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In Other Words: Record must be set straight in regard to biotech debate

I am writing in response to your front-page article in the Friday, Nov. 12, Daily Republic titled "Biotech debate leads to church fracture." As an ELCA pastor serving farm communities, I wish to set the record right.

First is the charge that the draft statement condemns the use of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). I have read the document, and that statement is inaccurate. Bishop Bill Rindy of eastern North Dakota put it well. "The draft does not condemn GMOs (genetically modified organisms). It just says that, as we're playing with the very building blocks of life, let's be careful and thoughtful about that because we do not want to do damage in the process. ... Nowhere does it dictate what people should or shouldn't plant."

Rather, there's "room at the table for both" organic farmers and those who use GMOs. The statement "doesn't say one is right and one is wrong. It's just saying let's be careful how we deal with this because we have great power now" (Fargo Forum, Nov. 13, 2010). I have found the farmers in my parish to be both careful and thoughtful, and they do occasionally ask me for a theological perspective to their work.

Second, this is not "a new stance the denomination's leaders plan to take." Social statements are primarily teaching tools, to promote discussion of how our faith intersects with life in the modern world. The call for this statement came as a resolution (memorial) from the NE Iowa Synod of the ELCA and was approved by the 2005 Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA. It is not a top-down imposition of a new stance but a call from the grass roots for study and guidance.

Third, the article attributes to Jill Bunn, the council president of Anselm Trinity Lutheran Church, rural Sheldon, N.D., as saying "the Anselm congregation feels the ELCA is making too many social statements that don't have anything to do with the church." As a pastor, I would hope I challenge my congregation to consider how their faith affects their life outside the church walls. A social statement is intended to help us discuss how our faith and life interact. The ELCA has been in existence for 22 years and has approved 10 social statements. None of them require our members to assent to them to be in good standing with the church. Our predecessor church bodies also produced social statements. The LCA had approximately 15, the ALC approximately 20.

Finally, let me point out that this document is only a draft. I encourage people to read it for themselves. The full draft statement and a summary of its main points can be found at However, please remember the wording is already being reworked, as part of an overall plan for producing a statement. The task force is presently sifting through the hundreds of comments that came from churches and members, along with the results of 48 synodical hearings on the draft statement.

The revised text from the task force will be released in mid February 2011. It will be reviewed by the ELCA Church Council in April 2011, who will place a recommended proposed social statement on the agenda of a Churchwide Assembly. The Churchwide Assembly in August 2011 has responsibility for amending and adopting an official statement.

Mindy Ehrke is pastor at Salem and Storla and Trinity Lutheran Churches of Mount Vernon and Letcher.

In Other Words features opinions from local and other contributors who have areas of special interest or expertise. Material shouldn't exceed 600 words and can be sent, along with a photo, to: Editor, The Daily Republic, 120 S. Lawler, Mitchell, S.D., 57301. The Daily Republic cannot guarantee all submitted material will be used.