What Matters Most at Christmas

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Christian Headlines on December 15, 2014.

I love dogs. Having had five dogs over the course of my life, and in caring for many other dogs for friends when they’re on vacation or whatever, I’ve concluded that if man is a little lower than the angels, canines are only somewhat behind us.

Cats are another matter. I once rescued an injured cat from being run-over on a busy street; upon getting it away from oncoming cars, it tried to scratch me (okay, it was upset, but still...).

Another time, I was standing talking to some friends in their front yard when a neighborhood cat padded up to me, jumped on me and sank its claws into my chest. Maybe it liked me.

Of course, I’m sure there are some nice cats. Somewhere.

However, whether a dog, a cat or whatever else, the thought of animal abuse enrages me. One has to be very cruel and very cowardly, not to mention psychologically disturbed, to take pleasure in the pain of an animal or to disregard its suffering when it is injured or ill.

Yet the new ad by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) goes a bit too far. After showing upsetting scenes of animals abused or neglected, actress Kim Rhodes gives a moving plea for financial support for the ASPCA.

So far, so good. But as the scenes of mistreated dogs and cats flow by, a melancholy rendition of “Silent Night” is played quietly in the background. This is disconcerting, for several reasons.

The Bible teaches that the Jesus born in Bethlehem was the agent through whom the Father made the world (Hebrews 1:2). He loves His creation, including all the myriad inhabitants of the animal kingdom. If God knows when the sparrow falls (Matthew 10:29), He must care about them with tenderness.

But God’s incarnation in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth was the decisive act of human, even universal history. Its uniqueness is informed by the stunning magnitude of what this event involved: The eternal Second Person of the Triune Godhead gestating for nine months in Mary’s womb and then being born into a fallen world to “make His dwelling among us” (John 1:14) only to take into Himself the punishment for all human sin as He hung on a Roman cross.

To use one of Christianity’s most profound articulations of the meaning of Christmas, “Silent Night,” to urge donations to an animal rescue organization is both unseemly and irreverent. I doubt the ASPCA intended the latter, but they should have had the common sense to recognize the former.

Second, a conservative estimate is that about one million abortions of unborn children are performed every year in the United States. That works out to more than 2,700 in any 24-hour period.

Abortion is so unpleasant even to contemplate that many people get angry when one brings it up; they would rather not have to think about it. It is a normal human reaction not to want to consider painful things.

Yet when pro-lifers run even the most tasteful advertisements for pregnancy care centers or advocate for protecting unborn little ones, they are castigated and, in some cases, their print ads have been destroyed.

As every child should learn, being a moral ostrich doesn’t make problems go away. Hiding from upsetting things is understandable, especially when there seems to be no easy resolution of the problem. Also, forcing people to stare at ugliness is crude, sometimes sadistic, and almost always ineffective.

However, being an adult means, in part, summoning the courage to consider hard things. For Christians, we need to work to inspire such courage by persuading people, graciously and winsomely, of the need to protect unborn children and their mothers from the abortion industry.

Further, some things count a lot more than others. Jesus spoke of “the weightier issues of the Law” and, in the passage about sparrows, reminded His listeners that “you are more worth than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).

Does this mean Christians shouldn’t support care for abused animals? No! But let’s prioritize our financial resources, time, prayer and energy according to the Savior’s instruction that some things really are more important and urgent than others.

The historic work the ASPCA has done in protecting animals deserves praise, but to link it to the birth of God Incarnate is wrong, even if not intentionally irreverant. As you think about your giving this Christmas, remember to reflect about what causes are nearest to the heart of God – principle among them the spread of the Gospel, human dignity (from protecting the unborn to rescuing the trafficked) and freedom for those captive for His Name’s sake.

Then consider giving to save animals, should the Lord so lead you. Even including cats.