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Is trophy hunting okay for a Christian?


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

Karl Barth

“The believer need not fear fate, even though it might be the devil himself.

The devil may plague and tempt and harass us… It is God that we must fear,

the God to whose Word the believer is directed and clings.”

– Karl Barth, Ethics, 301.

I’m reading Barth’s Ethics for discussion each Monday afternoon with other Ph.D candidates in the Divinity Department here. Some of the reading for today had to do with fate. Got me thinking about the fate of nations versus the choice of an electorate.

Reminded me of an argument I found myself in back in 1999 while eating fish on a beach in Gaza City with a Palestinian Christian friend named Ahed. Kristen and I were privileged on a humanitarian mission to stay as a guest in the compound of Yasser Arafat. Yasser’s rooster woke us up at five in the morning that week.

That evening sitting together at a wicker and wood beach table only a few feet from the Mediterranean Sea, an argument ensued. Actually, I wasn’t arguing, but something I said set Aed off and he stood and burst out angrily about how I don’t understand fate. My comment was in regard to how the first thirty years of his life were lived entirely within the land prison called the Gaza Strip (only 5 miles wide and 25 miles long – imagine living your entire life within a space that small and never being allowed to leave it) and my hope that things will change for the better and he can leave that place.

Basically Ahed said: “NO! This is my fate! To be born here, to live here and to die here is my fate. You Americans don’t understand fate. If you don’t like where you live, you move. If you don’t like how things are in the land where you live, you vote to change it. In America you are the masters of your own fate but here– fate is our master.”

What do you say to that?

Sucks to be you?!

I really don’t remember what I said. Probably something like, “Sorry I’ll give that some thought.” I did give that some thought. I thought about it for a very long time and it wasn’t until after I had left the Gaza Strip did I think of what I wish I would have said. I wish I would have put my arm around his shoulder and looked with him at the sea and said, “Ahed, my friend, our God still parts seas.”

I don’t believe in fate.

I believe in God and in His Sovereignty over the affairs of men. He still raises up kings and tears them down.

The reason Thomas and I were one hour late for supper tonight is because about 4pm I twisted his arm to go with me to try and find Karl Barth’s grave. It’s only 25 minutes from here (Kandern, Germany), just over the border into Switzerland (just on the edge of his hometown of Basel). We found the cemetery quite easily, Friedhof Hörnli (70 Hörnliallee, Riehen, Basel-Stadt), but the grave plot locator computer wouldn’t tell us where in the cemetery he was buried. So, we walked it row by row and section by section for one hour and thirty minutes.

It was a needle in a haystack, really. Ugh. Thomas will verify that after a while I started praying out loud that the Holy Spirit would order my steps. Tom knew I’d come back tomorrow if we had to leave without finding it. (The reason I believe the Lord let me wander a while is because I needed the walk.) We finally found it along the furthest back wall (section 0803, grave 0014). Hope that last little piece of info is a blessing to the next pilgrim who tries to google and find the grave of Karl Barth. Here’s a pic so you know what you are looking for…

Karl Barth grave

I’ll tell you why I’m pointing to two names in a little bit – if you like bizzare love stories – trust me you’ll want to keep reading.

Karl Barth TimeMost regard Karl Barth (pronounced Bart) as the most important Protestant theologian since the Reformation.

Someone once asked Pope John XXIII whom he thought was the greatest theologian of the twentieth century. Expecting him to name a Catholic they were all amazed to hear him answer… Karl Barth.

The Pope went on to say he thought Barth was the greatest Christian thinker since St. Aquinas (d. 1274).

When someone told Barth what the Pope had said about him Barth commented… “I am starting to believe in the infallibility of the Pope!

Here’s are some quick highlights of his life:

  • Raised in liberal theology, he had a change of mind and heart and broke with liberalism. His method is referred to as dialectical theology or neo-orthodoxy (though he rejected those designations). He sought a return to the Word and a positive reevaluation and recapturing of Reformation theology and teaching, particularly Calvin.
  • He was a friend and mentor to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
  • He wrote the historic Barmen Declaration (with Bonhoeffer’s help) – the declaration was the Confessing Church of Germany’s rejection of the pro-Nazi “German Christian” churches and a renouncement of anti-Semitism. Barth mailed the declaration to Hitler personally.
  • Born and raised here in Basel Switzerland, taught for a short while at the University of Bonn (Germany) until he was kicked out of Germany in 1935 for refusing to sign a statement of loyalty to Hitler.  He returned to Basel and taught there until his retirement. He died there in 1968.
  • He wrote the massive 10,000 page, 13 volume set of books called Dogmatics.   You can find that here. He never completed the project. Theologian colleagues frequently asked him when the final volumes would be written. He’d reply by asking them if they fully read and digested what he’d published already. He was too prolific for anyone to say yes. Dogmatics is nine times the size of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Barth towers over every other with this monument of Christian theological thought.
  • If you were to only buy one book of Barth’s I’d recommend his famous commentary on Romans. If you want a Cliff notes version of Dogmatics, start here with this book, it’s the one I’m holding in my hand in the picture.
  • One of my favorite Karl Barth quotes… “To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world. “

Even if you have never heard of Karl Barth, perhaps you’ve heard this story. Someone once asked Barth to sum up in one sentence his vast understanding of Christian Theology. He thought and then replied… “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

A “skeleton” remains at his grave:

Now for the reason I’m pointing at a second name – Charlotte von Kirschbaum. In 1909, Barth fell in love with a gal named Rosi. A relationship between the two was forbidden, but for the rest of his life Karl Barth carried her picture with him – and at times he’d weep looking at it. (Rosi died in 1925.)

In 1913, parents all but arranged that Karl Barth would marry Nelly Hoffman, an accomplished violinist. Nelly remained his wife until the time of his death in 1968. You’ll see her name, Nelly Barth-Hoffmann, is listed on the gravestone immediately underneath his.

Barth became extremely close with a female assistant (13 years younger, also his former student) named Charlotte von Kirschbaum (whom he nicknamed “Lollo”). His wife Nelly was no match for Barth intellectually however Charlotte certainly was— in fact, Charlotte accused Barth of stealing her ideas more than once. Some believe she co-authored Dogmatics contributing far more than secretarial help. At minimum it’s evident he developed theologically in dialog and communication. In 1929, Barth invited Charlotte to move into his home.

This open-secret “affair” was shocking and scandalous throughout the church world and many, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, adamantly rejected the arrangement. Barth’s mother and his children were equally unaccepting – son Marcus later said he used to think he had two mothers. There is no evidence of a sexual relationship between Karl and Lollo unless you consider it a given and painfully obvious as they vacationed together (leaving Nelly at home), worked closely together and lived together (1929-1968) for the rest of his life. The last years of Charlotte’s life Alzheimer’s set in and she was moved into a nursing home.

Here’s a picture of Charlotte and an interesting article on her with a few other details. This link has more including the important books related to their lives together. Some close to the family say it was no sexual affair, that Nelly tolerated all this because she too was committed to his work as a theologian. Others see Barth as a womanizer who used them both, one to care for his house and children and another to meet his professional, companionship and emotional needs. Feminists see Charlotte as the shining star, constrained by set roles for women at that time, her only outlet for scholarship was in his shadow. Thus the book by Renate Kobler, In the Shadow of Karl Barth: Charlotte Von Kirschbaum, Westminster John Knox Press (1989).

As you can see in my picture, Charlotte died in 1975 and Nelly honored Karl’s request that Charlotte be buried with him in the family plot. Nelly died the year after and was buried with him also. The reason I really wanted to find this gravestone is because I heard it had all three names on one stone. Yep, it does. I guess you could say I wasn’t just looking for his grave, but also the skeleton in his closet.

Some say all this made Barth an adulterer (at least committing emotional adultery), others go so far as to say therefore he was not a Christian. Anyway you slice it this was dysfunction junction and a very substantial, unfortunate and lasting blight on his life testimony and work. In case you are wondering, I’m not God. But I did have this thought today… I wonder who will receive the greater crown in heaven, Karl for his contribution to Christian thought, or Nelly for putting up with Karl.  I’m voting for Nelly, how about you? (He may have written 31 volumes, but her testament spans 55 years.) Please vote in the poll below and, so I’m not doing all the talking, please comment.

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