Book Review: Every Living Thing, General Editor: Christine Gutleben

 

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As we look across the Christian landscape within the United States there are many denominations with varying degrees of theology which guide their doctrine and practices. It is the hope of many to be able to work on an ecumenical level with our sisters and brothers in Christ. We do not always have the pleasure of doing so as we let our differing opinions get in the way of what is better for our communities.

The collaboration of Every Living Thing brings many denominational statements and beliefs around creation care into one convenient resource. While at times we tend to get into a theological war of words, it is nice to be able to see where our common beliefs align and build a foundation to reach out in common care for all of creation. While there definitely are apparent differences when we discuss the specifics, it does not mean that we end up mostly at the same conclusion.

The creation of Every Living Thing started as a collection of social statements online by the Humane Society of the United States Faith Outreach program in collaboration with Antonia Gorman, Ph.D. This project morphed into the current edition of Every Living Thing, which is very well annotated and gives detailed notes so that the reader can do further research if she so chooses. Gorman states in his history of the creation of the book, “As you will see when you read further, religious values have much to say about our engagement with animals and our obligation to treat all God’s creatures with kindness, compassion and mercy.”

Thirteen of the largest denominations in the United States are included within the collaboration, from Evangelicals, Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, and many more. The denominations themselves put a lot of work into the creation of their social statements and all have reference to biblical exegesis as they cite many of the same verses in support of the care for creation. The social statements of each of the denominations included most likely went through vast screening processes and many versions before they were accepted by the denomination as a teaching to be upheld by the greater church body.

It is hard to argue against the fact that the care of animals is of great importance and that as a creation of God we must ensure their protection within creation. Not too many people go around stating that we must exterminate all of the animals of the world. The argument does come to light as we look at practices of farming and hunting. While some denominations, such as the Seventh Day Adventist, call for care of all creation and a meat free diet, others see that we are able to responsibly care for creation while also letting it provide for our needs. These arguments are both contemporary and historical.

One of the blessings of Every Living Thing is that it looks at the social statements of each denomination closely, gleaning from them where care of animals and creation are relevant. At times this can seem redundant as the authors give a summary of the social statements, and then the social statement itself is presented. This at times can seem monotonous and unnecessary. As stated earlier, the statements reference many of the same Bible verses as they present their justification for caring for all of God’s animals. The social statements are then followed up by historical references that may have represented the denomination in earlier years, from early 20th century to pre-medieval time depending upon the denomination.

As we look at the historical, it is hard to look past some of the saints of the early church. Especially St. Francis as he is known as the Patron Saint of Animals and Ecology. Of course he is discussed within the Roman Catholic history in his regard to being able to speak with the animals and truly caring for them. Many other of the Mainline Protestant Denominations celebrate St. Francis as well in their care of creation and blessing of the animals services on or around St. Francis’s feast day.

Each denomination is concluded with Contemporary Reflections that highlight some of the current practices of the churches presented and some examples from other sources within the denomination. These are the most current reflections on the place of animals within the world order as the denomination views it. These contemporary reflections give some insight to some of the leading scholars within each denomination.

A bonus to this collection is the Appendices which reflect on some other historical figures that reflect a positive promotion for the care of creation within our world. C.S. Lewis, Hannah More, and William Wilberforce all promoted the care for animals in their own way. Their gifts that they have left for us can still have an affect on how we care for creation today. Lewis, among the most notable names, was an ardent lover of animals as is evident in his books, especially the Chronicles of Narnia series.

Perhaps if all of creation were to step forward in the manner of love that St. Francis had for creation or the magnanimous care that C.S. Lewis had for all then this book would not be necessary, as well as the social statements contained within its covers. As humanity was given dominion over all of God’s creation, we must remember that that dominion does not mean domination. The dominion presented to us must be reflected back in love and care for all of God’s creation and Every Living Thing does a wonderful job in presenting its argument for the care of all.

*Reviewed for The Englewood Review of Books

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