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Margaret A. Farley. Changing the Questions: Explorations in Christian Ethics. Maryknoll, NY: 2015, 376 pages, $30.00

 

[1] The title Farley gives this work professes a methodology that is prevalent throughout the book. Farley dives into each essay by first acknowledging the questions or assumptions that have bubbled up from a theological or ethical exploration. She spends time acknowledging long-standing traditions or conundrums in areas of morality, death, hope, and various others.  Farley then proceeds to question the questions that were asked—questions that highlight her work as an ethicist, a postmodern scholar, and a sexual ethicist with significant gender critique. As each page turns it feels as though she is laying out sides to a theory, gently tipping the scales back and forth, until she asks a new question and finally the scale is irrelevant.

 

[2] Farley takes the reader on a journey through the seas of ethics and morality as she steers through topics on discourse, experience, feminism, death, ecclesiology, and hope. Yet not only does she focus on theological discourse, she also writes liturgically through her discussions of the Eucharist and a series of Holy Week sermons. This book contains new questions on hot topics that span Christianity’s discourse from the past, here in the present, and toward the future.

 

[3] As the book begins, Farley takes a new look at intrapersonal relationships in her first essay, “New Patterns of Relationship: Beginnings of a Moral Revolution” and speaks to “what ought to happen” in relationships. (2) Talk of change, in respect to relationships, points to Farley’s inquisitive questioning and strong postmodern point of view. Christian love (which is key to Farley’s work) is a vital component when coming to new understandings of relationships. Love of God and reproduction become two focal points that present new ways to see gendered relationships through the joining of sperm and ovum along with questioning the equality of love amongst human beings. Then as Farley begins discourse on imago dei she changes the question, “If we are to pursue the question of whether women as women can be understood to be the in the image of God, we must ask whether God can be imagined in feminine as well as masculine terms.” (16) Farley speaks throughout the rest of the essay with this in mind and ends on a revolutionary note that resonates in both public and private relations.

 

[4] As the reader dives deeper into the collection of essays, Farley provides various topics to whet any eager appetite hungry for Christian ethics. Morality is the focal point for the first section of the book and although it is not specifically sectioned off, any reader can note the subtle changes in theme in the table of contents; the discourse on morality ebbs and flows between topics of relationships, commitment, experience, the public arena, and feminism. Thomas Aquinas becomes an elusive discussion partner in “Fragments for an Ethic of Commitment in Thomas Aquinas” where Farley must fill in the puzzle pieces that have been lost or were never in the box to begin with. Experience is questioned next as it relates to its impact on morality in “The Role of Experience in Moral Discernment.” Personal experience touches the public sphere in the aforementioned essay and continues on as Farley pushes forth questioning the public and in particular silence in the public sphere and the Roman Catholic church in “Moral Discourse in the Public Arena.”

 

[5] Morality becomes the bridge to Farley’s next topic of feminism in her essay “Feminism and Universal Morality” as she wades through feminist thought, theological discourse, and how they both speak to morality. Farley continues her train of thought with hope in “Feminism and Hope” as she creates a feminist response and revision of Christian hope that speaks to the “already” and “not yet” of our present and future worlds. The next essay begins with questioning our ideas of respect as she wades through the “obligating features of persons” (125) in “A Feminist Version of Respect for Persons.” As Farley moves into pointed postmodern thought she decides to do a little storytelling in “How Shall We Love in a Postmodern World?”. Before Farley transitions into liturgically minded writing she looks to the interaction (or lack thereof) of ethics and ecclesiology in the Roman Catholic church in “Ethics, Ecclesiology, and the Grace of Self-Doubt” where she first discusses the world of Charles E. Curran before moving into her own response.  

 

[6] Eucharist becomes the focal point for Farley as she speaks to a specific case where questions of communion in Christian ecumenical gatherings is discussed and points to her opinion that is expressed in the title: “No One Goes Away Hungry from the Table of the Lord.” Holy Week is her next focal point as she considers weighs themes of dignity, humiliation, suffering, and others in separate sermons in a Holy Week sermon series. Sexual ethics is Farley’s next section as she speaks to celibacy for the first time in “Celibacy under the Sign of the Cross” with consideration of the past and a contemporary understanding of celibacy. What does it mean to be prophetic and how does it relate to a time where AIDS is part of people’s lives? Farley speaks to this in her essay, “Prophetic Discourse in a Time of AIDS” as she points to ways in which we can be prophetic in the realm of HIV/AIDS prevention. Before completely shifting to a new topic she explores religious meaning and identity as they speak to nature in “Religious Meanings for Nature and Humanity,” where Farley must first narrow the scope of the terms in the title, only in the end to expand her view of creation in the words of C.S. Lewis “for all creation there is no center because all is at the center.” (264)

 

[7] The end of the book follows three views on life and death. The first two essays are companions as they both tackle the same questions of life, death, and freedom, but from different angles. The first essay is “Death Be Not Proud: Freedom and Death in Relation to Life” and the second essay is “Death Be Not Humble: Freedom and Life in Relation to Death;” both of which explore our big questions regarding life and death. After speaking to life and death pointedly, Farley then explores science that has been highly contested in “Stem Cell Research: Religious Considerations” where she not only looks to Christianity, but other religious thought as well as she wades through ethical considerations that remain to be important and urgent in this research. Farley ends her collection with thoughts on love and forgiveness in her essay “Forgiveness in the Service of Justice and Love” where she explores how forgiveness, divine or human is love.

 

[8] Farley provides a beautiful collection of essays that speak to us as human persons and provides new questions for us to ponder. Her explorations into life, death, love, and forgiveness give voice to postmodern thinking and ethical considerations for her readers. I enjoyed reading this collection of essays immensely, which can be noted by at least one dead highlighter. Margaret A. Farley presents a diverse and cohesive journey of Christian ethics that will touch any reader intrigued by this topic. I highly recommend Changing the Questions: Explorations in Christian Ethics and I challenge you to ask new questions as you continue on your own journey through Christian ethics.


Elyssa Salinas is the Program Assistant for Hunger Education, a recent graduate of the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and plans to pursue a doctoral work in sexual ethics and theology in the coming year.


© October 2015
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 15, Issue 9