Friday, November 2, 2012

Margaret Farley's Just Love: The Challenge to Make Love of Gay Persons Just in Christian Churches

A final set of excerpts from Margaret Farley's book Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (NY: Continuum, 2006): as you'll see, these all have in common the theme of homosexuality.  They're all reflections on how Christian communities need to frame discussions of that ethical topic, in order to be adequately ethical and adequately Christian as they approach it.

In Margaret Farley's terms, these are all framing reflections designed to orient the conversation of Christian communities, as they address the topic of homosexuality, to justice and love.  I am deeply grateful that a significant Catholic moral theologian is making these points.  I have felt strong, well-nigh crippling frustration for some time now that many leaders of the Catholic academic community appear to imagine that they can talk about the issue of homosexuality while prescinding from real-life questions of justice regarding their real-life LGBT brothers and sisters.

I'm daunted by the pretense, game-playing, and dangerous, malicious silence of far too many people with heads on their shoulders within Catholic academic institutions about the injustice practiced by their own institutions, by the church as a whole, and by many sectors of our society towards gay and lesbian persons.  And so I'm all the more grateful for Margaret Farley's sane and measured--and eminently Christian--voice as she addresses these issues.  Here's my final set of excerpts, and I won't place them in block quotes, since the list is fairly lengthy and the block format would be distracting, I think:

"Whether persons are single or married, gay or straight, bisexual or ambiguously gendered, old or young, abled or challenged in the ordinary forms of sexual expression, they have claims to respect from the Christian community as well as the wider society.  These are claims to freedom from unjust harm, equal protection under the law, an equitable share in the goods and services available to others, and freedom of choice in their sexual lives—within the limits of not harming or infringing on the just claims of the concrete realities of others.  Whatever the sexual status of persons, their need for incorporation into the community, for psychic security and basic well-being, make the same claims for social cooperation among us as do those of us all.  This is why I call the final norm 'social justice.'  If our loves for one another are to be just, then this norm obligates us all (228)."

"They [i.e., questions surrounding the ethics of same-sex relationships] are ethical questions that must be addressed also because they are questions about real persons—questions about identity, place in community, relationships, and callings" (271-2).

"Standing before the biblical witness as a whole, a modest conclusion to be drawn is that there exists no solid ground for an absolute prohibition or a comprehensive unquestionable blessing for same-sex relationships and actions today, not in the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Scriptures.  Rather, discernment of the meaning and import of the scriptures themselves in relation to this particular ethical issue, as others, is part of the unfolding history of Christian understanding regarding human sexuality.  But whatever the results of ongoing exegesis and interpretation, the Christian community must still discern, in the light of its other sources, just how relevant and useful are any isolated texts to the life of the community today" (276-7).

"All of these changes have made a significant difference for many Christians’ evaluations of same-sex relationships.  Still, however, the motifs of a procreative norm and gender complementarity continue to appear in, for example, evangelical Protestant views of marriage and family, and in official Roman Catholic negative assessments of homosexual activity.  In the latter, the procreative norm is relativized for heterosexual relationships (following the acceptance of some forms of contraception such as 'natural family planning'), but it is absolutized once again when homosexual relationships are at issue.  For many Catholics and Protestants, the view of sexuality as an indomitable and chaotic drive needing above all to be tamed is gone for heterosexual sex, but it appears alive and well in judgments made about gay and lesbian sex.  Construals of male-female gender hierarchy and complementarity are moderated for general social roles, but the importance of gender complementarity undergirds the final barrier against an acceptance of same-sex relationships" (279).

"Much scientific research on homosexuality has focused on its determinants or causes.  It may be asked, then, why research has not also addressed such questions as: What are the reasons that homosexuality has been seen as a danger to religion and society?  Why has it been constructed as an object of moral opprobrium?  How did it become a metaphor for degradation and lack of dignity?" (283)

"From kinship-structured societies to feudalism, and from the medicalization of homosexuality to 'family values' politics, the reasons for identifying homosexuals as deviants changed, but one is tempted to conclude: once on the outside, for a long time on the outside" (284).

"Homosexual persons, in other words, have the same rights as others to equal protection under the law, to self-determination, to a share in the goods and services available to all.  Their needs for incorporation into the wider community, for physical safety, psychic and economic security, and basic well-being, make the same claims for social cooperation among us all as do those of us all.  The Christian community, in particular, is faced with serious questions in this regard.  If, for example, a norm of commitment is appropriate for sexual relationships among Christians, and if such a norm belongs to a same-sex ethic as much as to a heterosexual ethic, then the problems of institutional support must be addressed anew.

Perhaps the first requirement under a social justice norm is to alleviate the social attitudinal consequences of maintaining a strong negative evaluation of homosexual activities and relationships.  For this negative evaluation, undergirded and proliferated through religious teachings and attitudes, constitutes in itself a social political force.  Though it is true, for example, that some and perhaps many church leaders have been persuaded at least not to oppose legislation that secures the basic civil rights of lesbians and gay men, the continuing significant societal resistance to this legislation and even more so to legislation regarding domestic partnerships is lodged in the vehemence of the negative judgment that continues to be made regarding homosexual activity and relationships.  This judgment is seldom a reasoned one, and its power as a social forces is the power of an unreasoned taboo, lodged in and reinforcing the kind of unreflective repulsion that must be addressed if we are to move forward socially and politically on these issues.  As far as I can see, the primary way to address this unreflective negative response is for Christians and others to look again more critically (in the light of what has been learned regarding the sources for moral insight) at whatever reasons have been considered valid for prohibiting same-sex relations. Following this, education programs can be developed which will help to demythologize popular beliefs that create false fears regarding same-sex behaviors" (291-2).  

"Gay bashing, as both church leaders and ethicists agree, is not a trivial matter; nor does it exist alone without attachment to multiple forms of avoidance as well as multiple forms of violence.  Lodged in taboos and myths, the physical and verbal bashing of homosexuals is a great danger to society—both as a violation of individuals’ deep-seated human rights and a threat to human decency and the common good—than any feared approval or encouragement of homosexual lifestyles" (293).

"The major argument against same-sex marriage has tended to be that it will weaken support for traditional heterosexual marriage and traditional notions of family.  It is difficult to make sense of this reasoning, especially since the churches do not mount campaigns against laws that recognize divorce—arguably a greater threat to heterosexual marriage than gay marriages might be" (293).

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