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Bringing hunting back into the church

5/31/2006

When some football players score a touchdown, they kneel down and pray, giving thanks to God. A number of hunters also say prayers of thanksgiving after killing an animal.

The first hunters, native people, had no problem mixing religion and hunting. They killed and ate their gods.

Hunting was a pillar of early religions; perhaps one of the earliest reasons to pray was to ask for spiritual help in successful, safe hunting. Hunting and religion have gone together for thousands of years, but in modern times the hunter is not always welcome in some churches.

Prejudice against hunters cannot be sanctioned by churches, as major religion forbids hunting for all.

In the Muslim faith, there are a series of religious laws, fatawa, that represent a code of hunting ethics about what to eat and how to hunt it. Mohammad himself was an archer and hunter, and the prophet Ishmael was considered a great hunter.

Some branches of Buddhism abstain from eating meat, but the Dalai Lama and the Guyuto monks tantric choir eat meat. Throughout Mongolia, where Buddhism is extremely popular, people hunt and trap freely. A Buddhist temple in my neighborhood holds barbecues as fund-raisers.

Upper-class Hindu Vaisyas (business people) and Brahmins (teachers and philosophers) are forbidden to hunt or eat meat, but the Ksatriyas (ruling class and military) enjoy both hunting and eat meat. The holy Vedic scriptures, the Sastras, explain which animals can be eaten and when, and what rituals to perform to honor the animals. The Rig Veda clearly states that so long as one is spiritually pure, eating anything is permissible.

There are many passages in the Bible about hunting; some even give advice on hunting ethics, such as in Deuteronomy XXII, which speaks to prohibiting the taking birds from their nests.

There are a number of Christian hunters' organizations, including Christian Hunters and Anglers, The Fellowship of Christian Hunters, Christian Bowhunters of America and the Christian Deer Hunters Association.

Perhaps the best known Christian hunters group of all is Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, which coordinates nationwide donations of wild game meat to the needy and sees itself as an "outreach ministry." During the last seven years, FHFH programs have paid for the processing and distribution of more than 1,400 tons, or 12 million servings, of venison. That's enough burgers to feed the entire population of Washington, D.C., for several weeks.

These Christian fellowship organizations are wonderful service and support groups.

However, in contrast to earlier times, many modern Christian hunters may not be integrated directly into the general worship services of churches in their community. In fact, in some places there is open support for animal rights and anti-hunting, which seems quite contrary to the spirit of tolerance and brotherly love of the Christian faith, as well as Biblical teachings.

The Wisconsin Daily Tribune recently reported that the First English Lutheran Church held its annual "Service of the Hunt" on the eve of deer season.

According to Rev. Stephen Dietzler, it gives hunters a chance to celebrate God's creation, and show parallels between hunting, Christian stewardship and Christian living. Dietzler, an avid hunter himself, encourages hunters to wear blaze orange or camouflage to church. More power to Rev. Dietzler. More parishes should follow his example.

Sprinkled throughout North America there are churches that hold special services on the eve of hunting seasons. They are usually small, rural parishes, in areas where schools close for deer season like we have "ski week" in California. It would be nice to see hunters' services also offered in urban areas.

The code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church says that priests may hunt.

In Cap St. Ignace, Quebec, around Sept. 1, the local Catholic church conducts a similar mass to honor hunters in the name of the patron saint of hunting, St. Hubert. In Cap St. Ignace, hunters not only wear hunting clothes into church, they bring their dogs for a blessing (St. Hubert is believed to have had special powers to cure rabies), as well as their guns. Officiants in the service enter and exit the church under an archway of hunters' guns, which also are blessed in the service.

Cap. St. Ignace is a small, rural community, but in some parts of Europe the tradition of honoring of St. Hubert is very mainstream. On Saint Hubert's birthday, Nov. 3, many Catholic churches hold a Mass of St. Hubert. Typically, hunters in their field clothes bring their dogs into the church for a blessing. Music for the mass, Grande Mess de Saint Hubert, is performed with hunting horns.

In Belgium, at the town of St. Hubert in the Ardennes Forest, as many as 10,000 people will attend church services and a festival to honor St. Hubert on his birthday.

If more than 90 percent of the population eats meat, and St. Hubert is the patron saint of hunters and butchers, then I believe that Christian churches across North America should honor St. Hubert. This would strengthen the role of the church in providing religious guidance about what animals can be killed and how they can be killed.

In return, I would seem fitting that hunters support a custom that I grew up with back in the Midwest, the annual wild game dinner to benefit the local church.

This kind of reciprocal relationship between the Christian church and hunters can increase ethical support for hunting and help integrate hunters into the community.

This would certainly heal community tensions and restore hunters to the rightful place in society as being heroes. It would also dampen animal rights criticism of hunting, for which I can find no support in any scripture of any faith.

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click here to purchase a copy.

To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.

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