Prominent evangelist Billy Graham recently emphasized that Christians should love and respect animals - just not more than other people, as animals are not created in the image of God and thus do not have undying souls.
In a Q&A published in the Kansas City Star earlier this week, the 96-year-old evangelist told a reader, simply known as C.L., that humans can learn a great deal from animals.
"I love my pets very much, and they seem to love me also," C.L. wrote. "Do they have souls the same way we do? Sometimes I think they must, because they all have such expressive and affectionate personalities."
In response, Graham wrote, "I'm glad your pets bring you happiness; I grew up on a farm, and animals have always been a part of my life. God not only created the animals, but he also gave some of them the ability to express affection and loyalty."
The evangelist contended that while we have "much in common with animals," such as a physical body and an ability to express emotion, God gave us something animals do not have: He gave us a soul or spirit.
"Unlike them, we can know God and make him part of our lives. We also can discover how he wants us to live, and realize that we are accountable to him for our actions. All of this is possible because God put something of himself within us. The Bible says, 'God created mankind in His own image" (Genesis 1:27),'" Graham wrote.
The Bible has much to say about what we can learn from animals, and also how we should treat them, he continued.
"Just as sheep are dependent on their shepherd, Jesus said, so we are dependent on God. Treating animals cruelly or neglecting them is wrong, the Bible states, because we have a God-given responsibility to care for them. The Bible says, 'The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel' (Proverbs 12:10)."
In concluding his response, Graham encouraged readers to be grateful to God for their pets, but "don't love them more than you love other people - and especially God. The Bible says, 'and this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another' (1 John 3:23)."
The Kansas City Star often published such Q&A's between readers and Graham, who recently released his latest book, Where I am: Heaven, Eternity and Our Life Beyond.
Last week, Graham emphasized that it is "wrong, and a sin in the eyes of God" for Christians to criticize their pastors.
"Why do some people seem to enjoy criticizing their pastor?" read the question sent to the evangelist, according to the website of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, now headed by his son, the Rev. Franklin Graham.
"No pastor is perfect, of course - but if God has called someone to be a pastor and has sent them to serve a particular church, then they should be helped and encouraged in every way possible," Graham responded, quoting 1 Samuel 26:9: "Who can lay a hand on the Lord's anointed and be guiltless?"
This doesn't mean "pastors should always be above criticism - even if they neglect their responsibilities or otherwise are at fault," Graham clarified.
"But most churches have ways of dealing with such matters through their ruling board or denominational structure. Paul reminded the Christians in Corinth that 'everything should be done in a fitting and orderly way,'" he added, referring to 1 Corinthians 14:40.
As reported by the Gospel Herald, Graham has made very few public appearances due to physical complications related to Parkinson's disease. However, Rev. Franklin Graham told Fox News host Greta Van Susteren in September that while his father's body may be weakened, his mind is as sharp as ever.