Ethics Blog 4-21

In 2012, the Eastern Washington Federal District Court ruled that it was acceptable for the North Central Regional Library (NCRL) to filter certain websites from use. Even though the suit was brought forward by an adult, Sarah Bradburn, who was using the computers to write a research paper on youth tobacco use, the court ruled that the filter did not violate the First Amendment. Judge Edward Shea pointed out that the “filtering of pornographic and gambling content is required by the CIPA, the Federal law which funds the library’s internet access” (Schwartz, 2012).

There are several ethical principles we could use to analyze this verdict.

First, Kant’s Categorical Imperative – what’s right for one is what’s right for all. According to Kant, “the rightness or wrongness of actions does not depend on their consequences but on whether they fulfill our duty” (California State University). Moral duty would require that the library filter out content that could potentially be harmful to children, even if children aren’t using the computers.

Mill’s Principle of Utility states that “whether actions are morally right or wrong depends on their effects” and that “the purpose of morality is to make life better by increasing the amount of good things (such as pleasure and happiness) in the world and decreasing the amount of bad things (such as pain and unhappiness)” (IEP). Under utilitarianism, even though filtering the computers could protect children, it could also prevent adults from finding valuable information. Therefore, it does not create the most happiness for the most people.

In Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance, “to insure impartiality of judgment, the parties are deprived of all knowledge of their personal characteristics and social and historical circumstances” (Freeman, 2014). Under Rawls’ theory, the person in the library could be any of us. It could be someone who has no other way to access the Internet other than at the library, so we should not restrict their access.

Reflections

I’m not sure where to start other than the first place I remember asking the question: Why not women?

It was sophomore year in Dr. Thompson’s Paul and the Early Church class. We were assigned to write a five-page paper discussing our thoughts on the role of women in the early church. What could go wrong?

Well, as it turns out, everything.

I remember sitting at my laptop in a reading room in the library, struggling to type full sentences. I worked to get the words out, words I had known my whole life – submission, silence, order – as the question lurking in the back of my mind threatened to make itself known: Why not women?

I churned out a few pages of incoherent nonsense just to get the assignment done. There, I thought, I’ll never have to worry about that again.

Fast forward a year and a half: I’m sitting in a pastor’s office, nervously picking at a stray thread on my shirt. It’s distracting enough to keep me from crying, but not enough to block out the daggers I feel coming from the other side of the room. I can still hear his words, spit at me through a sarcastic smile: I’m sorry you feel oppressed.

I want so badly to explain that it’s much more than a feeling. I was ashamed for not being able to conform any longer to the theology of my youth – the theology that gave me a home for so many years. I try to hide my face, flushed red with equal parts embarrassment and anger, as I mustered the courage to ask: But why not women?

That year and a half – and the year that’s passed since that day in the office – consisted mostly of sleepless nights spent reading my Bible, books, blogs and anything else I could get my hands on, searching for answers.

Despite my best efforts, the more I tugged, the more the complementarian theology of my youth began to unravel. Questions about these beliefs were met with honest answers, from church leaders or other Christian influences in my life, but those answers came with a more cultural bias toward traditional ideas about masculinity and femininity (i.e. men are lustful and women are emotional), or with the implication that I just wasn’t taking Scripture seriously enough.

One person told me women shouldn’t have authority over men because it allowed men to be passive. Are women of God called to be passive? I must’ve missed that passage, I wondered, as I thought of women like Rahab and Esther. Another said my view of gender roles revealed how I thought about the Bible and the gospel, and I knew what that meant: You don’t believe men should be the head of the household? You think women should be allowed to preach on Sunday mornings? Well, you’re just not reading the Bible right. Maybe you should work on trusting God more. After all, this is His design. You wouldn’t want to go against His design, would you?

Embedded in the practical implications of this gender theology was a struggle to understand what it meant to be a “biblical” woman – and the toll I realized it had taken on my self-identity. I’d always been interested in sports and videography growing up and dreamed of a successful career in sports media; as a result, I didn’t have many friends who were girls in the first place – something the church found problematic. I was taught to value modesty above everything – but the boys next to me weren’t taught the same. I was a strong leader, and I loved writing Bible studies and teaching groups of men and women – but was never able to do so without a male co-leader by my side.

I hated jewelry, crafts and fashion shows, so I never quite felt at home at any women’s ministry events – and by the time we got to the sermon, it was always Proverbs 31, so I usually felt tempted to sneak out the back door. The girls around me were praised for their “gentle and quiet spirits,” while my opinionated and fiery nature made it difficult to feel like I was truly honoring the Lord. I wondered if God had purposely made me the way he had to teach me a lesson – that if I would eventually shut up, stop trying to talk shop with the men, and just focus on being more gentle and ladylike, I could somehow become more godly in the process.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with gentleness – it is a fruit of the Spirit, after all – but finding my identity in feminine personality traits turned out to be no match for an identity rooted in God himself.

As I searched, I fell more deeply in love with Jesus. The more I learned about his treatment of women, the more I learned about the letters of Paul and the Bible as a whole, the more I was convicted that male-only leadership couldn’t be God’s only design for us.

I finally felt at peace with who I was in Christ, an identity that stood free from any relationship to a man. Who I was in Christ had nothing to do with how feminine or submissive I was – I was simply his beloved, and my relationship with him made me a part of his mission of equality and reconciliation for all of humanity. I even ventured so far as to call myself what I used to consider the godly woman’s f-word: a feminist (more on that in a minute).

Although I’m growing in confidence in my identity, it’s still taken time to feel at home again in church. I ended up leaving that church – the place where I had been a member throughout college. I was fortunate enough to find amazing community at another church shortly after leaving, and a small group there that loves and accepts me and all my weird questions about the Bible – but the pain of leaving a church body is something that doesn’t heal easily.

Even in this newfound freedom, I still get insecure. I still wonder if it would have been easier to never have asked questions. I’m still learning what it means to be a woman in the church. I still struggle with the belief that my clothing could be responsible for lust, a catcall or an assault, even from a brother in Christ.

I worry that people make assumptions about my intentions or my convictions. I can’t tell you how many weird, concerned texts I get from people I haven’t talked to in years, as if they know exactly what I believe and why, or how many times people tell me they too went through a “feminist” phase in college – as if wanting equality for all people is just a fleeting college fad, like binge drinking or roller blades.

And yes, I do believe it’s important to call myself a feminist in addition to being a Christian – at least for now. I hope that term will be obsolete someday, but I think Sarah Bessey explains it best:

“As long as I know how important maternal health is, for instance, or as long as I continue to hear from women who have been abused and raped, as long as I know girls are being denied life itself through selective abortion, abandonment, and abuse, as long as brave little girls in Afghanistan are being attacked with acid for the crime of going to school, and until being a Christian is synonymous with doing something about these things, you can also call me a feminist.”

I fear people will learn I’m a Christian feminist and assume that there is no such thing – that my heart is hardened to the authority of Scripture. I worry that they’ll think I must be rebellious, or that I was raised without any knowledge of the Bible, or that I hate men and just want power for myself.

To those people, I would say: my heart is so far from being hardened. It aches for women who are oppressed and disheartened. It soaks in those feelings of inadequacy and shame created by cultural gender roles – especially when they’re presented as “biblical.” It longs for true equality in the body of Christ.

But still, in my inadequacy, in my anger, in my confusion: Jesus reigns, and therefore there is hope.

I see hope in the Scriptures: in Romans 16, where Paul commends the many women who have also helped to advance the gospel; in Philippians 4, where Paul recounts the women who have struggled beside him as co-workers in the gospel; in Acts 2, where women and men alike are entrusted with the precious gift of the Holy Spirit; in 1 Corinthians 12, where the Spirit allots spiritual gifts regardless of gender or any other factor; and in Galatians 3, where we see a vision of the gospel’s universal reach through Jesus:

“For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

I see hope in places like Bent Tree Bible Fellowship, which announced this weekend that they’re inviting women to share in every area of leadership, including as elders. I was overjoyed to hear the news, as JoAnn, who’s officiating my wedding, teaches there, and I know the Spirit speaks through her every time she preaches. Even though I can only attend services every few months while I’m in school, Bent Tree always feels like home to me, and now it does in more ways than one.

I’m still learning to see hope in my own life, and in the midst of a Christian culture that can at times seem dominated by patriarchy and rigid roles – but I believe God is continuing His work of reconciliation day by day.

I want to be ready whenever and however the Lord calls me to share in that labor – and I know I have a long way to go. I’m still a sinner, and there are so many things about me that could hold me back from fully following the Lord – selfishness, impatience and bitterness, just to name a few – but now, I can rest easy knowing my gender won’t be one of them.

If you’re interested in reading more about my personal journey, here is the independent study I did with Dr. Thompson.

If you’re interested in reading an article or book on this subject by an actual established author, you can find resources here, or check out Sarah Bessey’s book, Jesus Feminist.

Ethics Blog 4-6

As gaming technology evolves, industry leaders are working hard to leverage the advances for their good. In seeking to combat negative stereotypes of video games and the gamers themselves, many are hoping to use virtual reality and other immersive game experiences to help users learn to have empathy for others (Helmore, 2014).

For example, participants in a study were taught about the use of non-recycled paper and its role in deforestation. One group was given a written description of a chainsaw cutting through a tree. The other group was actually given the chance to cut down a virtual tree using virtual reality software and a helmet.

Both groups understood the impact of their paper use on the environment – but only the virtual reality participants cut down their paper use as a result of the study.

“This study isn’t all about trees,” said Sun Joo Ahn, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“It’s about how we are able to use an immersive virtual environment to create a change in behavior in the physical world…We showed that just three minutes of an embodied experience could produce a behavioral result” (Gorlick, 2011)

The idea that using gaming and virtual reality can change consumer behavior certainly has merit, but I doubt companies will alter their gratuitously violent video games in the name of ethics – especially as far as money is concerned, as the video game industry is a $21 billion dollar industry (Cox, 2014).

Depending on the perspective, there are several ethical principles one could apply here. One could use a Judeo-Christian ethic of empathy and concern for others to justify limiting or removing violence in video games.

However, one could also use Mill’s Principle of Utility to claim that anything that makes a company money increases happiness, and therefore can be considered good.

Promoting empathy and concern for others seems like what we would want to value as a society, but when there’s money involved, the spirit of capitalism will pretty much always trump ethics.

Ethics Blog 3-29

Codes of Ethics give professionals at all levels a benchmark for their behavior in a particular industry. For communicators, ethics are especially important, as our jobs directly affect the education and mindset – and therefore the actions – of the public. Communicators can influence how people vote, what they buy and how they spend their time, so they must maintain a high ethical standard in order to promote the greatest good for the general public.

As I reflect on the task of writing a personal code of ethics, several values come to mind. Two stick out: honesty and professionalism.

First, honesty.

I don’t believe there’s a value that’s more important to me as an individual than honesty. I would rather have someone (gently) tell me a hurtful truth than try to protect my feelings. I believe honesty and transparency, though they can often be more of a hassle up front, ultimately promote a healthier dialogue and flow of information. For example, I’m a strong proponent of open records and open meetings because they foster an environment of trust and accountability between leaders and their constituents. I handle disappointment well, and am able to recover quickly from insults or arguments – but if I find out someone has lied to me, it upsets me so much more.

I believe honesty is valuable in the workforce because it promotes a culture of transparency. Office conflicts of all sizes are bound to arise, and a culture of openness allows employees to state their feelings, questions or ideas in order to more quickly reach a solution as a group.

Next, professionalism.

As a student worker, I was lucky to have employers who instilled this value in me. Many dream of working in sports solely because they’ve grown up as a sports fan – however, a job in sports requires so much more than enthusiasm. Media members and team employees alike should strive for a certain level of professionalism – meaning, as challenging as it can be, no cheering or jumping around when your favorite player hits a 3-pointer.

As a videographer, I especially appreciate sideline professionalism because having a photographer talking in the background of my footage is a nuisance and is nearly impossible to edit out. Support staff must understand that their roles involve behind-the-scenes work, and if they prefer to be able to cheer, they should pay to sit in fan seating.

Ethics Blog 3-3

I chose to review the case of Ant-Man, a PG-13 movie, being advertised during children’s programming, Spongebob Squarepants (CARU, 2015).

In this case, “advertising for ‘Ant-Man’ aired during the program ‘SpongeBob Squarepants'” despite receiving a rating of PG-13 for “intense sequences of science fiction action violence” (CARU, 2015). Through an agreement with the Motion Picture Association of America, “if CARU finds an advertisement for a film rated PG-13, R or NC-17 in any medium primarily directed to children under 12, CARU will refer the matter to the MPAA Advertising Administration” (CARU, 2015). The MPAA upheld the placement of the ad:

In the case of Ant-Man, which is a sci-fi action/adventure motion picture directed to younger audiences, placed on “Spongebob Squarepants,” for which the demographic information demonstrates a relatively older-skewing audience, and taking into consideration the TV ads themselves, none of which contained strong depictions of violence, the Advertising Administration determined that the placement was appropriate for the program on which it aired (CARU, 2015).

Advertising professionals face unique ethical challenges, as they are “contractually obligated to be an advocate of the client, working to advance the client’s ends,” although the authors of Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning note that “as media professionals we are variously obligated.” Advertisers must decide daily how to balance their ethical loyalties to both their clients and their audience.

These decisions and their outcomes greatly affect the professional culture of advertising, whose elements are discussed on p. 178-79 of Media Ethics. They shed light on what the culture truly values — creativity? effectiveness? ethical advertising? They also reveal how those professionals will go about their work. In the case of Ant-Man, it seems the advertisers valued the ad’s outcome more than worrying that children would be watching an ad for a movie that may be inappropriate for them to see — so they ran the ad during a 5 p.m. children’s program.

These challenges also reveal how advertisers think about themselves — CARU is a self-regulating unit, so there is clearly some ethical consideration within the business itself. They shape and reveal how others think about the advertisers, as audiences react to an ad’s content, placement and overall message and often draw judgments about the advertising industry.

These components of the professional culture of advertising reveal why it’s so important to think fully through ethical decisions. As the authors state in Media Ethics, “our professional response to these perceptions — a shrug of the shoulders, a thoughtful editorial, or a column in Advertising Age — reveals quite a lot about our industry’s values” (Media Ethics, 2012).

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Ethics Blog #4

In the creepiest video I’ve watched all week, an actress posing as a marketer for the food industry described in detail the horrors of factory farming and the marketing required to cover up those horrors. Factory farming involves “intensive systems” that “prioritise production above all else, creating vast quantities of seemingly cheap meat, milk and eggs” (CIWF).

The woman in the video may not be a real marketer, but her point was the same: “This is systemized cruelty on a massive scale, and we only get away with it because everyone is prepared to look the other way.”

These marketers must face a very real examination of loyalties. Do they prioritize loyalty to their clients and employers, or loyalty to consumers and animals?

Many fast food chains have started to realize that loyalty to some customers in this area could prove to be lucrative. As many consumers are demanding healthier, more ethical food options, restaurants like McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Taco Bell are pledging to make all of their eggs cage-free in the next few years.

However, the term “cage-free” is used to describe the amount of space a chicken is given to roam — which means this may just be enhanced marketing and not real change:

Since cage-free certifications do not require outdoor access, the vast majority of “cage-free” egg producers opt for giant barns employing indoor housing systems —€” either “enriched colonies” or “aviaries” depending on how much capital they are willing to invest. Many opponents of the current industrial shift are calling the differences between conventional and cage-free marginal, at best. (Sherfey, 2016)

Some consumers don’t even care about the conditions in which their food is produced — which our video claimed was a “secret weapon” for food marketers. Dale Volkert, founder of Lake Meadow Naturals, a small, cage-free egg producer, echoed our video’s sentiments about the consumer:

“I think part of the consumer base does not care,” Volkert said.

“They just want cheap eggs… For a lot of those people, that’s all they can afford. They’re eating to survive. They’re not concerned about the animal. But then you have the middle and upper-class that have those [animal welfare] concerns” (Sherfey, 2016).

True loyalty to a consumer base would be difficult to achieve in this situation, as even customers are split on the ethical consequences of factory farming.

Although it is sad to see animals in this situation, without a clear-cut response from consumers, I understand why food companies have chosen the most profitable and efficient practices for their business.

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Ethics Blog: Week 3

Balancing the public’s right to know with a person’s right to privacy is a tricky piece of American society, and this issue is only further complicated on college campuses. Many universities fear federal retribution under FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Although the federal government has never actually penalized a college for violating the law, it’s often invoked to stop, or censor, freedom of information requests, effectively blocking the public’s right to know important information about what’s happening on campus.

Unfortunately, the law is “widely misunderstood” and therefore widely misused, according to Jacob Rooksby, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

“[Schools] often want to hide behind it — it’s the great boogeyman in higher ed” (Kingkade, 2016).

Schools must ultimately strike the delicate balance between honoring FERPA and honoring various open records and freedom of information laws.

Practically, this is easier said than done. Where this conflict between privacy and transparency often comes to a head is in the investigation of sexual assaults on college campuses, something few universities have managed to handle successfully.

Some schools, such as Florida State, choose to release select information about these investigations to the public. Though FSU was criticized for its overall handling of the Title IX proceedings, I believe its press release was an effective way to practice transparency while also honoring the involved students’ rights protected under FERPA.

Others, such as the University of Oregon, have found the managing of these rights to be much more difficult, as a campus rape allegation led to one student’s mental health records being accessed under FERPA, something her therapist took issue with:

She felt the school was forcing her to violate her professional ethics… Under FERPA, at a health clinic run by a university or college, the school has a legal right to get access to student medical records — if they’re relevant for a legal defense. That may come as a surprise to anyone who assumes that doctor-patient privilege is the same regardless of where the care is received (Foden-Vencil, 2015).

In journalism, this balance can be just as difficult, and the authors of Media Ethics propose a working standard for coverage of these situations:

Rather than emphasizing a public “right” to know, journalists are on more solid ethical ground by assessing whether personal information would serve a “need” to know. Acts by the media that infringe on that space … must be justified that a broader, vital public interest is being served (Plaisance, 2009).

There are no black-and-white rules to apply in the issue of transparency vs. privacy. In most cases, Aristotle’s mean should be applied to take the benefits of each position into account.

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