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Vicar James Thompson the Animals’ Padre. By Dr. Chapman Chen



 

Summary: Vicar James Thompson (1930-2015) from Wales, known affectionately as the “Animals’ Padre”, is one of the first modern-day Christian priests and theologians to recognize Jesus as an animal liberator, to support militant direct action to rescue animals, to openly accuse mainstream churches of anthropocentrically limiting God’s compassion to humans, to interpret “dominion” in Genesis 1 as stewardship instead of despotism, and to conduct blessing services for animals. His weaknesses include his misbelieving that Jesus ate fish without questioning the text concerned and the context; and his interpreting “dominion” in Genesis 1 as human authority over animals though not necessarily as tyranny.

 

 

1. Who’s Vicar James Thompson

 

Rev. James Thompson (1930-2015) was a revered vicar and animal rights campaigner from Holywell, Flintshire, Wales. His life was marked by a profound dedication to animal rights, spirituality, and community service.

 

Ordained in 1966, Rev. Thompson served his ministry across England and Scotland before retiring to Holywell in 1995. He was granted the Bishop's Permission to Officiate, allowing him to continue his service within the Diocese of St Asaph. Rev. Thompson's passion for animal rights led him to found the group Christians Against All Animal Abuse and become a patron of Capricorn Animal Rescue. He was a familiar figure at the pet cemetery in Holywell, offering comfort to those grieving the loss of their pets. His commitment extended to leading worship on Remembrance Sunday at the Animals In War Memorial in London, honoring the forgotten victims of war (Gilheany 2010).

 

There was an increase in media coverage of his animal blessing services whilst Rev. Thompson was the Priest in charge of St. Clements church and Episcopal chaplain at Aberdeen’s Royal Infirmary in the late 1980s. A retired army officer of senior rank and a patient at the hospital greeted him as ‘The Animals’ Padre,’ on a particular occasion and the nickname has been adopted throughout the media over the years (Gilheany 2010).

 

Rev. Thompson’s books on animal theology, as collected in Phillip Jones (2022), include Retreat From Responsibility (1989), Cast Out of The Ark (1994), A Cleric’s Contempt of Animal-based Cancer Research (1990), Reflections of a Spiritual Tramp (1996), Praise for Creatures Great and Small (1988). Other books by Thompson include The Bible, The Church & The Animal Kingdom (1989), How to Balance Through Life (1996) and The Young Spiritual Tramp (2005).

 

2. Jesus as an Animal Liberator

 

Vicar Thompson’s very likely the first modern-day pastor and theologian to support militant animal liberation activism in terms of civil disobedience or direct rescue action, by arguing that such activism is just following in the footsteps of Jesus cleansing the Temple (cf. Jones 2022:32-33). Vicar Thompson’s (1994) suggestion that Jesus is a direct action animal liberator, guilty of civil disobedience, is a pioneering one, which precedes even Keith Akers (2000), though the latter explores and elaborates on it more deeply and extensively, in particular, contending that Jesus was killed as a result of cleansing the Temple. 

 

Indeed, if the ‘Triumphal Entry’, touched upon earlier, was a mark of His meekness, then the Cleansing of the Temple which followed on from it was a mark of His ferocity! But then I refer to the Johanine account of an almost identical occurrence, an earlier cleansing of the same Temple. Near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, we find Him making a whip and not only showing physical violence but uprooting or overturning the tables of the money changers (as narrated by the Synoptists). But we also read of how on this earlier occasion He used the scourge to liberate the animals from the precincts. Consequently, they were freed from being from being sold for ritual sacrifice (John 2:15).

 

It is obvious, therefore, whether we like it or not, that Jesus of Nazareth was not only a law breaker, guilty of civil disobedience, but on this occasion an animal liberator [Jones 2022:33].

 

3. Support for Militant Direct Action to Rescue Animals

 

With Jesus’ militant example in liberating innocent creatures from the Temple, Vicar Thompson leads us to appreciate the righteous indignation of those of the animal liberation front.

Let us then as professed followers of the Nazarene, see to it that we do not unduly criticise those of the animal liberation front who get ‘carried away’ by a righteous indignation! If we got more infuriated against the brutality they oppose, it might say more for us! Oh how easy it is for all of us to criticise the zeal in others that we ourselves lack and to find rationalisation for our own cowardice! There are times of exception when loyalty to the highest laws will necessitate us breaking lesser laws.  In Jesus, the Christ, we have the most militant of people as well as the most meek, and He was The Master of every situation. (Jones 2022:32-33)

Thus, it's hardly unexpected that by 1983, the clergyman had emerged as a prominent local leader in an expanding movement. During this time, a blend of direct action and widespread protest manifested in raids aimed at collecting information, saving animals, and leveraging media hype. As a result, Rev. Thompson became a notable figure in the local news in 1983 due to his endorsement of unlawful protest methods.

As a Christian I would not advocate anarchy or violence, but at the same time I realise even the Lord upturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple (“‘Break the law’ urges vicar” – (Bradford) Telegraph and Argus, Thursday, March 24th 1983, p1.) (see Gilheany 2010). 

In the same year, Rev Thompson led a funeral-themed protest at Bradford University and attacked the churches during a speech at a follow-up demonstration:

Like the Pharisees at the time of Christ, clergy, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and the Pope are obsessed with relatively minor issues like sexual morality and four letter words while ignoring animal welfare (28). (‘Animal rights rap for churches’ – (Bradford) Telegraph and Argus, Monday, August 8th 1983, p1.) (see Gilheany 2010).

 

James Thompson was a militant advocate of animal rights in and out of the church. He had represented the Dean of Westminster in submitting relevant petitions to 10 Downing Street; and, upon the request of animal activists, he had addressed an assembly of more than eleven thousand. (Thompson 1988, Praise for Creatures Great and Small, back cover; see Jones 2022:213).

 

4. Open Accusation of Mainstream Churches of Excluding Animals

 

Below please find an excerpt from Rev. James Thompson’s (1989) book, ‘Retreat’ from Responsibility: Christian Apathy and the Animal Cause, as collected in Phillip Jones (2022). He is most probably one of the very first modern-day formally ordained Christian priests to openly accuse mainstream churches of betraying God’s all-embracing compassion by confining His love to the homo sapiens and excluding all other animals from the ark of salvation. He even calls these church leaders modern Pharisees and scribes, who, he believes, would seize the first opportunity to dispose of Jesus if He were to come again and minister. Prof. Andrew Linzey (1995) and Prof. David Clough would, of course, call anti-vegan mainstream churches humanocentric and anthropocentric, but not so bluntly as Thompson. Indeed, according to the back cover description of Phillip Jones (2022), Vicar Thompson was blacklisted by an archbishop for speaking out for animal rights. 

 

As a priest of the worldwide Anglican communion, I openly accuse each one of its branches of falsely betraying the love, mercy and compassion of God by making them far too small. Indeed, to the leaders of each major denomination I would equally say: “You take the God of the Bible and by your theology you shrink Him and His love as only embracing humanity! The God of my Bible made room for the animals within the ark (Genesis 7:14), but you exclude them from your ark of salvation. My God is concerned about the beasts of the field and the birds of the air (Psalm 50:10-11), where you have limited His love and all-embracing compassion to your own motley species.”

 

I’m convinced that if Jesus visibly ministered in a manner similar to two thousand years ago then the modern counterparts of those first century scribes and Pharisees: many pontiffs, prelates and priests, would be the first to get rid of Him. And this because Jesus would surely denounce most of them for the same kind of reasons – limiting the mercy, love and compassion of Almighty God, and putting moral priorities completely out of perspective….

 

I attended an evangelical renewal meeting, a year or so ago, within the Church of England. During a question time there, when I suggested that there surely could be no true manifestation of God in a church which excluded animals, I was howled to derision by several clergy: “What connection can there possibly be between animal concern and the Holy Spirit?” they asked, and then one or two just about burst their sides before waiting for an answer. (see Jones 2022:3-4) 

 

5.  Did Jesus Really Eat Fish or Even Lamb?

 

While Thompson, as aforementioned, is adamant that Jesus is a militant animal liberator, he, just like Andrew Linzey and Davic Clough, paradoxically thinks that Jesus ate fish and maybe even lamb! Moreover, he warns people against twisting Jesus Christ into a vegetarian mould:-

 

Jesus, nearing the end of His Ministry, prepared His disciples through prophetic symbolism, for His own departure from them. He took bread and wine, and it is ‘possible’ that He partook of the Passover Lamb, though it is questionable due to His criticism of sacrificial ritual already touched on. Yet we have no more right to twist Our Lord into a vegetarian mould than others might, one of a total abstainer! Indeed, the lengths to which some Christian sects will go to get Jesus pigeon-holed into their own preconceived moral moulds is quite remarkable!

 

One thing we do know is that during the next day Jesus was crucified because of the way He had used his tongue, but miracle of miracles, death could literally never hold such a good person down. He arose from the dead, and a few days later, just to prove that He was more than a mere apparition, Jesus not only broke bread, but at the seaside He prepared some fish for those disciples who were to become fishers of men! One matter of true consolation is that the fish of that period were caught in nets! The abominable practice today of ripping a poor creature’s mouth by a hook is far removed from fishing nets in Bible fashion. Of course, whether creatures that wriggle on the shore, deprived of water, are really suffering, none of us can know. We presume they are – as we do the little fish they eat alive! (Jones 2022:35)

 

Admittedly I’m not as consistent as some would like me to be! On more diminishing occasions I’ll partake of a fish. But then Jesus multiplied fish and ate at least one; while many who would criticize Him quite hypocritically feed fish to their cats. Not to mention meat to their dog! Yes, one thing to avoid at all costs in our cause for animal activism is hypocrisy along with the inauguration of a witch hunt towards those not identical in priorities with ones self. (Thompson n.d.)

6. The Bible has been Subjected to Re-editing and Reformulation

 

Vicar Thompson rightly points out that the basic weakness of mainstream theology is that “it fails to perceive the bible for what it basically is: a collection of literature scanning the vast period of ancient Nation’s religious history, which was frequently modified, re-edited and reformulated” (see Jones 2022:44).

 

Then we wonder why he did not question those bible verses which allege that Jesus distributed fish or ate fish or interpretations of “dominion” as human authority over animals (see below).

 

7. All those Fishy Stories about Jesus

 

In my submission (Chen 2024b), instances of Jesus the Vegan Christ eating fish or helping His disciples to catch fish in the gospels are all products of either misinterpretation or later interpolation (cf. Chen 2023, 2022a, 2022b, 2020). I. Jesus miraculously aided Peter and his folk to catch a huge net of fish (Luke 5:1-11)? But Jesus then asked them to FORSAKE their NETS, follow Him and CATCH MEN INSTEAD OF FISH. Matthew 4:18-20 and Mark 1:16-18 also record this story albeit without the first part. II. Jesus directed Peter to go hook a fish and dig a coin from her/his mouth in order to pay a temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27)? This could not be real for, firstly, it was never executed; secondly, it's improbable that Jesus would have performed a complex miracle in order to pay his own tax; thirdly, how could Jesus, who died for animal liberation (Akers 2000), have had the heart to order his disciple to do such a cruel thing to an innocent fish? III. Jesus multiplied "five loaves and two fish" to feed the multitudes (Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:12-17, John 6:1-14)? However, Jesus therein broke and handed out loaves but not fish (Matthew 14). Moreover, the Greek word for fish (ἰχθύας) is a code word for "Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior" (Akers 2000); and "fish (opsarion)" may also be a mistranslation of the Greek word for "fishweed (opson)" (Hicks 2019; Giron 2013). IV. Luke's story of Jesus helping Peter to catch fish and His eating fish to prove to the eleven disciples on the very night of his Resurrection that he's no ghost is clearly a forgery, for both the date and the venue contradict Mark and Matthew (cf. Vujicic 2016).  

 

8. Jesus did not eat Lamb

 

Jesus did not eat lamb at Passover for he deliberately held the Last Supper before Passover (John 13:1-2). Also, nowhere in the canons is it mentioned that Jesus ate the Passover lamb.

 

9. “Dominion” as Stewardship

 

Around the same time as Rev. Prof. Andrew Linzey (1994), Vicar Thompson (1994) proposed that “dominion” in Genesis 1:28 means stewardship rather than tyranny or despotism.

 

Looking closer into Genesis it would seem that in Paradise animals, though under the dominion of man, were as free as was woman under the dominion of her husband! It would imply that in Eden there was order and graded authority to be equated with the later guardianship and Biblical form of a faithful stewardship, far removed from any exploitation and oppression. (see Jones 2022:26)

 

Having said that, Thompson, just like Andrew Linzey, still regards human “dominion” as some sort of mastership with considerable power over animals. It seems that Thompson had forgotten that absolute power absolutely corrupts (Lord Acton 1887).

 

I’m grateful myself that though there are more animals and insects in this world than there are humans, God made me one of the latter! Bearing this in mind, and realising that someday I will be called to give account of my stewardship. What will I be able to say to the One who not only called Himself the Good Shepherd but was also pleased to be referred to in terms of an animal: a lion as well as a lamb (Revelation 5:5 & 22:1)? There IS a place for man’s dominion over the creation, but let us never forget that it implies that of a caring master, and not that of a tyrant or a despot. (see Jones 2022:9)

 

Worse still, Vicar Thompson compares human “dominion” over animals to a Christian husband’s dominion over his wife and Christian parents’ dominion over their offspring, which smacks of not only speciesism but also sexism and patriarchism:-

 

A Christian’s dominion over ‘lower’ forms of life, then, should be a reflection of Christ’s dominion over us! Or of a Christian husband’s dominion over the Woman he is called to cherish, protect, and possibly die for! It is, similarly, comparable to the dominion that Christian parents are expected to have over their offspring. Yes, it is all a dominion which is to be wed to a caring stewardship. An authority which protects and nourishes defenceless or weaker forms of life around. (see Jones 2022:129)

 

On the other hand, perplexingly, Vicar Thompson asserts that mainstream Christianity is anthropocentric in excluding animals and that God shows EQUAL concern for all of His creation:-

 

The world of the biblical era is far more inclusive and spiritually embracing than the puny anthropocentric world of Christendom. It is in many respects a very tonic for the Christian animal lover to behold. It reveals a God whose dealings are not only with humanity but with the larger creation with which He showed concern by providing room for them within the Ark (Genesis 7:8). Later He showed equal concern for them in the story of Jonah ( Jonah 3:8 & 8:11)! (Jones 2022:24)

 

10. “Dominion” as Servanthood

 

In my submission, it is more accurate and safer to interpret and translate “dominion” as servanthood. ירדו (yirdu), the ancient biblical Hebrew word in consonantal form for "dominion" in Genesis 1:28 connotes both רָדָה (radah) (to tread down, subjugate, rule) and יָרַד (yarad) (to lower oneself, to descend) (cf. Chaim & Laura 2015). Rev. Prof. Andrew Linzey argues that "dominion" in Genesis 1:28 means stewardship rather than despotism (Linzey 1995:34), because it is immediately followed by a vegan diet prescription by God to humans (Genesis 1:29). He even contends that the human species has the unique potential to become "the servant species" able to work with God in liberating animals (Linzey 1995:45, 57). Ritenbaugh (1999) also notes that in Genesis 2:15, humans are particularly assigned to tend (עָבַד/abad) and keep (שָׁמַר/shamar) the garden—i.e., to be a caretaker of it. Thus, "dominion over animals" signifies that God commands humandkind to lower themselves and serve other animals as a servant. Interpreting 'dominion' as 'servanthood' is safer than as 'stewardship' or 'caretakership,' because 'servanthood' implies the least power and authority (cf. Chen 2024a).  

 

11. Services for Animals

 

Rev. Thompson regularly conducted blessing service for goats, dogs and cats, etc. (Jones 2022: 59), and funeral services for animals (bigbaba5b 2011). It was while Vicar of St. Luke’s in Milnbridge during 1971 that Vicar Thompson started to hold animal blessing services. He recognized the role of Animals’ Vigilantes (laterally Animals’ Voice) in propagating such services after their formation in 1965 (see: Cast Out of the Ark, 79). He thought that most animals are often more loyal, reliable and caring than so many human beings, and these animals deserve respect when they pass away.

 

 

 

The vicar also complied, and published in 1988, 31 hymns and prayers for pet services and animal rights as a booklet entitled Praise for Creatures Great and Small (Jones 2022:157-217). 

 

12. Conclusion

 

In a word, despite his limitations related to the interpretation of human “dominion” over animals and to Jesus’ vegan diet, Vicar James Thompson remains one of the most outspoken, courageous, progressive and militant priests and theologians as far as the animal liberation movement from a Christian perspective is concerned. Amongst official Christian priests, his Christly compassion for non-human creatures of God is extraordinary, precious and noble. He really deserves the nickname, The Animals’ Padre. As there are still two billion Christians in the world, many of whom are non-vegan, let’s pray that many more animal-friendly Christian priests like him will appear, should it fit in with God’s grand scheme. Amen!

 

 

References

 

Akers, Keith (2022/2000). The Lost Religion of Jesus. Lagos: Lantern Books.

 

bigbaba5b (2011). “'Til Death Do Us Part part 2, with James Thompson the Animal Padre.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A27ZSQPmcUM&t=440s.

 

 

Chen, Chapman (2024a). "Dominion in Genesis 1:28 Means Servanthood to Animals. Go Vegan!" HKBNews, Apr. 14. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/dominion-in-genesis-1-28-means-servanthood-to-animals-go-vegan-by-dr-chapman-chen

 

Chen, Chapman (2024b). "All those Fishy Stories about Jesus the Vegan Christ." HKBNews, Mar. 17. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/all-those-fishy-stories-about-jesus-the-vegan-christ-by-dr-chapman-chen-hkbnews

 

Chen, Chapman (2023a). "Fish-hooking Never Meant by the VEGAN Christ!" HKBNews, Feb. 12. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/fish-hooking-never-meant-by-the-vegan-christ-by-dr-chapman-chen

 

Chen, Chapman (2023b) "Follow the Vegan Christ and Celebrate Easter without Taking Life!" HKBNews, Mar.  28. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/follow-the-vegan-christ-and-celebrate-easter-without-taking-life%EF%BC%81by-dr-chapman-chen

 

Chen, Chapman (2022a). "Jesus Calls Peter to Catch Men, NOT Fish. Go Vegan!" HKBNews, Oct. 10. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/jesus-calls-peter-to-catch-men-not-fish-go-vegan-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews              

 

Chen, Chapman (2022b). "Jesus did not Eat Meat. Go Vegan!" HKBNews, Mar.15. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/jesus-did-not-eat-meat-go-vegan-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews 

 

Chen, Chapman (2021a). "Did Jesus Declare All Foods Clean? Go Vegan!" HKBNews, Aug. 30. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/did-jesus-declare-all-foods-clean-go-vegan-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews

 

Chen, Chapman (2021b). "Jesus Asks us to Serve the Animals. Go Vegan!" HKBNews, July 10. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/jesus-asks-us-to-serve-the-animals-go-vegan-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews

 

Chen, Chapman (2021c). "Follow Christ's Words n Love your Neighbors, includ. Animals." HKBNews, June 15. https://www.hkbnews.net/post/follow-christ-s-words-n-love-your-neighbors-includ-animals-go-vegan-by-chapman-chen-hkbnews   

 

Gilheany, John M. (2010). “The Animals’ Pride.” Chapter11, Familiar Strangers: The Church and the Vegetarian Movement in Britain (1809-2009). Cambridge: Cambridge UP. https://www.all-creatures.org/articles/an-tpr-animals-padre.html

Giron, Denis (2013). "Vegetarianism in the Bible". ISKCON News, Mar. 30. https://iskconnews.org/vegetarianism-in-the-bible/

 

Hicks, Ryan (2019). Why Every Christian Should Be A Vegan. n.p.: Ryan Hicks.

 

Jones, Phillip (2022). The Animals' Padre: The Life and Works of James Thompson. London: Paragon Publishing.

 

Linzey, Andrew (1995/1994). Animal Theology. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

 

Linzey, Andrew (2007). Creatures of the Same God -- Explorations in Animal Theology. Winchester: Winchester UP.

 

Thompson, James (1994). Cast out of the Ark. In Jones (2022): 17-97.


Thompson James (1988). Praise for Creatures Great and Small. In Jones (2022):157-213


Thompson, James (n.d.) “A Cleric’s Contempt Of Today’s Dairy Industry.” Animal Padre's Christians Against All Animal Abuse. https://www.all-creatures.org/ap/art-acleric.html

 

Ritenbaugh, Richard T. (1999). "The Bible and the Environment." Forerunner, "Prophecy Watch," February. https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/2163/Dominion-over-Animals.htm

 

Vujicic, John (2016). "Did Jesus Eat Fish". https://www.all-creatures.org/discuss/didjesuseatfish-jv.html

 

 

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