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Living with Ethics

It is hoped that the theoretical and methodological aspects of the book merge, thus giving meaning to both. In this concluding chapter we will take a last look at the two case studies, how our theoretical concerns effect the final resolutions of both.

Living Resolutions

Step 5: Resolution of the Dilemma 
Decision: Action and Being

The Croquet Game

Ruth decided that the rules to keep confidence and keep promises applied in her case, but thought her decision could not be simply to follow the rules. She attempted to balance a set of prima facie duties (promise keeping vs. avoiding harm, etc.) and discern which of these were the most compelling and what it meant to act on them in her particular situation.

Part of her situation was being a minister with all the role expectations inherent in ministry. And yet, she found that these expectations led her to questions of character, not just choosing the right action. She concluded that given her role as Christian minister, the virtues of fidelity and trustworthiness were crucial to her decision.

Considering the institutional structures in which she acted, she realised that she possessed considerable power, power which could be used for or over Kathy. Thus, the norms of justice and liberation also came into her deliberations.

In summary, Ruth considered the following as important in her decision:

a. defining and interpreting the situation, naming the morally relevant factors that "activated" prima facie duties and/or duties expected of her given her profession;

 b. living a story that exhibited those virtues inherent in her professional role and in harmony with the person she thought she was and wanted to become in the future;

 c. attending to structures, keeping in mind issues of power, justice and liberation.

 Ruth had to consider the "case for confidentiality", her duties to others (Kathy's parents, the father of the child, etc.), the duty to divulge to avoid harm coming to Kathy, all in light of her role and position as minister.

Ruth finally decided not to break the promise of confidence given to Kathy in the "sanctuary" of her office. She made this decision by considering the prima facie duty of promise keeping, the virtue of trustworthiness expected of a minister, her use of power, etc. However, she was greatly concerned that she do good for Kathy, or that the least amount of harm come to Kathy. Ruth knew that no matter what Kathy ultimately decided, she, Kathy, would have to live with it the rest of her life. Ruth also felt she had responsibilities to Kathy's parents, being their minister as well. Ruth decided the best action was to convince Kathy to tell at least one of her parents.

Ruth succeeded and Kathy told her mother, with Ruth present. Her mother supported Kathy's wish to have an abortion, but together they decided not to tell Kathy's father for fear of his reactions. Ruth did not break confidence, thus maintaining Kathy's trust.

Final Consideration of the Methodology

It is very important to remember that the entire narrative method used in this book was to familiarise you with ethical concepts and enable you to handle concrete moral problems you will confront in your ministry. It was not to judge you as right or wrong concerning a specific past action. If you have used a past professional dilemma, and you concluded at the end of the exercise your original action could have been different, it would not be at all surprising. You have been through several weeks of learning about and using ethics while exploring and coming to an understanding of the nature of ministry. On the other hand, if you justified your original action as appropriate, you will know better why it was so.

Copyright © 2000 Dale Rominger

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