WASHINGTON (BP)–All living things deserve respect, but human beings are uniquely valuable in God’s creation, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said at a recent conference on evangelicals and the environment.
The president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission spoke on a theological view of environmental stewardship as part of the Nov. 14 event sponsored by the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a Washington-based organization that seeks to bring social and public policy reformation to primarily the mainline Protestant denominations. The conference was titled “God is Great. God is Green?”
God made “human beings first in the created order” and gave them “primacy” in His creation, Land said in a paper he wrote prior to the conference and presented to those in attendance. As “creation’s owner,” God “gave human beings dominion” over creation and directed them “to subdue it,” Land said, citing Genesis 1:26-28. God also instructed the first man to “dress and to keep” the garden in Eden, he said, referring to Genesis 2:15.
“[W]hile God clearly grants preeminence to human beings in His creation and human life demands reverence as created in His image,” Land said in his paper, citing Genesis 1:26, “all life deserves respect.
“We have the right to use animals and plants for human good,” he said in his paper. “We do not have the right to disregard living things or to treat them as inanimate objects.
“We have the right to use, as painlessly as possible, animals in research to better human health,” Land said. “We do not have the right to abuse animals or to cause them discomfort merely to develop new cosmetics.”
Steven Bouma-Prediger, religion professor at Hope College in Holland, Mich., and an author on caring for creation, replied to Land’s paper with a written response he also presented at the conference. He said he agreed with most of Land’s paper, but he asked a series of questions about some of its assertions.
He asked Land what he meant by referring to human beings as first and having primacy.
“Yes, we are vice-regents … made in God’s image, but we are also dust of the earth …,” Bouma-Prediger said in his written response. “Yes, we are called to exercise dominion, but we are also called to serve and protect.”
In his spoken response to Bouma-Prediger, Land said by describing human beings as first he means they are “distinct and unique in value. Human beings are part of the creation, but God says that only human beings are made in His image. .. I mean that human beings are more valuable. They are unique in value. While we’re part of the creation, the differences between human beings and the rest of creation are differences of kind, not degree. We’re not just the most cerebrally sophisticated mammals. We are different in kind.”
Bouma-Prediger also asked Land what he meant by saying “all life deserves respect.”
“So does that imply that Christians should not eat veal, or purchase chicken that comes from [factory farms]?” he asked. “So is it permissible for Christians to use monkeys in cancer research? How about rats in the search for a cure for Alzheimer’s? Is it permissible to use rabbits to develop a new eyeliner?”
Land replied, pointing to Genesis 9, “God made a covenant with everything. So we don’t have a right to treat anything as if it were an inanimate object. I don’t eat veal. I quit eating veal, because I don’t think human beings have a right to treat baby calves the way you treat them to produce veal.
“Is it permissible for Christians to use monkeys for cancer research? Yes. We need to do it as painlessly as possible,” Land said.
“Is it permissible to use rabbits to develop new eyeliner? No, I don’t think it is,” he said.
Bouma-Prediger said he approves of some animal research, and they both said they were glad monkeys were sacrificed in order to produce a polio vaccine for human beings in the 1950s.
Christians “repent of past insensitivity and neglect” on caring for the environment, Land said in his paper, a sentiment with which Bouma-Prediger agreed.
During a question-and-answer period, Land and Bouma-Prediger were asked what each said that he disagreed with most. They agreed on their answers. They indicated it would be which creation passage they stressed, the Genesis 1:26-28 account of God making man “in His image” or Genesis 2:15’s description of man’s responsibility to care for the garden.
“Richard and I probably differ on the basic worldview question of ‘What is a human?’ and ‘How do we best describe ourselves?'” Bouma-Prediger responded. “Evangelical Christians tend to emphasize the Genesis 1:26 and 28 text, liberal Christians the Genesis 2:15 text. So [it would be] this whole business of what does it mean to be human and how do we best describe ourselves as humans, both to rule as God rules but also as earthly creatures.”
Land said they would “agree that the Genesis 1 account and the Genesis 2 account both are relevant and important when it comes to who are human beings. Who is man and why is God mindful of him? But it does matter on which ‘syl-LA-ble’ you put the ’em-PHA-sis.’ And I think that while we would both affirm Genesis 1 and 2, I would probably put more ’em-PHA-sis’ on Genesis 1, and he would put more ’em-PHA-sis’ on Genesis 2.”
The day-long conference addressing global warming and other environmental issues also included presentations and responses on the science, economics, poverty, national interest and evangelical involvement.