I was truly saddened to hear of the passing of one of Compassion in World Farming’s Patrons, Bishop John Austin Baker, former Bishop of Salisbury. He was one of a sadly small handful of senior Christian leaders prepared to speak out against factory farming. When my colleague Joyce D’Silva interviewed him in 1993, he lamented that his fellow church leaders were “reluctant to make animals a priority”.
He told Joyce how the local National Farmers Union had escorted him around some Dorset farms. Far from being enthused, he said he was “disgusted” with the farrowing pens for the pigs and that the barren battery hen unit was “harrowing”. He described the breeding and factory farming of turkeys – so associated with the major Christian festival of Christmas – as “absolutely scandalous”.
Although he deplored all forms of animal exploitation, he felt that “the scale of suffering” in factory farming was the greatest. He was not averse to using the pulpit to share his views, again one of very few people in his position to have done so.
He told us that he believed in three fundamentals regarding food and farming: the world needs good food at affordable prices, people who work to produce this food need to make a proper living and “it is wrong to exploit animals or be cruel to them in order to feed ourselves”.
The bishop was a highly respected theologian and author, so I feel it’s fitting to remember some of his more spiritual thinking. When asked if he felt animals had a destiny of some kind, he replied: “I do see God as concerned for the whole of creation and its future… there may be a redemption and a fulfilment for creation which we don’t understand at the moment”. Whatever the ultimate outcome, he was certain that in the here and now people should have love and concern for all sentient creatures.
When Joyce asked the Bishop for a Christmas message for our supporters, he thought for a while and said, “If God could live on our level to bring more love into our lives, then surely we can at least think on the animals’ level to bring more love into theirs”.