- Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics
Margaret A. Farley's greatly anticipated and now award-winning book, Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics, is as much a framework for Christian sexual ethics as it is a ready specimen for future historians of early twenty-first-century sexuality. Just Love offers a scrupulously researched and presented resource for current Christian (and human) sexual ethical discourses and discernment. The question Farley poses in various ways throughout her book is: "When is sexual activity appropriate in human relationships?" (272). In consideration of this question, Farley divides her book into seven chapters, with only the sixth specifically offering the new framework. This arrangement leaves the first five chapters to develop the ethical equipment with which she later constructs her framework. Chapter 7, then, applies her framework to three specific ethical questions: marriage and family; same-sex relationships; and divorce and remarriage.
In chapter 1 Farley immediately cuts away entrenched Christian discourse structures, which, in the past, have halted much ethical discussion, for example, the binary structure of "traditionalism versus radical change" (2). Instead, in her depictions of earlier Christian sexual ethics, she prefers to use language of preethical norms (taboos) and socially constructed ethical norms rather than mere ethical norms per se.
Chapter 2 offers a survey of these socially constructed sexual ethical norms (especially from antiquity and Christian tradition), which Farley presents in a chronological fashion, as a backward glance from the present, with a hint of evolutionary progression through time. Foucault, who claimed to study not the history of sexuality but the history of the experience of sexuality, considerably influenced her reading of the ancient Greeks and Romans. While her survey of Christian tradition is both supple and exact, it is notable for its approach to the doctrine of the Fall of Adam and Eve, a crucial subject for any Christian sexual ethic. In this chapter and throughout her book, Farley lets the doctrine of the Fall exist within a theology—with which her methodology allows her to disengage. Having established that much of Christianity's earlier sexual ethical norms emerged as contextualized social constructions, the Fall then easily drifts into the background of her own contemporary discussion and need not be argued. This detail clarifies that Farley does not aim to persuade Christians who are still moored to what some might call the Orthodox Christian tradition.
After considering the insights of history in chapter 2, Farley moves on to a cross-cultural and interreligious survey in chapter 3. Although each of chapter 3's case studies is fascinating in its own right, Farley makes little of these resources in subsequent chapters and therefore invites questions about the place and usefulness of the chapter within the book as a whole. Chapter [End Page 402] 3 yields modest yet important conclusions such as that "everywhere there is the effort to make sense of sexuality as a positive force in human life that is also potentially destructive" (103–4) or that "ongoing transformation of sexual systems can profit from (and not only be injured by) respectful dialogue, extended learning, between one tradition and another" (108).
A crucial movement in her book takes place in chapter 4, where three concerns occupy Farley's attention: "the moral status of the human body," "the question of gender," and "the sources and aims of sexual desire" (109). Farley's first task in this chapter is to elevate the moral status of the body by speaking about it in incarnational terms. Rejecting hierarchical dualisms that make humanity reducible to "soul over body" or "form over matter," Farley constructs the mirror terminologies of "embodied spirits" and "inspirited bodies" (116). In this soil, she roots her emerging concept of just love, that is, love that takes full account of the whole person. Next, Farley treads a more familiar path, suggesting that gender is always socially constructed, that we ought to discard gender roles in family and society, but that we should nevertheless affirm and value gender because it is part of who we...