What Polyamory Is Not

Orgy Scene Frieze on the Lakshmana Temple at Khajuraho
Image credit: “Orgy Scene Frieze on the Lakshmana Temple at Khajuraho,” photo by Kkavita.

As we continue our conversation on polyamory and the church, it will be important to understand exactly what is meant by “polyamory.” The basic concept is simple enough. Polyamory means loving more than one individual at a time. But people tend to make a lot of wrong assumptions about this concept. Since there are so many misconceptions surrounding it, I thought it might be helpful to define polyamory against what it is not.

Polyamory is not about sex.

I’m starting with this one because it has been the most common accusation I’ve received since starting this series. “You just want to justify having sex with other people!” But that simply isn’t the point of polyamory.

The point is developing intimate, loving relationships with more than one individual. And when I speak of “love,” I’m speaking of the agape or self-giving love that Jesus exemplified, not merely of eros or erotic love (though the two are not quite as distinct as some have made them out to be).

This being said, in such a relationship, sex may be one of many wonderful ways to express that love and intimacy. And I don’t feel the need to “justify” sex. Sex is inherently good. It is also very powerful, and we certainly need to be careful in our sexual ethics (a topic which I’ll address in the next post). But I reject the view that sex is some sort of a taboo, to be avoided in all but the most specific scenarios—namely, a heterosexual monogamous marriage.

Yet for some polyamorous people, sex is not involved at all. This may be the case if they are asexual, or it may simply not be the kind of polyamory they desire. Sometimes, intimate but non-sexual relationships are all they’re looking for.

Polyamory is not swinging.

See above. Swinging is all about having recreational sex without necessarily having a relationship. But polyamory is a relationship that might or might not include sex. Some polyamorous individuals may also be swingers or may at times engage in swinging. But polyamory and swinging are two distinct categories, and we shouldn’t automatically assume that polyamory means swinging. It usually does not.

Polyamory is not infidelity or cheating.

If individuals are in a committed, exclusive relationship together, and one of them breaks that commitment to be with someone else, then that is not polyamory—that is cheating. In polyamory, all involved partners should be in mutual agreement about any expectations. Polyamory involves no less commitment than monogamy; it just looks a little different.

The specifics of polyamorous commitments may vary from one another, and the key is communicating well enough to understand what each given commitment should look like. But whatever those commitments may be, if they are violated, then that is infidelity. It’s still cheating even though it was within a polyamorous relationship.

Polyamory is not adultery.

Adultery has sometimes been understood as any sexual activity outside of marriage. I would argue that this is an overly limited definition, particularly if we are speaking of the biblical concept of adultery. This is a topic that I will return to in greater depth later, but for now, I’m going to define adultery as the violation of a covenantal relationship.

Therefore, if one is within the covenantal relationship of an exclusive monogamous marriage—wherein both partners have agreed to abstain from any outside sexual activity—then yes, such activity would indeed be adultery. However, polyamorous relationships are not the same as monogamous relationships. While a covenantal aspect may be involved, a polyamorous covenant is going to have different terms that may or may not preclude all outside sexual activity. But whatever those terms may be, the violation thereof would still be adultery.

Polyamory is not homogeneous.

I’ve alluded already to how polyamorous commitments can vary from one another. Polyamory can actually take many different forms. I will not attempt to cover them all, but I will try to give a brief (and perhaps oversimplified) outline of a few of them.

At the most basic level, individuals are polyamorous if they have, desire to have, or are at least open to having multiple relationships. This is true even if they are currently single. And it is also true even if they are currently in a relationship with only one person.

For some poly people, their partners are also each other’s partners. Such a relationship is often called a “triad” (or “throuple”) or a “quad,” based on the number of mutual partners involved. If it is a long-term exclusive relationship, it might be referred to as “polyfidelity” or a “closed group marriage.”

When one individual has multiple partners, but those partners are not in a relationship with each other, it can be called a “vee” relationship. The partner’s partners are known as each other’s “metamours.” And the person connecting them is known as the “hinge.”

Sometimes one partnership will be central, such as a husband and wife who have additional partners. This is often referred to as “hierarchical” polyamory, but I don’t really care for that term myself, as it implies certain power dynamics that are not necessarily present. For example, it might include the right of “veto” power over other potential partners, but it doesn’t always.

The person with whom one is in such a central relationship is sometimes referred to as the “primary,” “anchor,” or “nesting” partner (with some shades of nuance between those terms). When there is no such central relationship, it might be referred to as “non-hierarchical” or “egalitarian” polyamory. “Relationship anarchy” is another term closely related to this, but while it overlaps with polyamory, it can also be distinct from it.

I think that covers enough potential variations for now. Suffice it to say that every polyamorous relationship is its own, and it may be entirely different from any other. Furthermore, most of the terms are debated, and some people mean different things by them than others. So it’s best to never make assumptions. Instead, talk to those involved and learn how their specific relationship(s) work.

Polyamory is not the same as polygamy.

This is especially important to clarify in the context of Christianity, due to the abundance of polygamy found in the Bible, as well as the complicated history the church has had therewith.

“Polygamy” is the marriage of one individual to multiple other individuals. It is “polygyny” when one man is married to multiple women. And it is “polyandry” when one woman is married to multiple men. If carried out in love and mutuality, then polygamy can be a form of polyamory.

However, for the majority of human history (and within the Bible in particular), polygamy has tended to be carried out as a distinctly patriarchal form of polygyny. Far from love and mutuality, it has often meant that one man essentially owns multiple women as his property. This is not polyamory. And I’ll be discussing polygamy and patriarchy in greater detail later.

Conclusion

We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and hopefully we’ve managed to establish what it is we’re referring to as “polyamory” (contrasted to all these things that aren’t polyamory). With this understanding in place, we’re ready to start looking at polyamory from a distinctly Christian perspective.

While I’ve made it clear that polyamory is not about sex, the included element of sex has nonetheless been the primary objection to polyamory that many Christians have voiced. So in the next post, I plan to discuss a Christian ethic for sexuality, and consider how that ethic applies to polyamory.


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  • http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/ Rob Grayson

    I’ve been following along with interest as you’ve been sharing these posts, Chuck. I’ll permit myself a couple of quick thoughts, if I may.

    First, you say how you’re going to define adultery. This seems to suggest that words are semantically elastic and can be redefined at will. The Oxford English Dictionary, which I guess would be fairly representative of “standard” dictionary definitions, defines adultery as “voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse.” Now, I know some will say we shouldn’t live our lives hobbled by dictionary definitions, and I agree; that’t not where I’m coming from. My point is that building arguments on what can seem like arbitrary redefinitions is problematic.

    Second, you say “At the most basic level, individuals are polyamorous if they have, desire to have, or are at least open to having multiple relationships.” I want to say in response, “Find me a person – or at least a male person – who hasn’t at least desired to have multiple relationships, and preferably sexual ones”. I know I have. Does that make me polyamorous? Well, no.

    And third, I would venture that you left out something else that polyamory is not: an orientation. While a genetic basis for same-sex attraction is not proven and is the subject of much debate, there is a growing consensus that same-sex attraction and other gender orientations are either genetically preprogrammed or virtually so. Conversely, I don’t think polyamorists can similarly claim that they are just “born that way” – again, not unless you want to classify every red-blooded male as a polyamorist.

    • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

      Thanks for the thoughts, Rob.

      In speaking of adultery, I tried to clarify that I’m speaking of the biblical concept of adultery, which will obviously be different from the modern English concept. I’ll be defending my reasoning for this understanding in a later post.

      As for desire, perhaps I could have been clearer. I’m speaking of an intentional kind of desire, rather than an unintentional desire that one suppresses in order to conform to whatever standard they may see as ideal.

      As for polyamory being an orientation, it’s not nearly so clear cut. And I addressed that toward the end of the previous post: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hippieheretic/2017/09/conflating-polyamory-the-lgbtq-community-and-orientation.html

      In short, for at least some people, it is an orientation.

      • jerrycstanaway

        Christians should practice monogamy.

        • Ember Isle

          Christians “should” attend to their own house and leave the rest to God, but the sad truth is that they do not.

          • Marie Halligan

            Christians should obey God and not make up their own rules or “spin” what He says to suit themselves! God thinks having sex with anyone but your spouse is a sin, and ye are all contradicting Him with your disingenuous excusing of “polyamory” which is just a fancy word for adultery!

      • http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/ Rob Grayson

        Chuck, thanks for replying. This is a topic on which we are unlikely to reach agreement, but i appreciate your willingness to engage thoughtfully and respectfully.

        Regarding the definition of adultery, I’ll await the later post you mentioned, though I think it’s worth stating that I’d be surprised if the “biblical” definition of adultery differed significantly from the dictionary definition I quoted. (I am, however, open to correction on that.)

        You make a distinction between unintentional and intentional desire. I don’t think the reality of desire is anything like so clear-cut. If we’re prepared to label some desires as “intentional” and call them good and even godly, I think we risk opening the way to all kinds of dangerous pursuits.

        Finally, regarding whether polyamory is an orientation, I did read your previous post and found what you said about it unconvincing. Basically, you seemed to be taking you’ll take people’s word for it; if a person says they were “born poly”, you’ll accept that at face value. I wonder if you would offer the same accommodation to someone who said they were born a kleptomaniac, or even a paedophile? (For the avoidance of doubt, in mentioning paedophilia, I do not mean in any way to infer that polyamory is somehow morally equivalent to paedophilia.)

        • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

          Is pedophilia an orientation? Absolutely! I’m not aware of there being much debate about that. However, being a pedophile (having that orientation) does not mean one has to act on it. And unlike LGBTQ or polyamorous orientations, pedophilia, if acted on, actually does cause harm to others. And unlike LGBTQ or polyamory, the passive recipients of pedophilia cannot consent to it. It is these reasons—the inability to consent and the harm caused—that make acting upon pedophilia wrong. But pedophilia is an orientation, and many pedophiles live perfectly moral lives knowing their orientation but choosing not to act upon it.

          As for kleptomania, I would assume it may be similar, but I have done no reading in this area in order to speak intelligently on it.

          All that aside, I think it’s inherently wrongheaded to argue the rightness or wrongness of an action based solely on orientation. One who affirms LGBTQ only because of orientation is not really affirming at all. It implies that such a union would be wrong if it were not for the orientation, and I think that’s horrible. Every loving, mutual, and consensual union is good and worthwhile for those reasons alone. Orientation has relatively little to do with it.

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            That said, I do think the orientation argument is useful as a means of creating sympathy and understanding. But it just doesn’t work, in my opinion, as an ultimate argument for affirmation.

          • http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/ Rob Grayson

            The problem is, if one does not make an argument on the basis of orientation, upon what does one base it? The alternative seems to be that anyone should be morally free to do whatever they want, as long as no one is intentionally harmed in the process. And that such freedom should be celebrated as God’s best for all concerned. What am I missing here?

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            You’re not missing much. I’d just qualify your phrasing a little bit. From a Christian perspective, it’s not just about avoiding harm, but should also include active love. So, “anyone should be morally free to do whatever they want, as long as it is carried out in love.” This is exactly the ethic Jesus and the Apostles taught over and over again. Love is our only law. Anything beyond this ventures into legalism.

          • http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/ Rob Grayson

            With respect, I think translating “love is our only law” into “anyone should be morally free to do whatever they want, as long as it is carried out in love” and then putting this in the mouths of Jesus and the Apostles is a bit of a stretch.

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            It’s hardly a matter of “translating” one passage that way. This is a fundamental theme of the entire New Testament. It’s everywhere! I’ve blogged about this a number times before, but here’s a relevant example: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hippieheretic/2016/07/gay-affirming-christian-all-comes-down-to-love.html

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight
          • http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/ Rob Grayson

            Thanks for the examples, Chuck. They help understand where you’re coming from.

            One could be forgiven for concluding that you believe Jesus basically said “Don’t worry about all those other laws: love is all that matters”. But he didn’t say that. As a devout Jew, he was largely a defender and observer of the law. However, he understood that its purpose was, in fact, to promote love. As such, his commandment to love God and neighbour was not a setting aside of all other moral law; it was a summation and encapsulation of it.

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            Actually, Jesus contradicted and blatantly broke the law all over the place in the name of love. He may not have said the words that you quoted, but that really was the gist of his teaching. And Paul states it far more blatantly, so if we’re to trust Paul as an interpreter of Christ, then yes, that’s exactly what Jesus said.

          • http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/ Rob Grayson

            I think we’ve gone as far as we can go without this becoming circular. I don’t think it can be robustly argued that Jesus was essentially a lawbreaker; I think he was a devout, Torah-observant Jew who was not afraid to bend and subvert the law on occasion, often for didactic ends.

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            Then I’ll leave the last word with you. Thanks for chatting!

          • http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/ Rob Grayson

            I appreciate your open engagement, Chuck. Peace!

          • Marie Halligan

            But He thought that having sex with anyone but your spouse was a sin- He told the woman caught in adultery He wasn’t condemning her but He also said to her “..go and sin NO MORE!” He made it very clear that anything but monogamy with ones spouse is a sin!

          • Marie Halligan

            Yes,Christ said He came to FULFILL the Law,not scrap it!

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            Hey again, Rob. I think my latest post on the topic should go some way toward clarifying how I see love and law intersecting on this matter: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hippieheretic/2017/09/christian-sexual-ethics-and-polyamory.html

          • http://www.faithmeetsworld.com/ Rob Grayson

            Thanks, Chuck. I read your new post earlier. I think it’s best if I keep quiet for now – you’re clearly developing and extended argument so there’s little point me pre-empting points you may be planning to make later.

          • Marie Halligan

            Can you give us the verses from the Gospels where Jesus said we can do what ever we want, done out of love or otherwise,because I can’t think of any?

  • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

    Chuck, You wrote, “But that simply isn’t the point of polyamory. The point is developing intimate, loving relationships with more than one individual…”

    ON the CONTRARY, good ethics have always emphasized that the very best in human relationships is developing “intimate, loving relationships…”

    What is unjust and unethical is having multiple sexual relationships.

    Polyamory claims that monogamy isn’t the true form of sexual commitment, but that MULTIPLE sexual relationships are a true form of sexual relations.

    That is wrong. It’s wrong from the perspective of Jesus; it’s wrong from the perspective of other ethical leaders of the past and the present.

    There is a huge chasm between fidelity-monogamy versus polyamory.

    Besides, just this week, polyamorists emphasized that it doesn’t matter what humans do with their private parts, and that sexual relations don’t need to have life-long commitment.

    And, polyamory would seem to be impossible!
    It is is incredibly difficult for just 2 to become 1 individuals to commit to one another for life, bring infants into the world, raise, them, deal with all of the struggles and trials of life as a “2 become 1.” And stay there for each other in an intimate sexual relationship “until death do us part.”

    Imagine how impossibly difficult it is for multiple people to treat each other as EQUAL in multiple sexual relationships in a complex sexual group for life!

    So even if polyamory wasn’t inherently unjust and unethical, the system itself EDIT, SEEMS impossible–trying to carry on life-long intimate sexual, AGAPE-love relationships.

    • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

      I’m enjoying how you seem to think you understand polyamory better than those who actually are polyamorous.

      • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

        ? I’m responding to what you and other polyamorous individuals have written!

        This is, basically, a new topic to me. I think that one of the most basic of all ethical truths is –fidelity and monogamy.

        So in response to your comments, and those of other writers elsewhere in the Internet, I am responding.

        How is my understanding incorrect?

        Also, keep in mind that I look at this from a retired literature teacher’s point of view.

        When I read your definition, my first reaction was bafflement!

        I am definitely NOT opposed to “intimate, loving (in the sense of agape) relationships.”

        On the contrary, humans ought to develop as many such relationships as possible.

        What seems to be very wrong are multiple SEXUAL relationships.

        Maybe, I didn’t explain my self clearly enough in my quickly written post. I will try and be more clear.

        • Ember Isle

          “Polyamory claims that monogamy isn’t the true form of sexual commitment, but that MULTIPLE sexual relationships are a true form of sexual relations.”

          Where did you find such a claim? They certainly don’t speak for me.

          “And, polyamory would seem to be impossible! ….. Imagine how impossibly difficult it is for multiple people to treat each other as EQUAL in multiple sexual relationships in a complex sexual group for life!”

          So, at what length of a poly relationship would agree it is not impossible? You’re acting as tho these relationships do not already exist. They have for millennia, whether you believe they are possible or not. If you are merely misspeaking and simply mean you do not believe they have longevity, I wish to know your criteria for longevity.

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            I already gave the main one, Jesus statement that marriage is 2 become 1, that this is the meaning of marriage and that the commitment is life-long, only broken when one spouse commits infidelity.

          • Ember Isle

            That….doesn’t answer either of my questions.

            It also doesn’t apply to any poly relationships where the commitment is life-long. Fidelity is not synonymous with monogamy.

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            Then I misunderstood your question. Sorry.

            You wrote, “Where did you find such a claim? They certainly don’t speak for me.”

            I thought you meant what is one reason that I think monogamy is true, and that polyamory is false.

            I don’t know your views, don’t think I’ve dialogued with you.

            I’m only going by what Chuck and other current polyamorists have stated which is ethically, and, of course, legally, contrary to the views of the U.S.

            However, since this is such a huge ethical question, I am seeking to understand why Christians and others are now calling for mulitple sexual relations, (especially just after the winning of same sexual monogamous marriage in the U.S. has happened).

            #2, No, I know various forms of multiple sexual relations have existed for thousands of years. I’m a former anthropology major. They have even existed a few places in Christianity. For instance, Martin Luther permitted a German prince to commit bigamy, but he told the prince to keep it a secret.
            And, of course, there are the many cases of Latter Day Saint multiple marriage.
            And there is even the case of serial multiple sexual relations in the U.S. where millions of Christians divorce and remarry. Donald Trump has been married 3 times I as recall, and another Christian politician, Newt Gingrich at least twice, etc.

            #3 You wrote, “So, at what length of a poly relationship would agree it is not impossible?”

            I’ve looked at that question again. I actually don’t think it is possible, have ethical poly relationships.

            Maybe my hurried prose is at fault. Look at my comment again, please.
            “…the system itself is nigh impossible-”

            That was a rhetoric flourish. I will edit it out. I honestly think it is impossible for multiple people to have an ultimate sexual relationship. The very nature of fidelity is that 2 become 1.

            It’s been a while since I formally studied anthropology, but as I recall, there is no case of any Christians (or others, for that matter) having equal multiple sexual relationships.

            However, I will check that out after I finish my current study, am reading 3 biographies of Alexander Hamilton.

          • Mark Kille

            Daniel Wilcox–I have a longer comment from earlier stuck in suspected-spam-land, but it’s probably been rendered moot by your most recent.

            “I actually don’t think it is possible, have ethical poly relationships.”

            It would help if you would clarify your ethical framework. Broadly speaking, there are three major ones:

            –Deontological, or, “follow the rules.” There are specific ethical or moral guidelines that *just are*, and right behavior is judged by adherence to them.

            –Teleological, or, “the end justifies the means.” There are specific good outcomes that *just are*, and right behavior is judged by success in achieving them.

            –Virtue ethics, or, “good people make good decisions.” There are specific good characteristics that *just are*, and right behavior is judged by how strongly it reinforces them.

            It doesn’t work to just say one has “Christian” or “Biblical” ethics. All three are represented in Christianity and the Bible. There are directives (deontological). There are aspirations (teleological). And there are things like the Fruits of the Spirit (virtue ethics).

            Me, I’m a virtue ethics guy. So a claim like “fidelity means 2 become 1” is almost meaningless to me. 2 people can join together as 1 committed to mayhem. There is nothing magical about the math of it.

            So 2 becoming 1 can be good because it’s following the rules. I can’t argue too much with that on those grounds. I can point out that *Jesus* argued against that approach (“the Sabbath was made for man [people], not man [people] for the Sabbath”). I can talk about how for over a thousand years the Church was pretty sure that the rules said celibacy was the holiest life path, with marriage okay if you couldn’t handle your animal urges. But if you’re set on the rules and you have a particular understanding of the rules, well, there you go.

            Or 2 becoming 1 can be good because it makes the people involved the happiest or safest or purest they could possibly be, of all the alternatives. In that case, I point to myself and other polyamorous people I know and talk about how very much happier and safer we feel with multiple partners than only one, and how are partners report the same thing, and how when we try to be monogamous we almost always mess it up one way or another.

            Or, 2 becoming 1 can be good because it makes the people involved more loving, trustworthy, patient, kind, etc. than they would be in any alternative arrangement. In that case, I point again at my real actual life, and other people’s real actual lives.

            So for you to be right that no polyamorous relationship can be ethical, you have to either claim that you have the only possible right interpretation of the rules–which puts you in the historical company of Christian men legally raping their wives and Christian slaveholders “owning” other people–or that me and everyone like me are lying liars who lie.

            I mean, either of those could *possibly* be true this time, I guess…

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

            You wrote “–Deontological, or, “follow the rules.” There are specific ethical or moral guidelines that *just are*, and right behavior is judged by adherence to them.”

            I don’t recall what philosophical term most describes my ethical outlook. Maybe moral realism.

            I take an Enlightenment view of ethics, that certain views and actions are good in themselves, and some actions are inherently wrong, unethical. For instance, equality, human rights, honesty, generosity, compassion, etc. are inherently real and true, essential, unalienable, but
            intolerance, racism, slavery are inherently wrong.

            More later. For some reason our Internt keeps messing up–
            I’M BACK

            Then you said,
            “–Teleological, or, “the end justifies the means.”
            NO!
            The means and the end are together.
            I don’t agree with such actions as the advice to kill 100,000 civilians now, and thereby save millions sometime in the future.

            Nor that it would be worth torturing and killing a toddler now if I it would helping the human race to survive.
            Etc.

            You wrote, “Virtue ethics, or, “good people make good decisions.”
            Doubtful
            It seems that all humans are a combination of good and bad, sort of like the famous quote, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being…”

            And you wrote, “It doesn’t work to just say one has “Christian” or “Biblical” ethics.”

            I am no longer a Christian, and even during the 55 years I was a liberal Christian, I strongly disagreed with many of Christian history’s views of ethics and actions.

            As for “Biblical” ethics, I don’t think there is good guidance there. The Bible is a library filled with many contradictory ethics, and many horrendous claims and rules.

            Also, I’m a retired literature teacher, sometime poet and fiction writer, not a philosopher.
            I tend to think in images and analogies, not formal categories. I spend most of my time thinking about ethical insights from Jesus (as presented in the texts such as the Sermon on the Mount, parables like the Good Samaritan), and the Buddhist writings of Thich Nhat Hanh, etc.
            not
            formal systems.

            But as I mentioned above, I suppose I would fit in the category of “moral realism.”

            I don’t think most of the moral wheel needs to be rediscovered.
            Rather what needs to happen is for all humans to practice what they already often state is right–be truthful, seek to understand, act in kindness, have purity of heart, stay true to commitments, and so forth.

            Then you wrote, “Me, I’m a virtue ethics guy. So a claim like “fidelity means 2 become 1″ is almost meaningless to me.”

            Well, then we are very different. I think that Jesus’ comments on the nature of sexuality, marriage, and so forth are true.

            Fidelity and monogamy seem to be one of the earlier discoveries of ethics. The HUGE problem was that most humans didn’t follow what they held to be true, and, of course, there was sexism, male patriarchy, seeing women as “property,” and so forth to over come

            It seems to me that Jesus’ 2 to 1 makes sense in experience and historically, too.

            Based on my own 50 years of reading of history, and psychology, and the views and actions of the last 50 years in American society, it would seem that one guy only has time, energy, and creativity to become united for life to one other person sexually, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

            And you added, “I can talk about how for over a thousand years the Church was pretty sure that the rules said celibacy was the holiest life path, with marriage okay if you couldn’t handle your animal urges.”

            That’s NOT my view of ethics. I think the famous scholar Walter Rauschenbush made a really good analysis against celibacy in his book Christianity and the Social Crisis where he argued that the Christian view was wrong.

            Thanks for sharing your own experience.

            We have very strong disagreements about ethics.

          • Mark Kille

            Daniel Wilcox–Thanks, that does make things a lot clearer.

            I don’t mean this unkindly, but since you don’t identify as Christian, a conversation about “polyamory and the Church” with you doesn’t make much sense.

            “It seems that all humans are a combination of good and bad”

            Exactly. That is why I believe virtue ethics, while imperfect, is the best guide for making decisions. Flawed humans will inevitably misunderstand or try to game the rules. Similarly, we will look at the outcome we want and minimize the costs of achieving it. The interlocking demands of behaving kindly, honestly, patiently, etc. create more safeguards for others from our inevitable mistakes.

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            Mark, Thanks for the dialog.

          • Ember Isle

            I’m willing to try this once more.

            You:
            “Polyamory claims that monogamy isn’t the true form of sexual commitment, but that MULTIPLE sexual relationships are a true form of sexual relations.”

            Please share with me where you have seen any poly person claiming that there is such a thing as one “true form of sexual relations”.

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            Maybe you are objecting to the either/or?

            But what other form of sexuality is there than monogamy–2 become 1 sexual relations versus multiple sexual relations?

            Monogamy is exclusive in its ethical statement. It is a complete rejection of the opposite.

            If Monogamy isn’t true in its claim that 2 become 1, then what does that make polyamory for those in favor of the latter?

            It would seem that Chuck and others are claiming that polyamory is true.

            I understand that Chuck and probably you (?) are identifying with the Christian creeds, etc., also.

            If you were atheists, then I might think you believe that there is nothing that is true, but I got the opposite understanding from what all of you have written.

        • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

          Daniel, the problem is that you’re responding by claiming to know more about how all this works than we do. For example, when I clarified that polyamory is not about sex, you responded to the contrary. On what grounds can you say that I’m wrong about that?

          Then you said, “Polyamory claims that monogamy isn’t the true form of sexual commitment, but that MULTIPLE sexual relationships are a true form of sexual relations.”

          But that’s simply not true. I’ve never heard any poly person make anything like that claim. Of course monogamy is one true form of sexual commitment. No one is denying that. We’re just saying that polyamory is also a legitimate form of relational commitment (which may include sex).

          And then you said that polyamory seems to you to be impossible. That’s fine for you. Don’t be polyamorous then. But it obviously is possible, given the countless individuals who make it work.

          I’m glad that you were willing to admit, in your second response, that this is a new topic to you. Let’s just try to keep that in mind moving forward. Perhaps do a little more listening to those who actually are polyamorous, and make a few less statements that presume to know more about the topic than they do.

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            #1 You wrote, “I clarified that polyamory is not about sex…”
            ???
            All of your posts–and the posts of others in the last few weeks–have been about multiple sexual relations.
            You:
            “Polyamory, defined in a recent, wide-ranging survey 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,” has been on the rise in global culture at large—and even within the church. In the interest of transparency, I should also disclose the fact that my wife and I are polyamorous ourselves and recently decided to open our marriage as such.”

            Are you now actually saying that your “open” marriage isn’t sexual? That you do disagree with this definition of polyamory?

            If you do mean that polyamory isn’t about sex, then that would mean that ALL ethical people are polyamorus. I don’t know any Christian, theist, etc. who denies that all of us ought to have intimate, agape-centered relationships with others.
            None.

            Also, you wrote, “Related to the above, there are a number of people who have left the church because they assume—rightly or wrongly—that their polyamorous relationships would not be welcome there.”

            ?! What? NO church would ever reject someone because they were for NON-SEXUAL closeness.

            What is denied by most are multiple SEXUAL relations.

            Monogamy is that 2 shall become one sexually, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and so forth.

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            Daniel, I feel like there’s a failure to communicate here, and I’m really not sure why. I have consistently said both that polyamory is not about sex, and that it often does include sex. These two things are not mutually exclusive.

          • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

            ?
            If polyamory “often does include sex,” then it IS about sex outside of monogamy (even if sexual relations are seldom engaged in).

            I think I see what your different take is, that you are emphasizing, that polyamory isn’t ONLY about multiple sexual partners.

            I understand that from what you have written. And, I would agree with that, that polyamory isn’t only about…

            As I understand the term, based on your articles, some of the ones you have recommended, the comments from other polyamorists,
            HOWEVER,
            polyamory is contrary to the monogamous understanding of sexuality of Jesus and other well-known ethical teachers.

            And it is contrary to the legal understanding in the U.S.

            And it is contrary to the movement for marriage by same sexual people, BECAUSE that seeking to change the legal understanding of marriage was based on monogamy.

            Maybe this analogy would help you understand my view (since in a previous article on your site, you said that you believed in the Nicene Creed).

            In contrast, I NEVER believed in the Nicene Creed in all of my 55 years as a dedicated Christian, Baptist, Anabaptist (including help plant a Mennonite church, etc.), and Quaker.

            But imagine that I work to start a movement among Christians called polycreed–I’m being humorous here–where the members do “often…include” non-Nicene believing.

            Would those of you who believe in the Nicene Creed then think that polycreed isn’t about creeds?

            I would agree that it isn’t only about creeds, but, surely, does have that as a major feature–nonbelief in the Nicene Creed.

            Thanks for the dialog.

          • Marie Halligan

            So does that mean that because I love my best friend as well as my fiance.and I am not physically intimate with her, that I am polyamorous? Surely loving non-sexual relationships with people we aren’t related to are called FRIENDSHIPS and no one objects to that,least of all God who had 12 best men friends and one woman best friend!

  • Chris Aikman

    Every generation tries this out. Every generation fails.

    • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

      Or, the fact that every generation continues to try this is evidence that it isn’t failing at all. Sure, plenty of individual polyamorous relationships fail, but so do plenty of individual monogamous relationships. Yet recent surveys have shown that polyamorous relationships are doing quite well on the whole. And I personally know plenty of poly people who have been in their successful poly relationships for well over a decade. There’s simply no legitimate basis on which to say that polyamory has failed.

      • Chris Aikman

        A mathematical analogy is what is called the “N-body problem.” Two bodies (planets, stars or whatever) orbit each other in a predictable manner, for all time. For three bodies or more, there simply is no mathematical solution. Their future positions can only be determined by repeatably evaluating the mutual gravitational effects instant-by-instant as their positions evolve. The three-body problem cannot be solved any other way. Most N-body systems are unstable, unless N is very large (as in a star cluster or galaxy).

        We are like the stars.

        • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

          This is a truly fascinating bit of astronomy, and I thank you for sharing it. But I fail to see how it applies to polyamory. Quite simply, we are not like the stars. We are people. We love and we reason and we plan and we adjust and we compromise and we solve problems as they arise. We are not bound, as these stars, to the the blind patterns of gravitational pull.

  • truefreedom

    All I can say is that if this gentleman imagines that he is a christian, he is sorely mistaken. He’s a self-serving hedonist. It’s really that simple. He knows little of the virtue of self-denial and even less of the saintly work of commitment. He should be ignored as the fool which he is. Rob S.

  • liberalinlove

    Now if you will just explain this to all those poly, who kind of identify it differently, it would be just great.

  • http://infiniteoceanoflightandlove.blogspot.com/ Daniel Wilcox

    Chuck, You also wrote, “Why is it so hard for us Christians to really live into the fact that love is our only law?”

    Because Augustine wrote, “Love God and do what you will.” Then he dumped his lover of 10 years in order to pursue finding a high society Roman woman, persecuted other Christians with different theological understanding, claimed that infants are born with Original Sin, through sexual intercourse, and lots of horrific stuff.

    Clearly, saying that “love is our only law” or Love God and do what you will” ISN’T enough because millions of Christians from Donald Trump to Robert E. Lee to George W. Bush to famous leftists etc. say that, too.

    Love needs to be defined by such passages as 1 Corinthians 13, passages listing behaviors that aren’t “loving,” Jesus’ explanation and analogies of what “love” means.

  • Inkswitch

    As a polyamorous person myself, I just wanted to thank you for writing this. There are a lot of harmful myths surrounding polyamory and it’s always good to see people like you working to dispel them

  • Billy North

    Chuck,

    I must say you’ve gone a bit out on a limb here definitely solidifying your progressive credentials.

    I agree with you that Jesus redefined our understanding of the moral universe with his ethic of love. The question we have to address is “how do we define that?”

    As with all theological endevours we have to be cautious to recognize our own human and cultural time stamp bias.

    If we are going to try and understand the definition of love then I think we begin by looking at Christ’s example. I would always begin with Paul’s beautiful Christological poem in Philippians. Self emptying “Kenosis”. No matter what we do we will always fall short of this.

    Jesus does use the monogamous example of the garden in one of the few times he discusses marriage and states that this was “God’s plan”. Paul has an ethical requirement for leaders in the church to be monogamous in marriage. God also uses the metaphor of marriage in how he articulates his relationship with Israel and their adulterous idolatry.

    I think there is an over arching theme of monogamy in scripture beginning with the garden, God’s relationship with Israel, our relationship with Christ as the bride, right on through Paul’s requirements for leadership in the church that cannot be ignored.

    We also have the historical position of the church and tradition (I would not always make my argument from this position but do think it must be included in this instance).

    I think this requires that the starting point for our understanding of the marital relationship is one of monogamy.

    With humility,

    Billy

  • Linda Coleman Allen

    This is the biggest bunch of complicated BS that I have ever read.

  • jo

    If polyamory is not [just] about sex, why create a new category for something that we already have? Friendship.

    • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

      There’s a pretty clear difference between such an intimate and potentially romantic relationship (whether sexual or not) and friendship. And while polyamory is not always sexual, it often will include that aspect. Friendship, on the other hand, is not generally sexual, unless we’re talking about “friends with benefits,” which is really something else, more akin to polyamory than to simple friendship.

      But when it comes down to it, it’s a matter of how a given set of people choose to define their relationship. It may well be that the same kind of relationship one set of people consider an “intimate friendship” would be considered polyamory by another set of people. Neither would be necessarily wrong. They’re just emphasizing different things.

      • jo

        So what do you mean by romance? Friends absolutely can have deeply intimate relationships. In what situation/context does romance not include sexual attraction?

      • jo

        Why is the deep/intimate mutually admiring love in deep friendship(s) different than what you are calling non-sexual polyamory? In other words why are you expanding the circle of your definition of polyamory to include what has always been understood/called friendship? Modern friendship might seem or has become something very casual. But ancient friendship has historically been everything you’ve talked about minus the sexual component. For example in many other cultures, friends will walk and talk while holding hands, whether they are both boys or girls and it is entirely non-sexual. In my opinion. it seems like you are trying to de-sexualize the definition of polyamory, while still acknowledging that many can/will/could be sexual.

        • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

          I personally am not trying to do anything with this definition. I’m just explaining what folks mean by the concept of polyamory, and it is indeed a very broad concept. But none of these thoughts originate with me. It is what it is, and I’m just describing it.

  • billwald

    I propose that all legislative references to “marriage” be replaced with “family contract” and that “family contract” be defined as a registered/legal civil civil contract between any combination of mentally competent adult that defines them as a single legal and financial unit, their obligations and responsibilities to each other, any children that may result or be pre-existing, and the rules for membership, governance, and for dissolving the contractual relationship.

  • Fred Knight

    from a libertarian standpoint I can understand a defense for polyamory, but the fact is, it seldom works. Ah, that pesky human nature! I tend to affirm traditional cultural values because they are tested, proven over time. Sure, some have made a dogma out of it, but for me it’s more of a practical thing. Ironically, I end out defending the orthodox position from a practical non-religious perspective.

    • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

      Thanks, Fred. Since you bring up the matter of “fact,” I’d love to see where the “fact” that “it seldom works” is coming from. I hear this claim all the time, but it’s never accompanied with actual data to back it up. If you do have that, I’d sincerely love to see it.

      • Fred Knight

        Hey Chuck! In a general sense, I’m kinda groovin’ on the whole hippie heretic thing. 😉

        but my general take is that “orthodoxy” is there for a reason. It tends to be time honored, established, what works over long periods of time. So this notion of happy hippie “heresy” to me is a bit of hipsterism and while provocative, is not the best of the best for settled society. I’m coming into this cold, so this is simply my first take. (I’m open to expanding my views.)

        If it’s a bit of a wink and a nod to society as a whole but defending the alternative (Dan Savage, et al) I get it. But if it is an actual serious claim, I don’t. That’s where it gets serious real quick. Please forgive me for being blunt, but since you asked, that is my take.

        • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

          In terms of actual Christian orthodoxy (as defined by the ecumenical creeds), I actually am fully orthodox. I’ve adopted the “heretic” label ironically, but my theology is fully in line with the ancient faith once delivered.

          I’m not sure I understand your last paragraph. I am very serious about polyamory, if that’s what you’re asking. But you haven’t addressed my question of where you’re getting your “facts” from. You claimed to know as a “fact” that polyamory seldom works, so I’d love to know your source for the claim.

          • Fred Knight

            “In terms of actual Christian orthodoxy (as defined by the ecumenical
            creeds), I actually am fully orthodox. I’ve adopted the “heretic” label
            ironically, but my theology is fully in line with the ancient faith once
            delivered.”

            ok, cool, I admit I’ve not read deeply enough to know precisely where you are coming from. Sadly, irony and maybe even some subtle dark humor (directed against ourselves) are sorely needed in these times of ultra-literal, winner take all conversations.

            “I am very serious about polyamory, if that’s what you’re asking.”
            You claim to ascribe to classic orthodoxy, and yet you seem to question it’s very premise. Polyamory is well outside even most secular bubbles – how is it that a classical Christian believer has such major doubts that so many societies have failed to affirm polyamory? I do admit that I’m appealing to common sense and established norms (orthodoxy) as being getting it right in the main…..

            “But you haven’t addressed my question of where you’re getting your “facts”
            from. You claimed to know as a “fact” that polyamory seldom works, so I’d love to know your source for the claim.”
            I don’t have a scientific source off the top of my head, I do know that some of the most liberal voices I’ve listened to for a few years end out abandoning this idea of polyamory, I also am coming from a classic notion of male and female gender roles, and the psychology that affirms it. I’m more curious how a Christian comes to question such a basic notion.

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            Well, as I mentioned, I’m speaking of orthodoxy as defined by the creeds. And they are theological in nature, not ethical. My theology is fully orthodox. For my ethics, I go straight to Jesus’ command to love one another, to do unto others as I would have them do unto me. I see this principle (and not a long list of dos and don’ts) as being what Christian ethics are all about. See my recent post for more on this: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/hippieheretic/2017/09/christian-sexual-ethics-and-polyamory.html

            Certainly, much of Christian tradition has lapsed into the long-list-of-rules model, and in this, I would say it has strayed from the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, who continually insisted that love is our only law.

            As for coming to question the notions you speak of, I believe that we have a much better understanding of sex and gender today than we ever have in human history before now. That’s not to say that we have everything perfect or that we couldn’t be wrong about anything, but certainly, we are lightyears ahead of the sexual understanding of the Early Church Fathers, who were, by and large, extremely patriarchal. Augustine, in particular, had an especially horrible understanding of sex, and his influence has shaped so much of church tradition that followed.

            As for your claim that modern psychology affirms traditional male/female gender roles, I’d love (again) to see some actual sources for that.

          • Fred Knight

            Hey Chuck,
            “Well, as I mentioned, I’m speaking of orthodoxy as defined by the
            creeds. And they are theological in nature, not ethical. My theology is
            fully orthodox. For my ethics,…”
            I hear ya loud and clear on the first part, but it’s intriguing to me that the second part is up for grabs? Why is not longstanding traditional Christian ethics also established and trustworthy in your mind? If God preserved the Church (albeit imperfectly from our standpoint) why the former and not the latter?

            “As for coming to question the notions you speak of, I believe that we
            have a much better understanding of sex and gender today than we ever
            have in human history before now. That’s not to say that we have
            everything perfect or that we couldn’t be wrong about anything, but
            certainly, we are lightyears ahead of the sexual understanding of the
            Early Church Fathers, who were, by and large, extremely patriarchal.
            Augustine, in particular, had an especially horrible understanding of
            sex, and his influence has shaped so much of church tradition that
            followed.”
            It’s an interesting perspective and defense. And again, I thank you for your patience, but you seem to be coming from a more Protestant angle, acknowledging the Church Fathers, and yet assuming they could be largely wrong in the main. Christian Ethics is every bit as deeply rooted as Christian Theology in this regard. No Catholic holds Augustine as infallible, in any sense, and yet very few would use his sometimes unorthodox views as some kind of proof for modern sexual preferences. I’m just trying to key in on your argumentation.

            “As for coming to question the notions you speak of, I believe that we
            have a much better understanding of sex and gender today than we ever
            have in human history before now. ”
            Undeniably so. How well do you square with Catholic/Eastern Orthodox views on classic notions of Christian sexuality? At least they would doggedly argue to their very last breath the notion…. (and in this I’d be in your corner, it’s just I can’t make it a “Christian” argument.)

            I guess I hear you as a fellow human being making a case, but it is a minority view. god bless you in your quest, but I don’t think it will ever become mainstream.

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            I wouldn’t say that the second part is “up for grabs,” so much as that it ought to be questioned and reformed if needed. Many such things have undergone change while the church has nonetheless remained theologically orthodox. The acceptability of slavery and the matter of women’s rights and ordination come immediately to mind. I see matters of same-sex and polyamorous relationships continuing in this same vein. And while I would agree that God has “preserved” the church to an extent, I would say it is even more accurate to say that God has always continued working with, refining, and improving the church. We’re not perfect yet. We still have many matters to correct from our previously misguided thinking.

            I’m certainly Protestant in that I see a need for continual reformation. (Although theologically, I’m much closer to the Eastern Orthodox than typical Protestant theology.) I do have a tremendous amount of respect for the Fathers, but we have to remember that they were products of their day. Being so close to the time of Christ, I would expect their Christology to be much better than our understanding today. But being so far back before our contemporary understandings of sex and gender, I would expect them to be much less accurate in this area.

            I love the Eastern Orthodox for the fact that they have preserved the Fathers’ theology relatively unaltered to this day. Unfortunately, that same determinism to leave things unaltered has prevented them from making what I see as necessary changes in their understanding of sexuality. It’s a trade off. How well do I square with their views on sexuality? Not very well. It’s the number one reason I won’t actually join the Orthodox church, as much as I appreciate them. That said, I square with the Orthodox views on sexuality far better than those of the Catholic church. The Orthodox at least allow married priests, some birth control, some divorce, and a general oikonomia across the board. I also know quite a few more individually LGBTQ-affirming Orthodox believers than Catholic.

          • Fred Knight

            “God has always continued working with, refining, and improving the church. We’re not perfect yet.We still have many matters to correct from our previously misguided thinking.”
            It is very interesting, from my perspective, super well answered on your part…it is an internal struggle

            “I love the Eastern Orthodox for the fact that they have preserved the Fathers’ theology relatively unaltered to this day. Unfortunately, that same determinism to leave things unaltered has prevented them from making what I see as necessary changes in their understanding of sexuality. It’s a trade off. ….far better than those of the Catholic church.”
            I’m hearing ya loud and clear….sadly, I’m now outside the Church and don’t feel qualified to weigh in hard core…..you are asking good questions….I affirm you. peace.

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            Thanks for the thoughtful engagement, Fred!

          • Fred Knight

            I don’t mean to end the conversation, Chuck, only that you exceed my limitations as a thoughtful non-believer. :) I don’t feel qualified to weigh in deeply on internal Christian questions. :)

            I’d throw you a few bones, though. in the end, I went the traditional Catholic route, and if all chips were yet called in again, gun to the head, if I had to choose which Christianity I’d accept, ironically, I’d still go Catholic. :O

            Sorry, not trying to derail, only to find common interest, common questioning….it’s all meaningful, I’ll try to find points where I can join in, as I think you ask very good questions.

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            Thanks, Fred. I didn’t feel like you were trying to end the conversation. :)

          • Fred Knight

            You have a likable quality about you, I sure do appreciate that. I’m still trying to hone in on where you are coming from, but the feeling I get is that we could quibble over the minor points, but perhaps we have bigger fish to fry in terms of the bigger picture….sadly, I’m finding myself being drawn into way too much confrontational bs (more from the atheist side of things) and find it refreshing to hang out with fellow “unorthodox” hippies for a change! 😉

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            Well, you’re more than welcome to hang out around here, Fred.

          • Fred Knight

            thanks bud, it’s well appreciated

          • Fred Knight

            “I wouldn’t say that the second part is “up for grabs,” so much as that
            it ought to be questioned and reformed if needed. Many such things have
            undergone change while the church has nonetheless remained theologically
            orthodox.”
            I’m sorry, that literally makes my brain explode. Christ preserved or He didn’t….provide equal criticism on both or both are sacrosanct…this is why I’m a de-convert, btw.

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            The Apostle Paul taught to “test all things, hold fast to the good, and reject the evil.” I don’t see why this process shouldn’t apply to the church and its teachings. There is much good that should be preserved. But there is also an awful lot of evil that has needed to be weeded out and rejected.

          • Fred Knight

            Hear, Hear! Test all things, hold fast to what is good. I’m still applying that very basic godly wisdom, all day, all the time even as a non-believer. Truth be told, I was forged in the fire of classic Christianity, and perhaps I’m still clinging to those same basic premises, even as a non-believer….the only thing I can say for certain is that there is no easy road or quick path to holiness/godliness/saintlyness – no matter what direction you end out going….and actually, that is as it should be.

          • http://hippieheretic.com/ Chuck McKnight

            Agreed!

  • Joël Robitaille

    no temperance, no catholicism