Land: Blunt not with Southern Baptists on SCNT
By Allen Palmeri
July 26, 2005
JEFFERSON CITY – Culturally, it is clear that Gov. Matt Blunt enjoys being Southern Baptist. His family ties are strong within the denomination, he attends one of the larger Southern Baptist churches in Missouri, and he has fond memories of his membership at Dauphin Way Baptist Church, Mobile, Ala., a well-known conservative congregation.
But Richard Land, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), pointed out that Blunt’s terminology in the embryonic stem cell research debate has put him at odds with the way that most Southern Baptists feel about the issue.
“It’s pretty clear,” Land told The Pathway in an interview during the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville, Tenn., “he’s not in agreement with our resolution. Resolutions aren’t binding on the conscience of any Southern Baptist, but they are instructive as to where the vast majority of Southern Baptists are on a particular issue. The vast majority of Southern Baptists are against embryonic destructive stem cell research – with no word games.”
Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly approved a resolution deploring “embryo-destructive research, since it kills human beings in their earliest stages of development.” The Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) last year in its annual meeting at First Baptist Church, Raytown, passed a similarly worded resolution. Blunt’s position is that somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a technique used to produce embryonic stem cells, does not involve the creation of new human life.
As the leader of the state’s Republican Party, a political force that controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate in Missouri, Blunt has gone so far as to say that most of the pro-life lawmakers in the General Assembly share his position. But some observers – including editors at the National Review – are questioning whether the governor is being intellectually honest about an issue that could wind up tarnishing his conservative credentials.
Rep. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, said the governor’s attempt to separate SCNT from human cloning has caused a lot of Republican lawmakers to lose their political will to fight in defense of the embryo.
“I think that the governor is assuming that the majority of the pro-life members align with his position, but we haven’t had the opportunity to substantiate that (through a vote),” Lembke said. “I’m on record disagreeing with him. It’s very difficult to take a stand against your governor and your leadership.”
When asked why he is choosing to oppose his governor on SCNT, Lembke replied, “It’s the right thing to do.”
The governor has clung to the idea that SCNT, which does not involve sperm, does not lead to human cloning. “I oppose abortion, and human cloning,” he wrote in a July 19 op-ed column for The Pathway. The Southern Baptist response, as expressed by its most recent resolution, is to include SCNT within the embryo-destructive research culture, Land said. The resolution even goes so far as to call it “barbaric activity.” Blunt, writing in The Pathway, countered those ideas tangentially by stating that there is not public consensus on SCNT. Land addressed it directly, Southern Baptist to Southern Baptist.
“We know what an embryo is,” he said. “An embryo is a fertilized egg, period. The only difference between you and me and a fertilized egg is time.”
On June 30, National Review Online published a letter from the governor in which he stated that he has actively supported efforts to ban human cloning on both the federal and state levels. He wrote about his unwavering and fervent belief in the sanctity of human life, which he believes does not occur when SCNT is involved. National Review Online came back with a six-paragraph response to the governor’s letter, accusing him of “obfuscation” and “nearly Clintonesque spin.” The editors of the highly respected conservative publication also pointed out that they differ with the governor when it comes to defining the product of SCNT.
“Gov. Blunt would have us believe that cloning isn’t cloning if he calls it SCNT, and that cloning doesn’t create a human life if he has prayed about it,” the editors wrote. “But whatever we call the procedure in question, it creates a living organism of the human species.”
Blunt attends Second Baptist Church, Springfield. His pastor, John Marshall, preached Jan. 10 at his inauguration. In that message, Marshall spoke directly to the 34-year-old governor with these words: “Missourians like your genuine simplicity. Don’t seek to become something other than what you are. Don’t become plastic and unreal. Be honest.”
The governor maintains that he honestly does not believe that SCNT creates human life, which means that he can honestly support the procedure as a good way to enhance Missouri’s economy through jobs that may be created by both protecting and emphasizing embryonic stem cell research at Missouri’s leading universities and institutions.
Kerry Messer, lobbyist, Missouri Baptist Convention Christian Life Commission, is trying to nurture a healthy relationship with the governor through these turbulent times. With Missouri Right to Life regularly objecting to the governor’s pro-life statements in what has become an escalating war of words in the public arena, Messer is proposing that Missouri Baptists provide an official definition of SCNT in order to better serve the public. Messer is also quick to side with National Review Online editors in support of what Blunt has accomplished overall.
“Conservatives have many reasons to cheer the record the governor has compiled so early in office,” the editors wrote.