Does Vocation Allow a Spy to Employ Sex as an Espionage Tactic?

Does Vocation Allow a Spy to Employ Sex as an Espionage Tactic? May 18, 2018

In our recent post, The Vocation of a Spy, we discussed whether espionage is a legitimate vocation from God, and, if it is, does the vocation authorize the morally problematic activities that a spy must engage in–deception, lying, tempting others to betray their country, etc.

Sometimes, in recent history, this would include the “enhanced interrogation” of suspects, such as the waterboarding overseen by CIA director nominee Gina Haspel (just confirmed, by the way).  Or assassinations, as practiced by Mossad, the Russians, and possibly, at least at one time, the CIA.  But what about the classic espionage tactic of using sex and seduction, either to blackmail, reward, or otherwise induce a target to turn over secret information?

My former colleague, Jock Bennie, himself an intelligence professional and a professor of Strategic Intelligence at Patrick Henry College, e-mailed me a nice response to that post and put me onto the work of Darrell Cole, a Drew University ethicist, a Christian, who specializes in just war theory, particularly as it applies to espionage.  He wrote an article that draws on Luther entitled “Whether Spies Too Can Be Saved” in The Journal of Religious Ethics in 2008.  And he is the author of Just War and the Ethics of Espionage.

 I was most struck by his article Sex, Lies, and Spies, in which he discusses whether a spy who is a Christian could ever be justified in employing the spycraft of sex.  He frames the issue this way:

Recall that we’ve already agreed one can be both a good soldier and a good Christian. To put it bluntly, this means that stabbing, shooting, and bombing other human beings are conformable to being good Christians. So, too, deceiving and lying are probably conformable to being a good Christian. But is having sex in the line of duty likewise conformable? If we can kill our enemies for the common good, can we not have sex with them?

His answer is an emphatic NO!

You should read his whole essay, published in Providence:  A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, which is a fascinating discussion of Christian ethics, informed by vocation while upholding the concept of moral absolutes and Biblical authority.

Here is a sample from Darrell Cole,  Sex, Lies, and Spies:

When we look at the Christian tradition on sex, we find widespread agreement that the primary purpose of sex is to consummate a covenant of marriage and, only within this covenant relationship, to procreate and to experience the pleasure of sexual intercourse. . . .

Unfortunately, like all genuine human goods given to us by God in creation, sex too suffers from the Fall. We are now tempted to use sex for selfish and manipulative reasons. We can use sex to control and harm others. When spies have sex in the line of duty, they are clearly not expressing agapeic love for their partners. Even if in love with their targets, they cannot give themselves entirely to the other for they are hiding their motives for having sex. . . .The sex such people have is always manipulative.

However, we could say that spies. . . have the motive of love of country—love of neighbors, just as the just soldiers who kill and the just spies who deceive. The problem for such an argument is it assumes that non-spousal sex is not an inherently evil act. . . . Unlike soldiering and lying, there are no Biblical sources from which to build a case for just non-spousal or manipulative sex. . . .

Scripture gives us norms of human behavior that admit no exceptions. There is, for example, never a time when murder is the right thing to do. We may argue over what counts as murder, but the principle holds firm in all places, in all times, and for all peoples. Scripture gives us plenty of moral room for a just use of force, which is why the Christian tradition has largely agreed on the possibility of a just war. Scripture does not give us so ready a space for lying, which is why there is a larger division in the tradition on lying than on the possibility of a just use of force. Nevertheless, Scripture does offer some material to build upon a permissive tradition that would support the kinds of deceit used by spies. Scripture gives us no room at all for merely manipulative sex.

[Keep reading. . .]

Notice that “murder” is always wrong.  It’s just that some cases of homicide do not constitute murder.  Some actions may be authorized by a person’s vocation that would be unlawful if they are done without a vocation.  And there may be disagreements about what is ethical and what is not.  But the Commandments always apply in vocation.

HT:  Jock Bennie


Photo:  Mata Hari (German spy, World War I), by Unknown –, Public Domain,

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