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Is trophy hunting okay for a Christian?

No.

For starters I’ll share my journey as it relates to the ethics of killing anything. Since my dad was killed violently and then watching my mom go painfully slow, and after countless death notifications with the police department and s many hard funeral in my decades as a pastor, and considering my lung disease and facing my mortality, and studying the senseless loss of innocent life in all our various war-of-the-day, my view on killing changed. It was fuelled also by a desire to take the non-violence of the Sermon on the Mount serious – didn’t figure Jesus was offering it as a suggestion, or optional for extra credit.

Over time I lost a desire to kill anything. So I started to push back against violence in society where ever I could – fighting cage fighting in the legislature, and as many know I entirely changed my mind on the death penalty and came to believe we ought to teach our kids it’s never okay to kill. It will increasingly become a topic I comment on how this whole red-state, red-blood, red-meat, Cross yourself and pile’em high, ammo and Bibles thing in our churches really is so unChristlike. God comes to the aid of those who are weak in battle not those who trust in their chariots and horses.

These days I marvel at animal beauty and diversity and enjoy their personalities and all that prompts me to turn to the Creator of Life in gratitude and worship. Jesus said look at the birds because they will reveal something about God to you. He did not say shoot the birds. My increasing love for life in its most vulnerable forms changed my view of hunting too. I’m not against responsible hunting for you or others, just saying that personally, I’m done with it. But I have come out strongly against safari hunting and trophy hunting as anything ethically justifiable for a Christian.

Deuteronomy 22:6 revealed to me the concern God has for animals: “If you come across a bird nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on her young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young…. so that it may go well with you and you may live a long life.”

I began to note the capacity in animals to respond to God… “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths… [Praise the Lord] wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds…” Psalm 148:7, 10.

Small creatures and flying birds… like fox and pheasants? Note to self; that text is not one to pull out if asked again to give the breakfast devotional at the Fellowship of Christian Sportsman’s Pheasant Hunt.

A book also shifted my thinking on animal cruelty and animal misery and abuse in modern agriculture. It’s not some liberal PETA book. It was written by a Sarah Palin speechwriter. Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals and the Call to Mercy, Matthew Scully states: “Go to the largest livestock operation, search out the darkest and tiniest stall or pen, single out the filthiest, most forlorn little lamb or pig or calf, and that is one of God’s creatures you’re looking at, morally indistinguishable from your beloved Fluffy or Frisky.”

A longing in me to see God’s kingdom come on earth drew me to the passages that describe that time to come when we aren’t at odds with the animal world. I figure, why wait till then?? I’d think animals didn’t run away when Jesus walked by, shouldn’t they recognize Him in us when we walk by?…. “And in that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground; and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them lie down in safety. And I will betroth thee unto me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in justice, and in loving kindness, and in mercies.” Hosea 2:18-19

In his extensive Dogmatics on The Doctrine of Creation, Karl Barth reminded us God the Creator did not originally intend for animals to be our food; “Whether or not we find it practical or desirable, the diet assigned to men and beasts by God the Creator is vegetarian. This makes it clear that the supremacy given to man over animals is not one of life and death. Man does not enjoy any capital jurisdiction.”

Yes, that changed after the Flood, even after the Flood when killing animals for sacrifice and food was permitted, Barth contends “the prohibition of homicide and eating the blood of animals will be a reminder that the life of another being does not belong to other living beings but to God alone.” For Barth, “the introduction of capital jurisdiction between creature and creature, will not in any sense signify a kind of divine submission to creaturely degeneration.” In regards to the subsequent legitimisation of animal sacrifice, Barth says God now accepts “the surrender of the life of the animal for that of man” as “a substitutionary sign” in the “reconciliation thereby signified.”

David Clough writes: “…human beings may use their superfluity for food but should not wilfully destroy them; in relation to other animals, Barth says they can be killed only as a matter of necessity, and then as a sacrificial act with gratitude and repentance. In a modern context where few humans need to kill other creatures for food, this is a radical ethical stance.”

The reason I have all this handy is I have written on my love and regard for Animals in an essay elsewhere. Here are the opening lines of that essay….

Meet Gordon Howie. A visit to his United States Senate campaign website and you would first notice his campaign bumper sticker slogan; God, Guns & Gordon. Click on the tab for videos and up comes a god tube . com link to his video: “Take a World Hunting Tour With Gordon Howie.” The six and a half minute clip shows dozens of still photos of Gordon all over the world holding rifles or his bow, standing or kneeling, but always smiling next to the corpse of every conceivable animal one can legally shoot with a gun or a bow; deer, fox, coyote, rabbit, mountain goat, bighorn sheep, antelope, sables and roans, gazelles and African dik-diks, spiral-horned kudo, a half a dozen different bears, leopards, mountain lions, moose, plains buffalo, zebra, and various sub-Saharan wild boars.

An additional feature in the video is the background music of Gordon singing Christian country music songs, recording being another one of his pastimes, actually one of his ministries. The photos advance every three seconds and there are enough hunting pictures to require the entire audio of three of Gordon’s songs. While he sings “I’m going home to be with Jesus” the viewer sees dozens of animals who Gordon recently sent on ahead of him. It is not clear what putting a video compilation of decades of safari hunts on a campaign website is supposed to communicate about a political candidates’ philosophy of governance except perhaps it does communicate something of his understanding, or misunderstanding, of the dominion mandate of Genesis one.

Here is that video to which I’m referring:  Take a World Hunting Tour With Gordon Howie

Woke up today with a headache like I got beat up in a cage fight yesterday. Oh wait, I did. My attempt to ban commercial cage fighting in South Dakota failed in a House vote 27-43.

Though I lost, I won. From the beginning I’ve said the conversation on violence in society has to start somewhere – why not with our most violent form of entertainment? In starting that conversation I succeeded. 27 members of the House of Representatives voted for a total ban on commercial cage fighting in South Dakota. Many others said they hate it but figure it’s best to regulate it because it’s going on anyway. Even Rep. Schrempp who was the sponsor of the bill to legitimize it here says he hates cage fighting because it’s too violent. So thank the 27 House members who didn’t walk away from the fight of curtailing violence in society.

It’s funny how people vote. Some who would normally prize themselves on being family values voters were opponents here. My RINO libertarian friends who vote red on every government expansion and spending bill apparently wanted commercial cage fighting more. Amazingly they voted for yet another layer of unfunded government bureaucracy to regulate and save people from themselves. There were stunning moments like when one member said my ban bill would make a criminal out of his five year old grandson who wants to do cage fighting at a school program. I’m pretty sure 95% of the parents of five year olds in our state would object to their kindergartner watching his grandson beat and kick the crap out of another kindergartner at school. Maybe it’s not so ridiculous. CNN did a story last year on five year old cage fighting.

The question I’d like to ask all my colleagues is simply: what is violence? For some it’s apparently not dismembering unborn children. For others it’s apparently not two people beating each other senseless while rubbernecking bloodlusting pay per viewers cheer. But yesterday the same people who said no to those two things as being violent said two gay men getting in a love spat constitutes violent domestic assault. And ‘splain this to me… those who continually harp on putting all extra dollars to teachers decided yesterday to prioritize boxers over teachers.

It’s too early to forecast what the Governor will do with the bill. I’d think he’ll refuse to sign it and let it pass into law without his signature because he does oppose it and there are the votes in the House and Senate to override his veto.

What this means for South Dakota is we now get commercial cage fighting. It’s coming to a county fair near you. We can now host the big sanctioned events and this means big money. It’s a 3.7 billion violent entertainment industry and the VP of the UFC has contacted the Senate sponsor here and hired two lobbyists to educate legislators here on how it only looks violent. Those lobbyists are Justin Bell also represents the Medical Association and Bret Koenecke who represents the Bankers Association. When I see Justin and Bret today do you support they’ll thank me for landing them such an enormous contract? A hospital lobbyist here in the Capitol joked with me that they aren’t backing me in this fight because it’s good for their business.

The safety issue is secondary to the money issue. I prove that when I point to the pay per view stuff like King of the Cage: Greatest Knockouts #19. Here’s the script on that:

King of the Cage: Greatest Knockouts #19 — The Rear Naked Choke and the Fifteen most LETHEL MMA Maneuvers; the Crucifix – brutally intense! The Heel Hook – one fighter is to effective they’ve named his right kick “hospital” and his left kick “graveyard!” The Guillotine Choke. The Flying Knee. Don’t miss the greatest knockouts caught on camera. Now playing on pay per view.

All this about “safety” is a big smokescreen. The knockouts are what they are selling. This is about knocking people unconscious. I realize other sports have injuries but the last thing we want to see with rodeo, cheerleading and football is for someone to get hurt. Yet that IS what people pay to see in cage fighting. The UFC is interested to make videos #20 and #21 and put them on pay per view at $60 and $75.

Despite the justifications and rationalization and propaganda they throw at me that this isn’t as violent as it looks I find the following forthright comments from USF cage fighters themselves evidence enough that it is what it is.

UFC fighter Nate Diaz was quoted in USA Today (12/5/12) in an article titled: “Nate Diaz Says Sportsmanship Doesn’t Describe UFC”… We’re out there trying to damage each other and finish each other. We’re trying to take each other out. We both want to win by knockout or submission or some type of finish rather than a decision. I think it’s pretty unsportsmanlike.

The Associated Press reported UFC championship fighter Jon Jones saying that he’d rather let his arm break than tap out of a fight. [AP: Jones Successfully Defends Title at UFC 152, 9/23/12]

John Musick, another pro cage fighter said “I will never tap out. You can break my arm off and take it home with you, but I will never tap out.”  Cage fighter Enson Inoue was quoted saying; “I guarantee the fans two things. One, I will give everything I have – I will move until I cannot move anymore. And two, I will never, every give up. I would rather die than tap out.”

So, it is what it is and South Dakota just commercialized it.

P.S. For those who haven’t heard I have said I regret my shocking remark about cage fighting being over the line with violent entertainment like child porn is over the line with adult entertainment. I’ve apologized for it and said it wasn’t my intent to offend people but I see now I did just that. Sorry. It was merely an analogy which I’ve had to explain to many who apparently have been hit in the head so many times they entirely missed it. Now I say, get back up, get over it, and address my point and answer the question I was raising…. if not here, where should the line be drawn on violence in society? Where should that conversation start?

Amidst the flurry of hysterics coming my way after my recent comments on cage fighting I received some forthright letters from Christians involved in the sport. One in particular is from Seth Falvo, a young fighter and writer for the website CagePotato. Apparently he wrote this lovely piece on me – MMA Is The ‘Child Porn of Sports’, According to South Dakota Porn Expert/State Rep. Steve Hickey [HATE]. Seth wrote me a stinging note and in particular called me out on my insensitivity to the death of a MMA fighter. Here is part of his letter:

I’m here to tell you that as a Christian, I have never been more disgusted to read THIS coming from a pastor’s own blog:”I have to bite my tongue because instead of the passages that comfort the grieving I feel like quoting the great philosopher Forrest Gump: Stupid is as stupid does.”

I was hoping this was just a sick, sick parody account, but upon confirming that this is, in fact, your own blog, I’m at a loss for words. Where do I even begin here? Do I quote the Bible and write “Judge not lest you be judged, For in the way you judge, you will be judged?” Do I quote “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?” Or do I simply point out that you are a self-proclaimed pastor – a man of God – who essentially writes that a fictional character from a Hollywood movie knows more about how one should live than Jesus Christ, the Man whose message he is supposed to be teaching others. I’ll go with the latter. Wow. A self-proclaimed Man of God decides that God isn’t as smart as a dim-witted Hollywood character, and that he, oh wise and powerful pastor, is perfectly right in judging how law-abiding, church going people spend their spare time. If you’ve ever wondered why people my age have quit going to church, well, do I really need to explain why?

Here’s my reply and I’ll post it here as an open letter to all Christian MMA fans and fighters:

Seth,

Thanks for your honest note. For starters I’ll say I have a whole lot more experience with death than you do. I’ve been a police chaplain and pastor for years. There have been times when my pager goes off three times a week and I get to go tell people their loved one has died or been killed. I never quote Forrest Gump in those moments. What you read on my blog was the inner life of a pastor who has to sit with grieving people who are sometimes furious at their lost loved ones for doing stupid, reckless things that result in the wasting of their lives and causing such pain to their families and friends. Both my parents are dead and my father died a very violent death at the negligence of another… meaning it was entirely preventable if only one person had not been so reckless. If you don’t like my Forrest Gump thought I can quote you many passages on foolishness resulting in death and destruction. It is foolish for someone to get into an unsanctioned cage and fight in our state. That was my point.

And not for a moment do I receive your judgmental comment that I’m the type of person who is keeping a generation from Christ/Church. I have started and am leading large church with a ministry school and a substantial ministry to young adults. Also I’ve been planting churches around the world and we lead people to Christ all the time. I’m friends with significant church leaders in your state and we may even have mutual friends. The stream I minister within is aggressively evangelistic and fruitful.

I regret my MMA/child porn comment because it was too shocking and people have entirely lost the point I was making. Forgive me for that but I was simply trying to shine a light on something those in the sport don’t want us to see.

It was interesting to me you jumped right to the “judge not” passage in the Sermon on the Mount. I’ve been a student of that passage of Scripture for twenty five years and have written a 400 page book on the topic. Do you know the Sermon on the Mount also trumpets the non-violence, non-retaliation, turn the other cheek message? Why do you pick and choose verses in that sermon and ignore it’s main point? Do you not agree that we have a problem with violence in society? Do you honestly, before God, think your sport isn’t feeding a blood lust in our culture?

As a Christian let me ask you, if the next guy you kick in the head or choke with some guillotine maneuver passes out and doesn’t wake up— who killed him? Let me ask you Seth, who would Jesus elbow in the face? I won’t judge you or the other athletes here and make some blanket statement that you are full of bloodlust but I WILL say that about your fans and the crowds that flock to your sport. The Bible speaks about bloodlust.  Greed and bloodlust make the MMA today a multi-billion dollar violent entertainment industry.

I’ll be happy to send you a free copy of my Sermon on the Mount book if you want to study that text fully. There is more than “Judge Not” in that sermon. And, by the way, judge not does not mean we turn off all discernment and stop calling good, good and bad, bad. My calling is certainly not to just smile and say nothing. My calling as a minister of the Gospel is to tell the truth even when it’s unpopular. I was elected in my state to push red and green YES or NO buttons and make decisions everyday about things our state should say YES to and things our state should say NO to. Sometimes I fail in that I don’t do all that in love but I figured your crowd was a tough crowd and strong words would be fine. I was wrong, you all are hyper-sensitive, thin-skinned and full of self-justification for what the average person can see with a naked eye is extreme violence. All these claims that I’m ignorant of the sport are simply smokescreens to mask what is obvious.

I’ll paste below some additional comments that I made in the committee and want to point out to you that my comment on a “seared conscience” is a term from the Bible.

All the best to you.
Rev/Rep Steve Hickey

Here are those additional comments:

They say I’m ignorant of this sport and they make a case that it only looks dangerous. I even had a cage fighter/PhD write me and tell me “elbows are used primarily to cause superficial damage and an elbow doesn’t produce a concussive blow.” That’s ridiculous. My response it that it is what it is – too violent and that is evident to the naked eye and the casual observer. I’ll quickly concede I am no expert on MMA. But as I told one of the fighters this weekend… “just maybe a guy like me can see what you don’t see.”  Violence is addictive and people in addiction (including codependents) don’t see or acknowledge any problem until there is a tragedy, or an intervention. I’m intervening here and asking you to join me.

I’ll speak briefly from an area that I do have professional expertise: there is such a thing as a seared conscience which refers to a person who has lost a capacity of innocence whereby they no longer wince. We don’t want to become a society that can’t wince. Ben Franklin said: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” I submit to you that society is reaching that point and more masters means more laws like this amendment.

I don’t deny the good that is going on in MMA – giving young people confidence and discipline. But MMA is not the only vehicle to accomplish those ends. It doesn’t take that level of violence to develop character, fortitude, confidence, strength and discipline. Any of the other sports overseen by this commission can do all those good things. MMA feeds something in society that we don’t want to feed.

Society was just fine before they figured out to do this and it will be just fine without it again. We aren’t losing ground with my amendment. Actually, we might even be gaining ground that we’ve lost.

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