As we stand at the dawn of a new millennium, we face yet another Pandora's Box. This one threatens to unleash an assortment of bio-technical devils stemming from recent research in the area of human genes and genetic codes.
As a result of the Human Genome Project, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, issues such as genetic mapping and sequencing, genetic engineering, cloning, organ farming, and other health-related issues will raise questions that could challenge our biblical world view.
Medical advancements in the area of genetics may have outpaced our spiritual and ethical preparedness to deal with the results of our research. For example, currently there is a moratorium on human cloning. But what if this changes? How are we to respond?
The area of greatest challenge will likely be an increased conflict between perspectives on genetic propensity (the tendency toward a certain behavior) and human responsibility. That is, if researchers claim to discover a genetic link to alcoholism, homosexuality, habitual criminality, or other abhorrent behaviors, will the person in question be held responsible for his actions in the area of identified weakness? The potential is for researchers to diminish personal responsibility and defer fault-finding to scientific definition. The result will be a medical/scientific claim that no one is personally responsible for behavioral choices.
We have already seen an attempt to link behavior to a supposed genetic tendency within the homosexual community. Some have asserted the existence of a "gay gene" and that those who have this genetic propensity should be accepted as normal. The mantra, "We were born like this," will likely become the battle cry of all who exhibit what has been considered heretofore sinful, unnatural behavior.
The motive behind such a battle cry is clear from statements made by leading homosexual activists. Stephen Glaser, a board member of GLSEN (Gays, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) and a leading proponent of the "gay gene" theory has boldly stated, "I don't want to be tolerated (as a homosexual). I don't want to be put up with. I want to be celebrated." Science may become the avenue to normalcy for unnatural, sinful behavior.
Does the Christian have a response to this issue and similar ones that will certainly eventuate? YES! Humans live under the curse of sin, a curse that not only destroyed our relationship with a loving God, but also marred our original, natural composition. In other words, the fall impacted every aspect of nature, including our genetic codes. When scientists succeed in mapping and sequencing the human genetic code, they will not discover a perfect map, but rather a genetic map that is skewed and broken. Genetic research may indeed find evidence of genetic propensities for unnatural behaviors, but this in no way justifies what the Bible declares to be sin. Propensity does not equal normalcy.
The solution to issues of genetic propensity and human responsibility remains redemption. In Jesus Christ we are saved from the domination of sin and our fractured, broken nature is renewed and remade as a new creation. Second Corinthians 5:17 states it so clearly, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" Galatians 6:15 declares, "Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation."
Challenges to truth are not new, but the results of genetic research will likely reenergize those determined to defy God's design. However, Christians can meet those challenges with the careful application of biblical truth, knowing that in Jesus Christ a new creation is possible.
Genetic Breakthrough: Milestone or Tombstone?
A team of international scientists has apparently deciphered the genetic code of a human chromosome in what some call a scientific milestone that could affect treatments for diseases ranging from heart disease to schizophrenia.
According to a December 1 Reuters report, researchers from Britain, the United States, and Japan declared they had mapped the entire sequence of the protein-coding genes of chromosome 22, the second smallest of the twenty-three pairs of human chromosomes.
In the report they also claimed to have identified 545 genes, 298 of which were unknown, giving new insights into how genes are arranged on DNA and how they can be used to prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases.
The story reported this as the first step in the Human Genome Project, which plans to sequence the entire human genome, all of the more than 100,000 genes in human DNA, by 2003.
The scientists have mapped out the 33 million base pairs of chromosome 22. Thirty-five diseases and syndromes, including some cancers, schizophrenia, deafness, and heart disease, have a genetic component linked to the chromosome, they said.
The sequence will enable scientists rapidly to design new experiments, identify new genes involved in disease and study their function.
The report also cited Dr. Peter Scambler, of the Institute of Child Health in London, who said the sequencing will accelerate understanding of diseases linked with chromosome 22.
"The sequence data will be used to increase our understanding of genetic influences on more common diseases, for example genes conferring protection from or a predisposition to heart disease, stroke, and psychiatric diseases," he said.
It also will give doctors new information on treatments, including side effects, diagnosis, and prognosis, Scambler added.
Kevin Shrum is pastor of Inglewood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn.