A woman, her husband, and her boyfriend

So, I don’t know if this is a quirk of my web browser or cookie settings, but as I was scrolling through Salon.com looking for the link to an excerpt from Adam Hamilton’s new book on the Bible, I stumbled on this defense of polyamory two stories before Hamilton’s.

The article, “Polyamory works for us,” tells of a woman with a husband of 17 years and an ongoing boyfriend of 2 years all living together.

My path here was a long one. As far back as I can remember, I felt that loving one person romantically did not preclude the possibility of loving another at the same time. It seemed natural and intuitive to me. But I had no models for that way of living, so I assumed there was something wrong with me.

I married my husband and remained in a monogamous relationship with him for many years. I knew I wanted to be with him for the long haul. But I was never entirely fulfilled. I couldn’t shake the feeling that some part of me was repressed.

The article ends this way:

When my daughter talks about same-sex marriage or polyamorous relationships, she always looks perplexed and says, “I don’t understand why anyone is angry about people being in love and not hurting anyone.” And I long for a world where everyone is able to see it so simply.

What I’d like someone to do for me is explain what basis the church has to disagree with this woman in a world in which we are rushing as fast as we can to declare that the Bible has little to say to us about God’s will for human sexuality that we would not already say if we had never had a Bible in the first place.

(For those who are interested, the excerpt from Hamilton’s book chapter is at this link: Stop twisting the Bible: There is no message against same-sex marriage.)

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12 thoughts on “A woman, her husband, and her boyfriend

  1. Anytime I have asked a similar question I get dismissed as someone making a “slippery slope” argument and therefore undeserving of an answer. I hope you fare better.

    Perhaps I should have stated this is my “Progressive Christianity” post, but this topic of polyamory was often discussed around campfires in various emergent/progressive leadership circles. It was never denounced as sinful because of anything the bible might say on sexual morality but the merits of it were debated from a “would it hurt anyone?” point of view. There is no question in my mind that in 10 years (if not less) this, too, will be the new thing to affirm and celebrate.

  2. Well, of course there is no basis for the church to disagree with this woman if we have decided to ignore or discard the Bible and Christian tradition. The Bible is (or should be) definitive for the church; but it has little significance for those who are not part of the church.

  3. Jesus never spoke against polyamory. He only spoke about divorce and polyamory will help prevent divorces so Jesus would have approved. Paul clearly had no understanding of such relationships so his words are no help. And if a person is born with the ability to love more than one person at a time then who are we to deny his or her God given nature? Thirty years from now when same sex couples try and use scripture to argue against polyamory they will hear “How soon you forget. You got what you wanted and now you would deny us.” Of course no Methodist pastors will be compelled to perform polyamorous marriage ceremonies so don’t worry about compromising anyone’s principles. It’s all good.

  4. I assure you I’m being genuine and in no way snarky or challenging when I ask the following questions.

    What of the polyamory / polygamy in the Old Testament? How does that ancient practice among godly men and followers of YHWH square with the notion of the religious right today that marriage is defined as a union between ONE man and ONE woman? By that definition men of the OT who had more than one wife were not properly married.

    I detest polyamory and was repulsed as I read her article. I would never advocate for it (nor do I believe in the legitimacy of same-sex marriage, even if, from a national level, I might argue that each state should have its right to legitimize such, and do so without forcing any religious tradition to also legitimize it). But I do wonder about our stance against polygamy given the practice of it in the OT. Could you shed some light on that for me? Much appreciated.

    1. Credendum, that’s a valid question. My take on it is this: Since sin entered the world, we have been messing up marriage left and right (among other things). Jesus corrects all our misunderstandings about marriage when he says what the intention from the beginning was to be: one man and one woman (Matt. 19:3-6). He even explains that the only reason divorce was allowed in the way it was done was because of the hardness of their hearts, but “from the beginning this was not to be.”

      I believe Jesus defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and any deviation from that original design is not something to be celebrated but something to be suspicious of and repented of. Those deviations, whatever they are, are marks of our fallen nature, as I read the text.

    2. I do not take the question as snarky at all. It is a very real one. In many ways, I’ve read accounts from people living in Africa that speak of the economic factors that favor polygamy, which sound quite similar to the kinds of things we read in the OT.

      I don’t think there is any way to make a coherent argument here that does not start with the question: What is God’s intention for marriage?

      I do think the NT — both Jesus and the epistles — speak of one man, one woman marriage. But, of course, those in favor of polyamory can marshal arguments against those verses.

      The only way to have a coherent theology in this area, as far as I can see, is to start with the basic question and then deal with exceptions or cases in light of that.

      1. I appreciate both replies and found them to be very helpful. I think answering our culture with intelligent, reasoned and, of course, well-thought-out biblical answers is best — that’s what both John and Chad offered here.

  5. Remember when gay “marriage” supporters mocked Christians who feared polygamy was next? Yeah….

  6. Yes, the issue of polyamory opens up a big can of worms for the church. Looking at the larger biblical picture, I think a key concept is jealousy and exclusivity – both ours and God’s. In the article she talked about working to overcome jealousy, which she seemed to think is the biggest issue, in polyamorous relationships. I don’t think all jealousy is wrong, though. The first commandment tells us that we are not to worship other gods/idols because the Lord is a jealous God. While God’s jealousy in undoubtably holy, and my jealousy is undoubtably stained with selfishness, there is something we need to see about the exclusive characteristics of our relationships with the one true God and likewise with only one spouse.

  7. Jealousy and envy are not the same thing, though we often confuse them. Jealousy is wanting what belongs to us–for example, God is jealous that we should worship him, because our worship belongs to him. Envy or covetousness is wanting what belongs to others.
    A jealous husband does not sin in simply being jealous for his wife, though his actions (attacking or harassing others who dare to talk with her, for example) may be. A boyfriend/girlfriend in the same situation may simply be envious, because they do not have the same rights to their partner as someone does within a marriage–although even then, given society’s views on commitments within a dating relationship, one might be able to argue that society at the very least grants or allows similar rights to people in a committed dating relationship.

  8. During a small dinner party I was sitting next to Tom Driver (Paul Tillich Professor of Theology & Culture, Union Theological Seminary, NY) because I wanted to ask, concerning the Tillich”s widely-rumored promiscuity, “was it true?” Yes, was the answer, and Hannah was more indiscriminate than Paulus. We should not think that licentiousness (polyamory, if you must) is coming to nest among us from a distant pagan realm. It has been a cozy subterranean element among Mainline haut monde for a long while…

    1. I was not aware of the rumors. Wow.

      It seems some days that it is not all that subterranean.

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