It should be noted at the outset that Preston Sprinkle and Branson Parler are not exactly sons of thunder. They recently wrote an article on polyamory for Christianity Today, in which they pelted this particular noxious sin with some cotton balls. The cotton balls were thrown with a modicum of force, which allowed them to make it all the way to the target, and amounting to a modest disapproval, but they didn’t even use up the whole bag of cotton balls.
“But Scripture does clearly connect sex, marriage, and monogamy in ways that are violated in polyamorous relationships.”
So there you have it. On the bright side, they carefully avoided any trace of legalism, which is apparently the real danger in all of this.
If you would like to go and see for yourself, the place to go is here. As you go, just to confirm that I am not making anything up, be polite while you are there, and don’t gawk or stare. Then come right back. I have something I want to say about this. I have something that I need to say about this. Nay! I have something you need to hear.
I Suppose . . .
Much of the article is accurate enough, I suppose, in that it does describe the next frontier in demented sexual behavior that is bearing down on every church that doesn’t have a functioning immune system. That kind of thing is happening, true enough, but it is hardly worth the trouble of pointing it out. This is kind of like standing on the sidewalk watching a house burn down, and having the onlooker next to you saying something like, “The roof is next.” Given the fact that we are under enormous pressure to tolerate whatever form of deviance accosts us next, provided it describes itself, when coming out, as “coming out,” it scarcely needs saying that the roof is next. Of course the roof is next. Flames are coming out of the second story windows.
Absent the grace of Christ in the gospel, taking one thing with another, remember that fallen men and women are sinful lust monkeys and are always going to do whatever they can get away with. Lust monkeys have their hopes, dreams, and aspirations also.
Absent heart regeneration, the constraints are all external. So if Pastor Aaron ben-Amram of Sinai Simpatico (SBC) happened to have a forge on site that accidentally makes golden calves (Ex. 32:24)—could happen to anybody—and if the worship band went into a hot little riff that made all the women want to take their tops off, and then nobody in authority said or did anything, and so then a bunch of them did what they wanted to do, and then things got a little carried away after that, then it wouldn’t be the first time. “And Moses saw the people, that they were running wild because Aaron had allowed them to run wild, for a laughingstock among their enemies” (Ex. 32:25, LEB).
Are You Serious?
The authors of this little slap on the polyamorous wrist would want to defend themselves as having clearly disapproved of polyamory. And so they did, but there were numerous things off kilter about this technical disapproval. And so they did, but all we can say about it is and so they did. And so they did, but notice this run-up to their disapproval.
“Another important pastoral step is to distinguish elements of polyamory that are in violation of God’s will from elements that are simply culturally unfamiliar to us. When we want to lovingly call people to repentance, we should be precise about what needs repentance and what relationships or elements can and should be sanctified in Christ. For example, the notion of kinship in polyamory is a secular echo of the way Scripture calls the church to function as a new family. In cultures that idolize individualism (but actually isolate individuals), polyamory’s focus on relationship, care, and affection can have a powerful pull. And in churches that idolize marriage and the nuclear family, polyamory’s focus on hospitality and community can be an attractive alternative. We can acknowledge that many of the elements that draw people to polyamory—deep relationships, care for others, hospitality, and community—are good things.”From the article we are talking about
These are soft men, writing soft words for a soft magazine, published in a soft generation, and all of it guaranteed to go down softly. Talk about oleaginous.
They made sure that the only hard words here were aimed those who “idolize individualism” and those “churches that idolize marriage and the nuclear family.” That would be your conservative church, champ. Still married to your high school sweetheart? You idolater. You want your high school sweetheart’s best friend from work to move in with you? You obviously care about pursuing deep relationships. Who writes this stuff?
In a world where God has established an antithesis between righteousness and unrighteousness (Gen. 3:15), the words hard and soft set up yet another inescapable concept for us. Not whether, but which. It is not whether you will be hard on something, it is which things will bring out that hardness. It is not whether you will be soft and tender, but rather what sorts of things will elicit that softness and tenderness. Not whether but which. And to the point, to be soft on sin means that you must be hard on righteousness. It is not possible to accommodate a guy who openly wants to get it on with two women, and who wants the church he attends to be good with that, and not to have a resultant hard-line attitude toward those censorious types who are on to your little toleration game.
These men are cunning seamstresses, sewing the cushions of compromise, and after they have finished making these cushions, they will plump them up for all three of you. They will do this so that you may lay down your weary head after a long day. And if you are lying on your right side, you can chat for a moment, cultivating your “deep relationship” with Suzy. And then, after those fleeting moments are done, all too quickly they are done, you can turn over onto your left side in order to demonstrate “care for others” as you talk about the affairs of the day with Suzy’s best friend and lesbian lover on the side, Kimberly.
As R.C. Sproul might say, were he still here, “What’s wrong with you people?”
When you are talking with your teen-aged son about his shoplifting, you do not start out by finding the things to praise him for in it. “Son, we do recognize that you have a eye for quality. That must be recognized as a good thing. Your mother looked those sneakers up online, and they really are top of the line. And LaBron is a great ball player, and so we also respect your admiration for him. We value our relationship with you, and we value this about you — you only want the best. You do have an eye for excellence. However . . .”
Or what about this? You have a thirteen-year-old daughter who sneaks out in order to hang out with some gym rats at the community center. “Girl, you are fiery and fierce and independent. We love that about you. Don’t ever stop wanting to be fiery and fierce and independent. And the stories you told us all last week show a real creative talent . . .”
Or you are talking to a friend at work who spends every weekend with hookers and hoochie-mamas. “From what you have told me, you always select the best looking ones. This shows a real concern for aesthetics, and that is a trait to be carefully nurtured. This is a great deal to admire about it, in fact, and I detect more than a little bit of hurt reaction to your fundamentalist upbringing where beauty was too often scorned and marginalized . . .”
Polyamory is driven by people who want true community and deep relationships? Seriously?
Apply This Method Elsewhere, Why Dontcha?
The apostle Paul once intervened in a domestic situation that was undoubtedly much more complex than the accounts that have been handed down to us.
“It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 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. 5:1–5 (KJV)
Let’s fix this, shall we? Let us apply our soft editorial skills to this. It may be that some struggling saints of our generation have the hots for their father’s trophy wife, and if they are struggling with how to come out with this yearning, they might be engagingly helped by their pastors, instead of being shunned and made to feel so uncomfortable.
“It is reported commonly that there is experimentation, exploration, and self-discovery among you, and such experimentation, exploration, and self-discovery as is not even common among the faith-deprived community (not that there is anything wrong with that), that one should have a deeply-felt and deeply-committed relationship with his father’s wife. And yet ye are judgmental over it, and have not rather rejoiced, that he who has done this deed might be called to repentance in a way that in no way awakens any sense of shame in any of the parties concerned. Shame is a truly destructive force, arising from an idolizing of the nuclear family and white bread suburban values. And so truly I, even though absent in body, but present in spirit, have made a non-judgey judgment already, as though I were present, concerning the one who has started to explore his yearning for authenticity. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ — deliver this valiant and intrepid soul unto the one who was the very first to question arbitrary authority, for the [restoration] of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
For the gloss restoration here, please see the seminal monograph by Katherine Tinkry-Ross, Ph.D. “Restoration as Eschatological and Therapeutic Hope,” 2013.
1 Cor. 5:1-5 (Fixed and greatly improved by DJW)
The Tone Problem
Now of course every wise pastor knows that people in lousy marriages want out. And people who are discontented with what they have are vulnerable to the suggestion that if they only did “this,” or perhaps “that,” then everything would be better. A man with a dull sex life might think that an exciting sex life awaits him if he just added somebody else. Or something. All kinds of people have a very sad story, and yet the biblical writers still just draw a straight and hard line.
“Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
Hebrews 13:4–5 (KJV)
The stern warning that God will judge whoremongers and adulterers is followed immediately with a reminder about the Tenth Commandment (which includes the prohibition of wanting deep fellowship with your neighbor’s wife), and that is coupled with the admonition to “be content” with the things that you have. This, despite the temptation to be discontent with the things you have.
So in a sense it is true that lousy marriages provide a basis for temptations here. In other news, the sun rises in the east. But the problem is not idolatry of marriage or idolatry of the nuclear family. Lousy marriages come from an idolization of the SELF. And when you start trying to fix that by carrying on with two women, or with two men, your central problem goes right along with you. Wherever you go, there you are. In fact, the more you start catering to your lusts and desires in this way, the more that central problem grows.
The issue with this article is that while it lands technically on the right side of the polyamory question (barely), the tone of the whole thing is utterly and radically unbiblical. Even if the denotation is okay, the connotations are entirely off. Can you imagine this article simply quoting the verse above? And applying it to the situation?
“Whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” Hugh Latimer once presented a Bible to Henry VIII with the Bible marked at that passage. Hugh Latimer doesn’t write for Christianity Today. He wrote for Christianity Yesterday, a periodical that has fallen out of favor with many of our thought leaders. And by thought leaders, I mean thought followers.
One More Thing, If I May
This article treated us to fawning descriptions of certain things that the polyamory community is apparently just crushing — things like “relationships, care, affection, hospitality, community, deep relationships, care for others, and hospitality.” Lurking behind these descriptions is the notion that emotionally moralistic self-importance is some kind of an ethical disinfectant. You can get away with a lot, just so long as you ladle large amounts of this particular disinfectant over the top of it.
But if emotionally moralistic self-importance could cleanse sin, then Jesus didn’t have to die. He really wouldn’t have had to die because if sin could be dealt with that way, not only are we all okay without an atonement, but rather we are actually running a surplus. We have way more emotionally moralistic self-importance than we have sins. If that were true, we would be doing pretty good.
Unfortunately, in the actual world that God made, emotionally moralistic self-importance is one of our central corruptions. Not only is it is not a cleansing agent, it is actually the kind of grime that calls for a real cleansing agent.
Let me illustrate what I mean. In a biblical framework, Trump’s adulteries were really bad, and Buttigieg’s ongoing sodomy is a lot worse than that. But this scriptural sentiment of mine will be thought outrageous precisely because Buttigieg applies to his life the kind of “atonement” that this generation recognizes — emotionally moralistic self-importance. Not only does our generation defer to this kind of emotionally moralistic self-importance, a large number of our Christian leaders — say, certain writers for Christianity Today — defer to it as well. And defer is not the way to express it. Bow and scrape before it is closer to what I mean.
And that is what that descriptive chain was really all about — “relationships, care, affection, hospitality, community, deep relationships, care for others, and hospitality.” If use of these EMS-I terms were gusty winds, I would wager you could stand by this article and fly a cast iron kite in it.