Ethics

No Time for Retreat

On the stage of a microscope’s slide, human embryonic stem cells can have a holy glow about them. Perhaps it is just the way the light strikes a colony of cells, which resembles a raspberry drained of its color. Many people bestow holiness upon embryonic stem cells. Spending a week shadowing researchers at one of Northwestern University’s medical laboratories, I could understand why some individuals see stem cells as a medical breakthrough on par with penicillin, and others view them as a sacred form of life.

Those perspectives on the significance of embryos are at the heart of the debate. Any legislation on stem cell research will have its faithful dissenters, and people of faith and conscience should continue to listen to one another’s views. Yet we must also ask what best serves the common good. Our nation needs a new policy on stem cells, one which—like the bill passed by a bipartisan Congress, but vetoed by President Bush, this summer—would allow fertility-clinic clients, with full consent and without pay, to donate unused embryos to research.

Unless key decision makers change their minds on this issue, it will take several more years before the federal government reaches a compromise about the way forward. Jonathan Moreno, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, has little hope of Congress developing a veto-proof majority on stem cell legislation, but he says that states will likely take further action. California, Connecticut, Illinois, and New Jersey have earmarked millions for research on embryonic stem cell lines, while several other states support the research with undesignated funding. Private companies offer another source of money.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2007
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What's In a Name? (Parole if you're good.)

Here at the Sojourners Ethics Desk—with a staff of tireless watchdogs who, while not actual dogs, can't help it if one leg wiggles involuntarily during a nice tummy rub—we keep a keen eye on the nation's government employees, particularly those whose service to the public includes lengthy fact-finding trips inside courthouses and prisons. Lately, it has come to our attention that a pattern has developed in the scandals involving officials, for whom was written the phrase "absolute power corrupts absolutely." (It's also true that "a lot of power corrupts a lot" and "a smidge of power corrupts just a tad." But I digress.) While the charges against them range from influence peddling to lying to a grand jury, each of the alleged perpetrators has one thing in common: A nickname.

The list is short, but substantial: Former top CIA official Kyle "Dusty" Foggo is under investigation for his questionable relationship with defense contractors. Former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham is in prison for steering federal contracts to friends. (He first raised suspicion after naming his new yacht "The Ill-Gotten Booty.") White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby was found guilty of giving false testimony to a federal prosecutor. And Robert "Hair-Looks-Fake" Ney was convicted of taking bribes from lobbyists.

Okay, we made up that last one. But sometimes you have to bend the truth to make an important ethical point. (And, no offense, but Rep. Ney does have a look that says to passing lobbyists, "I REALLY like to golf, hint hint. And please stop staring at my hair.")

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Sojourners Magazine May 2007
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Stem Cell Choices

While reading the paper, my airline seatmate blurted out to no one in particular, "They don't get it—it's not about 'ethics'! This stem cell thing is a no-brainer. What matters is people are dying and we need to do all we can to help." The woman next to me put down her book, stared at him for a moment, and gently said, "It's all about ethics, the ethics of killing children."

When it comes to the issue of using embryonic stem cells for research into new pathways of healing for the severely afflicted, emotions on both sides run high. If the rhetoric is to be trusted, the debate over embryonic stem cell research is a pitched battle between two irreconcilable positions—those who value the life of a tiny cluster of newly fertilized cells vs. those who value the needs of the suffering now. Bumper sticker slogans are lobbed across the ideological battlefield like hand grenades.

Part of the problem is the changing status of the science. New avenues of research, for example, have touted the use of other types of stem cells, such as stem cells from umbilical cord blood. These promising advances, however, at this stage do not diminish the potential utility of the embryonic stem cell. With all the hope other sources of stem cells bring, we cannot ignore the source that is currently the most promising.

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Sojourners Magazine April 2007
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In the Face of War

Our time -

Our time - as every era - is a time of structured enemies. Yes, there are moments of true regard for the other, even moments of sheer poetry. Yet the fabric of society is always woven with dangerous conflict. Socially constructed hostilities and historically clashing interests riddle life. When they are not overt, they are latent. Soldier and citizen, colonized and colonizer, poor and rich, Irish Protestant and Irish Catholic, Hindu and Christian, female and male, worker and management, Palestinian and Israeli, even child and parent, partner and spouse, all know the same thing: No soul is immune from harm, no life is without violation, no zone is enemy-free. Do individual bonds and emotions matter here? Of course. But far less than power relationships that effectively structure animosity.

The only real question, then, is whether there is an effective "ethic for enemies," to use Donald Shriver’s term. Or, to sharpen it the way Jesus did, whether love of enemy is a life imperative itself and reconciliation of structured enemies the only way to a new creation. It certainly is so when mountain ranges and great oceans no longer put anyone out of reach of the other, and "advanced" technologies wrap mass destruction in small packages.

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Sojourners Magazine January 2005
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Web Exclusive: Wendell Berry interview complete text

Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger and photographer Ryan Beiler spent a Sunday afternoon in February with Wendell Berry at his farm in Henry County, Kentucky. Berry is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and essays, including The Unsettling of America, What are People For?, Life is Beautiful, Citizenship Papers, and The Art of the Commonplace. He has farmed in a traditional manner for nearly forty years. Berry spoke with Sojourners about religious practice, Bluegrass country, defending against Wal-Mart, usury, and Jesus. - The Editors

ROSE MARIE BERGER: Tell me about this land, about this bioregion, about the history of your farm.

WENDELL BERRY: We're on the west side of the Kentucky River, in the Kentucky River Valley. Some people call this the Outer Bluegrass; there are other names for it. We have limestone soils. An old ocean or sea laid down these layers of limestone. There are lots of trees here. There are white, chinquapin, red, black, and shumard oaks. Those are the principle ones. And we have two or three kinds of ash, maples, several varieties of hickory, black walnut, sycamore, black locust, honey locust, cedar, basswood, red elm, slippery elm. We used to have chestnuts once. Tanya and I have 125 acres altogether, 75 here and about 50 on Cane Run.

This place where we're sitting today, is the old property known as Lane's Landing. Twelve acres, more or less, the deed says. Tanya and I bought it in 1964 and moved in the next year. So we've been here thirty-nine years.

My mother was raised in Port Royal. And her father's land borders this. My father was born and grew up on a farm just the other side of Lacie. My brother lives there now.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2004
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Heaven in Henry County

Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger and photographer Ryan Beiler spent a Sunday afternoon in February with Wendell Berry at

Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger and photographer Ryan Beiler spent a Sunday afternoon in February with Wendell Berry at his farm in Henry County, Kentucky. Berry is the author of more than 40 books of fiction, poetry, and essays including The Unsettling of America, What are People For?, Life is a Miracle, Citizenship Papers, and The Art of the Commonplace. He has farmed in a traditional manner for nearly 40 years.

Sojourners: How does your identity as a writer connect to this region and land?

Wendell Berry: I was born here in Henry County. I grew up in these little towns, and in the countryside, on the farms. All my early memories are here. All the voices that surrounded me from the time I became able to hear were from here. This place where we're sitting today is the old property known as Lane's Landing. Twelve acres, more or less, the deed says. My wife, Tanya, and I came back here in 1964 and have lived here for 39 years, raised our children here. How could you draw a line separating this place and my identity? If you've known these places from your early youth, that means that you have a chance to know them in a way that other people never will.

We're on the west side of the Kentucky River, in the Kentucky River Valley. Some people call this the Outer Bluegrass. An old ocean laid down these layers of limestone in the soil. There are lots of trees here. There are white, chinquapin, red, black, and shumard oaks. Those are the principal ones.

Sojourners: What are the models used here in Kentucky to resist the economic pressure from the larger market?

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Sojourners Magazine July 2004
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Toward a Revolutionary Kindness

Anita Roddick was the founder and chief executive officer of The Body Shop, which sells environmentally and socially sensitive skin care products. Now free from management responsibilities—though she remains a major shareholder and board director—Roddick devotes her time to social change. This spring she published two books, A Revolution in Kindness (as editor) and Brave Hearts, Rebel Spirits: A Spiritual Activists Handbook (with Brooke Shelby Biggs). Sojourners executive editor David Batstone interviewed Roddick in San Francisco.

 

David Batstone: The message from your new books is not what you expect to hear from the CEO of a major retail corporation.

Anita Roddick: Once I separated myself from The Body Shop, I wanted to get some ideas out. It's very hard in business to be listened to when you talk about revolutionary ideas; it's even more difficult to do so as a woman. The market found it hard to believe us, for example, when we claimed that business has to move beyond an obsession with the bottom line.

Batstone: Was that just rhetoric at The Body Shop?

Roddick: Absolutely not. I was never interested in how big our company could grow, but how brave we could be. The investment bankers talked about profits, but we talked about principles. It all comes down to where you put your material resources and energy.

Batstone: What lessons did you learn while building The Body Shop that are relevant to social activism?

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2003
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What's Your Price?

The venture capitalist looked me straight in the eyes and uttered the words that every hungry entrepreneur wants to hear: "I can offer your company a real competitive edge." My partners and I were searching for seed capital to launch an Internet company. But we also needed talent—a network of experienced workers that would help us to execute our business plan successfully. So we were keen to learn how this particular investor was going to give us the vaunted "competitive edge."

"I run a sweatshop with more than 300 software engineers in Shanghai," he explained, absent any remorse at his choice of words, let alone his business practice. "We pay them a fraction of what we’d pay to build a technology system here in the United States," he added proudly.

Unbridled capitalism very well may be the most effective way to generate financial wealth. But a religious ethic does not accept that claim at face value. It takes the matter a step further: Generate wealth for whom?

When the spirit informs culture, our social goals to create wealth coincide with our ideals of human development. The process is a virtuous circle. Work is sanctified by its contribution to the well-being of others, especially the less fortunate. It helps the worker to achieve fulfillment, and fulfillment increases the wealth of all.

The following principles are a starting place for business workers to evaluate the values that drive their company, and a "measuring stick" for citizens in holding accountable their local businesses (which often are also global).

PRINCIPAL ONE: Company directors and management will consider their work force valuable team members, not merely hired labor.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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Setting a Global Table

Judy Wicks sees her restaurant, the White Dog Cafe in Philadelphia, as an experiment in bringing business and social responsibility together. Besides serving meals of contemporary American cuisine, Wicks also "raises consciousness and creates a sense of community."

The 17-year-old business makes $4.4 million a year and gives more than 10 percent of its proceeds to nonprofit groups through food, labor, and cash donations. Speakers, theme dinners, and other special events at the cafe address public concerns, as does a newsletter Wicks publishes three times a year. The newsletter organizes 19,000 loyal customers around various causes, including global warming, fair trade, and the School of the Americas. "We join organizations that focus on these issues, and we become involved locally," Wicks explains.

Wicks’ business model is grounded in her experience as a VISTA volunteer in an indigenous community in Alaska. "There was an interconnectedness with the environment and the community," Wicks said. "There was no hoarding, no envy, and everyone had access to resources." Wicks has incorporated the belief that "economic connectedness should mirror spiritual connectedness" into her work.

In 1987 Wicks began the International Sister Restaurant program, which she affectionately calls "Eating with the Enemy." She established relationships with socially conscious restaurants in countries that have poor dialogue with the United States. She has taken her customers on tours of seven different countries, including Nicaragua, Vietnam, and Thailand, encouraging cultural exchange and world peace through dialogue and connection instead of economic domination. Wicks feels her ability to merge the business and socially progressive communities allows each of them to "eat with their enemy" and be "enlightened to use business correctly."

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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