evangelicals, so the words they use are probably not entirely confusing words. They avoid the problem of confusing the Gospel by being on generally-evangelical soil for their declaration.
But as I read it, and I have my big dog at my right hand and my fluffy white dog on a throne above us all whimpering commands we must follow, I find myself facing another objection to such a thing: moral seriousness. I honestly don't want to make too much of this, but let's for a moment shake off the disorienting exhilaration of falling down the cliff over which Western Civlization has been pushed: by a long shot, "Every Living Thing" is an incidental white paper and "animal rights" (or if we are fair, "creation mandate" maybe is how they would say it) is the least of our problems.
In that world, signing a piece of paper that says sad puppies need love too seems a little small and short on sobriety (no matter how rhetorically and theologically gilded the language is) to be something the leaders of Christendom ought to be promoting. Especially, I will add, when most pets in America live better than mine, and my pets live better than most human beings who ever lived.
You know what? Nevermind. I'm supposed to be on hiatus. The people who don't get tired of telling you what's best next and don't go on hiatus have told you what they think is most important, and who am I to say they have lost their ever-lovin' minds if they think they can march out the weiner dogs of war against the moral zombie apocalypse we are facing today. They must know something I don't know.
"nekked-hot" is a term invented by by son when he was 2 or 3 after we moved to Arkansas. It is when it is so hot that he would rather be nekked than wear anything if he has to be outside. It does actually get this hot in Arkansas, but we have all grown out of succumbing to being "nekked-hot." I know you are greatly relieved.