Question: "What is PETA? Can a Christian support PETA?"
Answer: PETA is an acronym for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. According to their website, PETA is an international organization formed in 1980 that is “dedicated to establishing and defending the rights of all animals. PETA operates under the simple principle that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment. PETA educates policymakers and the public about animal abuse and promotes kind treatment of animals.” Proverbs 12:10 tells us that the righteous man cares for the life of his beast, so the biblical principle is that we should treat animals humanely; however, PETA goes far beyond the biblical principle.
Cruelty in any form is a violation of God’s nature and not His plan for those who inhabit His earth (Proverbs 11:17). When God gave Adam dominion over all the animals (Genesis 1:26), He expected the man to learn about them, care for them, breed them, and utilize them to meet the needs of humanity. Mankind quickly learned that wool from sheep makes excellent garments and also helps the sheep shed its heavy coat. Milk from goats and cows makes a healthy addition to the diet of people. And the God-designed bodies of oxen, mules, and horses have benefited mankind in thousands of ways for centuries.
But God also gave animals for meat. In Genesis 9:2–4, after the flood, God gave Noah specific instructions about eating. Man would no longer be restricted to a vegetarian diet. He was to consider all animals as food. The only restriction was that no animal could be eaten with the blood still inside it. Blood represents the sacredness of life, and, even in the eating of the animal, people were to respect the fact that they had taken a life that only God can create (Leviticus 17:11). Medical research later revealed that this is also a healthy practice, as eating under-cooked meat can cause illness. God’s commands are always for our good.
If PETA’s only concern was the humane treatment of animals, Christians could heartily support their goals. However, PETA goes much further than that and grants “rights” to animals that parallel those of humans. PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk stated, “When it comes to pain, love, joy, loneliness, and fear, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy. Each one values his or her life and fights the knife.” Statements like that take PETA’s goals to extremist levels, ones that Bible-honoring Christians cannot condone. People are not animals.
PETA’s website states that “only prejudice allows us to deny others the rights that we expect to have for ourselves. Whether it’s based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or species, prejudice is morally unacceptable.” Thus, PETA grants animals the same sanctity of life that God gave humans. Biblically, human life is special. Jesus said that the value of one human is far greater than “many sparrows” (Luke 12:7). God cares for the sparrows, but He cares for us more. Humans have a higher worth.
God spoke the animals into being (Genesis 1:20–25) as He did the sky, the stars, and the trees. But men and women were created separately, in the image of God Himself (Genesis 1:27). We are not merely higher animals on the evolutionary tree. We were created specifically by God to have fellowship with Him. We have an everlasting spirit, a spirit will live forever, either with God or apart from Him (John 3:16–18, 36). This is not true of animals.
Throughout the Bible, animals were used, ridden, bred, owned, and eaten by human beings (Deuteronomy 12:15, 20; Leviticus 6:25–27). Jesus Himself rode a donkey, ate fish, and told a story in which a fatted calf was slaughtered (Luke 15:23; 19:35; 24:42–43). In the Old Testament, God painted His story of redemption through the continual bloody sacrifices of animals. Hebrews 9:22 says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. Until Jesus shed His own blood (Matthew 26:28), the blood of forgiveness came from perfect lambs, bulls, and goats (Leviticus 4:32–33). The God who created the animals also commanded their slaughter as part of His plan of atonement.
One of the Jewish holidays commanded in Scripture is Passover, a time in which the exodus from Egypt is remembered. At the first Passover, a lamb was slaughtered and its blood applied to the doorposts of Jewish homes to prevent the death of the firstborn (Exodus 12:21–22). PETA considers God’s requirements for blood sacrifices to be unacceptable, which puts them in direct opposition to God and the Bible. PETA has elevated the animal kingdom to a place never intended by God. In doing so, they have diminished the sanctity of human life. Ironically, many PETA supporters are also pro-abortion.
Christians can agree with PETA that cruelty toward any living thing, including animals, is wrong. We can agree that, if more humane ways of butchering or using animals in research are available, then those methods should be utilized. Shutting down disease-ridden puppy mills, exposing inhumane conditions in labs or theatrical shows, and working to restrict animal ownership from those who have proven themselves unfit are all ways Christians can support the goals of PETA. However, a wise Christian recognizes that PETA does not support the Christian worldview and therefore cannot be wholeheartedly endorsed.