God & GMOs: An Introduction

Guess what? We’re going to turn a little corner and talk about GMO crops here for the next little bit.

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It’s not a secret that I am not much of a scientist. I’m more artsy and relational and feely; my gifts include teaching and communicating. In many ways it’s a powerful blend of gifts that I write and my husband Aaron is a scientist. For anyone who doesn’t know us, he’s a Christian plant biotechnologist (with a PhD in molecular biology) who firmly believes he develops crops using complicated biotechnology (sometimes “GMO” and sometimes not) for the glory of God. We’re both proud that he’s part of the production side of modern agriculture, including using biotech for GMO crops, and we gratefully eat “genetically modified” food all the time. He’s shared about this for The Gospel Coalition and I’ve written a longer think-piece-ish article for Christ and Pop Culture. We’ve also chatted with some of our friends about this on a Vernacular podcast episode and just finished recording an interview with our friend Abigail Murrish for her current podcast series Our Midwestern Life. But talking about science often feels like speaking another language. We have realized we spend a lot of time in our nerdy head-spaces about this, and that is not always helpful for most other people. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many scientists engaging this topic with Christian culture, and the misinformation fed by social media and “mommy bloggers” is deafeningly loud. We have both sensed an urgent need to open this discussion in more accessible ways that we’ve done before. 

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing this series for a very, very long time, but it’s a big topic and I find myself both overwhelmed by the material (which is out of my depth in the technical realm), and resenting the potential for social blowback. A new friend just asked me if I struggled with an unhealthy desire to please others and I had to chuckle a little bit. A Pew Study in 2015 reported that more than half of Christians think genetically modified foods (“GMOs”) are unsafe, and even more think scientists are unclear about the health effects of GM foods. Numbers for the general public’s opinions are similar, but if anything, I was surprised the disapproval rates weren’t higher. This means anytime I tell a new friend what my husband does for a living, I’m more likely to be talking to someone who thinks he’s harming the environment and our food supply than not. Personal responses to this news have ranged between supportive (which is rare, but appreciated), neutral, skeptical, and even hostile. Pleasing people? It usually feels like that ship has sailed. Still, as I prepare these posts, I wonder how this could impact relationships. I checked in with some staff at my church to find out if this might bring up any particular challenges within our congregation. When I close my eyes I can visualize the faces of people I dearly love, people I fear alienating because I know they disagree. Will Thanksgiving be weird if our GMO-skeptic family members don’t like what I say here? Is it possible to just remove some of my email followers for a while and add them back later? Should I block a few people on facebook so they don’t get an immediate notification about this? Would someone who really needs to hear what I shared about my miscarriages be turned off by my discussion about GMOs and food production?  

An important part of critical thinking is not just asking questions about a given topic, but knowing what kinds of questions to ask. It’s fair for me to wonder about those things, but I also have to consider a host of ideas from the other side. There are risks involved in not speaking plainly about this. The more that I read and discuss my numerous resulting questions with the Hummel family Scientist in Residence, I grow increasingly convinced that skepticism and hostility towards biotech in farming (even when it comes from well-meaning sources) feeds shame, anxiety, and conflict in communities around me. I’m even more concerned that this keeps lifesaving technology out of the hands (and hungry bellies) of people around the world who desperately need it to survive. If I serve the God who so loved the world that he offered up his only son, can I also love the world enough to risk opening challenging conversations with my community? Can I model gracious discussion so that Christians are equipped to make decisions about feeding themselves and their families with faith instead of fear? As science advances at a breakneck pace while we lack articulate voices explaining a Christian ethical framework for it all, will I look back at this time and wish I had spoken up sooner? I can’t help but face that the negative repercussions of anti-GMO sentiments, especially in churches around me, are not going to reverse until people like me are willing to turn the conversation around.

In sharing these upcoming posts, please know that I am pledging to offer the best information I can find, explaining it in ways that are clear and gracious. If you’re reading along, please feel free to let me know if you have any questions or if you have any topic or specific angle you’d like to see addressed. (You can reach me in the comment box on this site or through the email address I have listed in the “contact” field on the site menu.)

Thanks, friends. Whether you consider yourself pro-, neutral-, skeptical- or anti- GMO, I hope you’ll stick around!  

32 thoughts on “God & GMOs: An Introduction

  1. I am a cancer overcomer. I will not eat GMOs. They have done independent testing in labratories and found your breakfast cereals, your chips, your macaroni and other pasta all contaminated with glyphosate…Round Up. They have also found wheat and corn products contaminated with BT toxin pesticide which is inserted into the seed (to make bug’s stomachs explode when they eat it). So…with childhood cancer exploding as well as adult cancer, feeding our families contaminated foods is contributing. Crops are round up ready, which is not only creating super weeds, but the wheat, corn and soy is sprayed with Round Up from seed time to harvest when they spray to harden up the plants before harvest. That is in your bread, your cereal and your pasta. I am all for hybridizing. Different story. I am not for tomatoes with fish DNA in them or human dna in anything I eat. So whatever you wrote will not change my mind. I shudder to think of the children who are eating the mess we are feeding them. Toxic chemicals in processed foods that are banned in other countries, chemicals in everything. I know certified organic and non GMO is not a guarantee, but it’s better than nothing. I don’t eat factory farmed meat either that is fed GMO crops. I would rather go without. I buy local beef, pork and as local chicken as I can. Remember the FDA will not test for contamination in your food. Any testing is done independently. So no thank you. Not going to contribute in my eating to another bout with cancer.

    • Liz, Thanks for chiming in. I’m glad you’re here, and I am especially glad to hear that you’ve beaten your cancer. If you keep reading along in the series, you’ll see that cancer is a very personal topic for me. I have looked through the studies extensively, and so has my husband, the guy with a PhD in molecular biology, and because there is no evidence of a link between genetically modified foods or Round-Up and increased risk of cancer (you can read more about this in later installments of the series!), the fear-mongering about cancer is very frustrating to me. GMO technology actually has some wonderful promise in treating cancer, which I’ll explain more later, and I hope you’ll be willing to read and consider our perspective here. I’m very glad you’re here and I’m grateful to interact with you.

  2. If you want to talk about GMO’s maybe leave God out of the discussion since GMO’s are man-made anyway. I, personally, wouldn’t put those two together and to do so is an attempt to glorify a man-made thing and is ultimately very dishonoring to God.

    No offense intended (more as a warning), but have you researched the connection between miscarriage and GMO’s? You may want to do that before encouraging the consumption/promotion of GMO’s.

    • Hi Jodi, I’m glad you’re here. Thanks for reading. As a Christian, I’m firmly persuaded that we have every reason to discuss God and GMO crops. The Bible says that we are here to tend the fallen earth and establish cultures upon it until Jesus returns to renew it perfectly. Rest assured that I am not ever going to indicate eating GMOs is a test of faith or insist that all Christians must adhere to my positions, but as we face a growing world population and rapidly advancing scientific developments it would dishonor God to ignore this topic.

      I have heard some rumblings about links between miscarriage and GMOs, but I hope you’ll keep reading (and maybe poke around my archives!) to see that miscarriage / sub-fertility is intensely personal for us, as we’ve lost more babies in early pregnancy than we’ve brought to term. There is no evidence of any link or causation between miscarriage and GMOs in any scientific study I have seen, but I would be happy to look at anything you want to provide. I do insist that studies referenced meet the standards I talk about later in this series, but I’d be more than willing to look at any reputable scientific research you want to pass on. I hope you will keep reading and be encouraged to pursue truth, especially in sharing information with grieving families. It would be particularly cruel to mislead a bereaved woman about possible causes of her miscarriage. That is a miserable burden to cast on anyone, as I’m sure you would agree.

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