Briggs & Stratton Suit Consequence of Moral Debate

By Fox, Tom | National Catholic Reporter, February 14, 1997 | Go to article overview

Briggs & Stratton Suit Consequence of Moral Debate


Fox, Tom, National Catholic Reporter


As the United States and the Soviet Union amassed unimaginable nuclear firepower in the late 1970s, the arms race veered out of control. U.S. deterrence was viewed almost exclusively as a technical matter: numbers of warheads, weights, firepower and speed of delivery systems. All designed to outdo the Soviets' own terror system. End of discussion.

Totally missing then was any serious reflection on the morality of it all. Aside from a few voices, including Pax Christi members -- most notably Detroit's Bishop Thomas Gumbleton -- hardly anyone talked about nuclear morality. Such talk, when it occurred, was seen as almost unpatriotic.

At the urging of Gumbleton and a few others, however, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops decided in 1980 to put nuclear morality on its agenda. They formed a committee of five bishops, headed by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago. The committee held a series of meetings to hear a wide range of views.

The bishops' efforts focused attention on the topic.

In 1983, the bishops issued "The Challenge of Peace," a lengthy pastoral letter that offered limited support to U.S. nuclear deterrence within strictly limited guidelines. Some were elated, others disappointed. Historians, however, will probably note that the bishops moved the nation forward, forcing a moral perspective on any future arms discussion. They may have changed history as a result.

Moral consciousness matters. The persuasiveness of moral arguments helped end political colonialism, fostered democratic sensibilities, stirred interests in human rights, advanced the causes of women and won new respect for indigenous cultures. In time, perhaps, moral arguments will lead us to a greater respect for our environment.

Institutional policies generally do not evolve morally without the impetus of moral scrutiny.

The religious leaders of our nation are again being called upon to engage in another moral discussion. As we enter a new century, the emergence of a global economy appears to be shaping life, work and relationships worldwide in ways unimaginable only few years back.

In just a decade or so, the vestiges of national and regional economies are giving way to global market forces, with enormous consequences for better or worse. It is not enough to simply extol free trade as the answer to the world's economic ills, especially when wealth is increasingly concentrated and a quarter of the human family lives at subsistence levels or below. Whose responsibility is it to feed the hungry as new global economic patterns work themselves out?

In this new ferment, corporate jobs now routinely move across national boundaries. Incalculable sums of money, affecting millions follow the sun or leap on fastbuck opportunities as money managers issue new electronic orders that affect all our lives.

Is anyone or any institution responsible for the outcome of these transactions? Who is to protect the vulnerable? What communal obligations do each of us have to balance against the need to maximize profits in a new economic era? …

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