Skip to content

Loma Linda University’s Ecology Weekend

The Loma Linda University Church made a statement about Creation Friday evening: Adventist Christians (and others) have a moral duty to care for it.

The church is hosting its eighth annual “Mind and Spirit in Dialogue” convocation this weekend, entitled “Adventists and the Ecology Crisis.”

Sigve Tonstad, an M.D./Ph.D. who serves as faculty member in both Loma Linda University’s School of Medicine and its School of Religion, took the lectern first. His address, “All Creation Groaning in Labor Pain,” decried factory farming on three bases: ecological, ethical, and eco-theological.

Tonstad pointed to statistics showing a steady decline in the number of American farmers corresponding with the rapid rise of industrial farming and an increase in acres of farm land. The point? Fewer farmers are doing more farming in an increasingly mechanized industry.

His presentation recited and elaborated on an his article in the Summer ’09 volume of Spectrum, “‘Swine of the Times’: Ecumenism, Ecology, and Ethics in the Era of Factory Farming.”

Ecological Crisis

Meat consumption is rising fast, particularly among affluent countries around the world, Tonstad revealed. Poorer nations eat far fewer animal products, and affluent nations import meats from poorer countries. The rate of production and consumption of animals is unsustainable because forest lands must be cleared to make way for livestock grazing.

Among the other major ecological issues at steak (pardon the pun), Tonstad pointed out that antibiotic use for livestock has increased massively, up from .09 million pounds in 1950 to 44.3 million pounds in 1986 according to the Institute of Medicine Data. The trend has continued sharply upward.

The unintended consequence has been a proliferation of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria (MRSA) that infect not only livestock, but also humans. This has direct impacts on health care; health insurers are increasingly unwilling to cover patients infected with MRSA in hospitals, though the bacteria passes easily from human to human (and from animals to humans).

Furthermore, data has clearly demonstrated that increased livestock populations contribute far more to greenhouse gas emissions than household emissions, aviation emissions and vehicular emissions.

Ethical Concerns

While the ecological crisis must be a huge consideration where Creation care is concerned, for Tonstad, the ethical concerns with meat consumption matter more.

Tonstad cited gross abuses of factory farm animals as reasons to consider avoiding meat. Quoting from Nathanael Johnson’s Harpers Magazine article, “Swine of the Times” (from which Tonstad culled his own article), Tonstad noted that factory fresh pigs never see sunshine. They are fed, cleaned, monitored, stabbed, cleaned, cut and packaged by machines. Humans are not needed.

The ethical problems include crowding, violation of animals’ instincts, removal from natural habitats, human indifference to suffering… The list might go on for pages. Factory pigs endure sores, tumors, cysts, bruises, torn ears, swollen legs…roaring, groaning and tail biting. They make imaginary nests with imaginary straw because their instincts and their environments don’t match.

Eco-Theological Considerations

The ecological crisis has deep roots in theological understandings, particularly, a faulty understanding of dominion. For Tonstad as for many who construct eco-theologies, Genesis is foundational.

In Genesis 1:20-22, God commands the earth to teem with living creatures in the water and in the sky, and God pronounced a blessing on them. God’s first blessing falls on non-human creation, Tonstad points out. Later, God also blesses the humans with very similar language (vs. 28), and finally God blesses all creation along with the seventh day (2:3).

This theology of blessing, Tonstad suggests, includes legitimacy, something like a bill of rights, and implies inter-relatedness and interdependence.

In Romans 8:19-21, God gives the pulpit to non-human creation.

We should not miss the sense that non-human creation knows something about God, and might even teach us about God, says Tonstad.

Tonstad insists that the blessing given to non human creation has not been rescinded.

During an audience Q&A following his presentation, Tonstad responded to a pointed question about dominion. Citing Ann Coulter, who has suggested that the biblical notion of dominion includes a warrant to rape and to exploit the earth, Tonstad countered saying that God delegates to human beings responsibility to act toward creation as God acts. God acts by blessing, Tonstad said. If God delegates responsibility to human beings, does that take away the aspect of blessing? Tonstad said there is no way to extract an exploitative theology from the Genesis text.

The book of Revelation Revelation has a vision of healing for all creation, says Tonstad. Its goal is not just saving human beings, but saving the earth because there is no other place for human beings. We are earth beings. We share common ground with the earth, so to speak.

The Mind and Spirit dialogue continues Sabbath afternoon with, among other things, an interview and panel discussion with General Conference president Jan Paulsen.

Subscribe to our newsletter
Spectrum Newsletter: The latest Adventist news at your fingertips.
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.