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Responding to religious groups concerning hunting

Rationale: Special Youth Challenge Ministries (SYC) professes to be a  Christian ministry that takes disabled and terminally ill young people hunting and fishing. Their website is Pasted in below is a letter to the President of SYC that I wrote for The Fund for Animals, minus the references to the Fund. Parts of this letter might also be helpful as a model in writing to other Christian hunting groups, of which there are, unfortunately, a bunch.


September 4, 2003

Charles Walthour
Special Youth Challenge Ministries
P.O. Box 860
Dallas, GA 30132-0860

Dear Mr. Walthour:

I applaud your desire to bring joy, a sense of accomplishment, and an appreciation of the splendor of creation to children and young people with disabilities or terminal illnesses. We know that you are trying to do good. But killing animals for sport is a form of animal abuse that teaches cruelty and callousness instead of love and mercy, is contrary to the gospel of Christ, is condemned by the Bible, and is in no way necessary to the success of your ministry.

Hunters sneak up on harmless, defenseless animals and shoot them from ambush with powerful long-range weapons. People who do to companion animals what hunters do to animals who live in the wild are prosecuted for animal cruelty. But what is cruel to dogs and cats is just as cruel to geese and deer. Hunting is legalized cruelty to animals, compounded by the fact that the wounding rate in big game hunting is upwards of twenty percent and in bird hunting fifty percent or higher. When the hunters are inexperienced -- and probably overexcited -- young people, these rates are undoubtedly higher. Wounded animals die a lingering, painful, terrifying death of starvation, dehydration, infection, and exsanguination. Children who themselves must live with great suffering should not be taught pleasures that inflict suffering on other sentient creatures.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful," but you are teaching children and young people to show no mercy to God's creatures who need it most. You are teaching them to snuff out "for no better reason than sport" lives that were given by God. That is not just cruel to the animals, it is disrespectful to their creator. We know that Jesus intended his gospel of mercy to protect animals from human cruelty because on several occasions he taught that we should treat animals with compassion. (See Luke 13:15; 14:5.) When we show cruelty and deny mercy to any animal "domesticated or wild" we break faith with the gospel.

Hunting also teaches young people to bear false witness. Hunters use a variety of deceitful tricks to lure unsuspecting animals to their death. Duck hunters set out decoys to trick unsuspecting birds into thinking it is safe to land. Duck, goose, and turkey hunters use a variety of calls to convince nearby birds that there is no danger and lure them within range of their shotguns. Deer hunters rattle antlers together to tell deer, "There are no hunters here, just two bucks fighting over a doe."  These are all lies, and it is hard to understand how a Christian ministry could promote a sport that teaches its practitioners to lie.

Hunting is never mentioned in the New Testament. And there is no passage anywhere in the Bible that commends hunting or speaks of it as a virtuous activity. The Bible's two most famous hunters are Nimrod and Esau. Nimrod was king of Babel in the days before the flood. (Gen. 10:10). According to ancient Jewish traditions preserved in the Talmud, it was Nimrod who led the people of Babel in their sacrilegious effort to build a tower to heaven. (Gen. 11:1-9) When the Bible calls him " a mighty hunter before the Lord," (Gen. 10:9) that is not praise, but condemnation for the arrogance that led Nimrod to flaunt in God's face his wanton killing of God's creatures, the same arrogance that would soon lead him to attempt his infamous construction project. Should Christians really want to take the king of Babel for a role model?

Esau was the grandson of Abraham, son of Isaac and Rebecca, and twin brother of Jacob. According to the Bible, "Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents." (Gen. 25:27) It was Jacob, the man who did not take up weapons against animals, who became a patriarch of the children of Israel and an ancestor of Joseph, who was entrusted with the sheltering and raising of the child Jesus. (Matt. 1:2; Luke 3:34) God's judgement on the hunter and the man of peace is recorded by the prophet Malachi.  "Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" declares the Lord. "Yet I have loved Jacob; but I have hated Esau and made his mountains a desolation and appointed his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness." The condemnation of hunting could not be clearer or more vehement. (Malachi 1:2-3) The twins' father Isaac, who was also a hunter, had wanted the blessing to descend upon Esau, but it was not to be, and according to the prophet that was by God's will.

There are many virtues claimed for hunting: it teaches the love and appreciation of nature; it teaches self-reliance and perseverance; it builds self-esteem; it provides opportunities for bonding between parents and children and for passing on family and community traditions; and it gives young people a wholesome outlet for their youthful energies and ambitions. All of these virtues, and others that I could name, derive from the pursuit, and none derive from the killing. If you were to take your young people into the woods and fields equipped with cameras instead of guns, none of the virtues associated with hunting would be lost or in any way diminished. In fact, they would be enhanced because the beauty of the day would not be tainted by the spilling of innocent blood. Your young people would have every bit as memorable an experience, and would go home with trophies in the form of video footage or photographs that would be a joy for all time to everyone who saw them.

Children and young people who are facing premature death are in the position of knowing in the most tragic and immediate way how precious life is to all to whom God has given it. As I said before, I understand and applaud your desire to bring them as much pleasure and satisfaction as you can. But I do not understand how you can teach these young people that it is wholesome Christian sport to take God's precious gift from creatures who cherish it as much as these children do. And as much as you and I do. I ask you to consider these questions with an open mind and a prayerful heart and replace the guns with cameras.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely yours,


Norm Phelps


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