New ethical dilemmas show up all the time. While the issues change often, the big question remains: Is this right?
Ethics, of course, is about matching behavior with beliefs. Some answers to ethical dilemmas are easier to determine than others.
A recent story from Religion News Service focuses on the morality of walking out on a mortgage to avoid further financial losses. Nationwide, about one in four American homeowners hold mortgages that exceed the current value of their homes.
That situation offers no brightly shining option for those who can afford the payments but worry about ultimate financial losses.
But aside from the damage to one’s credit and other ramifications that would come from an intentional default on such a loan, many homeowners are asking the ethical question: “Morally, is this even an option?”
The once familiar WWJD bracelets help with many situations. But since Jesus never had the experience of an indebted homeowner, that question won’t take you far.
According to the report, Brent White, a law professor at the University of Arizona whose writings include “The Morality of Strategic Default,” said more than 80 percent of homeowners still think defaulting on a mortgage is immoral.
Frustration with lenders, he said, often pushes those over the edge who would otherwise stay in the loan despite the loss of value in the home.
“People walk away because they’re angry at their lenders,” White said in the article. “They have been unable to work with them, and the government hasn’t done anything to help underwater homeowners who are trying to make their mortgage payments. If people were acting purely on a rational basis, they would walk away much sooner than they do.”
One ethicist pointed out that so-called “strategic defaults” have a neighborly dimension to consider as well. The value of other homes in the neighborhood is diminished by such choices.
“If my greed … is realized at the expense of my neighbors and I say I’m free to do that, then I’ve missed an ethical point entirely,” said James Childs, author of “Greed: Economics and Ethics in Conflict,” in the story.
Others do not even take the decision-making process that far concerning this issue. They stop at seeing legal contracts as binding agreements that should be kept like any other promise – even when the economy takes a bad turn.
This whole discussion is yet another reminder of two solid truths: Ethical decision-making is not easy – nor is it ever finished.
John D. Pierce is executive editor of Baptists Today. This column appeared previously on his blog.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.