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ISSUE 119 VOL 6 PUBLISHED 10/28/2005

Ethicist backs poor

By Jean Mullins
Executive Editor

Friday, October 28, 2005

Karen Lebacqz, bioethicist in residence at Yale University, spoke on Thursday about the politics of land use in Holland Hall.

After a brief introduction by Associate Pastor Jennifer Anderson Koenig '87, Lebacqz introduced the topic of her talk as "international justice from a theological perspective," and said that "such issues are particularly thorny."

Lebacqz began by acknowledging her own bias on the topic. She first addressed the right of one country to interfere in the affairs of another country. She spoke about her days protesting the Vietnam War, describing her bias in that case as statist that each country should determine its own affairs.

But then Lebacqz acknowledged that despite her "deep leanings toward pacifism," she believed that the United States should have entered World War II long before it did, and that by doing so, would have saved millions of lives. She described her leanings this way as a form of Just War Theory that war is justified under strict conditions.

"I believe there are occasions when it is appropriate," she said.

Lebacqz also acknowledged her biases on "recognition politics," the politics of recognizing different cultures and how people identify themselves. Lebacqz acknowledged the right of a group to have its own cultural identity.

However, Lebacqz explained that she does not believe in this right in all cases.

I draw the line where such permission threatens basic justice," she said, referencing cultures such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, that oppresses women under the guise of culture.

"I want to say history matters," Lebacqz said as she continued, diving into the idea that justice is a response to wrongdoing. She pointed out that everyone on Earth is inextricably linked to everyone else through global markets that sell food and clothing.

She referenced David Rawl, who believed that the resources of society should benefit the needy minority, and this, Lebacqz explained, was the draw for many secularists. Lebacqz stated that she believed Rawl was correct in his attempt to correct this imbalance.

Lebacqz pointed out that it makes a difference in society where a person was born, what color his or her skin is and what gender he or she is.

Furthermore, Lebacqz noted that these social constraints are not random, but the result of power plays and social arrangements.

"Justice must attend to basic issues of power," she said.

Lebacqz, who is an ordained Unitarian minister, then turned to the Bible. She described her "lifelong love of the prophets and their railing against injustice."

She used examples from Amos, Jeremiah, and Isaiah of fighting against justice in the name of God. Amos encouraged fighting against unjust social structures that encouraged poverty; Jeremiah warned that unjust actions to neighboring countries will lead to God sending a conquering nation; Isaiah promised the fall of the oppressors so the oppressed could rise.

Lebacqz praised the Roman Catholic church for its tradition of a society's goods given for the good of the whole, that an individual's necessity outweighs dominion. She talked about the ancient idea of the Jubilee year, when all unjustly seized property would be returned and all debts forgiven.

In the modern case, Lebacqz said, small countries are plunged further and further into debt from interest alone from loans from the World Bank. She said these debts should be forgiven as just one way to follow the ideals of the prophets and combat poverty.

Lebacqz closed her speech with the image of the city of God in the Book of Revelations.

In this image, "all have life in abundance and beauty," she said. "Now there is justice. Now there is a God I can worship."

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