Matthew Stemp writes about the Sarx Creature Conference
(See links to other reports at end)
The Sarx Creature Conference was advertised as a ‘ground-breaking’ event to help Christians engage theologically and practically with question of how a life of faith relates to the lives of animals. The Conference more than lived up to expectations. A wide variety of church leaders, activists and theologians from diverse backgrounds presented and led workshops with a unified message: Christianity is Good News for Animals!
Each speaker offered themselves as a persuasive witness. For me, three particularly stood out. On the more practical side, Bishop Dominic Walker offered up a vision of what an animal-friendly church can look like. This was a beautiful vision of animals as valuable members of the congregation: God’s creatures who should be offered hospitality (a fresh bowl of water to drink; a safe meadow in the churchyard); fellow worshippers who should be welcomed into the church building to praise God in their own unique ways; and companions whose human friends should be offered bereavement care when they die.
Ruth Valerio, Global Advocacy and Influencing Director at Tearfund and author of the recent book ‘Just Living’, offered her own story as a bridge between the practical and the theological. She told her journey of becoming a vegetarian, having previously led a community project for rearing pigs and growing organic food. At the heart of her testimony was an understanding of the Incarnation, in which God did not merely become ‘man’ (a feminist insight), nor merely ‘human’, but flesh (the meaning of the Greek word ‘sarx’). Christ came to identify with humans, animals, and all of Creation: ‘For God so loved the world…’
Theologian David Clough, whose work inspired the organisers of the conference, made the case that animals belong at the centre of our understanding of the Gospel. He focussed particularly on the food industry’s treatment of farm animals as a point of immediate connection and challenge for what it means to be a Christian. In the afternoon, he led a workshop presenting a new six-week course called ‘CreatureKind’ designed to help churches talk about animals in relation to their faith. Beginning with a simple vegan meal, each week gives participants an opportunity to discover biblical and theological perspectives and discuss putting Christian belief into practice. (For more information on this exciting resource go to becreaturekind.org and sign up to gain free access to all of the course materials.)
From a Green perspective, it was a slight shame that the conference did not take the opportunity to discuss the impact of fossil fuel extraction and consumption on the habitats of animals among many of the other ecological threats to biodiversity. Nevertheless, there was still plenty for the environmentally-minded Christian. For example, the conference ended with a panel discussion, led brilliantly by Steve Chalke, who pushed the presenters on their views of natural predation (will the lion really lie down with the lamb?) and the ethics of eating meat and other animal produce. This discussion coincided perfectly with the real highlight of the conference: the delicious vegan lunch and snacks! Throughout the conference I found myself personally challenged about my views on veganism as a “sacrificial” lifestyle – when in fact it can be seen as a way for (Green) Christians to receive life in abundance, eating and drinking to the glory of God in harmony with God’s glorious creation.
The conference organisers should be congratulated on a truly ground-breaking event. Green Christian should certainly seek to support the next Sarx conference as part of our mission to help Christians live gently upon the earth alongside all of God’s creatures.