His Wisdom for Her World

More Than Marriage: What’s Behind Polyamory In the Church

By on September 14, 2017 in Culture, Marriage with 5 Comments

When I first heard the term “polyamory,” it sounded like one of those eyebrow-raising issues you hear about on daytime talk-shows – shocking, extreme, and on the fringe.[1] Less than a decade later, it’s creeping out of the shadows and into the mainstream, and even into the Church.

What is polyamory? The word comes from both Greek and Latin and means, “many loves.” Essentially, it’s an arrangement between a (usually) married couple in which one or both spouses agree to have other romantic and sexual relationships, also known as an “open marriage.” As one source defined it, polyamory consists of “consensually non-monogamous relationships.”

The prevalence of polyamory among professing Christians recently came to the forefront. In the days following the roll out of the conservative evangelical Nashville Statement, and the counter-ideological Christians United Statement, one man asked a rather valid question: Why do LBGT-affirming churches fail to give public support for polyamorous unions?

The author, Chuck McKnight, describes his marriage as polyamorous and laments the fact that churches provide “next-to-no spiritual support” for the “thousands of faithful Christians” in their congregations with open marriages.[2] McKnight’s final exhortation for poly-inclusive churches claims, “[P]olyamory is here, and it is growing—regardless of what we may personally think about it.”

As shocking as his claim may be, polyamory among professing Christians is just one more manifestation of an increasingly common mindset.  

Is it biblically unconscionable? Completely.

Is it theologically incongruent? No doubt.

But is this really new? … Not quite.

Whether we’re talking about polyamory or monogamy, homosexual or heterosexual marriage, you can boil down every perspective of marriage and human sexuality to the same foundational issues: Authority, Belief, and Worship.

Authority: Where It All Begins.

Everyone grounds his or her perspective of marriage and sexuality in someone’s authority. Whoever has that authority has the right to define what a marriage is and how human sexuality ought to be expressed.

For someone in a polyamorous relationship, authority is in that person’s sexual desires. And the definition of marriage follows. Even the definition of fidelity adapts to the individual. The polyamory-promoting website, MoreThanTwo.com, assures that an open marriage isn’t unfaithfulness, since neither spouse is breaking the pre-established rules: “If you aren’t breaking the rules of your relationship, you are not cheating, by definition.”

So, the two spouses have the authority to define what marital faithfulness is and is not. This definition comes from believing that they have the authority to define their marriage according to their personal desires. And if marriage were simply a social contract with mutually agreed upon terms prescribed by the individuals involved, that might be true.

Within the Christian worldview, however, the authority to define marriage belongs to God alone.

God created humanity (Gen 2:8, 19). God created sex (Gen 2:24). God created marriage (Gen 2:24).[3] Therefore, only God has the authority to define both marriage and the right use of our sexuality (Matt 19:4-6; Rom 7:2-3; Heb 13:4). And, His commands are for our good (Deut 6:24; 1 Jn 5:3). Therefore, every misuse of human sexuality expresses a denial of God’s authority and is always to our own detriment.[4] It all begins with authority.

Belief: Our Response to Authority

Authority directs belief. What you believe about human sexuality (both one’s actions and identification) is directly informed by the person or idea you believe has authority.

Thus, when McKnight describes polyamory as a “relational orientation,” he is expressing a conviction about his own identity (belief), according to how he has defined himself (authority).

Interestingly, for McKnight, polyamory isn’t simply a lifestyle. Instead, he calls it a “relational orientation.” The language here is significant: Just as homosexuality is considered as a non-volitional, “born this way” identity, he regards polyamory as part of his identity, and subsequently, as who he was created to be. In other words, for the polyamorous person, non-monogamy is not just something you do, but something you are.

Plus, if polyamory is indeed an “orientation,” then demanding monogamy is not only unnatural[5], but contrary to his authentic self. The same concept applies to his description of professing Christians who “feel drawn to see if they are [polyamorous].” The ground for their identity – for who they believe themselves to be – comes from ascribing authority to their sexual desires to determine their decisions.[6]

We also see this principle in biblically based convictions about marriage and sexuality. If you believe God has authority to define what is good and right for humanity, then your beliefs about human sexuality – both in action and identification – will reflect your acknowledgment of His authority. When it comes to sexual integrity and marriage, the root issue is not primarily about what we do, but rather whom we believe.

The difference between the two ways of thinking goes all the way back to the Garden (Gen 3).

The first slouch toward sin began with doubting the authority of (and motive for) what God said, which led to disbelieving what God said, then finally disobeying Him completely. All sex outside the covenant of marriage includes this same deception – we are deceived about the happiness and freedom it promises us. We are deceived about the consequences it will bring us. We are even deceived about the very purpose of human sexuality and marriage altogether (Gen 2:24; Eph 5:22-33).

Belief follows Authority.

Worship: The Expression of Belief

Worship expresses Belief. What do you orient your whole life around? What purpose or person are you living for? What do you value and hold in such high honor and esteem that everything else in your life is defined according to it? Whatever it is – or whomever it is – that’s what you worship.

God created and redeemed us to worship and glorify Him (Is 43:1-7; Jn 4:21-24; Rom 12:1-2; Eph 1:1-14; 1 Cor 10:31; Rev 4:8-11). This worship encompasses everything we are – including our sexuality –  and is to the exclusion of everything and everyone else.

Even more, God created sexuality and marriage so that we would know and worship Him.  The entire point of marriage is to display the spiritual reality of Christ and His Church (Eph 5:22-33). God gave us marriage so that we could know Him and understand concepts like an exclusive covenant relationship and faithfulness.[7]  Throughout the Old Testament, faithfulness to the Lord was compared to faithfulness in marriage (Is 54:5; Jer 3:20; Ezek 16; Hos). The only way one could justify polyamory is if The Lord said He was ok with His people worshipping other gods since, after all, serving Him exclusively was too much to ask! Adultery – even mutually consented adultery[8] – distorts the purpose for which God created marriage.

Every choice we make with our God-given sexuality is an expression of worship (Rom 12:1-2). [9]

 

Let All Who Have This Hope…

The presence of polyamory among professing believers is yet another manifestation of a culturally accommodating Christianity that seeks to worship the Lord on its own terms. Yet, it is also a reminder that true children of God are called to be set apart for Him alone, to live under His supreme authority, to believe His good and life-giving commands, and to worship Him with all of our being.

When it comes to discussing sexual integrity, faithful Christ-followers will sound like a broken record. That’s because our song of redemption proclaims the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Pt 2:9).

Let all who have this hope in Him, purify themselves, just as He is pure. (1 Jn 3:3)

 

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[1]I’m indebted to Dr. Evan Lenow and his graduate course, “The Christian Home.” Dr. Lenow predicted that Christians would need to address polyamory years before it became a culturally familiar term.

[2]For some eye-opening evidence of this, check out Terri Stovall’s “The Secret Lives of Christian Swingers”…especially the comments.

[3]Marriage defined and used in this post to mean a lifelong covenant unto the Lord between one man and one woman.

[4] Some would point to the presence of polygamy in the Bible to support extramarital relationships, or refute arguments against polyamory or swinging. While biblical law restrained human sinfulness and regulated the cultural practice of polygamy/polygyny among God’s people (Ex 21:7-11; Deut 21:15-17), His design for marriage never adapted to the ancient Near Eastern culture. In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus (the fulfillment of God’s Law Himself) addresses the practice of giving a woman a certificate of divorce, noting that, while God permitted it because of the hardness of their hearts, it was never His design: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So, they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” God’s law regulated polygamy/polygyny among His people, but it was not His original plan. It is also significant that Isaac, the child of the covenant that God promised Abraham, was born to Sarah, Abraham’s first wife (Gen 18).

[5]The idea that monogamy is “unnatural” is nothing new. A few years ago, CNN featured an op-ed arguing that one partner for life went against our own biology.

[6]The same line of logic is often found in arguments supporting same-sex relationships among professing Christians. See God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines (Convergent Books, 2015).

[7]John Piper, “Sex and the Supremacy of Christ: Part One,” in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, John Piper and Justin Taylor, eds. (Crossway, 2005), 26-30.

[8]It is noteworthy that only time “mutual consent” shows up in Scripture is reference to the exclusive intimacy between a husband and wife (1 Cor 7:5)

[9]Concerning sexual purity, Paul directly links sexual integrity to worship in Romans 1:21-26, specifically identifying homosexual sin as a manifestation of trading the truth of God for a lie and worshipping the creature instead of the Creator. In light of this, same-sex relationships and transgenderism are also distortions of the good design and purpose for which God created gender and sexuality (Gen 1:26-29).

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About the Author

About the Author: Katie McCoy serves as Assistant Professor of Theology in Women's Studies at Scarborough College of Southwestern Seminary. She holds a PhD in Systematic Theology from Southwestern (2016). Her research focused on Old Testament laws about women's personhood and what they teach us about women's dignity and social justice.

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  1. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. You may be interested to know, contrary to your claim, that my authority is actually not my “sexual desires,” but Jesus and his love-based ethic. I’ll continue fleshing out what this means and how it applies to the matter of polyamory over my next few blog posts. So if you’re interested in really understanding where I and other poly Christians are coming from, then stay tuned! In either case, thanks for the engagement here.

    • Katie McCoy says:

      Hello Mr. McKnight – Thank you for reading and for your kind-spirited response. While I certainly want to represent you with the utmost accuracy, it appears we have divergent beliefs about the authority of the Scriptures for our lives. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says that all of the Bible was breathed out by God and is given to instruct us in how to live.

      In John 14:15, the Lord Himself said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments. And, the Apostle Paul warns that those who disregard Scripture’s teaching on sexual morality are not rejecting human opinion, but God Himself (1 Thess 4:3-8).

      We must all stand before Christ one day to give an account for our lives. Romans 14:12 and 2 Corinthians 5:10 both tell us this. As you continue to write on this topic, I sincerely hope that you will grapple with the Word of God, and that in Christ you will know the salvation that leads to righteousness and escapes the coming judgment.

      Kind regards,
      Katie McCoy
      Editor of BiblicalWoman.com

  2. Phillip says:

    Katie,

    With your permission, I would love to use some of this on a study.

    Thanks!
    Phill

  3. Harald says:

    Thank you very much for this articel. I always thought that the bible is clear in its statement and easy to understand and therefore, somewhere, at least in this subject.. ‘But it is cruel what people with the word of God do with the claim that Jesus is their Lord. I have been a christian for 42 years, I did not know the bible before but when Iwas converted it was clear how marriage and sexuality and man and woman have to look like. Thanks for the article and thank you for your commitment to this question what it means to be a man and to be a woman and what marriage should be. This is a very deep question and our faithfulness to the word of God and Jesus is decided by that.
    Harald

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