I finally went and had a look at that CT Polyamory article that’s been making its way around twitter the last week. In spite of its spawning a lot of pretty funny jokes, I didn’t think it would be that objectionable, and so didn’t actually read past the first paragraph. I mean, technically I don’t even have time to be on the internet at all, so sue me. But then I finally did read it, and now I feel sad. On the whole, the thing is absolutely unobjectionable until you get to these two paragraphs:
How would you respond to Tyler, Amanda, and Jon? How would you counsel Tyler’s parents to respond? Tyler’s parents’ pastor advised them to first listen to their son rather than trying to preach at him, so after Tyler came out to them, they set up a time to simply connect and listen. Though they were clear they did not affirm Tyler’s choice, they did affirm their love for Tyler, Amanda, and their grandkids. They made a point to keep their weekly Thursday afternoon “dates” with their grandkids and stay a part of their lives. Because of this, Tyler has maintained his relationship with his parents, and though his relationship choices are unbiblical, they have been able to communicate their love and care for him and his family. Amanda’s mother responded differently. Decades earlier, her relationship with Amanda’s father had ended when he had proposed a polyamorous relationship and then left when she wasn’t open to it. Amanda’s choice reopened her mother’s unhealed wounds. Feeling angry and betrayed, Amanda’s mother effectively broke off the relationship with her daughter. When children choose less than God’s best for their relationships, affirming both grace and truth is a difficult but necessary balance for parents to maintain.
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.
How ‘bout seven thoughts, because it is Friday after all.
Anxiety about the “pastoral response” is how you get a lot of bad stuff in through the door of ordinary, but often very badly catechized, kind Christian churchgoers. Way back in the day, when the Episcopal church was rolling down the broad, wide road of destruction, lots of people said, “Oh yes, that life-style/behavior isn’t really accepted by the scripture, but we need a pastoral response for people struggling with that sin.” The issues that someone with same-sex proclivities faces, in other words, are outside the regular boundaries of sin, and they need something else, something more, though usually something rather less and sub-biblical, than everyone else who is just mucking around with lying, greed, drug addiction, porn addiction, envy, and slander. Turned out that the thing they ended up needing was “acceptance” and that if you wanted to go back to what the Bible really said about it, you were the bigot. I don’t think the two authors of this piece are trying to go down that road, but other people are.
The “pastoral response” for people of a polyamorous “lifestyle” who want to come into the church is the same as for everyone else: Repent and Believe the gospel. You can’t do that. Sex is for one single man married to one single woman within the covenant and bond of marriage. Full stop.
The authors’ categorizing of the two parents’ responses is similarly off-kilter. They adopt the very a la mode assumption that relationships should never be broken. Therefore, the parents who were able to keep the “connection” and keep “open communication” are better than the mother who was so hurt that she became completely alienated from her daughter.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I am not about to posit a one-size-fits-all way of coping with this very grievous circumstance. If one of my children came to me and said he or she was going to be polyamorous, I don’t know how I would respond. Not right off the bat. I love my children. But there are probably some things they could do that would break our relationship. The choice would mostly be on their side, though, because I have a pretty clear line. You’re always welcome here, I would say, and I love you, but the thing that you’re doing is bad and you should stop doing it. If my child was fully committed to that choice, it is likely that he or she would want nothing more to do with me. All the world would think I had cut off my child, but it would actually be the other way around.
The trouble is that there are two dueling “goods” if you will, that have to be balanced in the mind and heart of every believer—parent, pastor, friend, everyone. The one is the reality that Jesus came after the lost. The other is that truth is not in opposition to love, feelings on that score notwithstanding.
Yes, Jesus did come after the lost. He came all the way, a stranger in a strange land, a stranger to his own kindred, to pull them out of the pit they had dug for themselves. The person who is dead in sin doesn’t have the spiritual capabilities of even seeing the death. So, going after the lost is absolutely the thing that every Christian must do. This is what used to be known as “evangelism”—going out into the world to preach the gospel. It is an embarrassing and wretched task and so after a while, everyone thought it would be easier if we just got the lost to come into the church without first telling them they were lost, hoping they would eventually get the hint. Unhappily, the opposite happened. The lost never were that interested in the full life on offer, and never were transformed, and so now the community of “faithful believers” is in a wretched mess. All the wide internet world has certainly noticed this, but doesn’t seem to be able to figure out what to do about it.
Yes, Jesus came after the lost, but the way that he rescued them was not only by telling the truth, but being the Truth himself. A Truth so foundational and true and whole and perfect that a sinful, rebellious, angry world recoiled in horror. The only way to rescue the polyamorous out of their notorious and grievous sin is to tell them the truth—about themselves and about Jesus. Christians should go to them and tell them. And my goodness, if they actually come into a church building and ask to speak to the pastor, what an immensely gracious opportunity, that pastor should be ready and anxious to preach the gospel, as if it were The Season to do so, right there in the office, certainly from the pulpit. That is the pastoral response required.
The greatest grief, for me, though, is that in all these kinds of discussions, the thing that is most lacking is the deep, rich, glorious notes of the scripture. I don’t just mean quoting a lot of bible verses, tacking them in at the end of an article or a thought. I mean that Christians must return to the source of their spiritual lives. They must be so transformed by the renewing of their own minds that the riches of God’s grace come pouring out of their mouths in fantastical, interesting, perhaps even whimsical, but certainly thunderous and truthful ways.
I used to say to people encountering the Bible for the first time, who were struggling along with it, that the Bible is like a yardstick that God slowly spiritually embeds in your spine. There you are, kind of bent over, wandering through your life, just trying to survive, but then you begin to read the Bible with an open mind and a ready heart, and slowly, you find that God straightens your spiritual spine. It’s like you have a strong ruler holding you up. The scripture becomes so much a “measure” for you, that you begin looking out at the world with clear, unclouded eyes, the Word of God comes falling out of your mouth, it shines out of your actions, it flavors every interaction you have. The more this happens, of course, the more you will be in pain in your relationships, but also, the happier you will be, in that deep, settled peaceful happiness that cannot be properly be described to or understood by anyone in the world.
Mercy and Truth generally kiss each other, when the Bible is your spine. Go and check out more takes.