|NCC policy helps member churches join biotechnology debates
Dec. 13, 2006
|Courtesy of the National Council of Churches
Clare Chapman presents the biotechnology policy to the National Council of Churches 2006 General Assembly in Orlando, Fla.
By Linda Bloom*
NEW YORK (UMNS) -- Should people of faith
join the debate on stem cell research, speak out about questionable
methods of human "enhancement" and push for adequate regulation of the
The National Council of Churches, representing some 45 million church
members, adopted a policy in November advocating just that type of
The policy challenges the idea that the representatives of the
scientific community and the government "ought to control the discussion
simply by virtue of their expertise. ... To be a responsible
church, members must be fully informed, equipped and empowered to serve
the common good."
Clare Chapman, an executive with the United Methodist Commission on
Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns, led the committee that
developed the policy, allowing the churches to jointly "bear witness to
their beliefs in an age of emerging technologies."
Chapman, who will become the NCC's chief financial officer in January,
attributed the successful adoption of "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: A
Policy on Human Biotechnologies" to a "stellar committee" and diligent
attention by delegates at both the 2005 and 2006 NCC General Assemblies.
The committee was named in 2003. "We worked for a full year just looking
at the science and then started drafting the text," she said.
Other United Methodists on the 16-member committee were Blythe Crissman,
a pediatric genetic counselor at Duke University Medical Center; the
Rev. James Fenimore, the Albany District superintendent for the Troy
(N.Y.) Annual Conference; and Victor "Leon" Cyrus-Franklin, a recent
graduate of Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta. NCC staff
representatives were the Rev. Eileen Lindner and the Rev. Marcel Welty.
Two resolutions -- on cloning and on biotechnology and national security
-- also were approved by the 2006 General Assembly. The cloning
resolution calls on Congress "to enact federal legislation that would
attach criminal penalties to the creation of human reproductive clones"
and asks worldwide governmental agencies "to regulate and oversee
laboratories with the capacity" to create such clones.
The resolution on biotechnology and national security calls for the
creation of a National Science Advisory Board for Bio-Defense within the
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The board would oversee
and regulate bio-defense activities within the government and private
The NCC is asking its member communions to study and implement the
biotechnologies policy and has developed a curriculum and study guide.
The guide grew out of "a request to the committee from last year's first
reading" for a hands-on, easy-to-read curriculum, according to Chapman.
She pointed out that while some background on the science of
biotechnologies is helpful for making statements of faith on the issue,
"you don't have to get in the real deep science to engage in policy
Not in full agreement
"Fearfully and Wonderfully Made" does not represent complete agreement
on biotechnology concerns among NCC members. The section on stem cell
research recognizes the divisiveness of the issue within the Christian
"There are places in ecumenical life when you agree it's not possible to come to agreement on an issue," Chapman explained.
In this case, the policy compares the lack of agreement to a similar
lack of consensus regarding abortion more than two decades ago. "As with
the abortion debate, much of the stem cell debate turns on the
differing views we hold on the moral status of human embryos," the
While the policy "neither endorses nor condemns experimentation" on
human embryos or the use of embryonic stem cells for research, "We are,
however, in agreement in our recognition of the irreducible sanctity of
human life, as well as the intrinsic moral and ethical good inherent in
efforts to reduce human suffering through medical science."
Among the policy's various recommendations are that NCC members identify
scientists who are church members to interpret biotechnologies; recruit
clergy and lay members who have the health care background to serve as
resources on the issue; and develop worship materials "that address the
emerging needs created by the new biotechnologies and the issues they
On the congregational level, priests, pastors and others are encouraged
to "recognize that genetics and bioengineering raise a number of
pastoral and theological questions with which they, as clergy, are
frequently and traditionally involved."
The committee's work is done, but Chapman said the NCC is teaming with
the World Council of Churches to sponsor an international consultation
on biotechnologies sometime in the fall of 2007.
The idea for such a consultation occurred after representatives of the
NCC committee met in Toronto with their counterparts in the Canadian
Council of Churches "and found a great agreement on much of this work,"
More information about "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: A Policy on
Human Biotechnologies," including downloadable versions of the policy
and study guide, can be found at www.ncccusa.org/biotechnology/ on the NCC's Web site.
Information also is available by calling Welty at (212) 870-2379 or
writing to the National Council of Churches Office of Research and
Planning, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 880, New York, NY 10115.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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