I am looking forward to the ICMDA webinar on The Ethics of Genomic Editing. Genomic editing has been eclipsed by the COVID-19 pandemic but its significance has not. Last year I was invited to be part of a symposium organized by Berman Institute of Bioethics, John Hopkins University and Universiti Malaya on this topic The Ethics of Genome Editing: A Christian Perspective.
“God’s work is church work. My secular job is to earn money so I can do God’s work”For those Christians working in the marketplace or other places, do you feel that your work is second-rate compared to those work that carries the name ‘Full Time’ workers (such as pastors, pastoral staff etc)? Do you feel that in your innermost being, if all things being equal, you should give up your job and go ‘full time’?
Interesting comments from Heidi A. Campbell on how our churches move online
(1) Transferring Strategy
“The most common strategy is transferring their standard offline worship services to an online
platform, with Facebook livestreaming being the most popular
option. This is especially true for priests and pastors from
mainline churches (i.e., Methodist, Episcopal) intent on simply
transferring their traditional worship services online. Many
church leaders filmed themselves in empty sanctuaries, alone,
or with a few assistants singing psalms, offering calls and
responses to liturgical readings, and staring close range into the
camera while broadcasting a sermon to their members. Their
goal seems to be to offer members a somewhat similar worship
service but in the safety of their own homes.”
(2) Translating Strategy
“A few others used a translation strategy, as they tried to modify
their worship rituals and space to fit onto a limited screen.
Here, I saw many nondenominational and interdenominational
churches, who were already used to using media in their
services, creating makeshift studios to host their online
services. They seemed to translate their worship experience
into more of a talk show format, where a pastor served as a
host introducing the worship band as if they were musical
guests and cuts to church leaders interviewing other staff
members about their thoughts on the current pandemic and
what a Christian response might look like. Some attempts to
translate worship from offline to online include a limited
interactive element, such as encouraging members to ask
questions about to what they saw via Facebook comments or a
(3) Transforming Strategy
” Here, the standard “praise and
worship sandwich”—joyful praise songs followed by an
emotional sermon and then reflective worship music—was
abandoned for more of a “fireside chat model.” The pastor or
senior ministers sat on couches as if they were having a
conversation with their members, offering honest reflection on
their own struggles with the pandemic situation and creating a
dialogue between themselves and their members, asking
members to share their prayer requests and thoughts in real
time via social media or texts during and after the broadcast
Which strategy is your church currently using? Are you re-thinking how the church may be in the future or just waiting out the pandemic so that life can go on as normal?
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Lamentations is a grief process. We lament during this pandemic at the end of our way of life and uncertainty at life to be after the lifting of the Movement Control Order (MCO). Pandemic has the power to destroy the old war and allow a new world to come into being. The destruction of Jerusalem and Judah by the Babylonians had a similar effect on the world of the Prophet Jeremiah.
MCO Day 2 Don’t Travel, Stay at Home
Romans 13:1–2 (NIV)
13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
In times like this, we Malaysians, must be united in our determination to contain the spread of the COVID-19 in our country. This means we must put aside our differences and unite to support the government in the Movement Control Order (MCO). The key basis of this draconian partial lockdown of the whole country is to stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-19 virus. This is a new virus and there is much we do not know about it. What we do know however is that it spreads by droplets and fomites (contaminated materials touched by the infected person). The virus can only be spread by the near proximity of an infected person. We learned about this through the painful lessons from the pandemic in China, South Korea, and Iran. Social distancing (stay away 2 meters from other people), frequent handwashing, contact tracing and quarantine of infected persons will slow down the spread of the disease, COVID-19. Hence the governmental call to stay home, do not travel back to your hometown and avoid gathering together. Stay at home. Buy your food and eat at home. No unnecessary travel and moving about. Remember that the elderly, and others who have chronic medical problems are at high risk of dying from COVID-19. Dying from acute respiratory distress (when the lungs are filled with fluid) and myocarditis (when the heart swells up and fails) is a terrible way to die. There is no way we can know whether we have the virus or not. Many people who have the virus do not exhibit symptoms of fever and cough until much later in the infection. Do not have to live with the regret that you have spread the disease to others, especially to your beloved ones. Stay at home. No jalan jalan until the travel restriction is over.
Our Spiritual Senses
Touch, taste, hear, see, and smell are how we interact with the physical world with our physical senses. Through the tactile sensor in our skin, our taste buds in our tongue, the vibration of our eardrums, the receptors of our olfactory glands, and light falling on our retina, we interpret and perceive our physical world as a reality. Since the Age of Enlightenment, we are increasingly drawn to believe in this reality as the only reality. Postmodernism posits that we have moved beyond ‘the God hypothesis’; a concept that we created God in order to help us feel safe and make sense of the physical reality. This ‘spiritual but not religious’ mindset nevertheless makes allowance for a spiritual realm, other than the physical one we are familiar with. If a human has senses to interact with the physical world, is it not conceivable for the human to have spiritual senses to interact with the spiritual one?
In the Christian tradition, these spiritual senses have been alluded to frequently in the Bible and writings of the believers. There are numerous examples of people seeing God (as burning bush, pillar of fire), hearing God (as a still small voice), touching and smelling in a wrestling match, and tasting as ordinated by Jesus in the future sacrament of the Holy Communion. These spiritual senses were highlighted by the patristic theologian Origen (c.185-c.254 CE) in his commentary of the Song of Songs as the highlight of the mystic experience in the text. I will mysticism as experiencing divine encounters with God. This was further explained by Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-c.395 CE) whose work greatly influenced Bernard of Clairvaux and Bonaventure. All of these theologians played a significant role in developing the Western mystical tradition. Julian of Norwich (late 1342-after 1416), an English anchoress, gave a precise definition of the spiritual senses when she described her visions which are published as Showings (long text),
And then we shall all come into our Lord, knowing ourselves clearly and wholly possessing God and we shall all be endlessly hidden in God, truly seeing and wholly feeling, and hearing him spiritually and delectably smelling him and sweetly tasting him (1978, 255)
Julian was referring to the five spiritual senses when she refers to ‘truly seeing,’ ‘wholly feeling’, ‘hearing him spiritually’, ‘delectably smelling him’, and ‘sweetly tasting him’. By noting ‘we shall all come into our Lord’ Julian seem to imply that we all have the spiritual senses. The Psalmist encourages us to “taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8a).
If we all have spiritual senses, the question then arises whether we are using them. And do our spiritual senses become less sensitive or atrophied if we do not use them? In the physical example of a squint or ‘lazy eye’, the affected person see double (diplopia) because of the misalignment of the two eyes. It is confusing for the person to be seeing double so the person’s brain will ‘switch off’ one eye in order that the person can see well. The eye that was ‘switched off’ is a perfectly normal eye but since it was ‘switched off’, that eye is effectively blind. Could that be happening to our spiritual senses? Children are very good in using their spiritual senses. But as they grow older, these senses are slowly being ‘switched off’ as they are slowly inducted into a world that only believed in the physical.
How may we recover our spiritual senses? The Christian tradition has always used liturgy, church worship services, sacraments, and the spiritual disciplines as formative means of grace to help to restore and sharpen our spiritual senses. Spiritual disciplines such as prayers, Bible reading, meditation, silence, retreat, service, Lectio Divina, and Lectio Visio are especially powerful in sharpening our spiritual senses. Sharpened spiritual senses enable us to move easier to divine encounters with our Living God. Our God is a relational good. Our spiritual senses enable us to have a real relationship with God as with our human neighbours. As real as the physical and spiritual relationship, Adam and Eve have in the Garden of Eden. A Christian tradition that focuses on the cognitive and dwelling mainly on propositional truths devoid of spiritual experiences become dry and dogmatic. There is a need for the Christian tradition to be balanced by a spirituality that the spiritual senses provide. Gordon Smith (2017), professor of systematic and spiritual theology, rightly points out the church should be utilizing evangelical, sacramental and pentecostal principles. Such a church will be utilizing both our physical and spiritual senses.
Sharpening our physical senses helps us to better enjoy the wonderful creation that we are born into. Homing our spiritual senses helps us to connect with the spiritual dimensions of this same creation. We all will be poorer without our physical and spiritual senses.
Chinese New Year
25 January 2020
Colledge, Edmund and Walsh, James, 1978. Julian of Norwich Showings, Payne, Richard J. ed. The Classics of Western Spirituality, Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press
Smith, Gordon, 2017, Evangelical, Sacramental & Pentecostal: Why the church should be all three, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press
I will be offering this two Saturdays course in Singapore in January and February 2020 in Singapore.
CS207 : Dynamics of Spiritual Formation (1.5 Credit)
Academic Year : AY 2019-2020 Sem 2
About this course
We are living in a time where we are drawn into a tsunami of rapid socio-economic and technological changes. Education institutions are in taters, seminaries are in retreat against the onslaught of emerging technologies, and churches are emptying of the younger generations seeking to be ‘spiritual but not religious’. In a time of fluidity and change, is it possible to nurture healthy spiritual growth? Is it possible to develop into Christlikeness, become a people of God, and helps in the expansion of His kingdom in this postmodern secular world?
Christianity has weathered more than two millennia of such climatic changes and each time, Christians have weathered these changes and nurtured deep spiritual growth in very adverse conditions. This course will examine the dynamics of spiritual growth (spiritual formation) in two sessions (Saturdays). The theme for the first session is drinking from deep wells where we will examine the nature of spiritual formation, and how it will lead us to know God, and to know ourselves better. The second session will be drinking from dry wells – about nurturing spiritual growth in our hectic, hurried, stressed-out lives in the marketplace, workplace, home, church, or schools.
more details here
I will be teaching a module on Education, Discipleship and Spiritual Formation. This is my recommended reading list.
Howard, Evan B. 2018. A Guide to Christian Spiritual Formation: How Scripture, Spirit, Community, and Mission Shapes Our Souls. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academics.
Tang, Alex. 2014. Till We Are Fully Formed: Christian Spiritual Formation Paradigms in the English-Speaking Presbyterian Churches in Malaysia. Kuang: Malaysia Bible Seminary
Wilhoit, James C. 2008. Spiritual formation as if the church mattered: Growing in Christ through community. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Andrews, Alan, ed. 2010. The kingdom life: A practical theology of discipleship and spiritual formation. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.
Anderson, Keith R., and Randy D. Reese. 1999. Spiritual mentoring: A guide for seeking and giving direction. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Astley, J., and L. Francis, eds. 1992. Christian perspectives on faith development. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
Bass, Diana Butler. 2002. Strength for the journey: A pilgrimage of faith in community. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
———. 2004. The practicing congregation: Imagining a new old church. Herndon, VA: Alban Institute.
———. 2006. Christianity for the rest of us: How the neighborhood church is transforming the faith. New York: Harper One.
Bass, Dorothy C., ed. 1997. Practicing our faith: A way of life for a searching people. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
———. 2000. Receiving the day: Christian practices for opening the gift of time. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Carlson, Kent, and Mike Lueken. 2011. Renovation of the church: What happens when a seeker church discovers spiritual formation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Chan, Edmund. 2014. Radical Discipleship: Five defining questions. Singapore: Covenant Evangelical Free Church
Crisp, Tomas M., Porter, Steven L., and Ten Elshof, Gregg A. eds. 2019. Psychology and Spiritual Formation in Dialogue: Moral and Spiritual Change in Christian Perspective. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Everist, Norma C. 2002. The Church as learning community: A comprehensive guide to Christian education. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Foster, C. R. 1994. Educating congregations: The future of Christian education. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Foster, Richard J. 1989. Celebration of discipline: The path to spiritual growth. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
———. 1998. Streams of living water: Celebrating the great traditions of Christian faith. New York: HarperCollins.
Fowler, James. 1995. Stages of faith: The psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. New York: HarperCollins.
Frost, Michael, and Alan Hirsch. 2003. The shaping of things to come: Innovation and mission for the 21st-century church. Erina, New South Wales: Strand.
Guder, Darrell L., ed. 1998. Missional church: A vision for the sending of the church in North America. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
Hawkins, G. L., and C. Parkinson. 2007. Reveal: Where are you? The answer will transform your church. Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Resources.
———. 2008. Follow me: What’s next for you? Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Resources.
———. 2011. Move: What 1,000 churches reveal about spiritual growth. Barrington, IL: Willow Creek Association.
Herrington, J., M. Bonem, and J. H. Furr. 2000. Leading congregational change: A practical guide for the transformational journey. New York: Jossey‑Bass.
Johnson, Suzanne. 1989. Christian spiritual formation in the church and classroom. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Kline, Peter, and Bernard Saunders. 1993. Ten steps to a learning organization. 2nd ed. Salt Lake City, UT: Great River Books.
Kouzes, James M., and Barry Z. Posner, eds. 2004. Christian reflections on the leadership challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Loder, James E. 1989. The transforming moment. 2nd ed. Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers and Howard.
———. 1998. The logic of the spirit: Human development in theological perspective. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Osmer, Richard Robert. 2005. The teaching ministry of congregations. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.
Peterson, Eugene H. 1996. Take and read: Spiritual reading, an annotated list. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
———. 1997. Subversive spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI.: William B. Eerdmans.
———. 2010. Practice resurrection: A conversation on growing up in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
Petit, Paul, ed. 2008. Foundations of spiritual formation: A community approach to becoming like Christ. P. Petit. Grand Rapids, MI: Kruger.
Reed, Angela H. 2011. Quest for spiritual community: Reclaiming spiritual guidance for contemporary congregations. New York: T&T Clark International.
Schwarz, Christian A. 2000. Natural church development: A guide to eight essential qualities of healthy churches. 4th ed. Emmelsbüll, Germany: ChurchSmart Resources.
Tacey, David. 2020. The Postsecular Sacred: Jung, soul, and meaning in an age of change. New York: Routledge
Volf, Miroslav. 1998. After our likeness: The Church as the image of the Trinity. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
Willard, Dallas. 1988. The spirit of the disciplines: Understanding how God changes lives. New York: HarperCollins.
———. 1998. The divine conspiracy: Rediscovering our hidden life in God. New York: HarperCollins.
Willard, Dallas and Black, Gary. 2014. The divine conspiracy continued: Fulfilling God’s kingdom on earth. New York: HarperCollins.
The Ethics of Genome Editing
A Christian Perspective
Christian Biomedical Ethics Theological Framework
We need a framework to look at the rapidly advancing challenges of emerging new technologies. Technologies such a genome science, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and the Digital Person will redefine the structure and nature of our civilization within the next few years. Are these technology helpful or harmful? What should be the Christian faith communities’ respond to them? These new technologies would not be found in the Bible, a text that was written more than two thousand years ago. Where then are Christian to seek guidance for their discernment? A framework to guide our thinking is needed.
I suggest that a Christian biomedical ethics framework should include these four pillars.
- The Sovereignty of God
- The Sanctity of Human Life
- The Stewardship of Man
- The Way of Love
The Sovereignty of God
1 Chronicles 29:11 (NIV)
Yours, LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.
Our foundational belief is that God created everything and he is in control of everything. Any scientific experiment will only succeed with His permission. Since it is his creation, we cannot bend the rules of physics and biology without his allowing it.
The Sanctity of Human Life
Genesis 1:27 (NIV)
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
Exodus 20:13 (NIV)
“You shall not murder.
Human life is sacred because we are made in his image. In certain circumstances, we are allowed to kill other human beings. Just War is argued by Augustine and other church fathers that is ia llowed to kill enemy soldiers in a war. Even Bonhoeffer reasoned that it is justified to kill Hilter during the Second World War. He was caught and executed. Murder, however is condemned.
The Stewardship of Man
Genesis 1:28 (NIV)
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
Also called the Cultural Mandate, mankind is to reproduce and populate the then empty earth. The second part is that we have dominion over God’s creation. This means that we are allowed to improved and manipulated God’s creation for the good of mankind. Scientific and technological advances have improved the quality of living and living standards of mankind.
The Way of Love
Matthew 22:37–40 (NIV)
Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is a beautiful illustration of this principle by Jesus. A Jewish man was mugged and left for dead by robbers. His fellow tribal people step aside and refused to help him. It was finally a Samaritan, an outsider and outcast who helped the injured man out of altruistic reasons. The guiding principle for bioethics is the way of love. It is not to do harm but do good to others.
A Pastoral -Theological Approach to Christian Biomedical Ethics
As we look at genome editing through the lens of the Christian framework, there is much support for it. However, it needs to be regulated. This need for regulation is also an ethical consensus among scientists who suggest the following:
(1) Promoting well‐being
(3) Due care
(4) Responsible science
(5) Respect for persons
(7) Transnational cooperation
This is comparable to the Christian framework. It is unfortunate that ‘rogue’ scientists for whatever reasons failed to abide by these guidelines.
Genome editing research
Genome editing is recent and research was carefully regulated. It is only recently that certain human applications were allowed:
- (2015) Treatment of CD19+ acute lymphoblastic leukemia in an 11-month old child. Modified donor T cells
- (2015) remove gene, Beta-thalassemia, China
- (2017) remove gene, Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, USA
- (Feb 2019) in vivo with Hunter Syndrome, California
In December 2018, there was a public outcry when a ‘rogue’ scientists revealed that he had enabled the birth of a set of twins, Lulu and Nana, on whom he had disabled their gene for CCR5, a protein vital in preventing HIV infection.
- Animal husbandry
Humans have been cross breeding their animal stocks or cross-fertilizing their crops for better and healthier stocks or crops.
- Genetic Modified Organism (GMO)
Where there were some initial reaction to GMOs, these seem to have died down when there is more acceptance of them. In 2009, Atryn, an anticoagulant which reduces the probability of blood clots during surgery or childbirth was extracted from the goat’s milk. Human alpha-1-antitrypsin is another protein that is used in treating humans with this deficiency
- Genetic Modified Animals
Creating pigs with greater capacity for human organ transplants (xenotransplantation)
Ethics of Genome Editing
What does the ethics of genome editing covers?
- Modifying the human genome –genetic correction and enhancement
- Safety and effectiveness
- Existence of alternative approaches
- Off-target results
- Future generations
Each point is important but the key is in the difference between genetic correction and genetic enhancement.
By genetic correction, we mean editing a rare mutation that has a high probability (penetrance) of causing a severe single-gene disease, with the aim of converting the mutation into the DNA sequence carried by most people. Assuming that it can be done without errors or off-target effects, genetic correction could have a predictable and beneficial effect.
Genetic enhancement, by contrast, encompasses much broader efforts to ‘improve’ individuals and the species. Possibilities range from attempting to modify the risk of a common disease by replacing particular genetic variants with alternative ones that occur in the human population, to incorporating new instructions into a person’s genome to enhance, say, their memory or muscles, or even to confer entirely new biological functions, such as the ability to see infrared light or break down certain toxins.
Genetic correction is lifesaving as most genetic diseases are lethal. It is also localized to certain abnormal genes so editing them should not have much effect on other areas. Genetic enhancement is often an option. The danger is germline modification in which an editing down is passed onto future generations. In other ways, we could be creating an inheritable disease.
A Christian Perspective on Genome Editing
My perspective at this moment is
- Research and clinical studies on genetic correction should continue with adequate oversight
- A moratorium on genetic enhancement (includes germline editing)
A moratorium maybe for 5 years and a review whether the issues of safety and effectiveness; existence of alternative approaches; off-target results; epigenetics; and consequences on future generations have been settled with future improvement in technologies.
16 April 2019