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The Rise of Polyamory

In this article, I want to describe what, for many, is a surprising shift: an acceptance within some Christian circles of polyamory (simultaneous romantic or sexual relationships with multiple partners). However, if we look at the trajectories of views on sexuality in the last few years, the rise of support for polyamorous relationships, even within Christian circles, won’t be nearly as surprising. To understand, let’s take a moment and look at the larger historical context of growing support among some Christians of same-sex sexuality.

The Rise of Progressive Christianity

Over 20 years ago, I made a prediction to my conservative Christian friends that the legalization of same-sex marriage was inevitable in the United States. My argument was that there simply wasn’t anything in the Constitution to stop it. I argued that the only way it could have been slowed down was if Congress had preemptively adopted a constitutional amendment stating that marriage was between one man and one woman alone, and they had probably missed that opportunity.

At the time, I argued that, rather than waste our political capital trying to stop same-sex marriage, we should have been putting that political energy into ending abortion, where we could make a constitutional argument under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that unborn children are not receiving equal protection (that is a topic for another article). However, what I did not foresee at the time was the number of conservative Christians who would turn to progressive Christian theology in order to attempt to make same-sex relationships acceptable within the American church.


“What I did not foresee at the time was the number of conservative Christians who would turn to progressive Christian theology.”


The reason that I failed to foresee this development was that I assumed that most conservative Christians held the same commitment to biblical truth, inspiration, inerrancy, and honest exegesis that I held. Apparently, many do not.

Where Did Paul Get His Views on Homosexuality?

A portion of the debate centers on Paul’s usage of the Greek word ἀρσενοκοίτης in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. One of the arguments sometimes used on the side of progressive Christianity is that this is not a commonly used Greek term to refer to those who engage in same-sex relationships. As a result, they argue that the definition and translation of the word is debatable. Then, after arguing that the definition and translation are debatable, they argue that whatever it means, it cannot mean consensual male same-sex relationships, but that instead it must refer to abusive male same-sex relationships.

As always, context is one of the greatest keys in exegesis. Paul was a well-educated first-century Jew. He most likely had the Old Testament (especially the first 5 books) memorized. But because he was a first-century Jew who was as well-traveled as he was well-educated, he most likely communicated largely in Koine Greek. Moreover, whenever communicating what the Old Testament said, he commonly quoted the Septuagint, the Koine Greek version of the Old Testament that was commonly used in the first century. Therefore, when Paul wanted to refer to those who engaged in the sin of male same-sex relationships, it would only make sense for him to quote the Septuagint in order to communicate the Jewish concept of that particular sin.


“It would only make sense for him to quote the Septuagint in order to communicate the Jewish concept.”


And this is exactly what he does here. The term ἀρσενοκοίτης may have been an unfamiliar word in Greek literature, but that’s because Paul got it from a Greek translation of a Hebrew source, the Septuagint’s translation of Leviticus. The term is a compound word lifted directly from Leviticus 20:13a (and 18:22). Here is the verse, first in English and then in Greek:

“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable.”

ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός, βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι.

In doing so, Paul places the concept into the first-century Jewish frame of reference rather than the first-century pagan, Greek worldview. First-century Greeks would have had no concept of “homosexuality.” The only male same-sex relationship considered taboo by the Greeks would have been for an older, respectable man to be the one assuming the submissive role. This is why Paul uses a word pulled from the Jewish frame of reference, where all male same-sex relationships are forbidden.


“Paul places the concept into the first-century Jewish frame of reference rather than the first-century pagan, Greek worldview.”


Again, context is of greatest importance. Being a first-century Jew, Paul would have held a first-century Jewish position on male same-sex relationships. And, if becoming a disciple of Jesus had changed Paul’s position on male same-sex relationships, it would have only been logical that he would have explicitly stated that shift in his writings, just as he did on his position on other aspects of the Jewish Law.

But instead, by quoting from Leviticus when referring to male same-sex relationships, he established that the same sexual ethic that was demanded in the Old Covenant is still the standard under the New Covenant (with the most significant difference being the immediate punishment of the sin under the Law, as opposed to being given the opportunity to repent under grace).

But, to be clear, because Paul is using ἀρσενοκοίτης to refer to all male same-sex relationships, it doesn’t need to only apply to those who consider themselves homosexuals. It would also refer to those who do not consider themselves homosexual, but still engage in male same-sex relationships. And just in case someone might choose to make the argument that Paul would allow for female same-sex relationships, Romans 1:26-27 should clear up the confusion.


“He established that the same sexual ethic that was demanded in the Old Covenant is still the standard.”


Even still, many progressive Christians argue that the sexual views of Paul are either wrong or make room for consensual sexuality outside of monogamous marriage between a husband and wife. For them, it has to be one or the other.

Did Jesus Have Views on Sexuality?

Again, these verses in Paul’s writings must be read in light of Paul’s first-century Jewish sexual ethic which did not change once he became a disciple of Jesus. This is because Jesus himself reaffirmed an Old Testament sexual ethic in Matthew 19:3-12. When asked if a man could divorce his wife for any reason (e.g., reading between the lines, this often means to have sex with a new wife), Jesus pointed back to the Old Testament story of creation where God created one man and one woman, and joined them together in a life-long marriage covenant (unless broken by unfaithfulness). Again, Jesus was reaffirming the Old Testament sexual ethic.

Jesus then clearly stated that anyone who cannot take part in a monogamous heterosexual marriage, for whatever reason, should remain celibate. It should be pointed out that lifelong celibacy seems to actually be the higher spiritual calling (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 7:32-35). Celibacy was observed by Jesus himself (the only complete and perfect human to ever live) and by Paul (who, if he ever was married, remained celibate after his wife either died or divorced him).

The Shift from Homosexuality to Polyamory

However, my purpose in this article is actually not to address same-sex relationships in the modern American church. The arguments I just wrote have been made hundreds of times elsewhere and are easily accessible (this is why I argue that many progressive Christians will not engage in an honest exegetical debate, but rather resort to dishonest eisegesis). Instead, I would like to make an observation about the developing sexual ethic of American society, and by extension the sexual ethic of the progressive church in America.

I originally wrote a version of this article around three years ago. Back then I wrote, “In less than five years, polyamory will be just as acceptable as same-sex relationships are now in both popular American culture and within progressive Christianity.”


“In less than five years, polyamory will be just as acceptable as same-sex relationships are now in both popular American culture and within progressive Christianity.”


The first half of that statement is now true and the second half is well on the way. Largely through social media, polyamory and other forms of non-monogamy have become as acceptable as monogamous heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Among progressive Christians, acceptance of polyamory is growing quickly.

The Rise of Polyamory in Western Culture

On what basis did I make this prediction? When I first wrote this article, HGTV had just featured its first polyamorous family on House Hunters and Utah had just passed a bill decriminalizing polygamous marriage. At that time, one study found that “4 to 5 percent of the population of the United States was currently involved in a [consensual non-monogamous relationship]. While that might sound like a small number of people, it is larger than the entire bisexual, lesbian, and gay population combined.”[1]

A 2016 poll showed that “younger Americans are much more likely to report having had sexual contact with other people with the consent of their partners. 17% of under-45s say that they have, compared to only 3% of over-65s.”[2]

The Rise of Polyamory in Christian Circles

At the time, Christianity Today had recently published an article that addressed an actual case of polyamory in a church whose pastor was known by one of the authors. And while the authors condemned polyamory as adultery; they seemed to give it something of a foothold by writing, “We can acknowledge that many of the elements that draw people to polyamory—deep relationships, care for others, hospitality, and community—are good things.”[3]

In 2011, progressive Dr. Tony Jones wrote, “I also know that, for the first time in my life I’ve met Christians who are in ‘open’ marriages or are practicing polyamory—and I’m committed that my theological/ethical response to them be both Christian and pragmatic/realistic.”[4]

Dr. Jeff Hood, former SBC Baptist pastor and theologian (and graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), stated on his effort to make polyamory acceptable within the church: “If it is my fate to be crucified with the polyamorous, then so be it. There is no worthier aim than to give one’s life for love.”[5]


“There is no worthier aim than to give one’s life for love.” – Dr. Jeff Hood


Progressive Christians involved in polyamorous relationships openly advocated in Patheos for the church to affirm their relationships in the same manner that progressive Christians affirm same-sex relationships. One wrote, “Polyamory is of God because unlike monogamy, it is a truly free expression of love.”[6]

Progressive Christian Jennifer C. Martin wrote: “I’ve learned over the past two years, seeking out other Christians who are polyamorous, that I’m far from the only one.”[7] Jennifer’s husband Daniel wrote, “The fundamental truth of God’s message really is, ‘Love your neighbor and love God.’ With polyamory, it’s nothing more than an expression of love and a way to have deep, meaningful relationships with others.”[8]

Progressive Christian pastor Brandon Robertson stated: “For those who are in an open or polyamorous relationship . . . I want you to hear me loud and clear as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Your relationships are holy. They are beautiful and they are welcomed and celebrated in this space.”[9]


“Your relationships are holy. They are beautiful and they are welcomed and celebrated in this space.” – Brandon Robertson


Progressive Christian author Dani Fankhauser recommended the book Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, writing, “In my own journey, even after affirming sex before marriage, I was judgmental of acts and lifestyles I perceived as promiscuous such as polyamory, swinging, threesomes, or sex parties. This book is great for anyone like me seeking a wider context around human sexuality in order to reserve judgment on others, or reconsider their own ethics.”[10]

There is a “Bible-believing” Polyamory Facebook page for Christians who engage in polyamory.

My point is that society at large and progressive Christianity are well on their way in openly affirming polyamory. There is no longer a logical argument to stop them from doing so. Progressive Christianity’s affirmation of same-sex relationships demonstrates that Scripture is certainly no hindrance to them. Just as so many of them resorted to dishonest eisegesis in order to affirm same-sex relationships; they will simply stoop to the same low in order to affirm polyamorous relationships.

Again, all of those sources I just quoted were from over three years ago. Within the last several years, the number of similar articles on the internet has only increased. If you don’t believe me, simply Google “Christian polyamory.”


“Society at large and progressive Christianity are well on their way in openly affirming polyamory.”


On the web page Queer Theology, there is a resource page which reads, “People have a lot of opinions about romantic and sexual relationships. Too many of us have suffered because of someone else’s definition of what a ‘proper’ or ‘Biblical’ relationship is (::eye roll:: at ‘one man and one woman only’). We believe that there are lots of faithful ways to structure your relationships—including polyamory and/or open relationships.” The resources on this page include a YouTube video titled: “Jesus is Polyamorous.”

When I first wrote this article three years ago, I predicted, “I would argue that the only reason more progressive Christians have not yet publicly supported polyamory is that they are waiting for the culture at large to do so first. And given the rate at which it is doing so, it should only be a few years before progressive Christianity sees the green light to fully jump on the band wagon.”

I would have been very happy to be wrong. I was 100% correct.

Why Does It Matter?

Personally, I would like to see progressive Christianity unmasked for what it is: a false gospel. It is a false gospel because it offers salvation and grace without true repentance from sexual sin. And while I will agree with progressive Christians that theologically conservative Christians have historically preached against sexual sin while ignoring sins such as racism, greed, oppression, and injustice, it is a straw-man logical fallacy to say that we should stop preaching against sexual sin because of those other shortcomings.

Any of my church members can attest to the fact that I preach against racism, greed, oppression, and injustice more often than I preach against sexual sin. Moreover, I have always spoken against violence and hatred toward anyone. I have consistently stated that all humans are created in the image of God and have the potential to repent of their sin, be redeemed, and then to be recreated into the image of Jesus/God by imitating him as his disciple.

However, we cannot ignore the fact that Scripture singles out sexual sin as having a unique position in the pantheon of sins. Paul wrote to the Corinthians who struggled with allowing unrepentant sexual sin in their midst:

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Cor. 6:18-20, NIV)


“Flee from sexual immorality.”


Rather than fleeing sexual immorality, many progressive Christians are embracing it and refusing to repent. As Peter preached:

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus.” (Acts 3:19-20, NIV)

Jesus and the rest of the New Testament are clear that there will be many false believers. And false believers include those who state that they believe in Jesus, but yet refuse to repent of their sins. Moreover, false Christian leaders who lead believers into accepting sexual sin as normal are nothing new. At least two of the churches admonished by Jesus in the prologue to the Revelation were chastised for allowing leadership to lead them into accepting sexual sin. Jesus stated:

“There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.” (Rev. 2:14, NIV)


“There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they . . . committed sexual immorality.”


And:

“You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” (Rev. 2:20-23, NIV)

Conclusion

It is clear that Jesus does not tolerate those who teach the church to accept what Scripture clearly states is a sexual sin before God. Neither should we. This is no small matter. We are simply observing what Paul wrote about:

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4, NIV)

Many people’s itching ears want to hear that sexual activity outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage is not a sin. Let us continue to be clear that it is. It should also be pointed out that the church in Corinth had members who had previously practiced same-sex relationships, but had repented and ceased doing so (1 Cor. 6:11). Far from being an invitation to go soft on our convictions, God’s grace is an invitation to repent (Rom. 6:1-4).


[1] M. L. Haupert, Amanda N. Gesselman, Amy C. Moors, Helen E. Fisher & Justin R. Garcia. “Prevalence of Experiences With Consensual Nonmonogamous Relationships: Findings From Two National Samples of Single Americans.” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 43:5, 2017.

[2] Peter Moore. “Young Americans Are Less Wedded to Monogamy Than Their Elders.” YouGovAmerica. October 3, 2016. https://today.yougov.com/topics/society/articles-reports/2016/10/03/young-americans-less-wedded-monogamy.

[3] Sprinkle, Preston and Branson Parler. “Polyamory: Pastors’ Next Sexual Frontier.” Christianity Today. September 25, 2019. https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2019/fall/polyamory-next-sexual-frontier.html.

[4] Tony Jones. “What’s a Christian to Do with…Dan Savage?” Patheos. July 11, 2011. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2011/07/11/whats-a-christian-to-do-with-dan-savage.

[5] Jeff Hood. “Southern Baptist Pastor Affirms Polyamory!” Patheos. September 29, 2017. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jeffhood/southern-baptist-pastor-affirms-polyamory.

[6] Christian Chiakulas. “Polyamory and the Kingdom of God.” Patheos. October 6, 2017. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/radicalchristianmillennial/2017/10/polyamory-kingdom-of-god-christianity.

[7] Jennifer C. Martin. “Even Christians Are Rethinking Monogamy.” Splinter. August 23, 2017. https://splinternews.com/even-christians-are-rethinking-monogamy-1798358003.

[8] Sandra Song. “How 6 Different Non-Monogamous Relationships Are Redefining Love.” Paper. February 14, 2019. https://www.papermag.com/non-monogamy-relationships-2628958294.html#rebelltitem1.

[9] Chelsen Vicari. “Polyamory ‘Holy’ ‘Beautiful’ says Progressive Christian Minister.” Juicy Ecumenism. October 19, 2018. https://juicyecumenism.com/2018/10/19/brandan-robertson-polyamory-holy-beautiful.

[10] Dani Fankhauser. “15 Books for Recovering from Christian Purity Culture.” Shameless (the book!). January 16, 2018. https://www.shamelessthebook.com/blog/books-purity-culture.

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