Read the original article by Rachel Schallhorn at foxnews.com here.
A Tennessee megachurch is facing backlash after pastors used live animals on stage to illustrate a sermon on Sunday.
The Cornerstone Nashville church used a cougar, lion, mountain lion, a ram and miniature ponies in the sermon that focused on going back to school.
In the sermon, senior Pastor Galen Davis compared a lion and mountain lion to each other and used them to demonstrate the differences between fear and faith. The mountain lion, Davis explained, isn’t considered to be a big cat because it cannot roar; instead, he said, it screams.
“We have to move from being a people of fear to a people of faith,” he told churchgoers. “That when the scream of fear comes in our life, we know it’s not the real lion … We know that it’s not what God has for us.”
Pastors told WSMV-TV they are receiving threats after images and videos of the sermon circulated online.
“Is it really necessary for you to use animals to preach a sermon? Why?” one critic asked.
“This is really telling. Disgusting pastor. It’s all for show. It’s all for the money,” another commented on Facebook.
PETA Vice President Colleen O’Brien said the organization’s Christian outreach division “is encouraging Cornerstone Nashville to serve the meek by pledging never to exploit vulnerable animals ever again.”
“Using animals as living props is no way to honor the Christian message of compassion and mercy for all members of creation,” O’Brien said in a statement.
The clergymen defended their use of wild animals during the service.
“Certainly, I don’t believe in abusing animals,” lead Pastor Maury Davis told The Tennessean. “But, using animals, to me, is not wrong.”
“If I thought there could be an intelligent discussion, I would be willing to have that, but just arguing with people that are making really outlandish claims would be a waste of time and energy and fruitless,” he said.
Some churchgoers agreed with Davis, calling the sermon “great” while praising the “awesome church.”
“You go brother! Your congregation will never forget these awesome visuals to get across your message of faith! Praise be to Him!!!” one Facebook user exclaimed.
In a letter to the church, O’Brien said PETA hopes “you’ll agree that this cruelty doesn’t reflect the tenets of your church and that you’ll decide to leave animals out of your future events.”
“All animals are individuals, created by God’s wondrous hand, and they feel joy, sadness, loneliness, and fear, just as humans do. Using them in these types of displays undermines what it means to be a good steward of God’s creation,” O’Brien argued.
The animals were from Hollywild Animal Park, a non-profit zoo in Spartanburg, South Carolina – more than 350 miles away.
In 2016, Hollywild said it would pay a $19,000 fine after the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited it for multiple infractions, including unsafe conditions and lack of veterinary services, the Greenville News reported at the time. A year prior, nearly 30 animals reportedly died in an electrical fire.
According to WSMV, the state wildlife department was on hand during the sermon and had given approval for it.