By / Apr 9

Nashville, Tenn., April 9, 2024 —The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has hired Nathan A. Finn, Ph.D., to serve as a senior fellow with an emphasis on matters related to religious liberty.

Finn is a professor of faith and culture at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina, where he also serves as executive director of the Institute for Transformation Leadership. In addition to his roles at North Greenville, Finn is the bi-vocational teaching pastor at Taylors First Baptist Church in Taylors, South Carolina. 

Finn is a church historian and theologian whose research interests include Baptist history and identity, the intersection of faith and culture, the doctrine of the Christian life, and Christian higher education. Finn is active in Southern Baptist denominational leadership and serves as the current recording secretary of the SBC. He has also served as vice-chair of the Committee on Resolution (2021), is a member of the Cooperation Group (2023-2024), and is an ex-officio member of the SBC Executive Committee (2022-present).

“Religious liberty has been a core Baptist distinctive from our movement’s inception, and it remains at the heart of the ERLC’s mission,” said Finn. “I also believe it is one of the most important justice issues of our age. I’m honored to serve Southern Baptists by helping our churches reflect on the enduring importance of religious liberty and its implications, to respond to contemporary challenges to our ‘First Freedom,’ and to better understand how the Baptist ideal of a free church in a free state helps promote Great Commission faithfulness and cultivate authentic human flourishing.”

Finn is author or editor of more than a dozen books, most notably, “The Baptist Story: From English Sect to Global Movement” (B&H Academic, 2015), “History: A Student’s Guide” (Crossway, 2016), “Historical Theology for the Church” (B&H Academic, 2021), and “A Handbook of Theology” (B&H Academic, 2023). He frequently writes columns for WORLD Opinions and Baptist Press.

“Dr. Finn is one of the leading Baptist voices on questions of religious liberty in the public square today,” said Jason Thacker, director of the ERLC Research Institute and senior fellow. “He brings a wealth of experience and historical insight to these questions as he models how central religious liberty is to our gospel work and to Baptist identity. Religious liberty is not an optional add-on to our common life together, but absolutely central to what it means to be human and how we ought to live with one another in community as we seek to proclaim a proper understanding of the relationship of the church and state in a pluralizing society.”

Finn joins RaShan Frost, a senior fellow focusing on human dignity issues, and Thacker, who focuses on pro-life and other bioethical issues on the research team. 

Prior to his roles at North Greenville University, Finn previously served as a church historian at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina; dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee; and as provost and dean of the university faculty at North Greenville University.

Finn earned his doctor of philosophy in theological studies with a concentration in church history from SEBTS. Finn and his wife have four children.

The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest Protestant denomination with more than 13.6 million members and a network of over 47,000 cooperating churches and congregations. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

To request an interview contact Elizabeth Bristow by email at [email protected]

By / Dec 14

Editor’s note: This is the eighth article in a monthly series on what Christians should know about bioethics.

Since the early 1990s, about 10 million children have been born because of in vitro fertilization. While this reproductive technology has been a blessing to many infertile couples, it has come with a high price: for every child conceived through IVF, there are between 5 to fifteen humans who will die in the embryonic stage.

This means that roughly 100 million humans were created that will die outside the womb.

Of these human beings, approximately 3 percent will be donated for use in embryonic stem cell research programs.

The debate about the morality of research that destroys human embryos has waxed and waned for the past fifteen years. But rather than achieving a consensus on the issue, Americans are still divided. Unfortunately, the complexity of the issue and the peculiar terminology used often prevents many Christians from developing a fully informed opinion on the matter.

Roughly 100 million human were created that will die outside the womb.

Here is what you should know about embryo destructive research and how it relates to the ethics of “making life.”

What are stem cells?

In the human body there are around 200 different cells. Most cells are a particular type (such as the ceruminous gland cell) and have a specific function (in the case of the ceruminous gland cell, producing earwax). Stem cells differ, though, in that thy are relatively undifferentiated and unspecialized – they have not yet obtained a special structure and function

These cells are multipotent, meaning they can give rise to several other differentiated and specialized cells of the body (for example, liver cells, kidney cells, brain cells). All specialized cells arise originally from stem cells, and ultimately from a small number of embryonic cells that appear during the first few days of development.

How are stem cells different than other types of cells?

Stem cells have two unique characteristics: (1) an almost unlimited capacity for self-renewal (they can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells for as long as the person is alive) and (2) they retain the potential to produce differentiated and specialized cell types. As stem cells within a developing human embryo differentiate within the cell, their capacity to diversify generally becomes more limited and their ability to generate many differentiated cell types also becomes more restricted.

Why are stem cells so important to research?

There are two main reasons stem cells are of interest to both scientific and medical research. First, stem cells provide a valuable tool for studying both normal and abnormal cellular processes. By learning how stem cells differentiate and become specialized, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of how cells in general work and what can go wrong. Second, stem cells may prove to be an indispensable source of transplantable cells and tissues for repair and regeneration. If stem cells can used to produce new and differentiated cells that are damaged because of disease (such as Parkinson’s disease) or injury (e.g., spinal cord damage), it would transform regenerative medicine.

What are embryonic stem cells?

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are stem cells that have been taken from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, a embryo of about 150 cells that has not yet implanted into a woman’s uterus. (“Embryo” is the term for humans (and other mammals) in the stage of development between fertilization and the end of the eighth week of gestation, whereupon the being is referred to as a fetus until the time of birth.)

Where do the embryos for embryonic stem cells come from?

Some infertile couples that wish to conceive turn to in vitro fertilization (IVF). Oftentimes during the process, more embryos are created than are implanted into a woman’s womb. If they have no intention of giving birth to these embryos, the couple can donate them for research purposes. Currently, all human embryonic stem cell lines in use today were created from embryos generated by in vitro fertilization (IVF).

What are adult stem cells?

The term adult stem cells simply refers to any non-embryonic stem cell, whether taken from a fetus, a child, or an adult. Adult stem cells are sometimes referred to as somatic stem cells to differentiate them from human germ cells, sperm cells, and egg cells).

What is a stem cell line?

A stem cell line is a family of constantly dividing cells, the product of a single group of stem cells, which can be grown indefinitely in the laboratory.

Why is there a controversy over ESC research?

The process of obtaining stem cells leads to the destruction of the embryo from which the cells are taken. Because human life begins at conception, embryo destruction is immoral since it is the destruction of a human being. Even some people who do not believe that human embryos are deserving of full moral status worry about what the effects of normalizing such practices may have on society.

Advocates of ESC research, however, argue that it is unethical to impede potential advances that could heal disease and relieve the suffering of fully developed human beings. They believe that the moral status of a 150-to-200-cell early human embryo should not take precedence over responsible scientific inquiry.

Doesn’t the government ban the use and funding of embryonic stem cells research?

Research using cells taken from destroyed embryos is illegal in many countries, including Germany, Austria, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and New Zealand. Most African and South American countries also have some form of restriction or ban.

However, in the United States there are no restrictions on research and only minimal restrictions on government funding of embryo-destructive research.

In 1995, Congress attached language to an appropriations bill prohibiting the use of any federal funds for research that destroys or seriously endangers human embryos, or creates them for research purposes. This provision, known as the Dickey Amendment, has been attached to the Health and Human Services appropriations bill each year since 1996.

In 2009, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order that lifted all restrictions against federal funding of stem cell research. The courts ruled that the language of the Dickey Amendment prohibited the use of government funds to directly destroy an embryo, but could not prohibit funding a research project using embryonic stem cells.

President Trump has not overturned the previous administration’s policy.

Aren’t embryonic stem cells more effective than adult stem cells at treating diseases?

No. In fact, just the opposite is true: there are more than 70 conditions currently being treated with adult stem cells, and zero with embryonic stem cells. Despite the media hype of the early 2000s, embryonic stem cell research has proven to be useless at treating medical conditions.  When tested on animals, embryonic stem cells turned into tumors. As biological engineer James Sherley once explained, “Figuring out how to use human embryonic stem cells directly by transplantation into patients is tantamount to solving the cancer problem.”

Government and private funding sources have consistently shown a preference for adult stem cell research. For every dollar spent on embryonic stem cell research, 4 dollars are spent on research using adult stem cells. However, because of its unethical nature, more needs to be done to oppose any federal funding and discourage private funding of embryo destructive research.

Can Christians support embryonic stem cell research?

Several passages in the Bible strongly suggests that human life begins at conception

 (cf. Job 31:13-15; Psalms 51:5; 139:13-16; Matthew 1:20). The Bible is also clear about the taking of innocent life (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). For these reasons, Christians should not support medical research that requires killing innocent human beings at the earliest stage of their development.  

By / Oct 12

Recently, it was announced that a controversial technique that uses the DNA from three persons has resulted in the first birth of a child.[1] The birth of the baby boy occurred five months ago, yet scientists are just now publicizing their success. For embryology, this is truly groundbreaking in the sense that it has never been done before.[2] However, for those ascribing to a Christian worldview, many questions persist.

What was done?

In this particular case, the Jordanian couple approached the U.S.-based team who performed the procedure after experiencing the death of two children. The mother is a carrier for Leigh syndrome, a disorder that affects the central nervous system and is typically fatal within the first three years of life. After consultation with the medical team, it was decided that a technique known as spindle nuclear transfer would be utilized. The physician, Dr. John Zhang, of the New Hope Fertility Center in NYC, first removed the nucleus from one of the mother’s eggs and inserted it into a donor egg that had had its own nucleus removed. This resulting egg (which had the nuclear DNA from the mother and mitochondrial DNA from a donor) was then fertilized with the father’s sperm, resulting in three unique DNA contributions for the child.

It is important to note that this technique has only been approved by the UK Parliament, which permitted the technology in early 2015.[3] The U.S.-based team had to travel to Mexico to actually perform the procedure in order to evade FDA oversight and capitalize on loose regulations south of the border.

What are the problems?

Pragmatically, such legal restrictions are in place for good reason, for there are too many unanswered ethical and medical questions. It is simply not readily known what type of adverse effects such a procedure may have on progeny. Recent research has suggested that mitochondrial DNA plays a role in some personality traits.[4] Hence, vital traits will no longer be inherited by only two parents, but rather three, which is completely novel for human beings.

During the UK debates on this technology, Dr. Trevor Stammers, programme director in Bioethics and Medical Law at St Mary's University of London, stated: “Even if these babies are born they will have to be monitored all their lives, and their children will have to be as well. We do not yet know the interaction between the mitochondria and nuclear DNA. To say that it is the same as changing a battery is facile. It’s an extremely complex thing.”

Further, Dr. Rhiannon Lloyd from the Zoological Society of London similarly cautioned that in more than 50 percent of animal studies, faulty mitochondrial DNA was transferred over during the procedure. Moreover, in March 2014, the chair of the FDA’s Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies Advisory Committee, looking into the issue of mitochondrial DNA transfer wrote to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (part of the UK’s Department of Health) to warn that their panel had decided the science of mitochondrial donation was not safe.[5] Hence, from a safety and public health perspective, there is simply not enough evidence to show that such procedures are safe. It is imprudent to trod down a road of uncertainty when the stakes are as high as this. As one commentator put it, this is science by press release.[6]

However, even if the safety of the procedure for the resulting children could be guaranteed, there remain many theological considerations for reproductive technologies in general, and three-genetic-parent embryos, in particular. The issue of human dignity must be at the forefront of this discussion. Human beings are not engineered creations to be tinkered with for the sake of novelty and innovation. Human beings, who bear the image of the Creator God, are good gifts to be received, rather than objects to be produced. The production of three-genetic-parent children points to a minimization of the sacredness of the human creation as unique gifts from God. As Albert Mohler has pointed out, once we see children as objects to be customized, ordered and configured to our liking and specifications, this changes the inherent relationship between a parent and child. This also has the ability of altering our thinking of what it means to be human.[7]

We must realistically note that one advance in technology inevitably leads to others. Once a technology like this becomes publicized and available, then it naturally leads to a widening of the application, and additional questionable biomedical activities and technologies are sure to follow. Once a society recognizes the moral worth of one genetic technology, then it predictably leads to the moral acceptance of other technologies. This is not so much a slippery slope argument as it is a statement based upon past history. Once this doorway is opened, further experimentation in the realm of designer children will not be far removed.

Let’s be clear: The desire for children is a good desire. There is a clear pattern throughout Scripture of God desiring for people to have children (Gen. 1:28) and for children being a blessing to their parents (Ps. 127:3-5). As churches and Christians, we must show compassion and tenderness toward those who have suffered infertility and disorders that have prevented the natural bearing of healthy children. Surely this is the result of a world gone awry by the effects of sin. However, the pursuit of children by any and every means is not something we should applaud, for it sets dangerous precedents from which it is difficult to backpedal.

By / Dec 12

“The issue of research involving stem cells derived from human embryos is increasingly the subject of a national debate and dinner table discussions,” said President George W. Bush in a 2001 speech announcing his policy on embryonic stem cell research. More than a decade later, the discussion and debate has not only continued but has become increasingly confusing and contentious. Unfortunately, the complexity of the issue and the peculiar terminology used often prevents many Christians from developing a fully informed opinion on the matter.

Though not intended to be an exhaustive explanation of this important topic, we believe this will help to clarify and explain the questions most frequently asked about embryonic stem cell research.

What are stem cells?

In the human body there are around 200 different cells. Most cells are a particular type (such as the ceruminous gland cell) and have a specific function (in the case of the ceruminous gland cell, producing earwax). Stem cells differ, though, in that they are relatively undifferentiated and unspecialized—they have not yet obtained a special structure and function.

These cells are multipotent, meaning they can give rise to several other differentiated and specialized cells of the body (for example, liver cells, kidney cells, brain cells). All specialized cells arise originally from stem cells, and ultimately form a small number of embryonic cells that appear during the first few days of development.

How are stem cells different than other types of cells?

Stem cells have two unique characteristics: (1) an almost unlimited capacity for self-renewal (they can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells for as long as the person is alive) and (2) they retain the potential to produce differentiated and specialized cell types. As stem cells within a developing human embryo differentiate within the cell, their capacity to diversify generally becomes more limited and their ability to generate many differentiated cell types also becomes more restricted.

Why are stem cells so important to research?

There are two main reasons stem cells are of interest to both scientific and medical research. First, stem cells provide a valuable tool for studying both normal and abnormal cellular processes. By learning how stem cells differentiate and become specialized, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of how cells in general work and what can go wrong. Second, stem cells may prove to be an indispensable source of transplantable cells and tissues for repair and regeneration. If stem cells can be used to produce new and differentiated cells that are damaged because of disease (such as Parkinson’s disease) or injury (e.g., spinal cord damage), it would transform regenerative medicine.

What are embryonic stem cells? 

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are stem cells that have been taken from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, an embryo of about 150 cells that has not yet implanted into a woman’s uterus. (“Embryo” is the term for humans and other mammals in the stage of development between fertilization and the end of the eighth week of gestation, whereupon the being is referred to as a fetus until the time of birth.)

Where do the embryos for embryonic stem cells come from?

Some infertile couples that wish to conceive turn to in vitro fertilization (IVF). Oftentimes during the process, more embryos are created than are implanted into a woman’s womb. If they have no intention of giving birth to these embryos, the couple can donate them for research purposes. Currently, all human embryonic stem cell lines in use today were created from embryos generated by IVF.

What are adult stem cells? 

The term adult stem cells simply refers to any non-embryonic stem cell, whether taken from a fetus, a child or an adult. Adult stem cells are sometimes referred to as somatic stem cells to differentiate them from human germ cells, sperm cells and egg cells.

What is a stem cell line?

A stem cell line is a family of constantly dividing cells, the product of a single group of stem cells, which can be grown indefinitely in the laboratory.

Why is there a controversy over ESC research?

The process of obtaining stem cells leads to the destruction of the embryo from which the cells are taken. Because human life begins at conception, embryo destruction is immoral since it is the destruction of a human being. Even some people who do not believe that human embryos are deserving of full moral status worry about what the effects of normalizing such practices may have on society.

Advocates of ESC research, however, argue that it is unethical to impede potential advances that could heal disease and relieve the suffering of fully developed human beings. They believe that the moral status of a 150-to-200-cell early human embryo should not take precedence over responsible scientific inquiry.

Doesn’t the government ban the use and funding of embryonic stem cell research?

Research using cells taken from destroyed embryos is illegal in many countries, including Germany, Austria, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and New Zealand. Most African and South American countries also have some form of restriction or ban.

However, in the United States there are no restrictions on research and only minimal restrictions on government funding of embryo-destructive research.

In 1995, Congress attached language to an appropriations bill prohibiting the use of any federal funds for research that destroys or seriously endangers human embryos, or creates them for research purposes. This provision, known as the Dickey Amendment, has been attached to the Health and Human Services appropriations bill each year since 1996.

In 2009, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order that lifted all restrictions against federal funding of stem cell research. The courts ruled that the language of the Dickey Amendment prohibited the use of government funds to directly destroy an embryo, but could not prohibit funding a research project using embryonic stem cells.

Aren’t embryonic stem cells more effective than adult stem cells at treating diseases?

No. In fact, just the opposite is true: there are more than 70 conditions currently being treated with adult stem cells, and zero with embryonic stem cells. Despite the media hype of the early 2000s, embryonic stem cell research has proven to be useless at treating medical conditions. When tested on animals, embryonic stem cells turned into tumors. As biological engineer James Sherley once explained, “Figuring out how to use human embryonic stem cells directly by transplantation into patients is tantamount to solving the cancer problem.”

Government and private funding sources have consistently shown a preference for adult stem cell research. For every dollar spent on embryonic stem cell research, four dollars is spent on research using adult stem cells. However, because of its unethical nature, more needs to be done to oppose any federal funding and discourage private funding of embryo-destructive research.

Can Christians support embryonic stem cell research?

Several passages in the Bible strongly suggest that human life begins at conception

 (Job 31:13-15; Ps. 51:5; 139:13-16; Matt. 1:20). The Bible is also clear about the taking of innocent life (Exod. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). For these reasons, Christians should not support medical research that requires killing innocent human beings at the earliest stage of their development.