Christian Sexual Ethics and Just Love for a Mormon Marriage
Last week my husband and I had a fascinating dinnertime discussion on whether or not we have a ‘just love’. You see, I’m taking a class on Christian sexual ethics right now, and I’m reading one of the foremost ethicists on the subject — a Catholic nun by the name of Margaret Farley who taught at the Yale Divinity School for over 30 years. Her book is called Just Love
The framework for sexual ethics that Farley comes up with highlights her commitment to the importance of justice in sexual relationships. For Farley, love is not enough. Love alone can be based on fantasy, it can be manipulative, it can look at the other only as a means to an end. Therefore, in her sexual ethical framework, love must coincide with justice. Just love must contain these seven norms:
1. Do no unjust harm (don’t be physically, emotionally, spiritually destructive to the other)
2. Free consent.
3. Mutuality (both partners giving and receiving)
4. Equality (of power)
6. Fruitfulness (not necessarily referring to kids, but rather a love that expands beyond the two, out into the larger world and brings good things to it.)
7. Social Justice (This is complex – on one level, she’s talking about making sure that one’s sexual relationship doesn’t harm third parties like future children, future lovers, or others that are in relationship to one of the parties. On another level, she’s talking much more broadly, about affirming the rights of all members of society as sexual beings. Homosexuals, transexuals, intersexuals, heterosexuals – all have the right to claim respect from the Christian community and to claim freedom from unjust harm and equal protection under the law. )
As I was analyzing my own marriage to see if it qualified as a ‘just love,’ one big question stuck in my mind.* Do Mike and I have a commitment to equality in our marriage? Sure, Mike and I conduct our marriage as equal partners. No one has the final say just by merit of being male or female, no one’s opinions weigh more than the other’s. But listen to how Farley describes equality (or rather inequality):
“Major inequalities in social and economic status, age and maturity, professional identity, interpretations of gender roles, and so forth, can render sexual relations inappropriate and unethical primarily because they entail power inequalities — and hence, unequal vulnerability, dependence, and limitation of options.”
Ahhh! This hits to the bone, this makes me catch my breath. I am so much more vulnerable than Mike. I can never make as much money as he does. Right now our professional identities couldn’t be more different — I as stay at home mom, he as professor. My dependency on him is much starker this his on me. So can our love be just?
I don’t know, but I am comforted by Farley’s later paragraph, in which she says perfect equality isn’t necessary, but that it has to be “close enough, balanced enough, for each to appreciate the uniqueness and differences of the other, for each to respect one another as ends in themselves.”
Mike and I may not score so high on the vulnerability/dependency part, but I think we do pretty well on the respect and appreciation one.
- What do you think of Farley’s framework?
- How well do you think it meshes with Mormon ideals?
- Do you have ‘equality’ in your marriage? How so and how not?
*I’m consciously leaving aside the question of number 7 — social justice — right now. That’s a big enough topic to be its own post.