Any dramatic action in the United States nowadays will bring out anger. American anger runs so deep that any perceived injustice can trigger riots or provoke poisonous words. As a Christian, I am sad to see how Christians react to these tense times.
The latest incident to arouse passions came in a very unlikely place. A public zoo.
Zoos attract more visitors in the United States than all professional sporting events combined. Zoos are a family place, where kids can enjoy themselves. You don’t expect to find trouble at a zoo.
I visited the Cincinatti Zoo. It was famous for housing the last Passenger Pigeon, named Martha, that died one century ago. Hunters and farmers destroyed billions of Martha’s kind to wipe out the species here in the USA.
Tragedies are usually accidents.
A tragedy is often a series of accidents and mistakes, as we saw in Cincinatti. A precocious child. A distracted mother. A flawed barrier. A confused gorilla. A panicked crowd. A worried staff. Stir all these things together and you have a public relations disaster, and a dead gorilla.
Why has this incident incited anger in so many people? Because there is no one to blame, and we want to blame someone. There can be no justice unless we find someone to pay for the crime. The problem is, there was no crime.
The little boy may be foolish, like all toddlers, but not blameworthy.
Show me the perfect mother who never let a small child escape. Is there such a being?
What barrier system is foolproof?
Screaming onlookers didn’t help.
The zoo workers could not coax the alpha male gorilla away from the boy.
The gorilla cannot be blamed. His job as the dominant in the group was to protect his turf and fellow gorillas. He saw an invader enter his home. He checked out this small intruder. He spent ten minutes with the boy and did no serious harm.
The zoo director had few options. From the post-incident comments, “we were in full compliance with AZA regulations….” you can see he was thinking about lawsuits. I can’t blame him.
Our Pittsburgh Zoo had a similar incident a few years ago. A mother lifted her son over the barrier for a better view of the African Wild dogs. The boy fell in, bounced over the net, and the dogs killed him. Onlookers did nothing. Zoo staff arrived too late. Lawyers sued the zoo. Money, money.
If Harambe the gorilla killed the boy in Cincinatti, the lamest lawyer in the Buckeye state could get tens of millions of dollars. [Don’t be surprised if they sue anyway.] The zoo director had to kill the gorilla. It was a liability issue. Public place, presumed safety, child endangered = lawyer catnip.
So who is to blame? You can spread a little bit to the boy, to the mother, to the crowd, to the staff, to the director, but no one is fully blameworthy. Our human desire to see justice is thwarted.
Rather than see justice thwarted, some unstable folks ASSIGN blame. Racists notice that minority people were involved, and it becomes a racial problem. Animal rightists blame zoos and want them all closed (they wanted that long before Harambe got shot).
Perhaps everyone is angry about the economy, the politicians, and the price of coffee, but they store it all up and blast someone in Cincinatti. Isn’t that what “social media” is for?
Forget about the haters. How have Christians responded to the issue?
With smug arrogance and diversion.
Christian leaders seem to be buying into the old Clinton administration mantra: never let a good crisis go to waste. Turn angst into opportunity! Spin it. Re-direct their anger.
Franklin Graham criticizes public sympathy for the gorilla, insisting that people should instead be angry at abortion. Below I paste about half of Graham’s Facebook post.
People are grieving and leaving flowers at a gorilla statue. Excuse me? Human life should be more highly valued, and a decision had to be made to protect a child’s life…. Think about it—last week on the day when Harambe was killed, the article below points out that there were some 125,000 abortions performed around the world. Where’s the justice for these lives? God created men and women in His image, and He made humans to rule over the animals. I’m thankful that zoo officials made the right decision—to protect human life!
Don’t waste time mourning about a mere animal when humans are dying!
This is the refrain of Christians across America. Animals are nothing. Nothing matters but us!
When Lynn White blamed Christianity and its view of “dominion” for all the environmental problems on earth, Christians were offended. Francis Schaeffer wrote Pollution and the Death of Man to counter some of White’s arguments. Unbridled capitalism and industrialism were more to blame than Christianity, in practice. In philosophy, we Christians don’t get off so easily.
Case in point: look at us now. Our leaders speak with contempt for animals in public. Maybe at home they have cute doggies and kitties whom they cherish, but in the public square, they do nothing but declare human superiority over the animals.
“But humans are are made to rule over the animals!” Yes, and so you have to arrogantly declare it to the world at every opportunity? In a time of tragedy? When people feel compassion, you challenge their feelings as stupid? I consider myself a social hermit, yet I can see the time for criticism is not during crisis.
I am not an animal rightist. I have written books about animal rights and animal welfare. Neither position is right. God has the right to tell us how to treat animals.
I agree that the gorilla had to be shot. The life of the child was more important.
However… Harambe was neither a waste of flesh, nor unimportant to God. Nor is it a crime to express sympathy for a dead gorilla.
So far the only Christian responses I have seen and heard are arrogant. The rhetoric is not intended to persuade, but to pander to our constituencies. Like politicians, spiritual leaders feel the need to prove their orthodoxy to the cause. “We humans are created in God’s image. Humans are more valuable than animals. If you have to choose between an animal and a human, ALWAYS choose the human. God says…. the Bible says…”
You might say, those statements are all true. Yes, probably so. And YOU KNOW IT! So because you know it, you will tell everyone in the world that they are morons for not knowing it. We are just so smart.
The only reason you know anything spiritual is because God the Holy Spirit led you to salvation and gave you light to understand His Word. The rest of the world does not know anything spiritual because the Holy Spirit has not enlightened them.
Rather than share with civility and gentleness and persuasiveness, we belittle people.
God cares about animals. A lot. Not as much as He cares about humans, but He cares even when a sparrow falls, as Jesus said.
If non-Christians grieve over the death of a gorilla, that is not a major sin. Why do you think they need correcting? Like Job’s friends, you must defend the faith? Is doubting the doctrine of the comparative value of human to animal now the eighth deadly sin?
Why not approach people with something we agree upon? That God does care about gorillas. And that God cares about people. That we care about gorillas and people too! Why must it be one or the other, rather than both?
Instead of using the death of Harambe as a way to trick people into hearing about abortion, why not treat people with basic dignity? Affirm their feelings even if they are partially mistaken in the details.
God uses all kinds of things to turn people to Jesus. I doubt that criticizing their feelings for animals is going to be a productive evangelistic tool.
Our words should be like the words of Jesus, meant to persuade, help, and heal.