Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lutherans, Hogs and Social Statements Part Deux

A couple of weeks ago I went to a Forum on "Genetics and Faith" led by my Bishop Steven Ullestad who is on the task force that put together the ELCA Social Statement on Genetics Faith and Responsibility.

So I've been meaning to write about this and then  Clint Schnekloth over at Lutheran Confessions has to go and beat me to it.  Good thing he did because I started writing a LONG comment on his page and thought "Hey - why not save all this for MY blog!"

So my first comment is to answer the what I think is dumb criticism from people who say the church has no business sticking it's nose in this and stick to religion.  Um.  

Well, the only problem with that is that there are Christian scientists and geneticists.  

Yes really!  Bishop Ullestad told of hearing from people of faith  who work in this field saying "Why does God let me see what I see and give me no one to talk about it?"  One woman was scolded by her pastor for being in the field of genetic work and then derided by her co-workers for being involved in church. 

Look at the people on this task force, it's not just about of pastors sticking their nose in something they know nothing about.  

There are brilliant scientists who are highly regarded in their field on this task force.  There are also farmers and people schooled in agriculture.  

This is not about ivory tower theologians telling people what to do, these are real people, grappling with real issues of science and faith, some of whom for the first time have had an opportunity to talk about this with other Christians.  

f you don't know that there are people out there facing these issues then you are up in a tower somewhere.

Pastor Schnekloth wonders why their embryonic stem cell research is not addressed.  Well, apparently that is old news.  They have found other ways of getting those cells without using embryos and so it's no longer an issue.  The question they are asking now is "At what point to you inject so much human genetic material into a pig (to harvest organs) that it is no longer a pig?"

Yes, friends, we have been so busy worrying about who loves what gender that we have ignored some REAL moral dilemmas growing up around us.  

The study comes out against cloning human beings.  But says something very interesting. 

 However, if individuals are cloned despite societal and ELCA rejection, this church will respect their God-given dignity and will welcome them to the baptismal font, like any other child of God

You know why they put that in there, don't you?  They believe it is going to happen.  Whether the church approves of it or not.   Wake up and smell the coffee people!

There is some very good stuff on creation and care of creation and what I think is a very provocative statement:

Today, the meaning of “common good” or “good of all” must include the community of all living creatures. The meaning also should extend beyond the present to include consideration for the future of the web of life. The sphere of moral consideration is no longer limited to human beings alone.

But lest PETA (an organization for which I, an animal lover have NO respect) get too excited - there is this

The pursuit of genetic knowledge and its applications will rightfully give priority to serving the needs of existing individuals and the human community, with particular attention to the needs of the most vulnerable. These efforts, however, must not compromise the integrity of future human generations and should consider the integrity of the rest of the biosphere—animals, plants, soils and the ecosystem as a whole, including the water and air on which it depends.
A measured, Lutheran middle of the road position. Humans first, but concern for the rest of creation.

I think it is an EXCELLENT EXCELLENT study and you should have your folk read it.  Because this stuff is going to affect all of us.


  1. I really don't understand the very artificial line that some would draw that suggests addressing matters related to genetics is somehow getting off topic, especially the suggestion that the church should stick to religion. Huh? That is such a warped view of what religion is. It would seem to me to either posit science as an antithesis to religion (which it is not), or make religion a purely private domain of vaguely spiritual feelings or magic hocus pocus. The idea that religion doesn't inherently connect with such things just boggles me.

    And the person who was scolded by her pastor for working in genetics, was she a Lutheran, another mainline denomination, or someone from a more American Evangelical/fundamentalist background? If the later, I would sadly not be even a tad surprised, but if either of the former, I find it most distressing.

  2. On the two hot button issues, embryonic stem cells and human cloning, I think I'm with Clint. I do think that a statement on genetics should have addressed, even briefly, embryonic stem cell research. While there is promise that other stem cells may be of great use, and use of embryonic stem cells could be avoided for many applications, it's not at all clear that they are a universal substitute. There are differences in the potentials of embryonic stem cells and other sorts of stem cells, and there is still much that needs to be explored on both fronts. So, yes, I think they should have addressed the subject.

    On human cloning, concerns about risk of harm in attempts at human reproductive cloning are real and important, and they do suggest that a great deal of other research needs to be done before it be attempted, but that doesn't seem to be the main reason for the rejection in the statement or generally in our society. The rejection of cloning even if those issues were resolved smacks of unfounded bias and largely unexamined reaction. The statement simply assumes, with no foundation, that a cloned individuals would "be treated as a means to another person's end." (Yet, isn't it entirely possible that people can, and actually do, perhaps not infrequently, conceive children naturally for their own personal ends?)

    The most grevious problem is that the place that the statement ought to start the discussion is placed as an afterthought about if it should happen despite rejection by church and culture. Clint is right on the money there. That a person born as a result of cloning has god-given dignity and would be welcomed at the baptismal font like any other child of God is and ought t be the basic premise and first principle in considering human reproductive cloning. Other matters may follow, carefully thought out and fully examined, that might still mitigate against the use of such procedures in the future. But the full personhood, dignity, and welcome as children of God must be an opening matter not an afterthought. That they got this so backward is, frankly, shocking.

  3. I was kind of tired when I wrote this last night so I did not address some of my concerns about the cloning ban. I asked at the forum why cloning was all that different really than in vitro. It just seems to me a lot of the arguments against it were the same against in vitro many years ago. And one of the arguments is how many deaths are involved with the failed attempts at cloning and how that is unacceptable for humans. Well what about all the human embryos that are destroyed with in vitro? I think the reasons why cloning is unacceptable need to be spelled out more.