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.")


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