The Polyamorous God?
This post originally appeared on Travis Dickinson’s website, The Benefit of the Doubt, at http://www.travisdickinson.com/the-polyamorous-god/.
Polyamory and the Church
Chuck McKnight thinks it’s time for the church to talk about polyamory. So he’s dedicated a series of posts on his blog, Hippie Heretic, to the discussion. If you are not clear what polyamory even is, you are probably not alone. One of McKnight’s worries is that other LGBT issues have gotten a large hearing and wide embrace by progressive Christians without the polyamorous getting a slice of that pie. McKnight identifies himself as polyamorous and hopes to right this wrong.
So what is polyamory? McKnight cites an academic looking online article that defines it as:
consensually non-monogamous relationships [where] there is an open agreement that one, both, or all individuals involved in a romantic relationship may also have other sexual and/or romantic partners.
So it is different from polygamy (having more than one spouse) since it is not necessarily involving marriage. It could just be a group of individuals who openly, and in a committed way (i.e., it’s also not simply recreational sex) engage in romantic/sexual relationships with each other.
Well let’s, as Christians, talk about polyamory.
For many of us, there’s no possible way to square Christian sexual ethics with polyamory. That is, there is no way to be serious about Scripture as a source of truth and guide for moral lives and see polyamory as an acceptable Christian alternative. We can of course ignore the fact that sexual intimacy is reserved only for marriage between one man and one woman in ALL the sexual ethical teaching from cover to cover, if we want to, but then our view isn’t really Christian any longer. There are polygamous marriages in the Old Testament times, but their success (or lack thereof) is much more clearly a counterexample to plural marriage than argument for it. The polygamous relationships are also a far cry from open and committed sexual encounters between groups of men and women. In most cases, it is one man with many wives and the wives have no say at all. So if one wants to be polyamorous, it seems to me, one should just leave Scripture out of it. There really is no way to connect these dots…or is there?
The Polyamorous Trinity
What originally turned my attention to McNight’s project was an interview he did with Jeff Hood entitled “Southern Baptist Preacher Affirms Polyamory”. Now so far as I can tell, it is bit of a stretch to call Hood a Southern Baptist or a preacher. He did get a degree from an SBC seminary, but I have my doubts he affirms any version of the Baptist Faith and Message. Though I’m sure he preaches, from time to time, I could not find a church (SBC or otherwise) for which he serves as a preaching pastor. So the title of the post is a bit misleading, but it certainly baited my click, which was of course the point.
When asked what led him to a polyamory affirming position, Hood repeatedly cites his encounters with God who he takes to be (wait for it) polyamorous. This is how Hood connects the dots between Christianity and polyamory. Here’s a sampling:
“Along the way, I heard the voices of the polyamorous…”
“Divine polyamory found me a sinner and lifted me up by grace.”
“I saw a great cloud of polyamorous witnesses shouting, ‘Holy! Holy! Holy, is the polyamorous love of God!’”
“In the midst of a great resistance, polyamory saved my soul.”
“Then, God said, ‘What you have done to the polyamorous amongst you…you have done to me.’ Without the polyamorous, we cannot know God.”
“I know who I’m listening to. I hear the voice of God, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life…no one can love me and condemn polyamory…for I am polyamorous.’”
“While there could be many explanations of the polyamorous God, the one that matters the most is this…God dwells within the oppressed and marginalized (Matthew 25)…polyamorous folks are constantly oppressed and marginalized…God is polyamorous…and if we want to get saved than we have to figure out a way to become connected to polyamory.” (the ellipses are all in the original)
A Dilemma for the Christian Polyamorous
The problem here is that what it is for God to be polyamorous remains radically unclear. Hood repeats this sentiment throughout the interview but cannot be bothered to say what this means. This is even after McKnight asks him to clarify what it means to say this about God. So it is presumably unclear to McKnight who, we should keep in mind, identifies as polyamorous and is likely sympathetic to this sort of an idea.
So I think Hood has himself a dilemma. What does it mean to say God is polyamorous? Either it is a metaphor and is being used to say that God is loving, in a general sense, or it is not a metaphor and means that God is loving in a specifically sexually plural sense.
If it is simply a metaphor and means that the Father loves the Son and that the Son loves the Spirit, etc., then the thesis is uninteresting (in the sense that it is not controversial). Everyone thinks that, in some sense, the Son is the beloved of the Father (Matt. 3:17) and so on for the persons of the Trinity. But then consistency calls for using that same general notion (i.e., not the sexualized notion) for us all to be loving to others. It certainly doesn’t follow that we are all called to embrace a specific open sexual relationship with others. Scripture calls us to be loving and this call is grounded, on my view, in Trinitarian love. I have friends that I love very dearly. I also believe I’m called to love my enemies. But it is absurd to think this commits me to having open sexual relationships with my friends or my enemies.
But c’mon, nobody understands polyamory as merely a loving relationship. It’s a provocative thesis precisely because what we mean by the term has to do with sexual intimacy. In other words, being polyamorous ain’t just having friends! If it was, then everyone on the planet (except for a handful of genuine hermits) would be polyamorous and the term loses all meaning.
On the other hand, if God is polyamorous in a sexually intimate sense, then this ceases to be a Christian notion altogether and has become rankly pagan. Paganism, as a religious belief system, has gods who are sexually intimate with each other (and often with humans too!). The pagan gods would be polyamorous if they weren’t so dang jealous and possessive. But there you go, this “scripture” would provide these guys the requisite religious backing they seek. So what if it is not true? Given the topic under discussion and their liberal posture, I’m not sure they are all that worried about objective truth claims any way.
I’ll be honest. I find polyamory morally repugnant. I think sexual intimacy is diminished when there are multiple partners in view. But I completely respect a person’s right to embrace this lifestyle. What I don’t get is the attempt to say this is consistent with Christian teaching. My suggestion, for what it’s worth, is to own up to the lack of Christian grounding. If you are going to defend a view so out of step with Scripture, you’ve got a right to do it, but just admit it’s not Christian and stay away from clickbait titles.
Travis Dickinson is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Christian Apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Scarborough College. He earned a Ph.D. and an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Iowa as well as two M.A. degrees from Biola University and Talbot School of Theology. Read more from Dr. Dickinson at www.travisdickinson.com and follow him on Twitter @TravDickinson.