Should progressives who advocate animal rights consider abortion wrong? Should conservatives accept animal rights as a pro-life concern? Creation, pro-life, environment, and animals are words that are not typically combined by either moral traditionalists or vegans. However, issues related to creation, the environment, and vegetarianism are more closely aligned biblically and practically than you may think. While I do not believe animals are owed the same moral concern as humans, Christians who are earnest about being pro-life should take the plight of animals more seriously. Likewise, vegans and vegetarians who are concerned about violence toward animals should be more receptive to the pro-life defense of human life.
I am a pro-life vegan for reasons that are not considered traditionally ethical. Having studied the Old Testament Tabernacle, its parallels to creation, and how its theology trends toward life, I draw my values from Judeo-Christian thought. The whole Tabernacle system is about symbolically keeping God’s presence separated from any associations with death. God represents life, and all life is considered sacred creation, which helps define animals’ relationship to humanity. In his commentary on Leviticus, Jacob Milgrom points out that its laws on clean and unclean animals rests on a system of reverence for life (Leviticus 1–16, p. 718–736). This ethic of respect for life places my pro-life concerns within a framework of creation theology. I find this position very compelling, as it provides common moral ground for addressing many of life’s issues.
That some wrest a pro-life ethic into an authoritarian morality focused on proselytizing a fundamentalist posture or agenda should not be cause to dismiss the sanctity of life. What we need is a consistent and compassionate theology for life across the board. My ethic of life must include not only my health and wellbeing but also those of others, which extends to all of creation. I can’t reduce my moral sympathy to encompass only the unborn while ignoring issues about human rights, poverty, animals, and the environment. I am opposed to abortion. I realize that in a broken world, moral decisions are not always black and white. There are times when choices for life must be made within shades of gray, but to deliberately hurt a unborn child is wrong. While I oppose the proliferation of guns without safety precautions, I recognize that responsible gun ownership can reduce tragic deaths. While I oppose aggressive militarization and the terror of mass weaponry, I recognize that military power sometimes protects the defenseless against aggression. The problem we face today is that death is not rare but proliferating. Things like abortion, cruelty, violence, greed, oppression, poverty, racism, slavery, torture, killing and warfare, all characterize this present age of suffering and death. We have grown callous and selfish in our death-dealing ways. God’s desire, however, is that holiness will swallow up death forever (Isaiah 25:8).
Politics aside, followers of Jesus are called to be first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God; therefore, our first allegiance is to the kingdom. Our values should not be defined by secular politics. Only one set of values is our concern—the ethics of life and love. We are called to be agents of new creation, not of death and degradation. If I worship God, I must respect His creation. The call to respect His creation is a reminder that we live in an interconnected world, where life is precious and will prevail through good choices to love the whole of God’s creation. Aborting millions of unborn humans rightfully raises serious ethical concerns. In addition to opposing the killing of the unborn, I oppose gratuitous violence against nonhuman creation. My pro-life position also includes caring for the earth, rejecting racism, ending violence, opposing unjust wars, and abolishing extreme and harsh punishment. Creation theology helps us understand what a truly pro-life ethic is—a theology that trends toward life and is not hostile to accepting both human and nonhuman creation into the circle of moral sympathy.
My pro-life stance envisions healthful living, which incorporates health supplements, and medical care. Affordable and adequate health care are part of this conversation, but a pro-life perspective frames heath care as more than a mere commodity. The focus of health care is to prevent and reverse disease. The human body is the apex of God’s creation and requires special care. People without access to good and wholistic health care are more prone to illness and death. Neglecting to care for the sick is not an acceptable pro-life choice.
Vegetarianism, ethical eating in its noblest form, is an expression of compassion for life. Beyond integrating the creation mandate, it sustains life by ensuring that enough nutritious food is produced to feed everyone on the planet. One need not be a vegan to recognize the ethic of reducing suffering and death wherever possible, yet our diet choices should also be made with reverence and respect for life. Eating unhealthily brings one closer to death. Eating healthy and making nutritious food more accessible will help prevent childhood diet-related chronic diseases. This connection is not made by many Christians who espouse the pro-life position.
A pro-life ethic influences not only how we relate to others but also how we care for the rest of creation. I agree with Wendell Berry, who argues that our fate is “mingled in the fate of the world” (Farming: A Hand Book, 2011, p. 18). Christians with a high view of nature should show concern for the earth and be the most careful people in the world. Polluted air and contaminated water is also harmful to mothers and their babies. Cleaning the air we breathe and the water we drink and healing the soil to prevent further damage ensure a safe and healthy environment. Author and poet T.S. Elliot has wisely pointed out that, “a wrong attitude toward nature implies, somewhere a wrong attitude toward God, and that the consequence is an inevitable doom” (Christianity and Culture, 2014, p. 49).
Alcohol and Drug Abuse
A high-quality life includes temperance. Opposing alcohol and drug abuse is pro-life. Alcohol and illicit drugs are chemicals that not only kill fetuses but also result in the injury and death of others, destroying families in the process.
Capital punishment and incarceration too often afflict the innocent. We need a way to control violent behavior and reduce crime that is neither arbitrarily nor overly punitive. Law and order are necessary in the prevention of tyranny and injustice, but while a pro-life outlook should include court action and penalties that convey the wrongness of crime, it should use law educationally to repair and rehabilitate offenders.
Unchecked Proliferation of Guns
I advocate nonviolence and believe in the power of love, but I am not a pacifist. I believe that an ethic of life sometimes requires nonarbitrary resistance to protect women, children and families. However, a pro-life ethic never intends to arbitrarily harm others but only to restrain evil for the sake of all. Our pro-life obligations require us to protect our families by restraining perpetrators to prevent harm. Defending for the right reasons, not from hostility, means advocating reasonable and lawful gun safety measures to protect children from violence.
Military and Mass Warfare
A good military is necessary to protect defenseless groups from aggression, but the desire to destroy can cripple people for decades or more, leaving children deformed or with other health issues. This is regrettable and not pro-life. As J.R.R. Tolkien argues, “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend” (The Two Towers, 1954, p. 314).
A pro-life ethic is against racism and any violence that targets any lives, of whatever race, color or ethnicity, including the disadvantaged and marginalized.
A pro-life ethic will “defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8–9). The drive for economic stability and surplus must be tempered by God’s command for charity. Fighting poverty and seeking sustainability and financial freedom create better circumstances for sustaining the choice for life.
A pro-life tendency does not abuse or diminish the life and reputation of another. Christian psychologist Scott Peck elaborates.
Evil is that which kills spirit. There are various essential attributes of life—particularly human life—such as sentience, mobility, awareness, growth, autonomy, will. It is possible to kill or to attempt to kill one of these attributes without actually destroying the body. Thus we may “break” a horse or even a child without harming a hair on its headPeople of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, 1985, p. 42
Peck sees such evil as seeking to kill life or liveliness, while “goodness is that which promotes life and liveliness” (People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil, 1985, p. 43).
Promiscuous activities, which lack loving ties, and fathers who are unwilling to responsibly care for their children are not pro-life. If we are pro-life, we can’t allow women to be treated as consumable objects. Women need respect, support, guidance, and concern for their feelings and struggles as well as for young men to be responsible for their actions. We should never judge others for their choices but rather advocate love and good outcomes. An authoritarian approach can make people afraid to deal with problems, prompting them instead to hide or evade them. If we are not helping people to develop better relationships by opening our hearts, homes, and churches to women and children, we are not truly pro-life.
Christians who consider themselves pro-life must understand that animals are proper objects of moral concern. How we treat animals influences how we treat other forms of life. The Old Testament instructs us not to consume the blood of an animal, reminding us that taking life is serious and equating the carelessness of such an act with murder (Leviticus 17:3-4, 14). As Sandra Richer argues, “Surely if God is offended by boiling a kid in its mother’s milk (Deut. 14:21), we should be concerned that dead sows are routinely ground up and fed to their offspring” (Stewards of Eden, 2020, p. 37). Animal rights activists have a valid point, “for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals” (Immanuel Kant, Lectures on Ethics, 1980, p. 240).
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it demonstrates that to have a posture toward revering all life is to have a posture toward God. As followers of Jesus, we can be pro-life throughout the processes of coming into the world, living in the world, and leaving the world—from the womb to the tomb. This pro-life ethic offers more common moral ground across various people’s concerns than most realize.
Craig Ashton Jr.