Thursday, May 29, 2014

I'll take Morally Relevant Differences for $500, Alex.

Heath Bradley, the United Methodist chaplain at Vanderbilt, writes a lot of very good stuff. I doubt he'd be in favor of celebrating and blessing polyamorous families if asked for his opinion; he describes himself as having "a very conservative temperament," and his journey towards accepting marriages between two men or two women "has not been without countless hours of study and countless hours of sleepless nights." But all the necessary pieces are there for him, and his readers, to come to the realization that "certain relational parameters around sex, such as commitment, mutuality, equality, and so on" are not inherently limited to monogamous couples. There remains only the persistent, insistent feeling that it just has to be different, without an ability to "name exactly what that supposed morally relevant difference is."

In his most recent post, Bradley discusses how Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7, "reveals the principle that guides him in how he interprets and applies the teachings of Jesus on marriage":

God desires wholeness and well-being for us. God desires for us to live in peace...For the life of me, I cannot see how telling a gay person that God wants them to either change their orientation or be celibate will make for much peace. The evidence consistently shows this to bring destruction and despair into people's lives, not wholeness and peace. Channeling eros into agape through covenantal commitment is the path of peace, not the denial or suppression of eros.

Most Christians--most Americans, really--flat out deny the possibility of covenantal commitment between more than two people. I am never sure what to say in response besides simply pointing at my family and others like it. The disbelief is of the kind Fred Clark describes as "like not believing in Missouri, or not believing in thermal conduction." Of the small number who accept the possibility, almost all of them argue that poly people should still choose monogamy as the morally superior and/or more advisable option. After all, eros is eros, whatever the source, right?

Well, no. It's not--not always. I can testify to the way my mind, heart and soul twisted and curved in on themselves before I found myself in a family with more than two loving adults. I was torn between acting out in destructive ways and dissociating in despairing ways. I was not whole, or well, or at peace.

In any case, Protestant churches rarely, in practice, demand that monogamous couples (of whatever gender combinations have been judged acceptable) make the best possible relationship choices (however defined) as a condition of acceptance in the life of the community. There is a sense--partly born of compassion, partly born of cynicism--that meddling in the affairs of two people trying to make a life together is counterproductive. It would be nice if poly families could just get gossiped about over coffee like everybody else, instead of being treated as a threat to the general social and moral order.

(My favorite Bradley post I've read thus far? "Celibacy, Contraception, and the Church that Changes.")

Monday, May 26, 2014

A little about me.

Hi, I'm Mark!

I am a committed Christian who is part of a polyfidelitous family of three adults living in Portland, Oregon. We have four children. For more about our family, your best bet is my wife Amy's blog.

My faith home is in the Metropolitan Community Churches denomination. My theological orientation is evangelical, universalist, and sacramental. My primary ethical framework is virtue ethics.

For more than you likely want to know about my views on Christian faith and practice, you can take a look at my master's thesis, "Taking Christian Education Public: Dialogue, Hospitality and Discernment."

For the basics on why my conscience is clear as a polyamorous Christian, I have this introductory post.

The banner image I wanted to use...

...but it's not in the public domain.

Marc Chagall, "Abraham and Three Angels" (wikiart info)

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. -- Hebrews 13:2

"Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?"

(Post title from Romans 14, a passage that I return to again and again, for reasons that are probably pretty obvious.)

Back when my wife was blogging pseudonymously, some of her readers were curious about how I reconcile being Christian with being polyamorous. So I wrote a guest post. It went through a lot of editing--Amy said I had to take as much theology and history out of my answer as possible, so that it wouldn't be incomprehensible. Sigh. I did my best.


The central promise of Christianity is that if we trust in God, we will experience new life. This new life starts right here, right now; we’re not just twiddling our thumbs while we wait for some future heaven. The signs of this new life are known as “the fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we show growth in these ways, and the people around us also show growth in these ways, then it’s a pretty good sign that we are experiencing the new life promised to us in Christ.

For me, I am less “fruitful” when I am monogamous or celibate. I am crankier, more restless, more impatient, more self-centered, rougher, more impulsive. In Amy and Dave, I have found the family that allows me to bear fruit, and they also report that they are happier for having me around. I understand myself to be called to be part of this family.

Doesn’t Christianity have rules against our kind of family? Yes. Scripture doesn’t defend it, and historical tradition has consistently spoken against it. But Jesus spoke very clearly and firmly on the nature of rules. They exist for the purpose of making people’s lives better. They do not exist for the purpose of proving people’s obedience. Rules were, in fact, the very first thing the early Church had a crisis over: the question of whether people had to become Jewish first, before they could become Christian. And the answer the early Church settled on was, no, they don’t. God is too important to place barriers in front of people who have decided they want to try to trust in God. Do they show the fruit of the Spirit? Okay, then, they’re in, rules or no rules.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said that the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice. The same is true of theology. Christianity has bent towards freedom for people of all races, towards greater equality for women, towards acceptance of monogamous loving relationships among people of any gender. Christianity will bend towards acceptance of polyamory. I just happen to be out on the farthest edge of that curve, at the moment. It’s not where I would prefer to be, but it appears to be where I am called to be. I trust in God. I am polyamorous; I am Christian; I couldn’t give up my family without destroying my faith, and I couldn’t give up my faith without destroying my ability to be a good husband and father and partner. There’s really not much to reconcile, in the end.