It seems like clockwork, every time I talk to an atheist animal advocate, they tell me they know in their heart that the way of love and mercy is the way of truth. And they are absolutely correct! But then they look at the Christians of the world and instead of us taking the lead in matters of love and mercy, we are trying to sell them on a false idea that God is a merciless God who creates animals capable of suffering and then shows no love for them and who even tells us to be merciless tyrants over them! There is no wonder why so many are turned away from the church. And it is not just because they have other issues going on. It’s that they know that the way of mercy is the way of Truth (and Jesus declares this in John 14:6), just as we know Jesus is the way and the truth.
As ambassadors of Christ, I believe the burden should be on us to conform ourselves into the image of mercy that they know is real (and that we know is real too!) and that they fail to find in the world. Are we not called to be the shepherds of this world? If we are called to guide people to God, we can’t allow ourselves to be blind to the mercy of God when it comes to animals. As Jesus said, if the guides are blind, they will only lead into a ditch (Luke 6:39). If the atheist is arguing on the side of love and compassion and the Christian is living and arguing from the opposite side, how in the world is the Christian going to communicate the love of God to the atheist?
I stopped eating meat nearly fifteen years ago, shortly after I became baptized as a believer, and I have since talked to literally thousands of animal advocates and nearly every one of them has turned to atheism or some other form of new age spirituality as a direct result of the church’s refusal to be concerned with the suffering it inflicts on animals. I hear over and over again from people who grew up in the church and then fell away, saying that if we serve a merciful God whose essence is love, then why do we not extend that love to animals? My only response is that we absolutely should and that we are falling short! We are causing people to fall away from the faith because we use scripture to justify our acts of cruelty toward animals. We would do better to follow the advice Paul suggested when he says, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall” (Romans 14:21).
For a more detailed explanation of how lack of concern for animals works against the gospel message, read Permission and Going the Extra Mile.