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!  

33 thoughts on “God & GMOs: An Introduction

  1. Abby, I look forward to reading this series! I’m probably closest to the anti-GMO camp, although I understand that the term “GMO” can cover a wide spectrum of biotech in agriculture, and I don’t think that all biotech in ag is actually bad. I appreciate your willingness to have a conversation, and I hope I can thoughtfully contribute in some way. And who knows, maybe you’ll change my mind (or I, yours!) through open, respectful dialogue.

    • thanks for your gracious response, Sarah. I’m glad you’re here, and I’m glad we can move forward with charitable discussion no matter what the outcome.

  2. Go Abby! Keep it layman friendly and in small specific doses. Hugs.

    Sent via the Samsung Galaxy S7, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

  3. I’m excited to read more!
    GMOs have a place on our dairy farm and I’d love to learn more about about new technologies and also how you advocate and talk to others about your husband’s work.
    I’m also interested in your perspective of Christians and science.

    Can you find out if an avocado that doesn’t brown is in the works anytime soon?

    • If we can get a non-browning avocado, you’re invited over for a guac party! 🙂 Aaron is a little “over” me requesting things like that, haha. (My other ideas: apples with soft pear skin, baby bananas with the same shelf stability as the regular ones, and lilac trees that bloom all spring/summer/fall.)

  4. Oh I do look forward to this! Thank you for using your gifting to help us better understand this complex topic. God bless!

  5. Thank you for taking the risk – I think it sounds great – and I believe the idea of good conversations on so many topics is a lost art. Look forward to hearing your insight.

  6. I am so looking forward to this discussion. Have you read “Confessions of a Food Catholic” by Douglas Wilson or “The Things of Earth” by Joe Rigney? Wilson is both hilarious and a sharp thinker. Rigney’s book is broader, but has some really great insight into the theology of food.

    Thanks for this and thanks in advance for the next entries!

  7. Hi Abby! Here’s a question you might think about addressing. One of the biggest criticisms I hear of genetic engineering has to do with biodiversity. The argument goes — as I understand it — like this: modern methods of promoting certain traits are too effective for their own good, because when you foster certain traits too much, too fast, or on too large a scale, you stifle the genetic diversity that plants and animals need in order to truly thrive. How important is biodiversity in agriculture? Is this something agricultural scientists think/care about?

    • That’s a great point, Cara! It is something all the scientists I know care VERY much about, so I will be sure to grab some links and put them together in a post. Great question. 🙂

  8. Just want to encourage you in this! I relate to what you have said here on so many levels. My father is a nuclear physicist, and it has presented similar issues among family and congregational friends. I look forward to reading more. God bless!

  9. Thank you and Godspeed! As the wife of an industrial lubricant formulator and daughter-in-law to a biologist who works in the agrochemical industry, I can relate to a lot of what you are saying, specifically about the struggles of being the non-science half when you are proud of your husband’s work and chagrinned that it tends to be misunderstood and demonized in the culture (my husband works for ExxonMobil).
    I look forward to reading and sharing, and I must say it will be refreshing to see something from a perspective more in agreement with my own than most opinions on this issue tend to be.

  10. Hey Abby! I’m interested to follow along. Thanks for being willing to put yourself out there with these posts. As a nurse, I’m very interested in any studies that have been done relating to GMOs and gut health. As the link between the gut, the immune system, and neurological health has strengthened in the past few years, figuring out what might be compromising the gut is of interest!

  11. I’ve read about the so-called “Suicide Belt” in India, places where suicide rates are extremely high because farmers are failing after spending big money on GMO seed, but unable to save seed and try again the next year. I wonder if you’ll be able to address this concern in this series? Thanks!

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  13. I am very excited to follow along as you explain and hash out some of these topics! This will probably be super obvious to most people but I would love a definition of what you mean by GMOs and what all that includes. Jesus bless you as you endeavor to apply His wisdom to all areas of life!

    • It’s coming soon – and it’s a lot harder to describe and define exactly what a GMO is than you (or I, haha) would expect! This is a big part of the communication problem in general. Thanks for reading…. I’m glad you’re here!

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  17. Abby, I cannot wait to read this full series! Thank you for being brave. As the wife of a guy who works for Big Ag, it is sure nice to have allies.

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