Last month President George Bush surprised us all.
Though he had suggested in his presidential campaign that he would oppose federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, he suddenly and dramatically announced that he would actually allow it under certain conditions. All funded research, Bush said, was to be limited to 60 existing stem cell lines with no new embryos destroyed.
Although I personally support more expansive embryonic stem cell research, Bush's 10-minute address to the nation struck me as an intelligent balancing act.
While Bush expressed some deep personal convictions about his own respect for human life in all its stages, he avoided the temptation to grandstand or pander or dogmatically enshrine one moral outlook over all others.
Instead, Bush—by the very tenor of his own remarks and his own teachability and movement on this issue—preached prudence, humility, civility and the value of informed and reasoned judgment, which are important civic virtues.
Right now, no one appears entirely happy with Bush's stem cell decision.
Yet, given that we are a republic of citizens with diverse views and perspectives on this issue, is there a reasonable alternative?
However restrictive, Bush's stand kept some basic and important research options open that might otherwise have been closed.
His approach may be as good as it gets and the best we can do together, pending more information about the true merits of stem cell research and a greater understanding of the attendant moral issues.
As we go forward from here, my own hope is that the basic, tempered civility that President Bush advocated and even modeled for us can prevail, not only on the stem cell research question but also for controversies over other biotechnological issues that may loom on our horizon.
At home and abroad, we all have seen the terrible things that can happen when narrow partisanship and religious sectarianism overtake public life. Let's not go there.
Although it may require the wisdom of Solomon, we need—in the face of moral controversy—to rediscover how we can agree to disagree but still walk together in a positive and constructive way.
National moral consensus is always a worthy goal. But political compromise is also honorable and valuable when moral consensus is not likely to be be forthcoming.
Compromise is what President Bush proposed last month.
On stem cell research and other emerging issues related to the well-being of human life, may those of us in the Christian churches, as well as the general public, have the wisdom and fortitude to work for the common good in a spirit of open-minded pragmatism and civility.
The Rev. Geoffrey D. Drutchas is senior pastor of St. Paul UCC, Taylor, Mich., and the author of "Is Life Sacred?" (Pilgrim Press), a history of the sanctity of life concept.