Thursday, July 30, 2009

Polyamory Next?

Will Christian churches actually come under internal pressure to bless polyamorous unions?

Suppose, contrary to facts as they stand, that secular American society ended up legally recognizing polyamorous unions, so that one could go to a justice of the peace and have one's polyamorous union given legal standing by civil authorities. What should the Church do, as a matter of general policy, in such a case?

One would hope the Church has by that time developed a better theological understanding of marriage, so that it can render intelligible, if not persuasive, to civil society whatever it ends up doing. I would hope the Church could mount a convincing defense of--how shall we call it?--binary marriage unions, and this is what it would likely do.

But why? What makes binary rather than polyamorous unions so special? Can we say anything persuasive? Suppose the Christian polyamorist argued:

(1) The Bible supports unions exhibiting fruits of the Spirit;
(2) The Church is permitted to bless unions that the Bible supports;
(3) Some polyamorous unions exhibit fruits of the Spirit;
Thus, (4) the Church is permitted to bless those polyamorous unions that exhibit fruits of the Spirit.

Will GC resolutions follow on (4)? What's wrong with that argument? Or do you think that anything is wrong with it? I have some ideas about what's wrong with it that I'll share in a bit, but I wanted first to ask the question.


At 3:25 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I think the important question is what makes a binary marriage stable and what makes a polyamorous relationship stable. The current ideal for a binary relationship is equality and cooperation. It's like two dancers balancing one another so that they dance better together.

A three-or-more marriage has many more interpersonal relationships. The balancing of power is harder to accomplish. Biblical polygamous marriages worked because of a strict hierarchy: male, first wife, second wife, ... The cases in the Bible where there wasn't this strict hierarchy were story and troubled.

We'd have to ask ourselves what a polyamorous marriage would look like in our society? How would it reflect our relationship ideals? I'm not seeing a good answer to that question.

But I'm willing to volunteer for an experiment! ;^)

At 1:32 PM, Blogger Joseph F said...

In the event that polyamorous relationships do take root in the US, the Church would have to study them to understand the real dynamics.

Some concerns I have are just practical: how would divorce work? What if (in a relationship of four people) one person disliked one other intensely but loved the other two? Could he break "covenant" (communion?) with that one while leaving the others intact? Would that be at all a true union?

Theologically, I see marriage as the living out of the relationship between God and Israel/Church with some tweaks. In marriage, both are to build up, love and honor the other. We call for equality in marriage because both partners are subject to God who is the only one superior to us; there is no true human hierarchy.

The exclusivity in marriage is living out the "jealousy" of God- God burns with love for us and we (should) burn with that kind of love for God. We're not permitted to love God and to love idols of gods as well. Loving other people is about loving God through others.

At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anything wrong with these hermeneutics?

1) The Bible states fruits of the spirit follow when two become one and never says three can become one (A man is to love his wife, and vice versa, as Jesus loves the Church--a single entity and not two entities).

2) Even further, the Bible seems to suggest that polyamorous unions break some commandment--once you've broken one commandment, you've broken them all (as Jesus says).

At 5:08 AM, Anonymous Tim said...

The bible also says the sexually immoral will not enter the kingdom of heaven. People want to enter heaven, therefore no polygamy?

What gives with the bible "saying" anything? Mine does not come with loudspeakers attached. And of course spot the huge gap in the logic - who defines `sexual immorality' (to include or exclude any number of particular behaviours/acts/inclinations) in any case?

At 9:49 PM, Blogger Marshall Scott said...

Carter Heyward fifteen years or so ago tried to argue that one person could love two others equally and justly. As much as I appreciated much of her work, in this case she was arguing for an ideal that I don't think fallen folks could actually live out. That, I think, would be the issue for the Church. It's hard enough to work out partnership and equality among two people. My instinct and my theological anthropology suggest to me that adding another person (and for each other person added) would increase difficulties in a logarithmic progression.

At 7:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And of course spot the huge gap in the logic - who defines `sexual immorality' (to include or exclude any number of particular behaviours/acts/inclinations) in any case?"

So, what, anything goes? What's the point of the Bible if hermeneutics cannot get *anything* out of it? Or that you need a PhD to get anything meaningful?

Who's the say what murder is? haha...

At 3:02 PM, Blogger Daniel Lee said...

In a real world sense, polyamory already typically exists, and it isn't always expressed in multiple partners for sexual intercourse.

One real world version is top down, males only, males first. A man in those quasi-tribal situations can have as many wives as he can support.

In USA the LDS-Mormons would have clearly gone that route; but went underground or gave up plural marriage completely. To them, it's a salvation witness, so that they can be promoted in the heavenly life, and eventually become deified beings like Jesus.

Others have an Islamic mix of religion plus culture. Others have mainly a culture mix, typically patriarchal in male privileges.

In western venues, nobody can seriously assert that married people stop loving other people, period.

Surely part of the married couple ideal is that committed couples increase in trust and therefore in love, as they work through differences in the frame of equal worth. This is supposed to spill over, generously, in theory. Onto the children, certainly. Onto the wider family. Onto church and community, in outward circles of self-giving.

This model for sex is tricky, since it presumes that at certain points in certain ways, love will increase by actual sex acts being inhibited. A worldwide religious belief in this transaction appears to exist, though its reasons are not completely explained or understood. Many religions simply seem to think this is a transaction, given in the natural order of things. Sexual sciences have mainly been investigating how sex sex works, and haven't much gotten around to investigating Tantric sex with much delayed orgasms, or celibate sex as such.

Something wonderful yet problematic comes into play when we overtly cue all this sexual-embodied love spilling over phenomean, potentialy reducing its complexities by focusing on sex acts as such.

So that everybody supposedly sleeps with everybody.

One earthly thing seems to be: A vulnerability obtains in human sex and embodiment, such that complex human dynamics of encounter and risk come into play. In all human relations. Add sex acts into the mix, you are exponentially increasing the stakes on both encounter and risk. Again our going theory is, by limiting that level of embodied risk to a committed couple, the couple is actually freed up to take equal or even greater social-emotional risks in social and church life. Knowing they are loving, are loved, transforms the rest, allegedly.

Does this really work this way, for any committed couples, for most committed couples?

It may be the modern case that, removing the long-standing heterosexual risk of unplanned or unwatned pregnancy from the mix, changes these equations.

Given the counter-pressures of modern survival, however, way too many couples have trouble finding any time to actually spend with each other, once their full time jobs and the kids have been taken into account, daily.

In polyamory, what we are basically looking at, is a shift from the Eros love frame, to a Philios model for how love works. Sister wives in the LDS tradition come to mind. Failing that shift, the whole business is easily vexed, let's start with human phenomena, not jump right away to ultimate heavenly considerations.

The picture humanly is not black/white, valent in two sides only. Our history suggests otherwise with plural marriage. The real bind is any modern idea of real equality in plural marriage; not plural marriage itself. I'm not knowledgeable about LDS practices, so far as what happens if a wife in a plural marriage comes to believe that the marriage has died for whatever reasons.

We do have another de facto plural marriage model to some extent, insofar as Europeans often add mistresses/lovers into the standard marriage mix. Then it isn't explained in heavenly terms, but in earthly, an accommodation of the changing and frail nature of human sexual love. That cherub with the heart-sex arrows is notoriously whimsical, a helper and a trickster figure.

At 7:34 AM, Blogger Fr. Bryan Owen said...

In an essay entitled "Polyamory: The Perfectly Plural Postmodern Condition," Albert Mohler (whom I've never before cited with approval) sums it up this way:

Perhaps the best way to understand this new movement is to understand it as a natural consequence of subverting marriage. We have largely normalized adultery, serialized marriage, separated marriage from reproduction and childbearing, and accepted divorce as a mechanism for liberation. Once this happens, boundary after boundary falls as sexual regulation virtually disappears among those defined as "consenting adults."

The ultimate sign of our moral confusion becomes evident when virtually no one appears ready to condemn polyamory as immoral. The only arguments mustered against this new movement focus on matters of practicality. Polyamory is certainly not new, but this new movement is yet another reminder that virtually all the fences are now down when it comes to sex and sexual relationships. What comes next?

At 7:41 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hmmm. He makes it sound like people having control over their reproduction is a bad thing. I don;t see it.

yes, a lot of what we're seeing is a result from decoupling sex from reproduction.

But, I see birth control as a moral imperative in a time of ballooning populations and constant resources. God said to fill the Earth and we have. Now it is time to stop.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Daniel Lee said...

Yes R I agree, one neglected center of value is that various consenting adult arrangements - including queer folks - do not automatically without much occasion of real choice about the matter - bring unwanted children into being who will most likely also be unloved; and sometimes in the worst of such reproduction - be destined to be brute fodder for child abuse and neglect.

Besides modern contraception, let's add soap and water into the change mix. Bathing has become standard and fashionable to a surprising degree, out of all keeping with former beliefs or practices in at least some cultures. The more body and sexual hygiene is our rule, the less taken for granted the Augustinian baseline disgust for a dirtiness of human bodies is. The less that sense of dirt generalizes to sexual matters and occasions.

At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"But, I see birth control as a moral imperative in a time of ballooning populations and constant resources. God said to fill the Earth and we have. Now it is time to stop."

Not really sure this is a problem anymore since it now seems likely that the population of the Earth in 2100 will be less than what it was in 2000, contrary to prior predictions.

At 9:12 PM, Blogger gusto said...

"One would hope the Church has by that time developed a better theological understanding of marriage, so that it can render intelligible, if not persuasive, to civil society whatever it ends up doing."
So your argument is that in 2,000 years of defining marriage as a "binary relationship" -between a man a a woman- the Church doesn't yet have an understanding of marriage?


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