The article's lead illustration. OWL, Our Whole Lives, is the sexuality education program run jointly by the Unitarian
Universalists and the United Church of Christ.
The article revolves around a webinar led by the UCC’s Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice, Amy Johnson. It was part of series of webinars for facilitators of Our
Whole Lives (OWL), the acclaimed set of comprehensive sexuality education programs that the UUC and the Unitarian Universalist churches
jointly run for kids at several grade levels, as well as for young adults and
As seen above, the notice for event included the logos of both denominations. But only the UCC
seemed proud of it. And thereby hangs a tale.
First, here's the entire text (for historical purposes in case the original ever
Focus is on consent, welcome as church studies polyamory
“In the United Church of Christ we say often, ‘No matter who you are or
where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here,'” said Amy Johnson.
“…Do we really mean that?”
She was talking about something not often spoken of in church: committed
romantic relationships involving more than one person.
A Canadian study was the focus of this latest episode in a monthly webinar
series sponsored by the UCC and Unitarian Universalist Association.
Those relationships — and welcoming the people who are in them — were the
topics of a May 5 webinar, “Consensual Non-Monogamy and Faith.” Johnson, the
UCC’s minister for sexuality education and justice, was its moderator.
The executive director of the Canadian church, Vyda Ng, said two things
prompted the study. “One of our ministers came out as being polyamorous …
and that created a little bit of a reaction,” she said. “At the same time,
we had been getting questions and requests from our ministers and our
lay-trained chaplains about how to handle requests for self-created rites of
passage for polyamorous people.”
The result was a two-year task force study
. Among other things, its 21-page May 2020 report
• Defined polyamory as “the philosophy and practice of loving more than one
person at a time, romantically and/or sexually, and doing so with honesty
• Called polyamory a “general term” encompassing “many forms of
relationships.” “Some people we spoke with consider polyamory to be an
identity, like gender and sexual orientation,” the report said. “Others
think of it as a lifestyle or behavior choice. There is not a consensus
about this within the community.”
• Emphasized that “ethical polyamory” involves consent, covenant and respect
among all people involved.
• Recommended that Canadian Unitarian Universalists “not just tolerate but
welcome, nurture, and support polyamorous people and their families as
integral parts of our spiritual communities.”
• Noted that Canadian law prohibits rites that bless polyamorous
• Acknowledged that “polyamory remains a difficult concept for some to
understand or accept.”
Already present in the church
“Polyam people and their families have always been here,” said Shoshanna
Green of the Unitarian Church of Montreal
, a task force member who
summarized the report during the webinar. “They’ve always been in our
culture, they’ve always been in our society, and they’ve always been in our
UU congregations, whether or not they were public about it, whether or not
anyone outside their families knew.”
The webinar also featured Gabriela de Golia, who is preparing for ministry
in the UCC as a member in discernment in the Southern New England
Conference. She summarized a paper she wrote
on polyamory for a UCC history
and polity class at Union Theological Seminary.
She admitted her research was limited, involving just 95 UCC respondents.
She nonetheless concluded that consensual non-monogamy “is an existing and
significant reality in the UCC.” She also said many of the polyamorous
people she spoke to “don’t feel supported enough to admit their relationship
status or share their interest in these topics within UCC contexts.”
Therein lies the challenge, said the Rev. Michael Crumpler, a UCC minister
who directs LGBTQ
programs for the UUA. “The main goal of a
faith community is integrity and love and openness and acceptance,” he said.
Recognizing that consensual non-monogamy exists, he said, “is another
opportunity to practice welcome” and “begin to have language to support
people, which is the whole point of why we come together in faith
A justice issue
The Canadian report concluded that “affirming the validity of polyamory and
welcoming polyamorous people is both a justice issue and a religious duty.”
“Whatever form it takes, ethical polyamory is fundamentally grounded in
covenant and in mutual respect among all partners,” Green said. “Ethical
polyamory is not the same thing as cheating, it’s not the same thing as
promiscuity, it’s not the same thing as authoritarian, patriarchal polygamy.
And, obviously, not every polyam relationship lives up to the ideals of
ethical polyamory, any more than every monogamous relationship lives up to
the ideals of ethical monogamy.
“But every intimate relationship has the potential to bring joy, spiritual
growth, and mutual support in daily living.”
Meanwhile, the head office of the other denomination in this thing, the
Unitarian Universalists, has long been
about polyamory in their midst — despite the UUs' highly liberal reputation —
ever since 2004 when media glommed onto the poly presence at the annual national UU General
Assembly. The group UUs for Polyamory Awareness
was created way
back in 1999 when there was maybe an excuse for the denominational headquarters not knowing what this was about. But that stopped being an excuse
long ago. UUism has a reputation among its ranks for feisty local churches and a
timid (or perhaps consensus-hobbled) national headquarters: the Unitarian
Universalist Association (UUA), based in Boston.
For decades the UUA has led boldly on LGBTQI+ rights and inclusion and many other progressive issues. But other sexual and relationship minorities? The UUA has sometimes
seemed embarrassed by them, scared of ridicule from outside, and maybe wishes we would just go away. However, poly activists at the 2015 General Assembly did get the UUA to formally add "family structure" to its list of non-discrimination clauses.
Opinions differ among different congregations. If your triad or quad walk into your local UU church of a nice Sunday morning, you may be warmly welcomed as such, or not so much. To find out, ask. Each UU congregation is self-governing (the UUA explicitly exists to serve them, not govern them), and direct questions are respected and encouraged.
So I wrote to Christopher Walton, editor of the UU World,
the UUA's official denominational magazine, pointing out this nice article about a UU endeavor on a different denomination's homepage. I suggested he consider reprinting it on World
He wrote back with thanks for the idea and
says they'll discuss it. I'll update here with any developments.
The UCC (formerly the Congregational Church) and the Unitarian
Universalists are perhaps America's two most liberal churches arising from
mainline Protestantism.1 The difference between them is that the UCC is explicitly
Christian, while the Unitarians are a "covenantal" rather than a "creedal"
church, meaning they leave theological questions open for personal discernment
rather than requiring members to pretend they believe things they
actually find implausible. Thus the UUs are a healthy mix of Christians, atheists (including me), Jews, Buddhists, neo-pagans and others, happily getting along.
But like anywhere else, a lot of people carry past trauma over cheating — whether by partners or their own divorced parents — and are triggered by the idea of poly regardless of their other social attitudes.
P.S.: Mainstream and conservative Christian churches,
meanwhile, are having all sorts of internal polyamory ferment
of their own — even the doctrinally rigid
evangelicals. A boatload of examples
from an earlier post. And more
, and especially more
The UUs for Polyamory Awareness collected a self-selected survey
of 170 of the people who came by their booth at the 2017 General Assembly. The results
. The tl;dr: Most knew and understood the concept, 14% were
polyamorous, 39% gave some degree of positive answer to whether they knew of poly people in their congregation, and 64% gave some degree of positive answer to whether they thought their congregation would welcome openly out polys.
1. The UU and UCC churches are direct lineal descendants of the
original New England Puritans, those grim, furious theocrats
and witch-hunters. Some of us UUs here in Massachusetts still occupy original Puritan church properties. Say what you will about the Puritans, they did believe in congregational self-governance, both in deciding
doctrine and in running their everyday matters. This self-governing habit of
mind helped lay the ground for the later American Revolution -- and also for moral
re-evaluations that led ever farther away from Puritanism. We modern UUs
provided many of the ally boots on the ground for the Civil Rights
movement including some of its martyrs, we were marrying
gay couples 20 years before Massachusetts first said we could, and you'll find some UU presence in almost every peace and justice thing going today. The Puritan ghosts up in our churches' attics must be furious
indeed, except that most of us no longer believe in ghosts either human or
divine, and in any case neither kind have given us any trouble.
Labels: #UCC, #UUPoly, religion/spirituality, Unitarian Universalist, United Church of Christ, UUPA