A letter to Rev. Jim Lavender
Dear Pastor Lavender:
I have recently read the news about how you use your big cats and other exotic animals as part of your ministry and ask that you please stop and consider the way in which you are treating these wonderful animals. They are NOT pets and should not be used to gain yourself more attention than you would otherwise obtain. It is not “legitimate entertainment” and I ask that you please consider what you are doing to the animals in your care and the message that you are sending to those around you.
Sincerely, Name Witheld by Request
After he replied with a litany of excuses and diversionary tactics, this same animal lover did some research and then sent the following letter back to him.
Subject: Please Stop Exploiting Exotic Animals
While I appreciate you taking the time to respond to my email, I was greatly disappointed that your response seemed to indicate that you missed the point of my email entirely. In fact, your responsive email seemed as riddled with misconceptions and inaccuracies as you say others make about you and your ministry. Given that the fate of the animals within your care rests solely with you, and your often-stated (though as of yet unseen) care and concern for those animals, I anticipated a response which would indicate your understanding and anticipated cooperation in righting what can only be termed as a grievous wrong.
You state that you were “born into the live entertainment world.” Unless I am mistaken, that reference is to Feld Entertainment, Inc. (d/b/a Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus). Considering the number of times that particular circus has been cited for cruelty to its animals, I hardly consider that a mark in your favor. Like you, Barnum alleges that it has been falsely accused and misrepresented, but as recent as last year they agreed to pay the USDA a fine for violating the Animal Welfare Act. That circus has been cited by every animal rights group there is (though, your email below indicates how you feel about animal rights groups, which is in line with the Circus’ opinion of them as well), and has numerous videos out there showing the Circus’ abuse, neglect and outright cruelty to its animals. For you to purposefully, willfully, and gleefully align yourself with an organization known for its excessive cruelty to and neglect of animals, does not at all speak well for you, your ministry, or your alleged “rescue” of abused and/or neglected animals.
You say that you “have many friends and business associates at every level of the industry, including music, stage, motion pictures, carnival and circus”. Again you choose to align yourself with entities known for abuse, cruelty and neglect. The motion picture industry’s history of abuse is as long as the industry itself. Even you say that you “readily agree … that there is serious abuse in the industry”, yet you continue to hold yourself out as being in that same industry! If the future of animals really was an utmost concern of yours, you would align yourself with the groups who are looking to right the wrongs committed by those industries. After all, you do know who they are, right? Your inaction is silently agreeing with those practices.
Rev. Lavender, everything you said to me in your email is a lie. You claim to take care of your animals, but you have been cited by the USDA (more than once) because your “natural habitat in [y]our private preserve, deep in the woods of Virginia” was not in good repair, nor was it structurally sound. Not only that, but you are known to travel with your animals for your “ministry.” There are NUMEROUS photos, blogs, and news stories depicting your travels and your ministry. These stories, photos, and blogs are not by your enemies…but are rather by people showing their support for what you do, by various newspapers of the places in which you are traveling, and some are interviews freely given by you. These stories show what a complete fabrication your email to me was. Your claims that “no one touches our animals other than my wife and myself. We do not charge people to see them, we do not haul them around constantly,” are ridiculous in the face of all of the easily obtainable evidence to the contrary! Attached are several photos showing people other than you or your wife touching the animals. Also, since your Thank God for Children Ministry is a “traveling” ministry which specifically includes the animals, how can you claim that you do not “haul them” around? As for manipulating the public for money, to me charging a fee to have someone kiss a camel is rather manipulative. Again, these are not claims made by “a Florida-based animal sanctuary with a long history of controversy,” these are facts YOU give in your own interviews!
I want to believe that you are exactly who you say you are. I truly want to believe that you “do not exploit, manipulate, use, or abuse any animal” as your email to me stated, but given your other mistruths, I cannot believe anything you say. The convenient way you are able to “rescue” animals from abusers and neglectors is because by your own admission, you associate with these people! You are aware of their misdeeds, and take advantage of their abuse to increase your own “herd.” Contrary to your claims, you are not acting as a sanctuary for these animals. Nor are you preserving them because you are doing “God’s work.” Your many television and newspaper appearances belie that fact.
The point of my email to you was not to provide you with yet another soapbox from which to spout your rhetoric. My point was to make you aware of the harm you are doing to these animals. The many pictures of you and your traveling “circus” show tigers and lions in cages barely large enough to accommodate a medium-sized dog. They show a half-grown white tiger cub in a small crate. This is far from the animals’ natural habitat. While you may believe that you are acting in the animal’s interest (which is the same mentality held by people who hoard animals to the animals’ detriment), nothing could be further from the truth. People like you are the reason we need new laws! I am sure that man in Ohio spouted the same claims as you, and no one can say whether he did or did not love his animals, but in the end, he was responsible for the death of them all. I fear the same fate for your animals. What arrangements have you made for their care when your “ministry” ends, or if something happens to you?
In one of your televised interviews you say that the new laws, if passed, would put you and others like you out of business. I certainly hope so! Despite your intentions, if you cannot afford the costs associated with being accredited, then you also cannot afford the cost of proper housing, nourishment and healthcare for your animals. You talk about how you provided Hope with life-saving surgery, but isn’t it true that the surgery was actually paid for by someone other than you? Was it paid for by your ministry alone? The truth is a lot less glamorous and makes you appear a lot less noble. Yet again you turned the truth around to make you sound like something you most assuredly are not! While it is wonderful that Hope’s life was spared, why didn’t you do whatever was necessary to shut down the horrible place that spawned her???
Rev. Lavender, if you truly love the animals in your care, do the right thing. Stop trying to run an animal sanctuary, while exploiting and neglecting the animals. You say you have adopted over 200 animals , yet you cannot account for them all. Where are they now? Given the anticipated lifespans of most of the animals, it is understandable that some are now deceased. However, given the vast number of animals you admit to owning, and the fact that you tend to “upgrade” frequently, what happens to the other animals? Is there a “pet cemetery” holding the bodies of these animals? Were they humanely euthanized after an illness? You say very little about that in any of your interviews. If you were a true animal lover, you would applaud laws such as the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act (HR 4122). You have admitted and acknowledged the abuse and neglect that these beautiful, exotic animals are made to endure.
As for the use of animals in your “ministry,” other than a depiction of Noah’s ark or the Crèche, there is very little cause for animals to be used to illustrate God’s word. Other ministers, evangelists and pastors all over the world manage to preach the message of God’s love without using one animal. Jesus traveled the world sending out his Father’s message. He walked. He did not even use an animal for transportation, other than as remarked in the Easter passage. If Jesus did not need exotic animals to illustrate His point, why do you?
If you are honest in wanting to do right by these animals, then send them to an accredited facility where they can get the care they deserve. Stop lying to the public about who you are and admit that when the time came to choose between serving God or continuing with the circus, you decided to have your cake and eat it too. Your advertisements bill your ministry as “the greatest show on earth.” I think what you do is a travesty and I believe your responsive email to me only demonstrates your dishonesty. You say you wish no one harm, well I can’t say the same. I honestly wish you could spend one week of your life as one of your own animals. I can think of no greater punishment than that!
Sincerely, Name Witheld by Request
We asked the author above to provide the resources used in their investigation of Rev. Jim Lavender and these were provided so you can do your own research.