A leading animal rights theologian, Andrew Linzey, has spoken out against moves to include symbolic sacrifice of animals in Christian worship, describing it as "subversive of the Gospel."
Some Christians in Africa have suggested that traditional local non-Christian rituals such as sacrificing sheep and cows should be included in services to give an authentic indigenous dimension to worship. Earlier this year, Buti Tlhagale, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bloemfontein, South Africa, suggested that blood libations to honour ancestors should be incorporated into the Mass.
"Even sophisticated black Christians slaughter animals as part of their tradition of communing with their ancestors at important occasions in their lives," the Catholic archbishop said. "Is there a way to integrate this custom with their Christian belief as a step towards meaningful inculturation?"
But Linzey, speaking to ENI from his home in Oxford, England, disagreed. "I support inculturation as a principle, but it would be an odd view to argue that everything about a culture is right."
Professor Linzey, an Anglican priest who was appointed to the world's first academic post in theology and animal welfare, based at Oxford University, and is now a member of the faculty of theology of Oxford University, continued: "Animal sacrifice is subversive of the Gospel of the one true sacrifice of Christ by suggesting that something has to be added."
Blood sacrifices were one of the principle targets of Western Christian missionaries in 19th-century Africa. They saw the ritual killing of animals and in some areas of human beings as an encouragement to superstition. Many Christians have subsequently deplored the heavy-handed way in which early European and North American missionaries imposed their cultural beliefs on their converts.
However a prominent Anglican archbishop, Janani Luwum of Uganda, who was martyred in 1977, once praised the actions of missionaries who banned animal sacrifices. "Foreign missionaries have been blamed for undermining traditional religious practices and beliefs, but many of us realize today that they had no option ... They had to make sure that a proper foundation was laid and a complete break with evil practices made lest the Master Builder should test their work now and at the end of time and find it lacking," Archbishop Luwum said shortly before his death. He pointed out that Europe too had received Christianity from outside.
Professor Linzey, who admitted that he "cringes" at the activities of some of the early missionaries, wrote recently in the Church of England Newspaper: "At best [animal sacrifice] reflects a well-meaning, but misconceived attempt to adapt the Gospel to a prevailing culture." At worst, he added, it signaled a "fantastic failure" to understand the redeeming life of Christ.
Copyright © 2000 ENI
Don't miss Christianity Today's Books & Culture Corner on "Humans and Other Animals."
Read a review of Linzey's book from Books &Culture magazine.
This long High Country News article tells of many evangelicals who believe that it is their duty to care for the earth and animals.
"How green is God? " from the Alberta Report talks about conservative Christians and the modern environmental movement.
Previous Christianity Today stories about this topic include:
Let Africans Honor Ancestors with Blood Libations in Mass, Says Bishop | 'Is there a way to integrate this custom with their Christian belief as a step towards meaningful inculturation?' (Jan. 15, 2000)
Toppling Tradition? | Christian teachings conflict with tribal customs, national laws. (Sept. 6, 1999)