In Western culture, at least since its Christian formation, there has been a perduring tendency to give too much importance to the morality of sex. The sexual has threatened to take over the moral focus of whole generations of persons. Everything about the “sexual” is considered “moral” or “immoral,” and “morality” is almost reduced to “sexual morality.” All of this is to the detriment of concerns about economic justice, the oppression of whole peoples, political dishonesty, and even theft and the taking of life.
That’s from the introduction to Sr. Margaret A. Farley’s book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, quoted by Stephen Prothero in an op-ed titled, “Vatican is unjust to condemn nun’s ‘Just Love.’”
Prothero summarizes Farley’s central conclusions. For Farley:
Love is just when it meets three criteria: “it is a true response to the reality of the beloved, a genuine union between the one who loves and the one loved, and an accurate and adequate affective affirmation of the loved.” In short, “persons are not to be loved as if they were things.”
Turning to the ethics of sex, Farley advances a parallel argument, though this time she articulates seven norms: “do no unjust harm,” “free consent of partners,” “mutuality,” “equality,” “commitment,” “fruitfulness” and “social justice.”
I haven’t read Farley’s book. I hadn’t even heard of it until the Vatican drew my attention to it by sweeping it up into its larger crackdown on women. But I admire this approach to sexual ethics — an approach that actually tries to apply ethics to sexuality, rather than just drawing one big bright line at marriage and saying everything on one side of that line is good and everything on the other side is bad.
So I suppose I’m grateful to the Vatican for highlighting this book for me, and for millions of other people. Farley’s book came out in 2008, but now, thanks to stern condemnation from the Catholic hierarchy, it’s the No. 1 religion book on Amazon and No. 14 book overall.
Farley’s publisher is probably scrambling to see if they can get the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith to condemn the rest of their catalogue. As Ron Charles writes in a post titled “Sister Farley’s revenge“:
From papyrus to vellum to paper to e-books, two principles of publishing have not changed over the centuries:
1. Churches can’t resist the temptation to condemn books.
2. Nothing boosts book sales like condemnation by a church.
Oh, and speaking of the Vatican’s impressive powers of promotion-by-condemnation, here is some excellent news for the Episcopal Church: “Pope Benedict XVI refuses to allow communion for Catholic divorcees.”
It’s always a pastoral disaster when you draw a line to insist that people were made for the Sabbath rather than the Sabbath made for people. This is not a bold stand for doctrinal purity. It’s simply pastoral malpractice. Cruel and right are not the same thing.