the end of exclusion

The following article is excerpted from the forthcoming book Becoming a Jesus Person for Animals (Zondervan, 2016).

“‘Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” Luke 10:36-37

Do you notice in the parable of the Good Samaritan that the lawyer can’t bring himself to say “The Samaritan is the neighbor.” He instead refers to the merciful man as “the one.” That one. The one over there who is not like me. How we want to distance ourselves from the Other!  Today, cranky from delaying lunch for too long and driving from my office to my home, I found myself thinking “I’m the only decent driver in my neighborhood.” I really meant it at the time!

There are lots of ways we have conditioned ourselves to mark our special territory in the world, to show ourselves and others that we are set apart, different, special, better. And it’s not a long leap from my cranky, unfocused outburst to giving a neighbor the cold shoulder to a lynch mob. Given time, separation by degrees is as divisive as separation by yards.

man with dog begging
Photograph by Cylonphoto / iStock images

Jesus’ lawyer friend had a hard time acknowledging the goodness of the Samaritan because he had been conditioned by his society to see Samaritans as other, as less-than. Motivated by the same inclusive love that catalyzed Jesus’ followers to cross cultures in order to befriend and bring the good news to Gentile and Jew alike, Jesus makes the Samaritan underdog the hero of his tale.

On the heels of the devastating war in former Yugoslavia, Volf published Exclusion and Embrace to explore what it meant to be a Christian and to reconcile with the Other. In it Volf writes that “God’s reception of hostile humanity into divine communion is a model for how human beings should relate to the other.”[1]

Some Christians have rejected the notion of “animal rights” because secular advocates have argued for increases in animal protection and liberty on the premise that there are no meaningful differences between humans and animals. We now know that animals and humans alike possess the ability to feel pain, to use tools and language, to develop social systems and structures, to seek and grant justice, to empathize, play, love, and mourn. We do not know if animals have souls, though the Bible tells us that animals worship their creator and that the whole creation is part of the covenant community. We do know that God came to us in the form of a human who embraced those who were rejected and “otherized” so far out of the bounds of society that they weren’t considered human. God served the Other, sacrificed for the Other, loved the Other, without ever not being God. We don’t have to reject our humanity to show compassion to animals. Rather, by showing compassion, we are being the best version of humans that we can be.

Volf points out the danger of engaging in black-hole-humanity, in assimilating everything and everyone into our selves: “Vilify all boundaries, pronounce every discrete identity oppressive, put the tag “exclusion” on every stable difference—and you will have aimless drifting instead of clear-sighted agency, haphazard activity instead of moral engagement and accountability and, in the long run, a torpor of death instead of a dance of freedom.”[2] By embracing our identity as human and animal’s identity as animal, and our common identity as creatures of God, we better situate ourselves to act as servants to one another and to God, recognizing and acting on the image of God, the author and protector of creation, in ourselves.

[1] Volf, 100.

[2] Volf, 65.

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holistic vision of the human’s role in creation

adam and eve resized
Photograph by Jorisvo / iStock images

by Sarah Withrow King

This article is excerpted and adapted from the forthcoming Animals Are Not Ours (No, Really They’re Not), Cascade Books 2015.

Animals were not created for human ends, but for God’s. All of creation, from the tallest tree to the smallest insect, belongs to the Creator. In Shalom and the Community of Creation, Native American Christian theologian urges us to consider that, “Coming in last place [in the creation story] should give us all pause for creaturely humility. We should realize that everything created was not made primarily for human happiness. Obviously, creation was enjoyed prior to our arrival.” For centuries, we humans have placed ourselves at the center of the creation story. We remove ourselves from the symbiotic harmony of God’s creation. For many years, I intentionally alienated myself from the truth about where animal foods came from in order to avoid feeling guilty about eating them.

When we embrace God’s commands in Genesis, and if we keep these commands in mind as we consider the whole biblical narrative, we can begin to develop an alternate vision for the human’s role in creation that does not rely on hierarchy but still recognizes the imago Dei. Humans are not little gods on earth. We are created, as German theologian Jurgen Moltmann says, “to be his image,” a reality only fully realized in and through the person of Christ, our best understanding of being made in the image of God. And when we look at Jesus, we see mercy on a radical level. We see love and sacrifice. We see service.

Our dominion in creation is not one of paternalistic overseers (uncomfortably reminiscent of justifications for slavery), or even of siblings, but of servants. Christ calls us to love and to serve, and it is only through Christ that we are able to love and serve. But we do not love only our family, our friends. We do not love only our neighbors. We do not love only those who look like us, who share our political views, or who love us in return. Christ calls us to love our enemies. Christ calls us to love those we do not understand and do not appreciate. Christ calls us to love the leper. In our time, that must include the furry, the finned, and the feathered. Kristen Largen, Andrew Linzey, and a host of other theologians both in our day and in centuries past have pointed out that in loving and serving others throughout the whole of the created community, we love and serve Christ. What do you think? How can we best image God?