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Posted 27 Aug 2001   For week ended August 10, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 08Aug01

By Kent Larsen

How Mormon Theology Supports Stem Cell Research

NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- An enlightening article in the online magazine Slate Thursday argues that LDS theology supports stem cell research while still prohibiting abortion, in direct contrast to the Catholic theology often cited by stem cell opponents. Drew Clark, a senior writer at National Journal's Technology Daily and an LDS Church member, argues that this theology is behind the views of Orrin Hatch and the four other Mormon Senators who support the research.

Clark notes that LDS pronouncements on abortion aren't as strict as the Catholic position, avoiding the Catholic statement that life begins at conception. Under LDS theology, according to Clark, life actually begins when the spirit, which already exists, joins a body. Clark says that this was, in effect, what Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, one of the five Mormon senators, argued in the Senate when he quoted Genesis 2:7, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Smith argued that this means a two-step process, the creation of a physical body, followed by the entrance of the spirit into that body.

Catholic theologian Richard Doerflinger jumped on that interpretation, calling it "amateur theology." But Clark says that Doerflinger either didn't know Mormon theology or was dismissing it, and observes that the creation accounts in the Pearl of Great Price, a Mormon book of scripture, portrays the same two-step process. Another Mormon, Oregon State University ethicist Courtney Campbell, is quoted in a Washington Post story as saying that Mormons believe life begins after 14 days, however the article doesn't indicate Campbell's source for that claim.

Clark says that this theological difference allows Mormons to be more flexible on stem cell research, just what that movement needed -- some group that could go either way and that could provide a rationale for why. Mormons have generally opposed abortion and are seen as conservative on other issues, so when they favor stem cell research and give a rationale for it, they can't be dismissed as yet another pro-choice advocate.

But, Mormons don't have the same position on other issues. In fact, this same theology makes Mormons more rigid on homosexuality than other religions because of the Mormon belief that the soul has a gender, and is therefore known before life begins. Mormon theology also bears on the faith-based initiative, according to Clark, keeping Mormons from strong support of President George W. Bush's program. Mormons both have a strong belief in self reliance, and suspicion that government will use the program to control religion.

Religious opinion on stem cell research has varied widely. The United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church and some Islamic groups have come out in favor, while the Southern Baptists, Catholics and United Methodists have announced positions against the research. The Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopal Church and the LDS Church have not announced a position.

But in spite of announcing a policy against stem cell research, the United Methodists have had their position undermined by a vocal group in the church that is seeking to change that announcement, calling their church leader's announcement 'morally wrong.' Of course, this is another area where LDS theology differs from other Churches. In spite of the very public announcements by Mormon politicians on the issue, there isn't a similar vocal, public effort to persuade LDS Church leaders to take a position. Since those leaders are believed to receive revelation from God, Mormons consider it unseemly to publicly lobby leaders.


The Mormon Stem-Cell Choir by Drew Clark
Slate 2Aug01 T2
By Drew Clark

Faith Is a Force On Both Sides of Stem Cell Debate
Washington Post pgB09 4Aug01 T2
By Bill Broadway: Washington Post Staff Writer
Religious Communities Split Sharply On Permitting Embryonic Research


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