WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2015 - A group of evangelical Christian leaders has launched an effort to educate people in the pews on a biblical imperative to take care of animals, including in agriculture. 

The initiative, called Every Living Thing, was launched Wednesday with the announcement of a statement signed by top evangelical scholars and pastors. The statement doesn’t take positions on any policy issues but does call “for the protection and preservation of all the kinds of animals God has created, while prioritizing human needs.”

The initiative grew out of a meeting of faith leaders organized by the Humane Society of the United States in 2011. Every Living Thing, which is run by a Christian consulting firm, the Clapham Group, will sponsor events promoting discussions about animal stewardship.  

“The plan is to appeal to evangelical leaders throughout the nation to sign on to the statement, so that we can develop a consensus among Christians on the need for human responsibility toward animals,” HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle said in a blog post. HSUS has led a variety of efforts to force changes in farming practices. 

The statement’s initial signees include Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), an arm of the Southern Baptist Convention; Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.; theologian Timothy George; and megachurch pastor Bill Hybels. Mohler, who has 107,000 Twitter followers, endorsed the statement on his account Wednesday.

USA Today columnist Kirsten Powers, an evangelical Christian, wrote Wednesday of Every Living Thing's statement that the “added voice of America’s 100 million evangelicals in (animals') defense could be a game changer” on animal welfare issues. 

“Make no mistake: The brutal, torturous treatment of animals as they are raised to provide food is a real evil that demands confrontation,” she said. 

The statement, which cites numerous Bible passages, makes clear that it is OK to eat animal products, and that humans “have a greater worth” than animals. However, the statement says God entrusted animals to “our responsible rule. So while animals have been given into our hand and our food this does not mean we can treat them as objects or act cruelly towards them.”

 Like what you see on the Agri-Pulse website? See even more ag and rural policy news when you sign up for a four-week free trial Agri-Pulse subscription.

The statement also cites revered Christians of the past who have espoused animal welfare, including British abolitionist William Wilberforce and author C.S. Lewis. 

An explanatory essay that accompanies the statement acknowledges that it leaves “many unanswered questions.”

“It is our prayer that this statement will help to unify Evangelicals around a basic, essential body of commitments that can help us develop a more biblical, consistent, and responsible ethic toward our animal co-inhabitants.”

Barrett Duke, who helped develop the statement, said that the initiative would likely leave advocacy on specific issues to other organizations. “Right now we have all that we can do get evangelical Christians to think differently about animals,” said Duke, ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research. 

While many of the initial signers are Baptists, the intent was to bring in leaders from other denominations, he said. 

Also involved in the project is Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Policy Center and an Anglican who is well-connected with leading journalists. 

The Animal Agriculture Alliance, a group representing the meat and livestock industry, released a statement quoting Wes Jamison, associate professor of communication at Palm Beach Atlantic University, an ordained minister who has researched biblical views on animal agriculture.

“After loving God, our first biblical responsibility is to aid our human neighbors, and modern animal agriculture allows us to do that efficiently, while maintaining animal care as a top priority,” he said. 

Every Living Thing commissioned a poll that indicated strong support among Protestant pastors for animal welfare in general. 

Seventy-three percent of the 1,000 pastors surveyed, a group that included pastors of mainline dominations, agreed with the statement that “the way we treat animals reflects our care for human beings.” Conversely, 75 percent disagreed with the statement that “God is indifferent about how people behave towards animals.”