This Earth Day Sunday, Animals Are on the Agenda

As this Earth Day Sunday approaches, it's hard to overlook a number of campaigns encouraging the faithful to go beyond just recycling old church bulletins. These campaigns are reflective of a growing movement, one in which the faithful are seeking ways to draw upon religious convictions to embrace a calling to protect not only the planet, but also all creatures who share it. The timing couldn't be more apt. As the world prepares to implement the Paris Climate Agreement and a new Sustainable Development Agenda, the message is becoming clear--environmental protection and animal protection can never be treated as two different concepts.

It's not too late to engage. Here are just a few faith-oriented initiatives that offer ways to protect other living creatures on this Earth Day Sunday, and beyond.

Caring for All God's Creatures

For each Earth Day, Creation Justice Ministries selects an environmental theme and highlights ways that individuals and congregations can celebrate and protect God's Creation. This year's theme, Care for God's Creatures, reminds the Christian community of its interconnectedness with and responsibilities toward other living beings. The organization is offering a number of resources including hymns, sample sermons and numerous practical action steps for those wishing to protect animals as a demonstration of their faith.

As Executive Director, Shantha Ready Alonso, explained in describing the inspiration for the program,

Last summer, Stanford released research proving that earth is experiencing a mass extinction right now: 1 in 5 species are threatened. We felt urgency to lift up that we have a moral responsibility to care for all God's creatures, and that we are interdependent with them. Ecclesiastes 3:19 says that the fate of the animals and the fate of humans are intertwined and we both share the same breath. We know not what we do when we allow species to disappear from the earth forever. Let us not undo God's handiwork.

Connecting Faith, Food, and Animal Protection

I was recently very excited to be welcomed to join a packed room with enthusiastic people in their 20s, 30s, and beyond at Sixth and I Historic synagogue in Washington, DC. The group, named Cheesed and Hummus: A Veg Collective, was hosting its first meeting to explore the connections between Judaism and plant-based eating as a way to be compassionate toward the earth, the animals, and ourselves. I was one of a small handful of curious Catholics in the room, but the context nevertheless seemed familiar. Increasingly, people of all faith traditions are connecting their food choices to social justice concerns, including environmental and animal protection.

For those practicing Judaism, a unique opportunity avails itself this Earth Day, which coincides with the Jewish holiday of Passover. An increasing number of people are becoming aware of the animal welfare and environmental concerns connected to factory farming. Yet, many traditional recipes for celebrating the holiday are animal-based. Fortunately, there are a number of resources for people wishing to help animals and the environment with one's fork while also celebrating sacred traditions. From Jewish Initiative for Animals #liberateyourplate campaign, to Jewish Veg's Plant-Based Passover resources, there are a number of options for those wishing to act in one of the simplest yet most impactful ways-- eating in a way that is more conscious, compassionate, and sustainable.

Something for Everyone

For many years, The Humane Society of the United States Faith Outreach program has been one of my favorite go to places for a number of helpful faith-based print and media resources, including the Humane Backyards project, which encourages congregations to enhance outdoor spaces in nature to shelter and feed native animals. It is one of many projects the program offers to connect faith values with a wide range of animal protection issues from wildlife to farm animal protection. One of the best parts -- ordinary lay people use these resources at church tabling events, Farmer's Markets, discussion groups, film screenings and more.

The case for caring for animals is a deeply rooted but often overlooked aspect of many faith traditions. Fortunately, the ways to start discussions and integrate concern for animals and the earth in worship spaces are only limited by the imagination.