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“So if I’m polyamorous, and one of my partners is married, am I going to hell for adultery?”

December 4, 2017

A friend of mine has just come out as polyamorous to her Christian mother, who was immediately concerned that she would be helping married people to break their marriage vows

This is a thing I had occasion to consider 11 years ago when I was a polyamorous Christian person preparing for marriage. So here is the product of that thinking, for me, for my friend, and for anyone else wanting to make sure they’re not going into an eternal fire for the sake of a hot evening

I grew up in a very bible based church, and in a family where I was taught theology and Christian apologetics along with how to bleed a radiator and turn hospital corners. What this taught me was that, above all, the message you get from a particular part of the bible depends far more on the way you interpret it than on the text itself

For example, in the gospel of Matthew, there’s a famous part of one of Jesus’ sermons

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.

At first glance, to a modern eye, and after generations of people in power wanting to have the prevailing interpretation of the bible being the one that’s most useful to them, this looks like a call to passivity. To letting things slide in this life, because we’ll get justice in the next, so never you worry, just let the asshole go on his way, he’ll get his comeuppance later on, now just go back to making useful profit for your lord / owner / employer

In fact, when you know the context, this is Jesus advocating for non-violent resistance. Because at the time, slapping someone on the right cheek was something you did to servants and slaves. Because most people are right handed, slapping the right cheek happens with the back of the hand. The only way for them to slap your other cheek would be for them to use the palm of their hand, which is only ever done between people of the same status. By offering your other cheek you are effectively asking them to insult you as an equal, rather than as a subordinate. They are then left with the choice of not hitting you when invited to do so, or of tacitly acknowledging you as an equal with a right to reply and dispute their initial insult

So yeah. Context is everything

Which means that we can’t really try to read too much into biblical readings without knowing their contexts. Across the bible, there are many different relationships represented. In Genesis, Jacob marries sisters Leah and Rachel, and in fact, when Leah becomes infertile, she arranges for her servant Zilpah to become a third wife for Jacob, and celebrates when the marriage produces a son. In modern polyamory, this joy in the relationship between someone you love and another person is called compersion

At the other extreme, the apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, said that marriage should be only for men (let’s not even get started on Paul’s misogyny) who can’t keep it in their pants, which in my opinion is the worst of all possible reasons to decide you want to spend the rest of your life with someone

Anyway, my personal beef with Paul the Prude aside, there are a very wide range of relationships shown in the bible

In fact, the one time that multiple relationships are censured, that I can think of, is Solomon and his many wives. But even there, it’s not the fact of his multiple relationships that earns him disapproval, but that he adopts the religious faiths and practices of some of his non-Israelite wives. This breaks the first commandment about worshipping only the God of the Jews, and not any others. Even then, God gives him a pass while he’s still on Earth, presumably because Solomon was responsible for building him that nice house in Jerusalem

So that leaves us with what married people actually promise one another, and how we interpret that in the present day. The relevant words under the law in the UK are the promise to be faithful to one’s spouse. That’s commonly interpreted to mean romantic and sexual exclusivity, but does it have to?

Keeping faith with someone doesn’t have to be interpreted in this narrow a way.

For me, as a person who was a Christian when I entered a legal polyamorous marriage, I look at this a different way. I keep faith with my spouse by always telling them the truth. By telling them about important things in my life. By putting them and their needs above the needs of my other partners, and equal with myself and my own life ambitions. For me, the promise to be faithful goes above and beyond romantic and sexual obligations, and to the whole of our life together

By deciding to keep faith with one another in a way that can change at any time, we allow one another growth and change, and trust in our partners to use their judgement to ensure that we’re not hurt by their actions. Equally, having that trust placed in us allows us to be more fully ourselves, knowing that our needs and desires, honestly expressed and pursued, will be respected

In the new testament, Jesus says that the old covenant is ended, and that our responsibility to one another is to love each other. How better to express our love for our partners than by responding independently and sensitively to their own unique selves, and keeping faith with them using our free will and intelligent, trusting love. Doing this in accordance with the new covenant

I doubt anyone would go to hell for that

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