Poly is the new Black.
CNN appears to have a new agenda this fall: Broadening the definition of “marriage” from the not yet universal “two people” to “whatever.” The specific terms for “whatever” are polygamy and polyamory. What is polyamory you ask? And you should ask. You are going to be hearing much more of these terms, especially from CNN, since they appear to be engaged in a systematic attempt to make sure you do. Consider this sample of the diet CNN has fed us this fall:
December 18: CNN runs a belief blog by an Episcopal priest, Danielle Tumminio entitled, “How I learned to love polygamy.” (Her post is so chock full of theological problems that it warrants response from the blogosphere, but our seminaries’ apparent weakness in explaining basic trinitarian theology, why supporting the release of “spirit babies” to work their way to heaven by people holding an adoptionist view of Christ’s deity are a separate issue.)
December 16: CNN runs an opinion piece by Mark Goldfeder, from the Center for Law and Religion entitled, “It’s time to reconsider polygamy.”
December 14: CNN runs a news piece on the Utah polygamy law being struck down as unenforceable.
These could be considered “responding to the news,” except that on October 26th, CNN ran this seven page puff-piece in support of polyamory: Polyamory: When three isn’t a crowd.
CNN can’t wait for the ink to dry on Same Sex Marriage, before feeding us the next thing up. It appears that for CNN, “poly” is the new “Black.” And yes, the mixing of the wardrobe metaphor with the genetic-causality argument is strictly intentional. Many African Americans have long been incensed by the LGBT community equating race with orientation. Now the LGBT community will get to experience having their argument co-opted by another’s agenda (“It’s my Civil Right…my right to privacy as an adult…who are you to tell me not to be who God made me to be?”).
Many will say the move from judgmental narrowness to freedom is a good thing…that telling people how to live is invasive and repressive, best left on the dung-heap of a once Christian culture. Has anyone bothered to ask, as we rush pell-mell into a wholesale rewriting of cultural norms, if this brave new pansexuality CNN is proposing has ever worked in any other culture in any time in the known history of our species?
By the way, the church is not immune. Polyamory is in the church already – and not just in the pews. The week before CNN ran the “Three isn’t a Crowd” article I was at an ecumenical Christian formation conference. Although the information at the conference was very helpful, the level of cultural accommodation among some of the conference’s SF Bay area attendees was stunning. Over lunch a very nice Children’s minister asked a clergy person from Idaho (a heavily LDS area) if she had access to LDS children’s materials. Since the LDS are non-trinitarian, I curiously asked, “Why would you use LDS stuff?” The answer: “Oh, their materials are helpful in our polyamorous context.” Taken aback I asked, “You have polyamorous families in your church?” She seemed to think I was pulling her leg with the question. “Seriously?” she asked. “The definition of families is changing, you know.” Surprised I responded, “Wow, that sure sounds like the ‘slippery slope’ conservatives are mocked for fearing.” A clergy person at the table jumped in: “And what’s wrong with slippery slopes?”
Apparently slippery slopes aren’t a problem for a growing number in the church, nor for CNN either. And apparently we are to be fed a steady diet of CNN’s new “whatever” agenda.
I have one question: Do you like how it tastes?
27 thoughts on “Polygamy/Polyamory: CNN feeds us their agenda. Do you like how it tastes?”
It is a slippery slope indeed. And it aches my heart to see it happen within the congregational fellowship. Lord have mercy as biblical authority is tossed aside so casually.
It is interesting to read the Apostolic Fathers and hear them also defending the Scriptures from charges of being negative, legalistic and unrealistic in the current enlightened culture.
Has anyone bothered to ask, as we rush pell-mell into a wholesale rewriting of cultural norms, if this brave new pansexuality has ever worked in any other culture in any time in the known history of our species?
Well, the patriarchs of the Old Testament all practiced polygamy – so I think that could certainly be considered such an instance. And there isn’t a word in Scripture condemning it that I’m aware of.
The courts will have to decide on this issue, and since there are many negative effects and social drawbacks to polygamy, I would imagine they’ll decide against it on that basis, and that will be that.
Thanks for commenting.
The OT has descriptions but not prescriptions of polygamy…not the same as endorsement.
I would bet my bottom dollar that they will indeed approve because of how the LGBT community argued same sex marriage. When you argue based on privacy and civil rights who doesn’t have those rights? There was a better argument to be made.
As Fr. Matt points out, description is not the same as prescription. This is a really important distinction; I can’t tell you the number of times I seen someone grab a random verse from the Old Testament (describing something admittedly reprehensible like rape or slaughter) and then spout something like “That’s what your tyrant god is all about!” The Bible describes all kinds of situations and actions in its complex and gritty narrative, but that doesn’t mean God approves it all. And while I, like you Barbara, can’t think of any explicit scriptural condemnations of polygamy, I also can’t think of any positive depictions of the same. I can, though, think of several scriptural descriptions of the practical problems of polygamy/polyamory, such as the headache Abraham faced when his house and heritage was threatening to split in two between Sarah and Hagar, or the jealous rivalries between Rachel and Leah (and subsequently, their sons), or Solomon’s many wives pulling him into idolatry and intrigue, to mention a few.
Not incidentally, I read that CNN story from October, and I remember thinking, “Honestly, why would anyone choose to do this? It just sounds like a continual battle of jealousies, suspicions, and juggling.” To each his own, I suppose, but the idea that the Church should hold up such a model and essentially say, “Sure, this is as good as the ol’ traditional marriage” is to my mind, frankly, ludicrous.
And while the courts will rule as they will, and so may legally redefine marriage ad infinitum, it does not follow that such legal changes should translate into how the Church chooses to define the sacrament of Christian marriage. On that score (at least as concerns polygamy), I think the Bible does have some pretty clear prescription: from the Genesis account of a man and a woman becoming one flesh, to our Lord’s upholding of the same ideal when He was questioned about marriage, to Paul’s instruction that a bishop or a deacon must be the “husband of one wife.”
Your contribution is always both intelligent and balanced.
Btw, at that conference there was a group not only advocating for polyamory, they were saying it is “more holy” than monogamy as it takes “more honesty and trust.”
In addition to your observations here I have seen it become fashionable in the blogosphere to call out others (all within a theoretical Christian family) those with whom they disagree with relative to issues of politics and culture. Granted maybe some of that needs to happen at both ends of the spectrum, but it appears tied to this kind of agenda.
HI Pebasv, I’m not sure what you are talking about.
It’s just that I like that tree on your corner with all the red lights. I like it a great deal. Not sure what else.
Polyandry (one woman with several husbands) has been practiced in Tibet/Mongolia/Nepal I think. The Unitarian Universalists have been on the polyamory bandwagon for some time. Proverbs 5:15-23, at least the Good News version, suggests faithfulness to one’s wife if not one wife. Christians have been slow to see societal breakdown and relate that breakdown to abandonment of Scriptural norms. If the secularists are allowed to define the terms of the debate, there can be no meaningful debate.
Good thoughts, Don.
I do think this is one a moral secularist can take issue with. I was a non-Christian who was sexually abstinate. In high school I wondered about my Christian friends who talked a bunch about morality but led pretty wild lives.
Hi Matt — questions of sex aside, the central argument I have heard with regard to same-sex marriage is extension of legal benefits only available to married couples. From this perspective, it isn’t polyamorous relationships I would expect to see, but virtually any kind of relationship that seeks the legal benefits of marriage. The model for this is the tongue-in-cheek episode in Boston Legal that has two heterosexual males getting married to each other to ensure the one could safely inherit from the other, who would in return receive the benefits of his partner’s wisdom as he entered into terminal life issues. Okay. Why not? And if two male, heterosexual friends, then why not first cousins? Or even two sisters? Or to provide green card status in return for financial security? Why not any two individuals on the planet who choose to form a corporation under the countries marriage laws?
And why not polyamorous relationships? Against, but for the same reasons: the state cannot afford to extend benefits to private corporations of that size potential invested in a polyamorous relationships.
Forget the sex. It’s all about the Benjamin’s!
Hi Arnold. You are surely right…although, in addition to financial concerns, the “m” word also does conjure up the appearance of legitimacy.
The argument you make is a logical one if you disengage traditional definitions. I read some quote by a bishop in the early 1960s talking about birth control saying something along the lines of, “If we disengage sex and procreation from marriage then the logical conclusion is disengaging gender, number of partners, Etc. When I read it, I thought he was an extremist. When you couple his logic with the manner in which the lgbt community has argued for marriage equality you get a recipe in which it is hard not to see it leading to “whatever.” There was a better argument to be made by the lgbt community. I fear the “civil right” argument was low hanging, but very dangerous fruit.
Hope you are well, friend. I most enjoyed our time at CDSP. Hanging out with great folk like you was the high point!
I’m no fan of polygamy or polyandry, but the “descriptions but not prescriptions” dichotomy rings a little hollow–there are some major OT figures who have many wives and it seems to be regarded as a sign of their virtue rather than counted against them. Perhaps the sentence should be lengthened to say that there are “descriptions but not prescriptions, but neither are there prohibitions” in the OT.
Hi Tom. Thanks for writing in.
Like I say, sex is not an area of study for me, so details on sexual practices from texts won’t be my forte, although I read the OT regularly in my modified full Bible reading in the Daily Office and am familiar with the stories. I can think of examples of polygamy as attesting to someone’s power but examples of virtue don’t readily spring to mind.
The difference between descriptive and prescriptive texts is a long regarded hermeneutical principle. It is really about literary genre-I.e.we don’t read history in the same way we read an epistle or law, which were telling people “Do this, don’t do that.” The P/D argument is one of the most powerful scriptural arguments for women’s ordination. It is also a commonly taught principal in every scripturally based Protestant seminary that I know…and, in AZ at least, is a principle referenced by Catholics. I do find it is virtually unknown among Progressives. I got your reaction when referencing it at CDSP…so perhaps this is an issue of different traditions having different emphasis.
The prescription/description argument does say something similar to but more extensive than what you are saying: one wouldn’t expect to see a prohibition against nor a command to in a descriptive text- merely a description of what took place and the ramifications. In the case of polygamy this appears, at least to me, to be generally negative…other gods end up tolerated, unholy political alliances made, etc. Later prophets are often delivering warnings for issues inaugurated by previous political polygamous entanglements.
Just wanted to point out that the question – and my response to it – was not centered on the merits of polygamy, but on the workability of polygamy.
And to me, the very fact that the God of the patriarchs and prophets was pleased to reveal himself to a culture which practiced polygamy – without ever condemning it, even though condemning the various practices of other cultures around about it – seems to indicate at least an indifference to the practice at that time.
I’m definitely no expert, but I’ve read someplace that by the time of the birth of Christ, polygamy was dying out as a practice anyway. Now, obviously in any case the church made a different call on this topic, eventually, and I’m sure it had its reasons; I think we’re talking about those reasons here.
Our statutes of law are at this point, I think, indeed based in Christian culture and teachings. What’s happening now, as far as I can tell, is that people are going deeper to look at the reasons for these statutes. It’s kind of an interesting process, I think – and I bet in the long run those reasons, again, based in Christian teaching – will turn out to have the merit we think they do. Monogamous marriage has been a steady, stable idea for thousands of years now, and same-sex marriage itself follows the logic.
We do seem to have wandered afield from a conversation on the workability of polyamory. Thank you for bringing us back on the ranch.
I once watched a news special on polyamory: 20/20 or one of those. A lady had 3 fellas.
It seemed to me that two of the guys weren’t all that happy about the arrangement. It seems to me that people pair off for a reason and that, although some profess to wanting to “share” love, most don’t when the other one is as well.
One that show it appeared that one of the people was funding the hot romance of the lady and another of the guys…with a third wheel who was still too new to figure it all out.
You do seem to have more faith in our legal system than I do. Given the reasoning of the precedents and the line of argument, judges will be forced to apply the principles of privacy and civil rights with neutrality across the board.
Like I said to another, there was another way to argue this. The l/g community fought the fight with tools that will ultimately harm their own secondary purpose: legitimacy as well as legality.
I really think judges will strike down number as they have gender. If a judge in Utah will, why wouldn’t a judge in a progressive state?
Well, I don’t think there are really any other tools to fight with in the legal arena, except rights – are there? (One big problem with this issue is that we’re simultaneously talking about legal, cultural, and religious ideas and rules about marriage! It’s really very hard to stay on-topic, in fact.)
What you say there about precedents, etc., may be true (I’m not a legal scholar either!) – all things being equal. But all things are not always equal; there issues of “social welfare” that apply here as well, which don’t apply in the case of same-sex marriage (and sometimes go to argue in favor of it). There are, for instance, studies that conclude that polygamy in our context is socially de-stabilizing: http://www.torontosun.com/2012/01/23/more-rape-and-violence-among-polygamists-study .
As far as I can tell, the courts, when they are making some kind of new ruling, rarely go beyond what the society in which they exist will tolerate. This is why same-sex marriage, for instance, has had the pattern of acceptance it’s had. (The Utah decision seems to be an exception to this rule, but I don’t know the ins and outs of that one. It’s interesting, though, that this happened in a state in which there’s been a history of polygamy.) Decisions can be overturned, too, on some other basis.
In any case: laws can also be changed, if it seems they are having severely negative effects. Prohibition is a good example of that.
Anyway same-sex marriage proponents argued for the right to marry somebody, not for the right to marry everybody! There really is a difference, I think.
I wish news outlets would link to original research-that sounds like a really interesting study.
In the case of same-sex marriage, the argument has been about “civil rights” and “privacy.” A better argument, in my mind, would have been that monogamy is a “social good” and that providing stability for children is the primary purpose of the state’s involvement in marriage not, as Arnold remarked earlier, “the Benjamins.” One argument would have been winnable but not have the problem of unlimited expandability…like the lady last year in USA today who married herself or Arnold’s Boston Legal example.
Fr. Matt, here’s a link to a page about the study that contains a link to the PDF of the study itself: http://www.publicaffairs.ubc.ca/2012/01/23/monogamy-reduces-major-social-problems-of-polygamist-cultures/
That is interesting research.
It is interesting that they link the spread of monogamy in part to the spread of Christianity. We seem to have the spread of polygamy coinciding with the collapse of Christianity.
Dr. Jennifer Snow told me a story once about research she did on an Anglican priest in Africa that was known as something like “Father Marriage.” She said a similar thing. I will try to get the story and link to it.
Just a couple of quick comments from my perspective as a Bible History Teacher and very happily married man for nearly thirty years:
David will surely be quoted as being a “man after God’s own heart” and openly married to more than one woman. And correctly so. But, “in for a penny in for a pound” as the saying goes. He forcibly removed Michael from a presumably happy marriage (her husband followed and cried for 150 miles) and she hated David for it. He purchased the blessing of Saul on a marriage for a sack full of philistine foreskins…try that when you ask for the Father of the Brides blessing. We can’t pick and choose, necessarily, the parts of the story we like.
Solomon will also be cited as the wisest (God given wisdom) man on earth and also married (for international relations purposes) to many wives. True enough. But, he took a Nation, blessed by God and poised to become the Alpha Power (under God’s guidance) in the Middle East of time, and handed it to his son, Rehoboam, fractured, withering and steeped in civil war in just forty short years. Is there a connection? Scripture says so. And, again, we can’t claim the good parts of a story for support to an argument without also factoring in the not so pretty parts that balance the plot.
Yes…even the Law seeks to regulate the practice of polygamy among the Israelites…who were living in, and had just come out of, a culture that supported it. Regulation does not indicate prescription…
And, even if Scripture had nothing to say against the practice…it still can be wrong in a given cultural context because of what it brings to the society, the families or the children innocently involved.
Those are great examples of our description v. prescription issue.
I still haven’t thought of a scriptural example of polygamy being extolled as a good.
An honest reading of the Old Testament will show that God often, and seemingly preferentially so, chooses to use imperfect and even unwillingly people to work his will. This strips us of excuse for inaction in Kingdom Causes! However, the fact that God can and will use an imperfect man is not license to live imperfectly. Paul nails this mine down over and over again.
A most important point. And well made. Thank you.
Polygamy in the ancient world is not polygamy in 21 century America. Women weren’t entirely helpless, but mostly so, and a man taking on more women to care for would not have been the act of a womanizing pig, neither a social radical statement and lifestyle choice by sexually liberated people. We must be in dialogue with our ancestors, as Jesus was, not just look back and see how they did it. Likewise, we must be in dialogue today to find out what is going on with polyamorous households. What are they supposed to do, just not go to church? What are they supposed to do, just break up and break hearts? I mean, sure, I’m all for upholding monogamy as the standard, and understand the refusal of priests to bless plural marriages. But what is done about it in the pew and at the rail when polygamists show up? Anything? What is asked of these households by the Church? What do these households have a right to ask of the Church? How do we best minister to their children, so that their children feel safe and nurtured at home?
Those are great questions, Clint. Especially if you live in places where polyamorous people are coming to church…and more of us will.
Most of us have never seen a polyamorous “family” group. My tendency would be to say, “We will love you and your children. Part of love though is helping you when you are doing something that is statistically unhelpful to you and your children and is outside the pale of Christian standards of monogamy and fidelity.”