"Polyamory, The Next Sexual Frontier" -- in Christianity Today?!
|Barcroft Media / Getty|
Christianity Today, founded by Billy Graham in 1956, has been called "evangelicalism's flagship magazine" (Washington Post). Its website now features a surprisingly kind and understanding article with the title and lead photo above.
My thanks to another Alan, the author of the long-running The Ordinary Extraordinary poly blog with his partner Anna, for bringing this to my attention. As he notes,
“Polyamory: The Next Sexual Frontier” is by Preston Sprinkle (biblical scholar and president of The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender) and Branson Parler (professor of theological studies at Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and director of faith formation at Fourth Reformed Church in Grand Rapids) — though the article appears to be entirely from Mr. Sprinkle’s perspective. The article is somewhat amazing.
It's paywalled, but here are excerpts:
Polyamory: The Next Sexual Frontier
These once-taboo relationships are showing up in churches across the US.
By Preston Sprinkle and Branson Parler
A pastor recently told me (Preston) about Tyler and Amanda (names changed), high-school sweethearts raised in Christian homes, living in the Bible belt. After getting married, they seemed to be living the American dream with a house, good jobs, and two kids. Then Jon, a friend of Tyler’s, began living with their family. Amanda developed a close relationship with him, but their flirtation soon developed into something more, and Jon and Amanda proposed to Tyler that they begin exploring polyamory, with Amanda adding Jon as a significant other. They also encouraged Tyler to develop a relationship with another woman he’d met at the gym. He agreed.
When Tyler and Amanda came out as polyamorous, their parents were shocked. What seemed like a fringe practice of the sexual revolution had settled into the heartland of Middle America.
Making the situation even more complex, Tyler and Amanda sought counseling from a Christian counselor who advocated polyamory. Tyler’s parents were disturbed by what their son and daughter-in-law heard there: “It’s only adultery or cheating if someone is kept in the dark. If you are open and honest, this is a God-honoring relationship. And this is good for the kids! It takes a village to raise a child, so a polyamorous relationship actually brings more support and ‘family’ into your kids’ lives, much like the extended families in the past.”
Tyler’s parents wanted to know how to respond to their children but also wanted to know how the church should respond. Should Jon be welcomed into the church as an addition to Tyler and Amanda’s family? In a world where many sexual choices and identities are accepted, polyamory is often still stigmatized, so Tyler’s parents didn’t know who to talk to or where to turn.
For many Christians, polyamory seems so extreme and rare that there’s no need to talk about it. But it is much more common than some people think, and it’s growing in popularity. ... [A survey] showed that nearly 70 percent of non-religious Americans between the ages of 24 and 35 believe that polyamory is okay, even if it’s not their cup of tea. And perhaps most shocking of all, according to sociologist Mark Regnerus in Cheap Sex, roughly 24 percent of church-going people believe that consensual polyamorous relationships are morally permissible.
Over the last several years, my (Preston’s) full-time job at The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender has been helping leaders and pastors engage questions about sexuality and gender with theological faithfulness and courageous love. Naturally, I often get asked, “What’s the next discussion Christians need to have about these issues?” My answer is always the same: “Polyamory.”
...Unlike polygamy, polyamory does not always involve a marriage commitment, and it is much more egalitarian. Polyamory is also different from swinging or open relationships, though they do overlap. ... Sex and relationship therapist Renee Divine says, “An open relationship is one where one or both partners have a desire for sexual relationships outside of each other, and polyamory is about having intimate, loving relationships with multiple people.” Notice again that polyamory is not just about sex. It includes love, romance, and emotional commitment among three or more people.
Preparing a Pastoral Response:
How can pastors and leaders prepare to address questions related to polyamory? Several pastors tell us it’s becoming more common for people who identify as poly to ask about their church’s view on the matter. Will they be accepted and affirmed? The discussion is still young enough that most pastors have some time to construct a robust, compassionate, thoughtful response to the question, “Is your church inclusive of people who are poly?”
How would you respond to Tyler, Amanda, and Jon? How would you counsel Tyler’s parents to respond? Tyler’s parents’ pastor advised them to first listen to their son rather than trying to preach at him, so after Tyler came out to them, they set up a time to simply connect and listen. ... When children choose less than God’s best for their relationships, affirming both grace and truth is a difficult but necessary balance for parents to maintain.
Another important pastoral step is to distinguish elements of polyamory that are in violation of God’s will from elements that are simply culturally unfamiliar to us. ... For example, the notion of kinship in polyamory is a secular echo of the way Scripture calls the church to function as a new family. In cultures that idolize individualism (but actually isolate individuals), polyamory’s focus on relationship, care, and affection can have a powerful pull. And in churches that idolize marriage and the nuclear family, polyamory’s focus on hospitality and community can be an attractive alternative. We can acknowledge that many of the elements that draw people to polyamory — deep relationships, care for others, hospitality, and community — are good things.
But Scripture does clearly connect sex, marriage, and monogamy in ways that are violated in polyamorous relationships. ...
Finally, a healthy pastoral response will involve clear, proactive teaching. ... It’s not uncommon for leaders to frantically scramble around scanning resources and shipping in speakers to address a raw situation that just flared up at their church. But instead of educating in “reaction mode,” we can construct a positive vision for what God intends. ... People are much more eager to follow a positive vision for marriage and sex than to adhere to a list of “don’ts.” ...
The whole article (online Sept. 25, 2019. It's in the print magazine's twice-a-year "Pastors" section, Fall 2019 edition.) Here's a link preserving the article's full text for research and historical purposes.
Other Alan remarks about it,
Of course there are problems, especially near the end: “When children choose less than God’s best for their relationships...” and “...need to be called to repentance for the way they have committed adultery,” etc. But... he’s telling those he counsels to not overreact, to see how the wider world views these issues, and to maintain an open avenue of communication with the individuals within those lifestyles. ...
In the article, the authors provide solid facts concerning what polyamory is and what it isn’t, quote reputable polls (even though the results presumably don’t make the authors glad), and even get the terminology correct. They’re fully informed to the facts of what exists, maintain the humanity of the polyamorous, and counsel the faithful to keep their hearts open to the polyamorous. This is a phenomenal step toward further understanding and acceptance in the wider world. Thirty or forty years ago, when Mom and Dad actually starting listening to their homosexual son or daughter — that’s when gay rights was fully on its way, and wider acceptance was just around the corner.
As the pastor wrote, “I often get asked: what’s the next discussion Christians need to have about these issues?” My answer is always the same: ‘Polyamory.’ ” Here we go.
● The same author, Preston Sprinkle, posted a similar, longer article last year on the site of his Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender: Why Christians Need to Think about Polyamory (June 7, 2018)
...Several of my pastor friends tell me that it’s becoming more common to have people who identify as poly asking about the church’s view on the matter and if they will be accepted and affirmed. These are not abstract questions.... Put more positively, we have time to construct a truly Christian vision for monogamy, if indeed that is the only truly Christian vision.
My purpose of this blog is to put this topic on your radar, not to answer all the questions that you might have. With that in view, here are a few more questions that Christian leaders should wrestle with....
Among the nine of these he offers are:
– If God’s love for us is plural, and our love for (a Triune) God is plural, then why can’t human love for each other be plural?
– Since the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn plural marriages that are polygamous... could we say that monogamy is the ideal while still allowing for polyamorous relationships as less than ideal but still accepted in the church? Why, or why not?
– If sexual expression is only permitted if it is faithful, consensual, and marital (which is what most Christians would say), then why can’t it be plural? That is, what is the moral logic that drives your view that monogamy is the only way? Is it just “God says so"? Or is there some rationale why plural love is immoral?
● On the same topic, this went out from Religion News Service a few months ago: Reinventing religion, millennials rewrite the rules of relationships (May 2, 2019):
By Tara Isabella Burton
(RNS) — Those who consider themselves on a spiritual path can all get on board when Tristan Taormino invites us to enter “a sacred space where we feel safe enough to try new things, push our boundaries, flirt with edges and conquer fears …”
Even the most traditional of us might follow the popular speaker, columnist and author when she says she’s seeking a place that “has the potential to heal old wounds and generate spiritual renewal … a crucible for creativity, vulnerability, perseverance, control, catharsis and connection.”
Taormino could be discussing meditation, or prayer, chanting, even therapy. Instead, Taormino is writing about kink.
...While kink and poly are far from synonymous — there are “vanilla” triads and monogamous kinky couples — central to practitioners of both is the idea of “rewriting the script.” Heterosexual, patriarchal, monogamous culture — the narrative goes — has forced too many people into relationship styles that don’t reflect their authentic selves. Authors Dossie Eaton and Janet Hardy put it best in their 1998 handbook “The Ethical Slut,” the Ur-text of polyamory: “We are paving new roads across new territory. We have no culturally approved scripts for open sexual lifestyles; we need to write our own.”
● And this just popped up from the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ — a breakaway Mormon sect (it claims 23,000 members) with relatively liberal social beliefs, based in Pennsylvania: Poly Problems (July 2, 2019). This piece defines polyamory as existing under a broad tent of "polygamy" that is not restricted by gender or roles.
By Kristine, Elect Lady
...[Poly-g and poly-am] aren’t for everyone and not every person that identifies as “poly” is in a polygamous or polyamorous relationship. And that’s okay. There is a misguided idea floating around that choosing to make another person’s feelings and desires a priority in any way somehow makes that other person selfish. This is an extremely pessimistic and self-serving point of view.
...The point is that self and selflessness are not exclusively dichotomous. Both can, do, and must coexist for any relationship to work. ...
...There seems to be a dangerous idea out there that one has to be fulfilled by partners, whether by one or ten or more. A relationship is created and exists by people RELATING, not filling some hole or need the other person has. If someone is not whole, they shouldn’t expect anyone or any number of “someones” to fulfill them.
It may be that this is why some in polygamous or polyamorous relationships can’t seem to understand why monogamous folk desire to be in a mutually exclusive relationship. Maybe they don’t grasp that the mono person isn’t at all on any level expecting their partner to fulfill all their needs (or any for that matter) and isn’t trying to fulfill their partner’s needs. I believe that no one should ever be expected to meet any needs of anyone. That’s not a relationship. It’s codependence and it’s toxic. ...
I've been saving up a boatload of surprisingly nuanced Christian-and-poly articles, and the pile is now so big that the boat is about to roll over. Expect a data dump soon.
Update: Here you go.
1. Well, no. The origin texts of the modern polyamory movement would be Ryam Nearing's The Polyfidelity Primer (first edition 1984) and Deborah Anapol's Love Without Limits (first edition 1992). The Ethical Slut was, however, widely recommended as the go-to book for a number of years after its first edition appeared in 1997.
2. To hopefully de-confuse: The mainsteam Mormon church officially renounced its doctrine of polygamy — at least here on Earth — more than a century ago so that Utah could enter the Union. It is officially the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), but last year it announced that it's encouraging "Church of Jesus Christ" and "Restored Church of Jesus Christ" as alternative names (especially to "Mormon"), though these clearly infringe on the Church of Jesus Christ quoted here. ("Mormon" is usually assumed to mean the LDS Church, but it properly refers to all sects that take the Book of Mormon as gospel.)