I met Preston Sprinkle a few years ago in Denver when we debated the question of guns for a Q conference. He was affable, well-spoken, and intelligent. We got on well.
At the same time, if you like to keep track of such things, he fit right in at the said Q conference, and I manifestly did not. I was more like a fish out of the space/time continuum.
A few days ago, I challenged a piece for CT that he co-wrote, and you can find my challenge here. He has now replied, both to me and to others, and that response is here. And guess what? This is my response to that.
Hearing the Qualifications
In my original critique, I said that they had (barely) identified polyamory as a sin. In this response of his, he is far more definitive in saying that polyamorous acts are sin, period, stop. That’s all to the good. I noted in my original piece that they had come down on the right side of the line, but I objected to the way they did it. This denunciation of the sin involved was far more forthright, and I want to acknowledge that at the outset of our interaction.
“In any case, let me be as clear as a sunny day: I believe all sexual relationships outside of a male and female marriage are sin. That includes opposite sex and same-sex sins. It includes masturbating to porn, boyfriends having sex with their girlfriends, and sexual abuse in the church—and the leaders who cover it up. And, yes, it includes those who engage in polyamorous sexual relationships.”
In the first part of his response, he is more combative as he defends his views, but in the latter half of the piece, he says that he “gets” the criticism. But it appears that he only gets the criticism that is coming from folks in the middle who were confused by what he said. In other words, there is a kind of criticism that he “gets,” and there is a kind of criticism (e.g. like mine) that he thinks is a big part of the problem.
The Vexed Question of Tone
It is interesting to me that he raises the question of tone because that was the heart of my problem with the original piece–their tone was completely different from what we find in the New Testament. But here is what he says about tone.
“The goal of the article was to help pastors understand what polyamory is and to encourage them to cultivate a response—one that’s both biblically faithful and gracious in tone. Because tone really matters in Evangelical conversations about sexuality—a point that deserves its own lengthy blog post.”
Biblically faithful and gracious in tone? So then, should we be looking for biblically faithful things like the following? “For I . . . have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed . . . to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:3, 5). “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind . . .” (1 Cor. 6:9). “For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie” (Rev. 22:15). “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4).
He might reply that customs surrounding polemical discourse change. I would reply “no, they don’t.” The only thing that has changed is the direction of the fire. Note the following.
“Some people have called Branson and me “soft men, writing soft words for a soft magazine, published in a soft generation,” while others have labeled me an “effeminate man.” At first I thought these guys were compensating for something, as many I’m more masculine than thou tough guys do these days. But then I saw who wrote these words. I was wrong. These are men. Real men. The gibborim of renown. Testosterone dripping from rock hard bodies.”
Wait! Is this pointed sarcasm I detect? Even more . . . I would even say that it is pretty good sarcasm. Not only that, but I suspect that — and I am actually kind of proud of him for it — he was attempting to body shame me. So where is it aimed? At the fellows who want to carve out a spot for their suburban seraglios? Heaven forfend! No, toward them we take special note of all the happy things that attracted them to such a lifestyle, assuming the best about their yearnings for community and hospitality. We leave out of the equation the possibility that such a guy might be attracted to the idea of having sex with multiple women. And so, the sarcasm is reserved for the people who object to such uncleanness a little more forcefully than Preston wanted them to.
“We want leaders to construct a robust, biblical, and pastoral response that’s rooted into God’s vision for marriage and sexual expression, seasoned with grace, and eager to help people live into the divine image we’ve been created it. Because, if we don’t bleed for actual people—whatever their sin—we shouldn’t be pastors.“
Whatever their sin? Even my galloping Pharisaism?
But remember, children. I would argue that such hard, polemical language is inescapable. Not whether, but which. It is not whether we will use such language, it is which persons we will use it on. And so, in an article for CT, Preston writes gingerly, bleeding for actual people, very carefully, when dealing with people that CT has the welcome mat out for. Answering the conservative critics, however, where there is no welcome mat anywhere, he fights like a man.
The Davidic Problem
There are a few other things that should be noted and said about all of this.
We need to start thinking now about polyamory. And we need to ask hard questions and not settle for trite answers. If marriage reflects God’s love for the church, and God is plural (three in one), why can’t plural love reflect God’s love for the church? Is polyamory an orientation—we were born this way—and does it matter? Why, or why not? Why did God bless David—a man after God’s own heart—with many wives?
Now I understand the need to deal honestly with all the angular texts in the Bible. That has been part of my mission, and is part of the reason why I don’t get to write for respectable publications like Preston does. I would remind Preston that my book Fidelity has a chapter devoted to the question of polygamy. I have been doing this for decades.
And so yes, this is in the Bible.
“And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.”
2 Samuel 12:8 (KJV)
So that’s in the Bible. So is slavery in the Bible. But refusing to apologize for any biblical text, which I insist on, does not mean that we should somehow be paving the way for the reintroduction of things that the logic of the gospel eradicated — things like polygamy and slavery.
I’ve spent my life asking hard questions about what the Bible says, what it means, and how it applies to today, and I make no apologies about this. I will continue to do so, even if it makes some Christians uncomfortable.
Again, not whether but which. Preston does make Mrs. Grundy in south Kansas uncomfortable. I make Ms. Grundy very uncomfortable. The former is the old progressive trick of shocking the bourgeois (épater les bourgeois). “Did you know that Samson visited a sex-worker in Gaza? That’s not in your precious Sunday School curriculum.” The latter is the old Pauline trick of repeating things the Bible actually says.
To place all this in context, remember that Preston is a solid supporter of the Revoice project, as he has stated here, and he has spoken for them. He is fully on board. This means that with all of these issues we are dealing with a radical redefinition of what is meant by the mortification of sin.
“Christian ethics can be complex and multilayered. We can denounce an act as sin, and yet explore all the reasons that would lead someone to this sin. That’s not being soft on sin. It’s just being a wise pastor.”
Notice the room that Revoice has carved out for us — “denounce an act as sin.” Provided they refrain from any overt sex acts, is it sin for same-sex friends to cuddle, watching a movie together? Is it a sin for them to be close? To hold hands? Is holding hands sin? Is it a sin for a man to cuddle with two women, watching that same movie? Nothing else happened.
Well. Nothing else happened yet.
Nothing else happened in the evangelical world. Yet.
Hey. Where did the wise pastor go?