As stated in a previous article on the rise of polyamory, I originally wrote a large portion of that article around three years ago. Since then, I have been engaging in conversations with people about same-sex and non-monogamous relationships both within and outside the church. One of the things that I realized was that not only do many progressives refuse to engage in honest exegesis about same-sex relationships, but they tend to employ a particular logical fallacy when doing so.
I’ve been able to help them see this fallacy by pointing to the growing acceptance of non-monogamous relationships in America and in the church.
The Real Debate
First, let me explain the fallacy. Whenever debating whether churches should accept those in same-sex relationships as committed disciples of Jesus and church members in good standing, progressives often state that it is unloving and/or bigoted to discriminate against those who are in committed monogamous same-sex marriages. However, this is a logical fallacy because that is not the debate at hand. They are reducing the debate down to the least offensive relationship and painting it in the best light as being committed and loving. They are simply using this one relationship to lower our defenses and it is deceptive.
The reality is that American society at large doesn’t just accept monogamous heterosexual and homosexual committed marriages; it increasingly accepts almost all consensual adult relationships. Society at large no longer debates the acceptance of same-sex relationships or even non-monogamous/polyamorous relationships. For many, they are all fully accepted and validated. The only debate that now exists within society at large is over the acceptance of consensual adult incest, which too is slowly growing in acceptance.
Therefore, the more honest debate is not whether the American church will accept committed monogamous same-sex marriages, but whether the American church will accept all consensual adult relationships. As I showed in my last article, progressive Christians have already been debating over the last decade whether they should be accepting of non-monogamous and polyamorous relationships. It is only a matter of time before they fully embrace them.
“The more honest debate is not whether the American church will accept committed monogamous same-sex marriages, but whether the American church will accept all consensual adult relationships.”
Again, I will make the prediction that, within the next decade, consensual adult incest will be fully accepted by American society at large and progressive Christians will at least be debating accepting those in consensual incestuous relationships.
Why is this so important? Isn’t it just enough for us to say, “That’s terrible,” and shake our heads?
A Tipping Point
It is important to take note of this trajectory because whether or not the American church will accept homosexuality has come to a tipping point. Those churches that do so will be accepted by society at large, and those that do not will be labelled as hateful and bigoted—no matter how loving they are toward the rest of society.
As a result, we are tempted as conservative believers to simply accept our ostracization from society and become pariahs. However, we have been commanded by our Master to make disciples of him.
“We are tempted as conservative believers to simply accept our ostracization from society and become pariahs.”
It will be difficult to make disciples if we are so separated by the culture that we cannot even have conversations with them. In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Paul implies that we should be able to have civil conversations even with unbelievers who are sexually immoral. But how do we do that if they won’t even speak with us? What can we say that will allow them to have a conversation with us on this matter so that we may communicate the gospel to them as well?
An Open Door for Conversation
As terrible as it is that American society and progressive churches increasingly accept almost all consensual adult relationships, it opens a door in the conversation for us to present our position in a way that doesn’t look bigoted and hateful. The following is the approach that I have adopted over the last couple of years.
Whenever someone suggests that conservative Christians are unloving or bigoted because we don’t accept homosexuality (whether in the church or in society at large), I first ask the person if they are comfortable continuing the conversation. Even though they obviously began the conversation, asking permission to speak on the subject rather than simply spouting off my opinion is disarming because I have now put them in the position of asking to hear my argument. It also gives them the opportunity to bow out of the conversation gracefully.
And even if they choose to leave the conversation, because I asked permission, they know there is an open invitation if they ever want to revisit the subject. If they continue in the conversation, I have forewarned them that the conversation will be serious and require thought.
“I first ask the person if they are comfortable continuing the conversation.”
I then ask them why they specified “homosexuality.” When they ask what I mean, I begin to introduce the concept that the debate is really not heterosexuality vs. homosexuality, but human sexuality overall which includes a wide range of sexual preferences.
I then explain that human sexuality is a spectrum with the biblical standard of a monogamous heterosexual marriage on one end, and on the other end, any and all consenting adult relationships, up to and including consensual adult incest. In between those extremes, I demonstrate that there exists a multitude of relationships, including monogamous sex outside of marriage, non-monogamous sex outside of marriage, non-monogamous marriage, consensual cheating, multiple forms of polyamory, etc.
I then ask them which of those relationships they find acceptable. Very few people accept the full spectrum all the way to consensual adult incest. Most likely they draw a line somewhere and I ask them why they draw the line where they do. I also ask them if they believe that they are bigoted and hateful toward those that engage in relationships that are beyond that line. In doing so, I am attempting to demonstrate to them that they can disagree with the type of relationship that someone chooses to engage in without being a bigot and hating those same people.
“Most likely they draw a line somewhere and I ask them why they draw the line where they do.”
I also ask them if they believe that those in non-monogamous relationships should be able to marry all of their partners. I ask them the same concerning consensual adult incest. It helps at this point to mention that Utah has now de-criminalized polygamy, that consensual adult incest is legal in New Jersey and Rhode Island (but not incestual marriage), and that both consensual incest and incestual marriage are legal in Ohio if it does not involve a parent and child (for a convenient table of state incest laws see here).
My point is to demonstrate to them that conservative believers are not necessarily bigoted and hateful if they have a legitimate reason for drawing the line where they draw it. The only people who do not draw a line somewhere are those who fully embrace consensual adult incest, but even they should understand if people draw a line at that point.
I then move the discussion to the church. I ask them where on the spectrum should the church draw the line and why. I ask them how they would feel if they walked into a church where most of the adult members were in open marriages and were freely sleeping with the spouses of other members. I ask them how they would feel if the pastor introduced them to his multiple wives (or husbands). I ask them how they would feel if they knew that several married couples were siblings.
“I ask them how they would feel if they walked into a church where most of the adult members were in open marriages and were freely sleeping with the spouses of other members.”
Generally, you can see a level of uncomfortableness develop in their face. I ask them why would those things bother them within a church if “love is love,” and the church should be loving and accepting toward all.
I have had several progressive Christians call me unloving and bigoted because I do not accept committed monogamous same-sex marriages within the church. But through this line of conversation, I am able to demonstrate to them that, out of the spectrum of human sexuality, they themselves only accept one more type of relationship than I do. If I am unloving and bigoted, then they are only slightly less unloving and bigoted than myself in comparison to those who accept non-monogamous relationships within the church.
I have had one progressive Christian state that they accept all consensual adult relationships except incestuous ones. I told him that I appreciated his honesty and consistency but that I believe he will be forced to reconsider his opinion over the next several years as consensual incestuous adult relationships become more acceptable in society at large. I didn’t change his position, but he will be forced to reckon with it over the next few years and hopefully he will think back to our conversation.
“If I am unloving and bigoted, then they are only slightly less unloving and bigoted than myself in comparison.”
The main question that I am trying to lead them to is this: How should the church determine what relationships are acceptable and which ones are not? Ultimately, the only two logical answers are either by what Scripture teaches or by what human beings feel, and I’m convinced that those two answers place us on either end of the spectrum. There is no sustainable logical argument for anywhere in between.
The Ultimate Goal
Again, I’m under no delusion that I am going to change the minds of unbelievers or progressive Christians as to what relationships they find acceptable. What I am trying to do is get them to understand that conservatives can believe that the only acceptable relationship is monogamous heterosexuality within a marriage based not on hatred or bigotry, but based on a belief of what is right and wrong in the eyes of God according to Scripture.
My ultimate goal is to be able to have a civil conversation with them about who Jesus is and what he asks of us without this giant roadblock of sexual orientation standing in the way.
And honestly, I have been surprised at how effective it has been at lowering those walls. This is where we need to be as disciples of Jesus attempting to make disciples of Jesus. Whether or not the church accepts homosexuality has become a huge stumbling block to those interested in the teachings of Jesus. Again, as terrible as it is that polyamory has become acceptable in society at large, it allows us a unique opportunity to remove the stumbling block and present what it means to follow Jesus without being labelled a hateful bigot in the process.