Note: This is part of a series on the Social Statements adopted by the ELCA in Assembly. Previous reflections are available at www.montanasynod.org, archived.
By adopting the social statement, "Genetics, Faith and Responsibility" in 2011, the ELCA took a significant step in the engagement with science and technology. Accompanied by a 6-page glossary and 5 pages of footnotes, it takes on complex and sometimes controversial issues at the intersection of science and religion.
"The ELCA contends that morally responsible discernment about these matters requires knowledge and insights from both religious and secular sources. This statement draws on both to provide a framework for theological reflection, public moral deliberation, congregational life, pastoral practice and mission-oriented action."
Laying to rest any lingering doubts about the church's modernism, the statement asserts: "There is no inherent conflict between scientific findings and the understanding of God as creator, redeemer and sanctifier. Christians should celebrate the best of theoretical and practical genetic science that explores genetic structure, function and change."
The area of genetics covered by the statement are wide-reaching:
+Generic engineering in agriculture
+General commercial and legal applications
We are also reminded of the global impact of genetic science, and the interconnectedness not only of all humans, but of the whole planet. The statement acknowledges ambiguity--both the promise and the peril of technology. The statement's intent is not to endorse or condemn particular genetic technologies, but rather to call the church (including its trained scientists, engineers, physicians, agronomists and ethicists) to use the resources of faith for assessment and engagement with changing circumstances. It cautions against embracing all new genetic technologies on principle, and it cautions against rejecting all new genetic technologies on principle.
Using such theological concepts as creation, sin, vocation, redemption, hope and responsibility, the statement focuses on the good of the community of life, and how it is impacted by genetic science. "The good of the community of life should now serve as the overarching value to guide moral reflection and action." Respect is a moral baseline. Justice is the goal.
The statement outlines 4 principles for seeking justice in this area:
The statement concludes with reflection on koinonia, the Greek word that evokes "community," "reciprocity," "mutuality."
"The increasing complexity and diversity of options, decisions and points of view represent a key challenge to Christian community in this age of genetic knowledge. Christian community is an identity to be lived into, one that offers the basis for listening, speaking and being together as Christians. It is one that embraces the difficulties and joys as well as the ambiguities brought about in a time of immense new powers."
More than any other social statement, this statement on genetics focuses on a framework for decision-making and discernment, rather than on the specific issues themselves. Much of it could be applied to other issues of contemporary life--continued conversation, engaging knowledgeable lay people, using the resources of our colleges and social agencies, making congregations places where people can disagree without having to split the church.
Note: this statement was the first social statement after the human sexuality one, and perhaps reflects some of the learnings from the process of discussing the human sexuality one.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA