LISA SOWLE CAHILL | DECEMBER 11, 2006
BY MARGARET A. FARLEY
This long-awaited work by America’s leading Catholic feminist theological ethicist, Margaret A. Farley, is the product of years of experience, reflection, scholarship and wisdom. Just Love is decisively shaped by Farley’s longstanding interests in the sexual equality of women and men, and of gay and straight couples; and, more recently, in advocacy for people affected by AIDS, especially women in Africa. Just Love’s thesis is that justice is central to sexual morality, especially justice in the sense of respect for the real identity and needs of the other.
This is an important message in a time in which sexual abuse and violence are rampant, and the Catholic Church has failed to protect children from sexual exploitation, while campaigning against the unions that many gays and lesbians view as essential expressions of their identities. It is just as important a message for a culture, like ours, that often reduces sexual morality to freedom and enjoyment, and regards commitment as an ideal or a luxury. It is even more important under conditions that systemically expose women to threats to their sexual integrity and health, and to their very lives.
In her first book, Personal Commitments (1986), Farley reflected the consensus of many religious ethicists that traditional certitudes and platitudes call for re-examination in light of individual experience. A task of the era was to reconsider the role of procreation in marriage, given the impact of Humanae vitae, and the rapid expansion of social roles of women beyond the domestic sphere. Farley and others reached the conclusion that sexual and marital morality is more defined by commitment than by childbearing. The latter represents a realm of fulfillment and responsibility, but it does not establish a normative requirement for all sex acts and sexual loves. While taking commitments, covenants and fidelity very seriously, Farley envisions conditions that could justify changing and breaking commitments, including marriage. Her focus was the difficulty of personal integration and responsibility, given the realities of change and of circumstances beyond individual control. Read more America, a Jesuit magazine
Lisa Sowle Cahill is a professor of theology at Boston College and the author of many books, including Sex, Gender and Christian Ethics.
Margaret A. Farley Present position: Gilbert L. Stark Professor of Christian Ethics, Yale Divinity School and Yale University Department of Religious Studies
A.B., University of Detroit
M.A., University of Detroit
M.Phil., Yale University
Ph.D., Yale University
The recipient of eleven honorary degrees, the John Courtney Murray Award for Excellence in Theology, and a Luce Fellowship in Theology, Professor Farley is a past president of the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America. She is the author or editor of six books, including Personal Commitments: Beginning, Keeping, Changing and most recently Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. She has published more than eighty articles and chapters of books on medical ethics, sexual ethics, social ethics, historical theological ethics, ethics and spirituality, and feminist ethics. She has served on the Bioethics Committee of Yale–New Haven Hospital and on the Ethics Committee of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. Professor Farley directs and co-directs two projects relating to women, theology, and response to HIV/AIDS in Africa. She is also co-director of the Yale University Interdisciplinary Bioethics Project.