Genetic research's impact on society is in the early stages of being felt globally, but the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is thinking seriously how to respond to the great advances that may help cure society's ills and whether some of those same technologies could threaten human life and life on earth.
The ELCA Task Force on Genetics has written a draft social statement on genetics that will be considered by the 2011 Churchwide Assembly. Currently the group, composed of scientists, clergy and theologians, is looking for comments on the statement, which may be found in its entirety at
The document was mandated by the 2005 Churchwide Assembly and sets a policy for the church to guide its advocacy and work as a public church. Comments are welcome via a response form on the website, and the deadline for feedback is October 15. Synod hearings are also slated to take place to discuss the task force's findings. Social statements are adopted by a two-thirds vote of an ELCA Churchwide assembly.
This fifty-page social statement dives into the issues surrounding genetic research and technology in the public domain and specifically looks at the social and ethical framework surrounding changing the genetic make up of creation. More importantly, the document discusses the role of church leaders and scientists in leading the public to make informed choices when it comes to genetic innovation.
"This church trusts that this gracious God who creates, redeems and will fulfill creation has also granted human beings access to discernment and insight and entrusted us with the vocation to respect and promote the good of creation with justice and wisdom," the statement reads.
The genetic sciences insofar as they do not make false claims about God and do serve the common good are embraced by the church that also supports technological progress in the area of genetics. The statement says that the church believes that the
"greatest danger in genetic developments lies in the sinful exercise of
radically extended human power and not in any specific scientific or
At the same time, the ELCA rejects the "technological imperative" that humanity is free to use any knowledge that becomes available to create any technological application if the market will support it. Under this line of thinking, the reproductive cloning of human individuals is rejected as no individual should be brought into life for the sake of repeating another individual's genotype. But if reproductive cloning should progress, the church would honor the God-given dignity of cloned individuals and would welcome them to the baptismal font like any other child of God.
The ELCA is encouraging the use of human imagination and innovation through genetic knowledge and its application to heal afflictions, relieve human suffering and improve the human condition.
Another point in the statement is that the church is encouraging the evaluation of the public good in terms of sufficiency that genetic research, medicine, commerce and biotechnology should advance rather than simply considering the economic gain such advances offer. Regulation of genetic technology at the same time must be justified by specific concerns for the potential harm of the application and its delivery, or by the necessity to regulate toward equal access and use.
Int the area of stem cell research, the ELCA has maintained respect for the
"value, worth and dignity" of human embryonic life precludes the creation of embryos expressly for research purposes. Commercial development or embryo farming is incompatible with the church's understanding of the value of life.
The ELCA says it welcomes scientific research aimed at finding alternative sources of pluripotent stem cells that do not involve the use of human embryos. The use of surplus frozen embryos that were created for infertility treatment but are no longer needed is acceptable to the ELCA.
Another area of genetic research is in agriculture, and here the ELCA is supporting the call for increased education about, and the labeling of, genetically engineered food.
Areas and situations where the ELCA will reject goals and policies are times when use of any form of genetic knowledge or technology creates supposed states of near perfection or near immortality. Also when research endangers human bodies in the service of economic or social power arrangements.
Vigorous questions will be raised about goals and policies that expand research that knowingly and unduly endangers plant and animal species or the existence of biodiversity. Also investigated are cases where there is a negative impact on individual livelihoods, especially those related to agriculture. And lastly, when direct genetic knowledge and technology benefits the interests of a few at the expense of many, the ELCA will take a stand.
"This document tries to formulate a moral framework that can encompass questions about human genetics, and plant and animal genetics," said Dr. Per Anderson, professor at Concordia College, Moorehead, Minnesota and task force co-chair. He added that the church needs to think hard about these matters and get a consensus about how to things about the topics in a way that is truly Lutheran and truly Christian in the 21st century.
Covalence, July / August, 2010