Thursday, March 27, 2008

Just Love

Nihil Obstat is a relatively new weblog dedicated to “examining public statements and letters of Church officials and concerned Catholics [on a range of issues] in light of Christ’s ministry of inclusion and justice.”

Recently, Nihil Obstat highlighted the awarding of Sr. Margaret A. Farley (pictured above), an emeritus professor of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School, with the 2008 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion. The award, which carries a $200,000 honor, is given for new ideas in theology. It seems that, in large part, Farley received the award on the strength of her work in sexual ethics and, in particular, her idea that justice is an indispensable part of such ethics. In her 2006 book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, for instance, she defines “justice” as, “to render to each her or his due.” Furthermore, because justice is the quality that forms, guides and protects love, human sexual relationships must be not only loving but fair, writes Farley.

Here’s what Nihil Obstat has to say about Farley and her work:

In her 2006 book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, Farley argues that justice is the quality that forms, guides, and protects loving relationships.

When she became an ethicist almost 40 years ago, it never occurred to her that she might write a book about sexual ethics. But after looking at the pained faces of hundreds of lay people and students tussling with the complexities of love, she began to mull over their struggles.

Farley, a Sister of Mercy who lives in Guilford, CT, acknowledges she’s taken a progressive stance on issues like homosexuality, remarriage and masturbation. “Although homosexual genital actions are still judged to be intrinsically disordered, and hence, ‘objectively’ immoral, they can be ‘subjectively’ moral depending on the state of mind and intentions of an individual person,” she writes.

“It is difficult to see how on the basis of sheer human rationality alone . . . an absolute prohibition of same-sex relationships or activities can be maintained. . . . We have to witness that homosexuality can be a way of embodying responsible human love and sustaining human and Christian fellowship.”

Farley says that gay people have both a right, and a responsibility, to be fruitful through having and/or raising children and that a committed couple has the right to a satisfying sexual relationship.

Her views on divorce and remarriage, same-sex relationships and the ordination of women can be considered to differ with the official positions taken by the current Roman Catholic hierarchy, but Farley said that she proposes such challenges as an ethicist and moral theologian who is “trying to think through some of the troubling issues facing the church and society.”

“I do not just assert my positions,” Farley said, “I work my way to them, paying serious attention to the concrete situations in real lives where questions are raised, and working with significant resources in Scripture and Christian tradition. My conclusions may indeed sometimes differ from official positions, but my effort is to shed light both on new questions, new contexts, and potential new interpretations of the tradition.”

Susan Garrett, who directs the Grawemeyer award program, said Farley’s idea to chew over these issues, rather than believe what society or the church advocates, is essential.

“It’s an important message in light of all the confusion surrounding sexuality today,” Garrett said. “The religious right issues stark decrees while the entertainment industry tells us ‘Anything goes.’ People get confused about what’s right.”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Love is Love
The Changing Face of “Traditional Marriage”
The Real Gay Agenda
Naming and Confronting Bigotry
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
Separate is Not Equal
New Studies: Gay Couples as Committed as Straight Couples
What Scientists in the UK are Saying About Homosexuality
A Catholic Bibliography on Gay Issues
And Love is Lord of All

Opening image: Zac Willette.

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