Polyamorous individuals form relationships with more than one partner at a time. All parties are aware of and in agreement with the arrangement. These are romantic, intimate relationships, but different from polygamy or swinging. What do Christians need to know about polyamory to engage sensitively, intelligently, and truthfully on the subject?
Understand the Differences
Polyamory is consensual and not rooted in deception (such as having an affair or bigamy/polygamy). Polyamorous (from the root words poly or “many” and amor or “love”) individuals might intend to commit to multiple partners long-term.
Parties within these relationships are not “swinging,” which is where couples swap partners casually and consensually, but for sex only. While marriage might not be involved, partners within a polyamorous union might live with one of their romantic partners, or both/all of them, or none of them.
Their relationships might involve members of both sexes or just one. Individuals within the committed unit might not connect with every other member romantically — one might be monogamous while another is polyamorous, but everyone agrees to the situation.
There is sometimes a hierarchy in which one person is the main connecting point and decides on the status of each party within the group. That group might even co-parent children. Polyamorous-identifying individuals argue that this is a sexual orientation; they find it unnatural to be in a monogamous relationship.
Rethinking Christian Love
A new category, Christian Polyamory (CP), “seeks to normalize the relationship by appealing to misreadings of scriptural witness and creative interpretations of Christian theology,” says C. Daniel Motley.
Christian Polyamorists say that Jesus was all about love and that it is oppressive to expect people to live within the confines of a monogamous relationship if they are not wired that way.
They see “Jesus’ perceived silence as proof of his approval of non-monogamous, non-heterosexual romantic relationships” and “critique Paul’s views on sexuality, dismissing him as an illegitimate representative of the views of Jesus” (Ibid).
By implication, much of the New Testament would come into question since Paul wrote roughly a quarter of it. Some Progressive Christians also support Christian Polyamory, regarding it as an example of Christianity moving with the times.
Christian Polyamory perhaps seems plausible within the context of Progressive Christianity because of the pervading idea that God’s Word can be bent to fit cultural norms. In other words, Scripture is outdated and insufficient so far as modern ideals are concerned.
Progressive Christians leave Bible-teaching churches believing the teaching there is inconsistent, intolerant, and unjust. Sometimes, it is, but not if pastors are preaching the gospel without themselves taking God’s Word out of context to promote self-righteousness, hatred, and hypocrisy.
Rethinking the Rethink
One writer, Ian Harber, says he left his evangelical church for this reason but came back because he found Progressive Christianity to be weak and hypocritical. Progressive Christians want Christianity without the cross; without justice or repentance. “We want all of God’s blessings —without submitting to his loving rule and reign.”
Harber came back to Orthodox Christianity where the compassion, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ are only possible because God died on the cross. Connecting faithfully, deeply with the true vine who is Jesus Christ “can actually deepen faith and strengthen roots, producing a life where we bear fruit and withstand the fierce winds of a secular age” (Ibid).
The gospel response to Polyamory is the same as that which the gospel offers to anyone whose beliefs (under the guise of Christian love) rebel against God’s Word. Jesus’ love is, first and foremost, for the Father and demonstrated in his obedience to the Father.
He went to the cross because, in his righteous anger, God demanded payment for sin. God came down as Immanuel to pay that price because he is loving, merciful, and just. Although he died while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), Christ did not give us a license to continue doing as we pleased before we came to a saving knowledge of his Son.
When we believe and receive the Holy Spirit, our ideas and ideals slowly change to reflect Christ’s obedient, merciful, sacrificial love. This love, which is greater than any sexual or romantic love, puts others before ourselves. At least, this is the hope — for result, although sinful human beings cannot reach Christ’s standard.
Deified Idols of Sex, Status, and Power
People make idols out of the things they enjoy, such as sex, status, and power. “And then, in the name of our deified ideals and idols, we create communities and institutions that neglect, marginalize, and even destroy other people made in God’s image. And all this fallout and pain caused by human idolatry makes God angry, and rightfully so. There are some things that are worth getting angry about.”
Every day, every person puts personal desires (idols) ahead of the Lord’s desires. In so doing, people are trampled on. This is not only true in non-binary relationships, but also within traditional heterosexual marriages when one worships a spouse or the status of marriage ahead of the Lord.
Single people are sometimes prone to idolize and romanticize the idea of marriage. Spouses commit idolatry when they seek sexual fulfillment outside of their marriages (adultery). Christians can easily overlook their own relational sins while pointing the finger at non-binary relationships.
All who have believed in Jesus for salvation are already part of the ideal wedding party. But this is not an example of polyamory. His sacrificial love sets the perfect standard to which a Christian imperfectly aspires.
Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). He was not describing friends with benefits; Jesus did not engage in sexual relationships with men or women. The intimacy between himself and his disciples was platonic, gracious, safe, and merciful.
As Elisabeth A. Sheff puts it, a polyamorous relationship multiplies emotions, which is “great when everyone is feeling warm and fuzzy. When difficult or painful emotions are magnified in the same way, it can be exponentially more painful.”
So, whose needs come first? Someone has to be at the head of the line, and the needs and feelings of at least one partner must be sacrificed at least some of the time.
How can a Christian person who aspires to love the way Jesus loved (sacrificially) lovingly engage in a relationship, which marginalizes an individual? This is the destruction mentioned above, where a person made in the image of God is left feeling trampled.
Gospel Response to Polyamory
Proponents of Christian Polyamory are using the “biblical text to open a path for LGBTQ and polyamorous persons into the church without the confession and repentance of sin required by Scripture.” Until recently, history consistently denied the idea that, within Scripture, “any sexual relationship outside heterosexual marriage has God’s blessing, on the grounds that such relationships are counter to his revealed pattern for marriage.”
Only attitudes have changed, not God’s stance or his Word. Daniel C. Motley’s article exposes the diverse beliefs within the so-called “Christian” church that these days “almost nothing is out-of-bounds. Polyamory is but the next movement to find an accepting audience among professing Christians already willing to justify any consensual sexual relationship with revisionist readings of Christian history and theology.”
A stance like this proposes that gospel truth is relative, and therefore not a firm foundation at all. In that case, why adopt the framework of a lunatic who claims to be the Son of God?
Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). A Christian is a Christ-follower, and Christ’s position on romantic love was clear: defilement comes “from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22). Sexual immorality is associated with adultery and homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Genesis 19, Matthew 19:5).
Beware Haughty Judgment
Yet, this movement towards greater sexual freedom has emerged because of bullying in the name of Jesus. Jesus himself extended grace and mercy to everyone, including sexually immoral individuals.
What Christ said about “love your neighbor” was not qualified with the word “unless” or any exceptions regarding sexual orientation, race, political affiliation, or religious beliefs. God condemns.
We are not given a license to judge and condemn other people because we are not righteous except in our justification by faith — only Jesus Christ saves and makes us holy. We must remember that, while we can find no argument to support polyamory in the Word of God, we can also find no argument, which gives permission to abuse or neglect polyamorous individuals, all of them made in the image of God.
The more abusive people are in the name of Christ, the harder it will be to connect Jesus’ love with his justice, and Orthodox Christians will be no better than the false teachers Christ condemned.
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Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.