What is polyamory and why is it bursting on the scene right now? Is there such a thing as Christian polyamory? Will polyamorous relationships work? While relying on Scripture and social science research, Sean and Scott discuss these questions and more.

Episode Transcript

Scott: What is this new trend moving toward what is called polyamory or what traditionally has been called open relationships? Is it possible for a Christian to be polyamorous? How common is this? How can our churches be prepared for this? Sean and I will take up this new cultural trend that has recently hit the media in full force. This is Think Biblically from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. So Sean, tell us our listeners by way of definition first. Let's figure out what exactly we are talking about. What is polyamory and what are some of the other terms that are used to describe these kinds of relationships?

Sean: So, technically poly means multiple and amory from amor, love. So multiple loves. Now some other terms that are used for these are like throuple, open relationships, swinging, and the worst one I think, polycule, nesting partners. Now not all of these are exactly the same. Some polyamorous relationships involve marriage to one degree or another. Some are not married at all. Some involve like a difference for many polyamorous relationships versus polygamy or polygyny or polyandry would be one man typically married to multiple wives. But like in a throuple, there's a marriage among all within that relationship itself or at least a commitment akin to marriage. So, think about it meaning multiple loves, more than one sexual partner, but there's a range of different ways people try to navigate those kinds of relationships. So, here's one. This is an article and it was so fascinating because it's called “Your Solo Poly.” So, you're single. And here's what they argue just to give some context. It says after this in New York Times, after James Nicholson went through a breakup in October, he realized that he was at a point in his life when he wanted to focus more on himself than on someone else, but without losing the perks of romantic intimacy. So, right away, of course, we'll come back to focus on himself rather than another. Will that work in a relationship? But hold that for now. He was showing work and grief from losing a family member all while parenting a 14 year old with his ex-wife. So, a 46 year old Bronx resident decided to embark on a journey of solo polyamory. To Mr. Nicholson, that meant dating several people at once with no intention to ride the relationship escalator to the top. So, no intention on focusing on one for life, just dating multiple people. He says, I'm open to connecting with others, but it may not just be one other person. He said it's really based on how his schedule lines up. So bottom line, when someone says they're polyamorous, the next question should be, what do you mean by that? Help me understand.

Scott: So it sounds like that you have some relationships that are within—they're open relationships within a primary commitment and others that are not so much. I mean, the solo poly, I think, in the past we just called that playing the field. So, I'm not sure there’s anything new or unique about that. But the idea that you could have more than one sexual partner while in the midst of a committed relationship without it being adultery or cheating. That's the new, that's what's new about this.

Sean: And they'll say it's not adulterous or cheating because we've decided on the rules ahead of time. So there's a certain approach to relationships that's not fitting ourselves to an objective reality of what marriage is, what our bodies mean, but we can define what this relationship can be and the minds of so many. It will work if we define it ahead of time and just stick with it.

Scott: So, the term we've typically used for this in the past, polygamy and polygyny, refers to people being married to more than one person at the same time.

Sean: Yes. And those individual ones are like sister wives. They're not necessarily in that married relationship with each other, but they all share the common marriage to the individual, typically a man.

Scott: So, HBO, the “Big Love” series that HBO did years ago. Okay. So, here's, when I first saw this term, I thought this qualifies as my newest oxymoron. The term that's often used for polyamory is ethical non-monogamy. So what exactly does that mean? And what do you make of that term in its efforts to try and justify polyamorous relationships?

Sean: So, you and I did a relationship—you and I did a relationship, I'm thinking about relationships—[laughs] you and I did a video on pornography, talking about where it's often termed ethical pornography. And of course we consider it an oxymoron because pornography itself is intrinsically broken. Now it's like, let's have consent. Let's care for people. Like there were attempts to minimize some of the damage, but by its very nature, it's intrinsically a wrong kind of relationship. But if you can call it that, because words have power in people's minds, it's more likely persuasive. So this, I would look at going non-monogamy by definition is not good. It's not right. It's not moral. And I can make a case for that that we won't go through right now, but to call it ethical is more of a marketing campaign to convince people than it is anything else.

Scott: So, this is the joke I get about my field in ethics. It seems like that sometimes I've said about people who do ethics for profession, they spend all their time justifying things that we know are intuitively wrong. And it sounds like this may be a marketing ploy to do something similar to that. I think that's right. Our intuitions tell us there's something not quite right about this picture and we need to justify it ethically. If it's such a good thing, why do we need to put the term ethical in front of it? So, what I'm trying to think, what would be an unethical non-monogamy would be that's done without consent or without agreement about what the rules are, things like that.

Sean: So, if we get married and it's under the impression that I'm married to somebody and then I cheat on that commitment, it's non-monogamy and it's unethical because I'm breaking the boundaries that we set up. That would be an example.

Scott: Yeah. And normally involves large amounts of deception.

Sean: Yes, as well. Along the way.

Scott: Fair enough. Okay. So, is this new? And if so, how is this different than the sexual revolution in the sixties where it seems like this was sort of this sexual free for all that took place in the 1960s when birth control became contraception and became widely available. We were able to separate sexual relations from marriage and pregnancy, all of that got uncoupled within probably five years. And it's produced really dramatic changes in how we view all of those things. So, is this new today?

Sean: So in the history of the world, no, we've seen this going back to Greco-Roman countries.

Scott: So there really is nothing new under the sun.

Sean: Yeah. I think there's a certain cultural moment that it's emerging in. There's a certain new way that people kind of see the world that this is emerging in. There's new terms for it. So, there's some novel details we need to talk about, but this isn't something radically new like artificial intelligence we've never had before. It's not that kind of new. Now, here's what some of the stats show: over 50% of Americans under 30 say an open marriage is acceptable. That's new. How accepting is let me say that again, over 50% of Americans under 30, this would be Gen Zers and really young millennials, saying open marriage is acceptable.

Scott: Before you go into the next one, it'd be really interesting to see how they tease that out. If it's acceptable in general, if it's acceptable for them or if it's acceptable for their partner.

Scott: Fair enough. I don't know the nuances, but those are questions that need to be answered. That'd be very interesting. Study from the Kinsey Institute said one in nine Americans have participated, which is interesting. One third of Americans describe a relationship besides monogamy as being ideal. One third of Americans describe it that way. So, these relationships aren't super new, but the fact that there's such wide acceptance. And we've also seen in the past few months, major publications like in New York magazine and others with a huge reach.

Scott: Cover story, entire issue.

Sean: Cover story this. Normalizing this, talking about this, promoting it. So, in that sense, it's new. One piece that's interesting is to polygamy, where a man has multiple wives is often viewed as a power imbalance. But polyamorous relationships, in our more egalitarian culture, are landing differently. I think that's maybe one different perspective that people have in our critical theory moment. So, against power imbalance, this removes that criticism and allows people to be on board with it that wouldn't be on board with polygamy.

Scott: Yeah, I could see in the past, the incidence of polygamous relationships, I think, was probably much less than we think it was. For example, we cite some of the people in biblical times engaged in polygamy, Solomon, for example. But I think those are dramatically overstated because it took an enormous amount of resources to support the number of wives that is attributed to a lot of polygamous men. And I think that's the same thing in some Mormon communities today. And the available resources to do this and make it sustainable, I think, makes it maybe in terms of polygamy, formal mirror, I think, maybe less incidence of that than we might think at first glance.

Sean: Here's the interesting thing. When we go back in history, it wasn't the common people who could be polygamous. It was kings and nobles with power and authority because they had the resources. Well, there was an article in The Atlantic recently that kind of argued that polyamory is the newest elite experiment because certain elites with positions of power and with resources can experiment in these things in ways people that have less resources, more poverty, are not able to do so. So, in the name of egalitarianism it’s kind of the latest elite privileged kind of move from people who are in a position to experiment this way, not experience the economic backlash from it as much as other people do. So, it has that in common with polygamy, which means it's probably a little less likely than people would say, but it's certainly emerging.

Scott: Okay, so why is it emerging now? I mean, what's a part of our cultural moment that has given rise to this? Why is all of this coming to the surface? We've just seen an explosion of this just in the media in the last, what, three months.

Sean: So, I have a few thoughts. I'm really anxious to know what you think about this. But one, there's different ways we can look at this legally through one lens. Legally, when the Obergefell versus Hodges decision came down, legalizing same sex marriage, all 50 states, roughly a decade ago, interestingly enough, you and I both said, and many others did, that if same sex marriage removes the sex or gender component from marriage, it basically makes marriage a genderless institution. Well, if you remove male and female to marriage, then you remove the necessity for two. The reason I mean—

Scott: And why limit it there?

Sean: They tried to do so in the ruling to say it's two people who love each other. And of course, if a man and a woman together can create children, there's a difference. A third adds nothing to it. If we take away the distinction between men and women, as far as marriage is concerned, how do we limit it to two? So, we said polygamy is coming. And, of course, it's more so polyamory than just polygamy. But the legal door is open for that. I don't think there's a consistent basis for denying that based on the ruling before. So, there's kind of a legal avenue to this. There was an article by the Life Institute for Family Studies, and they argued that there's kind of another angle to this. So when they wrote this, they said, "The swinging 60s owed much to the introduction of the birth control pill and the feminist revolution." But that is long in the past. Why is this new trend towards polyamory happening now? They said cultural changes have many bases. But one important reason for the rise of polyamory in the US is the ongoing decline in marriage and childbearing. So, in other words, the amount of people who get married, the amount of people who get married and have kids later in life, and the number of kids that they have is declining. So, they said, “The decline in marriage means a smaller proportion of the population are married, and thus there's proportionately more sexual behavior outside of marriage. And they say the decline in childbearing both within and outside of marriage, combined with lengthening life expectancy, means people have longer periods of their life where they do not have young children in the home. All this creates a situation conducive to polyamory.” So there's this legal angle, there's kind of this social angle. I think you and I would also say there's a certain ideological angle where this culture of autonomy has just completely been rooted in. And if this is what I want, and my life is about making myself happy, and you have to affirm it, and I'm autonomous, nobody can judge me, then of course it makes sense. So, I think in some ways we have a perfect storm that this is the next logical incarnation of the sexual revolution.

Scott: Yeah, I was going to mention the autonomy culture. This is just another example, I think, of this autonomy run amok, and it is so deeply rooted culturally. And this strikes me as something sort of similar to the end of the book of Judges, where culturally, I think in terms of relationships, particularly it has to do with marriage, that every man is doing what's right in their own eyes. And you can't judge me for it, as you mentioned, because it is my being authentic to my true self. And this is who I am. And I think some people who are into these relationships will argue, "I am not wired for monogamy." And they will say in an evolutionary framework, no human being is actually wired for monogamy. It's actually very reproductively counterproductive. It's the ideology of that perfect storm, I think is exactly right. But it is further evidence, I think, of this obsession we have with autonomy, that authenticity is now replaced, autonomy is the buzzword for that. And I think that's absolutely right. So, let's dig a little bit deeper on this and look at more of what the worldview is that underlies the trend toward these polyamorous relationships.

Sean: Good stuff. So, here's a few things that I think are maybe underlying this. I don't think it's a worldview. I think there's a few things contributing to this. There's a website that for a while was kind of promoting or supporting polyamory, morethan2.com. It says, if you aren't breaking the—

Scott: This is to our listeners: don't go there.

Sean: [laughing] Yeah, maybe I shouldn't have cited it. Fair enough. Now everybody's clicking away and they're intrigued. But yeah, you can check it out if you want to. But they wrote, and this is a few years ago. It said, if you aren't breaking the rules of your relationship, you are not cheating by definition. To me, when I read that, I thought, oh, we have a total epistemological shift from thinking about when it comes to relationships, discovering truth embedded within reality, like gravity exists and we conform our lives to gravity. And that used to be the way we would think about marriage. Marriage is an institution built into the world recognized by society. Even in fact, we would say it's pre-political, that the politics doesn't decide marriage and where it decides gravity, it recognizes it. This seems to be saying, no, we've moved from discovering truth outside of ourselves to discovering it within, that we get to write the rules. We get to decide. So marriage has moved from something that's objective to something that is now subjective. And so, since we get to define it, if we define a man and a woman in a relationship and they decide to have an open relationship, then they're not cheating because those are the rules they define. Now, of course, we critique this and say, if we become subjective, then we can write the rules however we want to. That's a critique we could come to. But I think behind this is just a radical shift that when it comes to values and it comes to relationships and it comes to purpose and meaning, these are things not that we discover, but I think it was Kennedy in one of his rulings that kind of made the point that we just get to kind of write the meaning of the universe ourselves. This, I think, is an extension of that. Now, there's other pieces behind that. Do you agree with that? Would you add anything to that piece?

Scott: Well, I think it's an example of a broader framework in the culture where we want the ability to invent our own moral rules for ourselves. And we've both talked about that, the flaw in that, that that goes out the window pretty quickly when you are the victim of some sort of injustice, because then you become a fairly rigid absolutist at that point. And I wonder about how this breaks down in terms of the satisfaction with these relationships, because I wonder if it's viewed differently by women than it is by men, just in general. As a whole. Now, there are going to be obvious exceptions on both sides, but I think there are people who are more inclined naturally toward monogamous relationships for a whole variety of reasons that might view this really differently. And they might go along with the rules and say, "We'll see how this goes." But then when they see it's not going the way they want it to—whappens when they want to change the rules, you know, like when they want to change horses in the middle of the stream? That's a little tricky to do once the rules have been set. So, there wasn't much discussion about what happens when you want to adjust the rules after you've gotten into the game. That I think will be a really interesting data point to figure out.

Sean: So, you're asking the kinds of practical questions that we're going to get to in terms of the critique. Is this livable? Can you play this out? And of course, I think we're going to say no. The interesting thing you said though is, does this bring injustices? When there's an injustice, we know there's an objective moral truth. Well, this raises questions. Do kids deserve a mom and a dad? Are there injustices that polyamory by its very nature brings in and we can make that case, but that needs to be a piece of the conversation.

Scott: Well, and you mentioned this before we started filming this, is that this is a great reversal. That's done instead of kids coming out to their parents. Now, parents are coming out to their kids in this way.

Sean: That is true. Now, let's come back to that. I want to make one more point about the worldview behind polyamory is there's a number of people I found arguing that polyamory is a relational orientation and identity. So, they'll say things like, I can't be expected to live by the monogamous assumptions embedded within society. I am non-monogamous. That's who I am. So, like we've seen with some of the LGB arguments, if I disagree with polyamory, I'm disagreeing with you because that's who you are.

Scott: And therefore I'm attacking your identity.

Sean: I'm attacking your identity. So, it is interesting that I'd imagine there'd be some people from the LGB who might push back on polyamory as they have with some of the trans issues, but some of the arguments for LGB are now being used here. So, you can't have it both ways.

Scott: Yeah, it's not clear on what basis they're going to push back on that.

Sean: I think that's right.

Scott: Because if the autonomy argument is as deeply rooted as we say it is, and I think it is, then there's no reason why we limit the number of partners to one, I mean, or whoever many. And it just opens the door to a whole host of things that I think the LGB, and sometimes T, folks would have huge problems with because those things actually undercut the legitimacy of their cause in the first place. So, I think that if I were encouraging our viewers and listeners to watch for something, that I think will be the next thing, the pushback that's going to come from this, from the lesbian, gay, bisexual component of the LGBTQ, and so on, caucus, that's going to be very interesting to watch for. Because I could see this being very threatening to the identity that folks have established. Interesting. So, all right. Anything else on that?

Sean: No, you got it. That's good. How would we make the case for natural marriage? And what we mean by that is distinctions between male and female that have to do with marriage and procreation. And therefore against polyamory, but without appealing directly to Scripture. So we're looking for a case that's consistent with Scripture, but not dependent on it.

Sean: That's right. Now, you know, I could do multiple shows unpacking this. So, we're admittedly just—

Scott: This is the cut to the chase version here.

Sean: We're trying to help people say that we're not just disagreeing with polyamory because it's in Scripture. Right. And that's one big reason why, but there can be a case outside of Scripture for doing this. 10 years ago, John Stone Street and I wrote a book on same-sex marriage before the ruling. It was in 2014, the year before Obergefell in 2015. We said there's one way of making this case. It didn't start with us. It came from, I believe it was Maggie Gallagher. And the kind of case that says, number one, sex makes babies. Society needs babies. Babies need a mom and a dad. This is a kind of case that says sex is a baby making activity. That's what it is. It doesn't always result in a baby, but that's the kind of–

Scott: It's intrinsically oriented toward procreation.

Sean : Exactly. That's what it is. Society needs babies. There's concern when people don't have enough kids, the replacement rate.

Scott: Like right now.

Sean: Yeah, exactly. Right now, we're seeing that in the States. We're seeing that in Europe. We're seeing that in other countries. And that's one reason why governments have been interested in regulating marriage, but not other relationships. It has a societal impact. But third, babies need a mom and a dad. All the data shows consistently that the best environment for a kid to do well in school, not commit crime, to get a job, like just the positive social identifiers that we're looking for.

Scott: Not to mention economic ones.

Sean: Economic ones as well, a biological mom and a biological dad. So, that's not the only way, but that's one way of making a case that society should be in favor of this. Another way is just, I mean, I'd invite people to go on forums on Reddit and just look at the conversations about polyamory. Now, if you go to marriage ones, you'll find a lot of people complaining about marriage, but that's from people failing to keep their promises and not living up to what marriage is. If you look at some of these polyamorous ones, at least some of the ones I've looked around on, it seems to be intrinsic to the kind of a relationship it is. In other words, when you bring a third in, you're going to bring in a level of jealousy that is almost impossible to avoid. You come home and the other two are cutting on the couch. It's like, "Oh, I'm happy for you, but am I missing out on something?" There's no way you can see that in the day-to-day with three that's remotely the same as two or more. So, I think we've got to point out some of the failures of polyamory rooted in what it means to be human and jealousy and the nature of relationships, but also make a positive case for man-woman marriage, and you can do this without even looking at the Scriptures itself. I think the other thing we could do is we could just talk about the failure of consent as an ethic.

Scott: Meaning what?

Sean: So, consent is necessary for any marital sexual relationship, but it's not sufficient to make this relationship moral and necessarily make it work. And if that's the standard, just consent, then I think we're going to see it not last and not work. And I've talked about that in depth, but these are just some of the roads that I would start to go down in terms of a critique of polyamory.

Scott: All right, so let's go a little different direction here. What about the law on this? Because we have a whole lots of laws on the books that regulate marriage, even after same-sex marriage was regulated. There are still lots of laws that regulate how marriage can be done, primarily I think for the benefit of children. So, should the law get involved here?

Sean: So, I'm anxious to know what you think about this, but I would say there is a different question between what is moral and between what is legal, of course. So, lying to a spouse, immoral. Should that be illegal? Probably not. We don’t want the government tampering into that one. So should polyamory be legal? Now, I mean, it shouldn't be illegal, I would say, in our country for individuals not married to live in consensual adult relationships. Like, I don't know that I want to necessarily say that that is illegal, although I want to speak against it. And I want to, for the sake of what's good for people and good for society, not sure I want to say that's illegal. But if we start changing the definition of marriage further, that's where I would step in. And on purely secular grounds, what marriage is, what's best for society, that's where I would push back and say, I think it's a mistake to take further what Obergefell and other rulings opened up for. What do you think about that?

Scott: Yeah, I don't think normally that relationships among consenting adults should be a matter for the law. I think it was probably a good thing that we see a distinction between what's moral and what's legal. And in general, we ask for the law to get involved when morality doesn't do the job that it's supposed to. And when there are clear, unambiguous, egregious harms that are coming out of that behavior. And I think, for example, an effort to criminalize adultery would have a much greater whiplash effect, a boomerang effect back on the body of Christ for trying to do that. And I think the gospel would be discredited because I think we do a better job of combating adultery by living faithfully in our own marriages and modeling that for the culture at large. So, I would say there's no necessary connection between any biblical or moral law and what the civil or criminal law should be. It always takes an additional argument to make the case for what the law should be. Now, in some cases, making that additional argument is not hard at all in the case of things like theft, murder, things like that. And even, I'd say, lying under oath is different from lying to your spouse because there's severe consequences that come with lying under oath. So, the argument for the legality or illegality of some things, I think, is not hard to make. Others, I think it's harder to make. And I think the degree of enforceability ought to be taken into account too. And whether we want the government to be the bedroom police, I don't think is a good thing for the culture at large.

Sean: It is interesting to make a distinction between us as citizens, should we be against no-fault divorce, which started, I believe, in California by Ronald Reagan, right? Have we erred on the side of making it too easy to break that contract versus as Christians, what should we be advancing for the sake of marriage in society and how do those intersect important questions? So, I don't want to get too bogged down on that, but it's one thing to say we've become too permissive on divorce. In the past, it was too Draconian. How do we find that balance? That's a legal question.

Scott: Yeah, I think maybe one of the ways to help that would be to view marriage as a covenant instead of a contract to start with. And you break contracts by paying damages. Breaking covenants, that's not so easy. So, I think there needs to be much more compelling reasons to break a covenant. And again, but how you enforce that, I think that's a whole different discussion on this. Okay, now, I got another thing that I thought was an oxymoron. And I admit, when I started reading on polyamory, this is one of the things I just didn't see coming. And there is a Christian polyamory that attempts to justify polyamory on the basis of Scripture. So, what is Christian polyamory and what are the arguments that are being used from Scripture to justify that?

Sean: So, let's talk about a few here. And then maybe if folks want to send in emails, shoot them to us, maybe we'll go into more depth in the future. I have to say, I'm not super surprised by this because I had a conversation maybe two years ago with a self-proclaimed progressive Christian who's in favor of same-sex unions. And if the argument is that the Bible is against same-sex unions, they didn't understand the faithful, covenant, loving, committed same-sex unions today, they were talking about an abusive kind of same-sex union. Well, if you take that argument and apply it to polyamory, you could just simply say the argument in the Bible for man-woman marriage. Well, all those that were against it is because in that culture there were abuses of that, but the Bible didn't know there was man and, say, two women in a throttle, faithful, committed covenant relationship. It's not condemning that kind of relationship. And this progressive Christian is like, yeah, I would support that in principle. So, it logically follows from some of the arguments that have been made for other kinds of unions.

Scott: And I say, note to listeners, this is a really good example of what's called a logical slippery slope.

Sean: Yeah, it's a consistent one. It's a natural slippery slope. It's not a fallacy. I think you're right about that. So, if the biblical commandments were not just against oppressive kinds of relationships and they're rooted in God's design and creation, which we see Romans 1 and we see Matthew 19 consistently pointing back to creation, then it's sufficient to say that God's design for marriage is one man, one woman, one flesh for a lifetime. That's the response to that argument for same-sex unions and that kind of argument for Christian polyamory. Some of the other ones, of course, are people saying things like Jesus was all about love. And I would say, first off, he wasn't just all about love. He was about love and he was about justice. He was about grace and he was about truth. So, that's false to say that he was just about love at the expense of other things he preached and incarnated, but also say—

Scott: You'd have to edit out Matthew 19 when he talks about divorce and God's design for marriage.

Sean: Exactly. So well, that is loving, but that raises the follow-up question, which is, okay, when you say Jesus is all about love, what do you mean by love? And I think somebody's importing a culture of love onto Jesus as opposed to when Jesus says, "If you love me, you'll obey my commands” and consider marriage one kind of love, not the only one, but marriage one man, one woman for life, like you said, Matthew 19. So that's an argument. You could say, "Here's some of the other ones I've heard. Jesus was silent about polyamorous unions, thus he approved them." And that's an easy softball.

Scott: Yes, it is.

Sean: We obviously can't assume that Jesus supported everything he didn't discuss. I mean, he didn't discuss child trafficking. And of course, Jesus would have been against that. So, silence doesn't imply endorsement. There's some other ones here that it's oppressive to expect people to be monogamous if they are not wired that way. That's tied to the kind of orientation that somebody has. And partly, I would push back and I'd say, part of being a moral person is resisting certain urges that we all have. If we're going to say, "Hey, I'm not wired this way, therefore, it's oppressive to stop it." That means, logically speaking, any desires that I have, I need to live out and it's oppressive for you to stop them if this is our standard. I'm pretty sure the person doesn't want to go there.

Scott: At least I hope not, because that bodes poorly for pedophiles.

Sean: And that raises a fair question.

Scott: Because we could say alcoholics and drug addicts, they're not wired to be sober. There may actually be a genetic connection to alcoholism and various addictive behaviors. I think we would never say that that therefore justifies the behavior and gives full permission to engage in it, especially because we know it's destructive.

Sean: I think that's right. Let me give you one more. This one actually comes up a decent amount. If the Old Testament approves polygamous unions, polyamory is a natural step. Now, in some ways, I wish the Old Testament at times was more explicit against the morality of polygamous unions when you see David and you see, of course, Solomon and you see Jacob and some of the other leaders having multiple wives. But I think what people miss is that the Old Testament is teaching things narratively, not necessarily pedagogically the way we say, here's one point and here's a response to it. It's teaching through the life of David, in part because he didn't follow God's design for marriage. His life and his kids and his family is a wreck. Look at David. I mean, they're just... I'm sorry. Yeah, look at Jacob and their family and how that is falling apart. So, I think the Bible teaches what marriage is supposed to be and allows God uses people who are not following God's ideal design in different ways, but then we see the fallout through the narratives of their lives and their story.

Scott: And the reason that's important is because the outcome provides most of the editorial comment. The narrative accounts in the Old Testament on a whole host of things often don't have editorial remarks because the outcome speaks so clearly for themselves. That's why there's no editorial outcome on the surrogacy relationship between Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, because the result was so disastrous. No editorial comment was needed. And with Solomon, I mean, Solomon had hundreds of wives. Most of those were designed to cement military alliances that God in the Mosaic law had expressly prohibited. That his trust was to come from the Lord, not from these alliances. And of course, many of these polygamous wives led Solomon astray to build altars. And so, I think, yeah, in the Old Testament, you had that position of power and lots of resources to be able to do this. So, I don't think it's as widespread as people think. Now, I think the other thing that's important to recognize on this is that Old Testament law was, I think maybe even primarily, but a big part of the Old Testament law was damage control in a fallen world. And I think in some cases, the reason why polygamous relationships seem to be allowed, although there's a lot of question about, I think, whether they're allowed or not, but under the conceding that they were allowed from time to time, it could be that that was part of the safety net for women that was provided because men so frequently died in battle. They died through riskier behavior. They died through natural causes, often much more quickly than women. And women needed a safety net because there was no independent working woman in biblical times. That's my best speculation for why that was allowed from time to time, or at least why it's not, why the Old Testament might not have been as clear as we'd like it to be in its condemnation of that.

Sean: And by the way, sometimes when missionaries go into—I don't know if I'd say—just groups of people that have not had the gospel presented to them and polygamy is built into the culture, is they'll allow it for a while for the sake of the women there, but move the culture away from it.

Scott: Right, and so they will say no taking on additional wives, but no throwing women out on the streets either.

Sean: And then younger generations will only have one. So, it's moving towards the ideal. Some would say, why can't we have monogamy in the church, even though it's less ideal, but still be permitted? And that's the opposite rather than saying—

Scott: You mean polyamory in the church.

Sean: I'm sorry. Yes, polyamory in the church. Good. That's the opposite of what missionaries have done and you argue from the Old Testament is we're trying to move away from this. This is saying let's move towards it. And the reason to not do so is it directly contradicts what scripture teaches about the nature of marriage and God's design for sexuality and what is best for kids.

Scott: Now, this is an argument I didn't see coming. And that had to do with the Trinity. You know, that God loves the Son and the Spirit significantly and there's relationship, there's intimacy within the Trinity. And that's being used sort of by extension. Yeah. If God has plural relationships of intimacy like that, why can't human beings have that?

Sean: So, here's the interesting thing. We are just seeing these arguments emerge. Maybe this goes back to the question you asked at the beginning. What's new about this is there's not a single church father that I could find anywhere in church history that defended polyamory. So, if somebody is aware of that, send it to me, I'd be interested. But some historians have said there's none. But what's new is people are now making these theological arguments. I kind of remember when this was happening for same sex marriage, they'd make arguments and then there was a second wave and newer waves that are more sophisticated. We're kind of at the beginning of that where people are throwing these different arguments out there. This is one that I don't think is going to stick, but I did not see this one coming about the Trinity. If God is intrinsically plural and there's three that are love, why shouldn't we be this way? Well, my—

Scott: Why isn't that a throuple?

Sean: [laughs] Why isn't that a throuple? Well, the answer is God doesn't have duties. Our duties come from God's commands. He doesn't have duties to himself. God is love in his very character. How we are supposed to live comes not just from God's character, but from the commands he gives because of his character, how he's built us to be, and how we are supposed to love one another. That's the distinction that's missing there, I think.

Scott: Yeah, that's helpful. Hey, one final question on this and I gotta ask this because this, I think, has to do with how some of our churches need to be more prepared for this. But what do you do when someone comes out to you as polyamorous? Maybe especially if they come out in the context of the local church as polyamorous.

Sean: Okay, so my suspicion is going to be that if somebody comes out to you or comes out to me polyamorous, they have already made up their mind and have decided this is the direction they're going. So, I know this is completely different, but when I was offered a job at Biola, I went to my former head of schools and said, "Hey, I got offered a job at Biola," and I'll never forget he said to me, he goes, "First off, what do I have to do to keep you?" But second, “I'm guessing by the time we're having this conversation, you've already made up your mind.” And he was exactly right. So, chances are that the person has already made up their mind, but that's something I want to know right away. Are you still wrestling with this or have you made up your mind and you're going down? How you respond to one might be different than the other. This is fascinating to me because I found somebody who's a polyamorous writing an article on how to come out to your Christian family and how they would be judgmental and how to have boundaries. And I thought, "This is a role reversal. This is so interesting." But I guess for me, initially, I want to listen. I want to think long-term about staying involved in this person's life, be able to speak into them because chances are this polyamorous relationship is not going to pan out as they hope. There's going to be brokenness. There's going to be hurt. It could be two months. It could be two decades. And I want them to remember why that Christian was kind, showed grace, and cared about me. And so, I would lean into that in my response as a whole individual, the friend that came out to me. I've had people come out LGBTQ, but not polyamory. So, that would be my hope.

Scott: That's a really good insight to keep your place at the table with the person and keep the connection, stay in the person's life. I think that's really good advice. Anything else you want to give you the last word on the subject here?

Sean: No, I'd love to hear from folks if they want us to explore this further. Any particular angles about this, like further into the arguments for Christian polyamory. There's probably, you mentioned, really at the end, questions about practical ways churches can navigate this. We didn't jump into that. So people who have questions or scenarios or other arguments we didn't respond to. Send them to us at thinkbibically@biola.edu and we'll respond to those in future episodes.

Scott: Yeah. We suspect that some of our listeners may have had some experience with friends or family members who have come out polyamorous. We'd love to hear about that. If you're at liberty to share that anonymously, of course. We'd love to hear about other questions and issues you might have on this subject. Because this, I assure you, this is not the last time we're going to hear about this. That's for sure. Because what is starting out on the coast usually goes to the heartland. So, I would say it is coming to a theater near you. So, we're glad you joined us for this. Again, if you have questions or comments on this or guests you'd like us to consider or other subjects you'd like us to talk about on the podcast, email us at thinkbiblically@biola.edu. Thanks so much for listening and remember: think biblically about everything.