In my recent interview with Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood, he made the assertion that God not only approves of polyamory, but actually is polyamorous. Is Jeff correct?
I should start by clarifying that in an interview such as the one I hosted, my guest’s words are not my words, and my words are not my guests words. I’m hoping to host many more diverse voices on the topic of polyamory, and we are all likely to disagree with one another to some extent. But given the commotion Jeff’s statements have stirred up, I thought it would be worth weighing in on this claim with my own thoughts.
When we’re talking about the nature of God, I personally find wisdom in the principle of using apophatic (negative) theology more than cataphatic (positive) theology. In other words, it can often be more helpful (and likely more accurate) to speak of what God is not, rather than to assert what God is.
And this is a topic where I feel that principle to be particularly appropriate. For this reason alone, I would not personally be comfortable asserting that God is polyamorous. The nature of the divine is far too great a mystery for me to want to put it in such concrete human terms. However, I can wholeheartedly say that God is not in any sense monogamous, and I will demonstrate this claim by examining the Trinity, God’s relationship to Israel, and God’s relationship to the church.
Orthodox Christian theology understands God as a Trinity. While we worship one God, we believe that this God exists as three persons in one nature. For all of eternity, the three members of the Trinity have been in relationship with one another. It has often been postulated that this is how the God who is love could have always been love, even prior to creation. For love requires recipient as well as giver. And the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have, through all eternity, been giving and receiving love to and from one another.
In theological terms, their relationship is often referred to as perichoresis. It is the interpenetration—the intimate indwelling of each with the others.
Some will be quick to point out that this relationship is not sexual in nature. And they would be correct, to a point. In as much as God is spirit, God has no physical aspect with which to be sexual in a technical sense. However, the intimacy shared within the Trinity goes infinitely beyond any act of physical sexuality. And that intimacy is procreative, for we believe that the Triune God is the creator of all things, having birthed the universe with a word. It may, therefore, be more accurate to say that the intimacy of the Trinity surpasses the limits of physical sexuality, rather than suggesting there is nothing sexual about it.
So we have, in the Trinity, the most intimate of relationships imaginable, shared equally and eternally between three persons. Is the Trinity a polyamorous triad then? I would say no, because the Trinity surpasses all forms of human relationship. But I must also say this: In as much as any human relationship can be at all capable of picturing the divine, none better pictures the Trinity than that of a polyamorous triad. And at the very least, I can definitively say that there is nothing resembling monogamy within the Trinity.
God’s relationship with Israel
The Hebrew scriptures are filled with the picture of God as the husband to Israel. At a glance, this sounds like monogamy. But is it really?
For starters, while the Old Testament certainly portrays God as having a special relationship with Israel, it is not an exclusive relationship with Israel. Quite the contrary, God’s blessed Israel precisely so that Israel could be a blessing to other nations.
And while the marriage picture may have been (mostly) specific to Israel, God’s love was no less intense for all the other nations he created. All the nations are God’s, as scripture declares over and over. God desires an intimate relationship with all of them. And the prophets continually point forward to the day when every nation will return God’s love.
Furthermore, when we talk about God’s marriage to Israel, we must realize that Israel was not a single entity. Ever since the split of the kingdom, the northern tribes of Israel were distinct from the southern tribes of Judah. And under this arrangement, scripture specifically refers to God as being married to two nations, Israel and her sister Judah. The two are treated not as one, but as two separate wives of God. (See Jeremiah 3.)
In addition to treating Israel and Judah as two distinct wives, scripture also refers to Samaria as yet another wife of God. We see this in Ezekiel 23, where we’re told that God took both Jerusalem and Samaria as wives. So placing Ezekiel together with Jeremiah, we have not one, not two, but three distinct wives of God, specifically described as such by scripture. And then we have all the other nations whom God seeks to woo.
Now, we would be quite right to point out that these are pictures of God, and that all pictures of God fall short of reality. But the simple fact is that the biblical picture of God as married to Israel (and Judah and Samaria) is not a monogamous one. These texts portray God as polygamous.
God’s relationship with the church
Coming to the New Testament, the early Christians adopted the picture of God as a husband, and they applied it Christ (who is God) as being married to the church.
This raises some immediate questions. If Christ (God) is now married to the church, then what about God’s previous marriage(s) to Israel (and Judah and Samaria)? Did God finally carry through on the frequent Old-Testament threats to divorce Israel once and for all? Or does God still remain faithful to Israel while also being faithful to the church?
To answer these questions thoroughly would require wading into the minefield of theological debates over covenant theology, dispensationalism, supersessionism, etc., and I really have no desire to do that here. What I will say is this: If God is indeed still remaining faithful to Israel as a nation, then that would mean that God is currently married both to the church and to Israel. (And who knows what God has done with Judah and Samaria?)
It also doesn’t work to say that God was only ever married to what Paul refers to as “truly Israel”—the faithful people within the nation of Israel. No, God is pictured as having been married to the whole of the nation, which is why the Old Testament so often portrays God as threatening divorce because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. This means that there are really only two options. Either God finally did divorce Israel (and Judah and Samaria), or God is currently still married to them in addition to the church.
But let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that God did divorce all other nations, and is thus currently in a monogamous relationship with the church alone (even though God was previously polygamous). Is this really monogamy either?
While we may speak of the church as a corporate whole, we cannot forget that the church is actually made up of individual people. And while it would be wrong to overemphasize the individual aspect of relationship to God, it would be equally wrong to overemphasize the corporate aspect to the exclusion of those individual relationships. Indeed, God has an individual intimate relationship with each and every one of us. Christ’s marriage to the church is thus ultimately a marriage to billions of individuals.
So again, no matter how we come at it, this picture of God is far from monogamous. I need to re-emphasize that any picture (including polyamory) will fall short of adequately describing God, so I’m not personally going to say that God is polyamorous. But there’s no question in my mind that polyamory does at least provide a more-accurate picture of God’s relationships than monogamy.
Posts on polyamory
- It’s Time for the Church to Talk About Polyamory
- Conflating Polyamory, the LGBTQ Community, and Orientation
- What Polyamory Is Not
- Christian Sexual Ethics and Polyamory
- Southern Baptist Preacher Affirms Polyamory (Interview with Rev. Dr. Jeff Hood)
- Is God Polyamorous?
- 5 Reasons for Writing about Polyamorous Families (Guest Post by Mark Kille)
- Polyamory and the Kingdom of God (by Christian Chiakulas on Radical Christian Millennial)
- What Are Polyamorous Christians to Make of Karl Barth? (Guest Post)
- Polygamy and the Problem of Patriarchy