With mainstream and social media in an uproar over the apparently illegal killing of Cecil the lion, Baptist leaders have underscored the legitimacy of legal hunting and condemned the hypocrisy of valuing wildlife over unborn children.
“The Bible says much about hunting and without one derogatory word,” said Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “But it is not just hunting at issue. Fishing and the eating of any kind of meat is at issue since [with] all of these, [animals] must die in order to feed people. The Bible makes it clear that the animals were given to men to meet their various needs including food. I do distinguish between killers and hunters. I always taught my children that we use every animal taken. Skinning a rattlesnake, a porcupine and a skunk underscored all of this for my children. They discovered that clothing and in many cases food can be gained but that each creature is God’s artistic creation.”
The preciousness of God’s creation requires that humans “not just go out and shoot up the countryside,” Patterson, a veteran of some 20 African hunts, told Baptist Press in written comments. “Almost all the animals taken in Africa go to the poor of the countries to eat, for which, particularly in Zimbabwe, they are most grateful.”
Cecil, a 13-year-old Zimbabwean lion, was killed in early July by American dentist Walter Palmer after the animal was lured out of Hwange National Park, where hunting is illegal, the New York Times reported. Zimbabwean officials say they want to extradite Palmer to face charges, but Palmer claims he was following the lead of professional guides and did not know his actions were illegal, USA Today reported.
Cecil’s death had been the topic of more than 425,000 tweets as of Aug. 3, according to the social media analytics site Topsy.com.
Paige Patterson and his son Armour killed a roan antelope during a hunt in Zambia.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe authorities have accused a second American – gynecological oncologist Jan Seski – of illegally killing a lion in April, the Associated Press reported.
Patterson denounced illegal hunting and said if any laws were broken related to Palmer’s hunt, “the local outfitter and professional hunter” should be prosecuted. He added that “a man is innocent until proven guilty and rush to judgment is in this case, as [in] all others, unwise.”
Most hunting outfits in Africa “are run by men of high ethical and moral conduct and in accordance with the laws of the land,” Patterson said. Hunters “are normally your leading conservationists. After all, they are dependent upon the prosperity of the herds. That is why almost all forms of African and Indian game thrive in Texas today. Well regulated practices of hunting guarantee their survival.”
Patterson called much of the press’ outrage over Cecil’s death “the ultimate in hypocrisy,” noting the relative lack of concern for aborted babies whose body parts have been sold by Planned Parenthood and for the evils perpetrated against the Zimbabwean people by President Robert Mugabe.
“Little or no outrage at the butchering of human babies and the selling of body parts by Planned Parenthood, but the death of a lion in Zimbabwe merits the ink,” Patterson said. “And what about Zimbabwe itself? Why no furor over Mugabe’s disregard for human life, the stealing of property by the government and the violence toward opposition leaders? What of the thousands of people that he has starved to death uselessly? And why not report on what hunters do to conserve the lions, elephants and rhinos both monetarily and in parks like Antelope Park in Zimbabwe where we have replaced every lion taken with multiple lions born and released into the wild? Why not tell people the truth about what happens in countries that stop hunting like Kenya and consequently lose all their rhinos to poachers?”
Mark Keith, pastor of Elkton (Ky.) Baptist Church and an avid hunter, said God has given humans responsibility to care for animal life, but that does not preclude hunting. He said humans should consume animals they kill during hunts and not engage in “the senseless killing of animals.”
There is “spirituality” about hunting, Keith said. Those who do not hunt may “think that all their meat comes from the butcher section of the store where they shop. When you hunt, you realize that in order to feed you, something had to give up its life. It helps you to remember the food chain.”
People who hunt, Keith said, tend to have “a deeper respect for animal life.”
Enjoying the sport of a hunt is legitimate ethically, Keith said, but “it’s not all about killing an animal.”
“I do enjoy the challenge of being able to go out on a field where an animal is probably more at home than I am and to be able to out-smart it or to be able to know that I can provide for my family,” Keith said. “It kind of brings out some primal stuff in you that goes way back … before we had stores and markets.”
Patterson and Keith both cited hunting as a valuable means of building relationships between fathers and sons. Patterson added that speaking about hunting at men’s banquets has allowed him to lead “several thousand” men and boys to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Dan DeWitt, dean of Boyce College, wrote in a blog post that outrage over Cecil’s death illustrates indirectly the supreme worth of human life.
“Cecil was a neighborhood favorite in Zimbabwe,” DeWitt wrote. “That is, until he was lured out of an animal sanctuary and shot for sport. The closer animals are to humans the more worth we confer upon them. In this way, animals have proximate value. Their worth is often determined by their proximity to humans. If a wild dog gets hit by a car that’s one thing. If a poodle with a collar and nametag gets run over, that’s another. But what is it about humans that we have such value that it almost rubs off even on the animals we keep close to us? It’s because we are created with intrinsic worth.”
The intrinsic worth of human life makes absurd the mainstream media’s outrage over Cecil compared with its relative calm over the Planned Parenthood videos, DeWitt wrote. An alien who landed on earth and surveyed media outlets might conclude humans “are greatly concerned with the protection of lions. The rights of the unborn, not so much so.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)