Pacific University's Institute for Ethics and Social Policy has launched a very interesting program in concert with the National Institutes for Health (NIH) and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) called the "Faith Forum On Genetics."
"Community seminars" representing American Baptists, the Community of Christ, the Disciples of Christ, Episcopalians, Lutherans (ELCA), Roman Catholics, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, the United Church of Christ, and United Methodists are meeting over a period of three months to discuss from their own faith perspective the issues raised by genetic science. All the participants met together for an orientation and will be brought back together at the conclusion of the program to share their discussions with the larger ecumenical group. I'm a member of the cluster from Portland's First Congregational United Church of Christ.
Dr. Marc Marenco, director of the institute and a professor of philosophy at Pacific, writes that there are four objectives for the program:
1. A measurable increase in knowledge about genetic science.
2. A measurable increase in knowledge of the complexity of the ethical, theological and policy questions raised by genetic science.
3. Communication of the results of the work done by the different faith groups to policy makers.
4. Development of a flexible, always-up-to-date, adult education program for use in churches throughout the country.
The orientation put together by Pacific included presentations by The Rev. Dr. Audrey Chapman, director of the science and human rights program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Dr. Michael Banner, director of the genomics policy and research forum and professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland). Pacific has also provided participants with a notebook offering scientific background information and essays on different theological perspectives on genetic science.
The issues raised by this field of study are important for a range of reasons. More people gain access to this science every day (genetic testing, stem cell research, etc) and are grappling with the theological questions raised by such advances in medicine.
This past fall the National Council of Churches USA issued a draft policy statement related to this issue called Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: A Policy on Human Biotechnologies. The statement will be debated at the 2006 NCC General Assembly this fall. I wrote a review of the statement for a seminary course (a review that will provide readers with one Christian perspective on these complex issues). It is available here for download. NCC is soliciting feedback on their statement.
Unfortunately, discussions around this topic are highly politicized. The sponsors of this effort are providing an invaluable service by fostering discussion of a sometimes difficult topic in an atmosphere respectful and tolerant of different opinions.