Most Christians who would push back on the position expressed in the Every Living Thing statement would resist the idea that animals have real moral standing and that, therefore, we have no real duties toward them. The ELT statement provides good biblical grounds for affirming such duties. I would echo this reasoning and expand upon it in light of two further considerations:
- Divine Ownership – We have a duty to respect God in all that we do. God owns everything, so disrespect towards any aspect of nature is disrespect towards God. Cruel treatment of animals is disrespectful towards them, so we have a duty to treat them humanely. See Psalm 24:1 and Psalm 50:10-11.
- The Hierarchy of Being – Beings differ in terms of their various perfections and may be hierarchically arranged accordingly. The propriety of our treatment of any being may be assessed according to its place in the hierarchy. Given the sentience and consciousness of animals (and their relatively high place on the hierarchy of being), they should not be treated cruelly.
The upshot is that humans have a two-fold moral duty toward animals, specifically to care for them in a way that is respectful of their divine owner and to do so in a way that is appropriate to their nature as conscious beings with needs and the capacity to suffer.
This has some important practical implications. Generally speaking, we ought to treat animals humanely. Accordingly, we should reconsider our support, directly or indirectly, of:
- Factory farms — Animals in huge factory farms are commonly slaughtered carelessly and cruelly.
- Circuses – Animals are frequently trained through torturous mistreatment (e.g., Ringling Bros. elephant training).
- Trapping – Traps used to catch animals for their furs are often very cruel.
- Animal research — Animals are often tortured for the sake of questionable research (such as for cosmetics products).
The videos to which I’ve provided links above are hard to watch, but such is necessary to raise awareness about how animals are treated in our society. Hopefully, these will provide further motivation to take seriously our responsibilities regarding animals, even to the point of making significant lifestyle changes.