The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Do we Need Blue Roses?

Should we be creating blue roses?

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published and archived in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive. More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

For more resources on interfaith dialogue and understanding, see the Kaufman Interfaith Institute page and their weekly Interfaith Insight column at

Should we be creating blue roses?

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“One need not look further than Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si. Pope Francis very strongly argues against unlimited genetic engineering. He states, ‘if we approach nature and the environment without openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs’ (cf. Laudato Si, p. 4).

“The author of the cited editorial, Robert Gebelhoff, concludes the creation of a blue rose is hubris. Pope Francis likely agrees and states ‘a spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful, and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot.’ Pope Francis continues, ‘the best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality’ (ibid., p. 22).”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“The essay provided didn’t quite make a case for not creating blue roses. The author did, however, make a great case for our very tentative existence on this planet. Recently, I was birding in the mountains of Maui. We were in a very cold environment. I bring up the temperature because according to our guide, the birds we would spot today would not be here for long. Due to climate change, in a short time this rather frigid part of the mountain would warm up just enough for invasive, disease carrying mosquitos to thrive, eliminating the most beautiful birds on the island.

“Clearly, a large portion of our population, or at least the power brokers among us, do not find the worth in maintaining the species we have left.

“A side note: There were no mosquitos in Hawaii until European whaling ships dumped their dirty bilge water into Hawaiian harbors.

“In theory, Hindus should be the most careful of all of the earth’s stewards. ‘Ether, air, fire, water, earth, planets, all creatures, directions, trees and plants, rivers and seas, they are all organs of God’s body. Remembering this, a devotee respects all species.’ (Srimad Bhagavatam 2.2.41) Sadly, in practice we are far from that ideal. It is inspiring to see this current generations of Hindus in both the East and West to make attempts to rectify this, inspired by both their religion and survival instincts.

“And regardless of any of this, I can live a very fulfilled life without blue roses.”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“This is the great ethical question of our time, just because we may be capable of doing something like creating a blue rose should we go ahead and create it. Our scientific abilities and discoveries continue to occur much faster than our society can ethically and morally address or incorporate them.

“Unitarian Universalists are very much in favor of continued scientific investigations and discoveries. The great hope is there are solutions and cures waiting to be discovered or uncovered out on some new frontier. But we also must hold the scientific community accountable and to an agreed upon ethical standard.

“Our world has many problems and some of the solutions are out there waiting to be tried and researched. In the process of creating the blue rose we may discover other ways to apply what we have learned to more pressing concerns. We should at least try.”

Linda Knieriemen, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

“Violets are blue, bluebells are blue, hydrangea can be blue if the soil is acidic enough. Blue columbine show themselves every spring in my backyard. I don’t NEED blue roses. 

This article however asks a deeper question: Why don’t we take care of what we do have instead of creating boutique flowers? Having blue roses (for those who want them) and tending and caring for Creation need not be mutually exclusive propositions, but keeping what we have, protecting endangered species should hold a higher societal value than blue roses.”

My response:

Ultimately, I don’t think blue roses are the point. Sure, there are some trying to create a market for a heretofore nonexistent color of rose. But really, the point is to acquire a deep enough understanding of a genome to be able to make changes to it. We then take that knowledge and work up to being able to edit a human genome and eliminate diseases like Parkinson’s, Cystic Fibrosis, Hemophilia, Gaucher, Tay Sach’s, and Sickle Cell. If it takes blue roses to get to that point, I’ll take it.


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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