I have recently become aware of a growing trend among some Christians in favour of open marriage, sometimes also referred to as polyamory.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines polyamory as “the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved”. The idea is that a married couple may mutually agree that either or both spouses are free to pursue relationships – including sexual intimacy – with other people, while remaining married to each other.
It seems obvious to me that such an arrangement is fraught with potential difficulties. Putting in the effort required to maintain one committed relationship is a huge enough undertaking; I seriously doubt most people’s ability to successfully pull it off with more than one. There is the potential for jealousy, rivalry, anger and all kinds of other troublesome emotions to arise within any given relationship; how much more when one is involved in multiple relationships, especially given the human tendency to make comparisons? And I could go on.
Of course, proponents of polyamory will produce counter-arguments in response to just about any concern you may care to raise. However, the purpose of this post is not to lay out a solid argument against polyamory.
So why am I raising this issue at all?
I’m raising it mainly because I think it’s a good example of what can happen when Christians who have gone through some kind of “deconstruction” (a process through which their faulty theological edifice is dismantled, hopefully to be replaced with something healthier and more life-giving) end up abandoning all restraint and not only embracing moral license, but calling it godly to do so.
Many are those who have left behind rigid and legalistic forms of religion and come to understand God’s radically inclusive grace. This is a wonderful thing, and it should result in us becoming more tolerant, loving and accepting people. God’s grace is free to all comers, and we should demonstrate this truth in how we relate to others, especially those who are different from us.
However, in our desire to leave behind the kind of legalistic exclusivity that brings death, it is possible to come to view moral restrictions of any kind as a Bad Thing – and thus to consider the removal of any and all such restrictions as a good and very godly thing.
So it is that a married Christian person may come to view the exclusivity of marriage as less than optimally life-giving. This in itself is a grave error, I think. Exclusive relationships, when they work properly, are life-giving, not only for the two people who have pledged their affections to one another, but also for any children they produce. That being the case, the purpose of the Christian moral boundary around marriage is not to prevent people from having access to something good and wholesome that narrow-minded religionists want to restrict; rather, it is to protect and uphold marriage (and its secular equivalent of a committed and exclusive relationship) as a life-giving practice and, conversely, to protect against the very real emotional and relational dangers one is liable to encounter if one strays beyond it.
Beyond the surprising embrace of polyamory by Christians, perhaps more baffling still is when such Christians then begin to look down on those who continue to hold to a more traditional view as retrograde, seeing them as somehow morally inferior and entrenched in patriarchy and dead religion because they have not yet seen the light of unfettered relational – and, let’s not forget, sexual – freedom.
Listen, if you and your significant other want to abandon the exclusivity of your mutual commitment and share yourselves emotionally and physically with others, have at it. I have no wish to be a moral policeman, and I don’t believe God does either. I won’t for one moment say you can’t be a Christian and practice open marriage. You will still be just as much a child of grace as I am, and I will still call you my brother or sister.
But please, do me this courtesy: don’t be so proud as to presume that, in boldly blazing a trail across this new moral frontier, you have somehow become more enlightened and more Jesus-like, while others who caution against the risks they sincerely believe you are running are stuck in their primitive, unenlightened mud.
In other words, as you venture into this new and unexplored territory, try to do so with a modicum of humility. Humility is always a good thing; and you never know, you might one day wish you’d had more of it.
[Note: I realise this is likely to be a controversial topic. While comments are welcomed, vitriol and abuse are not. I reserve the right to edit or delete any comments that do not abide by the principles of basic courtesy and respect.]