Last week my assignment for class was to read the ELCA Draft Social Statement on Genetics. In case you’re not a social statement expert (I was pretty clueless myself) or just need a reminder, ELCA social statements are teaching and policy documents that assist members in discernment for action and in forming judgements on social issues.

During my time working here I’ve had the pleasure of rubbing shoulders on the ninth floor with some of my Church in Society colleagues who work in Studies, the department responsible for overseeing the development of social statements and social messages. I believe the work they’re doing is incredibly important, and I’m glad that I am finally taking the time to read and think about our church’s social statements. (Nothing like a homework assignment to get you to make time for something you’ve been meaning to do!) This past week’s assignment was the Human Sexuality Statement, and I’m looking forward to some good discussion tonight.

But back to Genetics — one of the three social statements currently in process. I was surprised by how often issues surrounding world hunger were addressed in the draft or brought to mind as I read it. There was a disconnect in my thinking about how the root causes of and solutions to world hunger could be related to genetics, but there are many connections! When we talked about it in class last Wednesday, my discussion group highlighted the section of the draft statement about “the global context of genetic developments” as some of the most crucial material in the statement. The statement addresses agricultural, environmental and justice problems. Many passages plainly spell out these connections and the stand our church can take on them:

“The decision whether to use genetically modified seed affects not only the contents of U.S. breakfast cereal but also what kind of seeds become available for African farmers” (13).

“Inequalities limit who is included and who is excluded from discussions and evaluations of genetic developments. Some in the U.S. and others in the global village do not have access to, and likely will not benefit greatly from, the fruits of genetic research” (13).

“Many resource poor countries have critical needs that do not require genetic solutions. These include infrastructure, food distribution, clean water, housing and basic health care” (13).

“Genetic knowledge and its application will give particular attention to the needs of the most vulnerable” (18).

“Human deliberation should give special regard to the voices of those who work closest to the land and with living creatures” (29).

“The principle of solidarity…calls for weighing the needs and desires of relatively affluent populations in light of the most pressing needs in resource poor nations” (27).

“The ELCA has called for scrutiny as to “how specific policies and practices affect people and nations that are the poorest.” This raises the question, for instance, of whether genetically engineered food, and the practices associated with it, increase the availability and equitable distribution of food for people who are hungry in the short-term and increase the ability of people to feed themselves in the long-term” (24).

Have you read the Draft Social Statement on Genetics? What do you think? The deadline for responding to the draft before the process continues is next Friday, October 15. Respond online here!

Julie Reishus