Rev. Koole is pastor of Faith Protestant Reformed Church in Jenison, Michigan.

Presidential Policy and Stem-cell Research

Stem-cell research. It’s all the rage.

Whether we like it or not, the issue of genetic engineering has become everybody’s business. As twenty-first century Christians we face and must be ready to answer some hard questions. Mankind has entered the last frontier. It is not out there in space; it is life within: the human cell, DNA, the genetic code, that which makes us who we are. With this knowledge and code at his disposal, man stands before the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil once more. Of course, man would like to convince himself that it is the Tree of Life, and he has the perfect right to use it as he sees fit. Behold, the fruit looks good, very good, a thing to be desired. “We will be as gods, making man in the image of self. Think of all the suffering we can alleviate and even prevent altogether. We will use it only for good.” Who can resist putting forth his hand to pluck and taste the forbidden fruit? If a perfect woman in the very beginning found it impossible, do not expect proud, fallen men to do so today.

Mid-August our President set forth the new national policy on stem-cell research (which, of course, ties directly into human cloning and genetic engineering). It was one of those all too familiar politically expedient attempts to say yes and no at the same time: No, we must not go down this forbidden road; but, in the instances where some have started down this forbidden road already, yes, it may continue.

In my judgment, few have explained better the slippery slope our society is on (and has been since the infamous Wade vs. Roe decision) than the syndicated columnist Paul Greenberg. In an article entitled “The Cloning Question: Drawing the Line, Again and Again,” he writes (first half of his article):

Still another line has been drawn in the ever shifting sand that is the debate between Life and Choice, this time on the issue of human cloning. Last week the U.S. House of Representatives voted 265 to 162 to ban the creation of human embryos for research purposes, but you know the cloners will be back—as sure as Dr. Frankenstein always had to make one more try, confident that this time … he would get it right.

In Britain, cloning is already legal for research though not reproductive purposes, although it won’t be easy to distinguish between the two processes. In labs around the world the lights are burning deep into the night. The question before the House last Tuesday wasn’t whether somebody is going to clone a human, but whether the law should approve.

Well, why not? It’s only one more line to cross. In a long and continuing succession of them:

First we saw nothing wrong with in vitro fertilization, complete with the destruction of those “surplus” embryos.

Then we were going to draw the line at using those leftover embryos for stem-cell research, but that frontier is about to be crossed. (Why let those perfectly good embryos go to waste?)

Once we drew the line at abortion, but now even the semi-infanticide called partial-birth abortion has the blessing of the courts.

Remember when we drew the line at euthanasia? Assisted suicide is now coming into its own.

Down and down we go, ’round and ’round we go, and there’s no stopping once we have adopted Quality of Life as our standard instead of mere life. (And we the scientific will define your Quality of Life, thank you.) A comatose patient, a fetus, a depressed and suicidal subject convinced his death is inevitable (and whose isn’t?), an embryo … they all become legitimate prey. Leben—sunwerten Lebens, as the more scientifically advanced Germans termed it in the 1920s—life not worth preserving.

Our society has adopted the vocabulary of our moral relativists, there is no bottom to this slope: Human embryos become only blastocysts, just clumps of cells to be manipulated for the greater good. Therapeutic cloning is good, though it is scarcely therapeutic for the embryo involved, and reproductive cloning is bad. But only for now. For there is always an “only for now” attached as one line in the sand after another waits to be crossed.

As the distinction between permitted and forbidden fades ever more quickly, cloning starts to look like no big deal. It’s just the latest Choice in this moral progression—or regression.

In the end, this debate between those who would ban human cloning for any reason and those who would allow it for experimental purposes—and soon enough for a lot more—isn’t really a clash of arguments but of attitudes. Some see unlimited good while others remember the unlimited evil man can do in the name of good. And for profit.

Indeed, lines in the sand. Like Hitler in his land grabs of the previous century, the “liberals” assure all that this will be the last concession needed. It will not lead to greater evils and assaults on defenseless life. What kind of monsters do you think we are! And the Chamberlain-like “conservatives” want to assure themselves this is where it will all stop. Just another concession or two, and it will be “peace in our time!” But such greed and self-serving ambition is never satisfied. The next demand with its face of evil is but around the corner. In fact, according to Time Magazine (Sept. 3, ’01), in a small article entitled “Two Weeks later, Cracks in a Carefully Crafted Policy,” things are becoming unraveled already. It has come to light that virtually all stem-cells are cultivated using embryonic mouse tissue (in order to provide the human embryos with nutrients crucial to their survival). This would violate current FDA laws governing treatment of humans with tissue from another species due to risk factors involving animal viruses. According to the correspondent,

This news sparked renewed calls for the president to loosen his policy and allow further harvesting from embryos, this time without using animal tissue in the petri dish. Senator John Kerry warns that if federal dollars aren’t made available for new cell lines, Congress may yet wrest the policy from the White House. Just when you thought the fight was over.

Only a fool would think the fight is over, or that stem-cell research and engineering of human genetics by ungodly man is going to be held in abeyance, presidential policy or not. What this president decided settles nothing. The next one will just as easily reverse the policy with a wave of his pen. And just because this nation is forced for a time to exercise some moral restraint, that does not stop the rest of the world. As Mr. Greenberg pointed out above, “In labs around the world the lamps are burning deep into the night.” The world of scientific know-how, and of blind ambition, does not stop with the good old USA, you know.

The Divorce and Remarriage Scandal

We live in an age when scandals in the church have often sullied the name of Christ associated with her. But surely one of the worst, if not the worst, is what has been allowed to take place in contemporary Protestantism in the marriages of her members. A recent study reported by Janet Chismar (the Religion Today editor for Crosswalk News Services) reaffirms just how seriously amiss things are in this area inChristendom today.

Brace yourself for the latest batch of research results: Born-again Christians are just as likely to divorce as non-born-again adults. A new study from Barna Research Group, released earlier this month, shows that 33 percent of all born-again individuals who have been married have gone through a divorce. That number is statistically identical to the 34 percent of non-born-again adults who divorce, says Barna.

Anticipating “hostility and denials” that emerge whenever his company releases new survey data showing that massive numbers of born-again Christians get divorced (sic!—KK) researcher George Barna provided additional details regarding the data. “The adults analyzed in the born-again category were not those who claimed to be born-again, but were individuals who stated a personal commitment to Christ, confessed their sins, embraced Christ as their savior, and believed that they have received eternal salvation because of their faith in Christ alone.”

And now note the following, as Barna continues to underscore just who these divorcees are:

“More than 90 percent of the born-again adults who have been divorced experienced that divorce after they accepted Christ, not before.” Barna adds, “It is unfortunate that so many people, regardless of their faith, experience a divorce, but especially it is unsettling to find that the faith commitment of so many born-again individuals has not enabled them to strengthen and save their marriages.”

Unfortunate? Unsettling? Mild words, to say the least. How about “grievous” and “lamentable”? And what message does this send to the world? A scandal, an offense. If such faith makes so little difference in this most fundamental relationship in life (the truest test of that “love” the church is so enamored with these days), is there anything to be said for the difference faith and Christianity is supposed to make at all? And this does not yet address the children (the coming church generation) injured and scarred by it all. The article goes on to point this out. It quotes a Christian counselor explaining what counselors are faced with.

“Young people tell us that if they are in love and God is with them, then that is all they need,” says Leslie Parrott. “Later, if they are not happy, they say, ‘God wants me to get a divorce.’ There is very little appreciation that marriage requires hard work and communication skills. They have been shown by the example of friends and family that when things go bad, you just get divorced.”

There you have it. First, the grievous example displayed by church members all around them, with the church’s blessing, mind you. Evidently Christianity does not have all that much to do with faithfulness and keeping one’s vows when it comes to marriage. And secondly, notice that the emphasis is upon one’s own happiness. God wants me to be happy. And you don’t make me so very!! What is this but the practical expression of the man-centered gospel preached everywhere today. Could it be that the church has not listened to Christ’s words on divorce and remarriage, refusing to preach His “But I say unto you…” (cf. Matt. 5:31, 32), and then to hold its members to that hard, self-denying requirement? And where do such churches even start now? Indeed, it all underscores just what we have to be thankful for when it comes to our (biblical) stand on divorce and remarriage. The mess out there is sad beyond words, and the witness of Christ is sorely compromised.