My last post generated a lot of attention, but not many comments. A few people sent messages to me on Facebook (btw, you can now “like” Theology & the City on Facebook!) wondering where I stood on open relationships, whether I thought they were Biblical, and if I “really think this is God’s best??!!”
Let me start by saying Thank You for reading my thoughts on this site. It’s humbling to know that people are reading my words and thoughts. Second, this is clearly a topic (relationships and marriage) under a lot of strain right now – by legalizing same-sex marriages, many people are concerned that “real” marriage will be brought down in the eyes of culture and God. Indeed, maybe they are right since, there will inevitably be some other, new“fight” we must have about marriage and relationships once we begin legalize and accept gay marriage. So, let me say that I do not take marriage lightly – I think we would be fools to take marriage lightly. Indeed, many of you expressed that you feel “open marriage” is an affront to the sanctity of “real marriage.” You made this very clear in your comments, and I want to normalize your thoughts – you are not alone.
However, I also want to say that part of me saying this, that those who take marriage lightly are foolish, includes relationships-that-don’t-work, relationships in which there is an absence of mutual respect, and even early marriage – which is rampant in religious cultures. Just because you slap God’s Name on your ideas doesn’t make them holy.
Finally, thank you again for not being sure where I stand. That my own bias could be benched on a topic like this is a point of pride for me – in the absence of someone (like me) telling you what you should think, you must decide for yourself. It is a authorial choice that frustrates readers – being empowered. Many of us, when reading something or even going somewhere like a movie of lecture, want to be told what to think and feel. We’re not sure what to do when we must make those kind of decisions for ourselves. What do you mean to do? Make me think? For God’s sake, how horrid!
For context, I feel I need to use someone’s comment. Those of you who privately contacted me, or called me, I want to respect that privacy, and so I am using a public post on Facebook:
Good grief is that your Randall? I found it quite… confounding!
How on earth does the author make so much commentary without giving an opinion- or perhaps the most implied opinion was general agreement that this is how it is and should be, a natural progression of humanity. I’m not sure why God was brought into it at all, as the idea of ‘becoming one’ etc seems to point towards God’s feelings on the matter. God doesn’t seem to change with the current social trends of the western world.
Types of polygamy are becoming acceptable in our culture. Not long ago ‘we’ frowned upon it in those ancient cultures that have always done this. It was frowned upon because of the culture of that same western world. Not because of God but still using him as an excuse to basically feel that ‘we’ were better than what were called ‘primitive’ cultures.
Old adages say it all. What was old will become new again! It happens every day, a ‘new’ discovery that has really only been out of fashion for a while.
None of this has any meaning or worth.
The Truth is that the best thing for a husband to do is to love his wife. Not for her but for himself. And the best thing a wife can do…
Our tiny minds can try to figure out differently but them’s the facts.
I want to respond to this post by starting at starting at the end, rolling my way back.
First, I disagree with your statement about tiny minds. I come from a theological perspective that values humanity as “made in the image of God” and not some baser, lower life form that we (as guilty Christians) must denigrate, or self-shame as a means of conveying a sense of false humility. In fact, this perspective, that humans are inherently good, is a big bone of contention among religious circles. How good are we? Did we lose our goodness in the Fall of Eden? Perhaps I will have an opportunity to respond at length to this, elaborating on where I come from in regards to this point – that we, as humans, do not need to live in shame of what we are – but it suffices at present to say we would all be helped if we stopped shaming ourselves, owned what we thought and believed, and stopped presenting a false sense of humility. Also, there is no such thing as “facts” when it comes to scriptural interpretation. A cursory study of Greek and Hebrew will make you aware of how flexible these languages are. Further, any study of literature or scriptural exegesis will help you realize that there is more than one way to read a text. Thank you for standing up for scriptural authority, though. I welcome that – you and I both love the text, and that’s clear. We express ourselves differently, but again and again, thank you for loving God, the Church, and scripture enough to have read it and dialogue with me. By all means, correct me if and where I am wrong.
Second, I hope we can agree that the best thing a husband can do is love God, over and above his wife. In making a social statement about relationships, you’ve cut God out and this troubles me.
Third, I’m not sure whether you’re referring to the article or to the discussion on marriage. Either way – it matters to someone. The article mattered enough for you to respond, and what we think about marriage does indeed matter – as evidenced by your reaction, the droves of people who are making arguments for wanting to get married… and the droves of people trying to deny them that right to protect what they feel is a “sacred rite.”
Fourth, yes! Polyamory is not a new thing! It has always been a part of culture – all cultures, including current and ancient ones. If you are referring to the cycle in Ecclesiastes which says there is nothing new under the sun and what once was now is, I’m happily in agreement. (Isn’t Ecclesiastes a wonderful book?)
Fifth, I’m not sure what you mean by “types of polygamy are becoming more acceptable,” but I would posit that all forms of multi-partner relationships (as well as “atypical” or “abnormal” or “deviant” or “alternative” relationships) are becoming more public, thanks in part to television programming, technology, and changing mores. There is a reason why Fifty Shades of Grey found a fertile market with electronically-delivered reading more than the printed copy (though it certainly has found a market in printed edition, even in supermarkets as well). These “not-standard” relations (i.e. “perversions”) have always existed – even persisted, regardless of class, culture, race, and age. As Ian Malcolm says in Jurassic Park, “Life will find a way.” Human sexuality is a curious thing – and thank God for that. If anything, relational dynamics undergo changes or cycles over time. As you said, and as Ecclesiastes says, what once was old will become new again. There is a certain kind of comfort in this – the problems we face, the social struggles we are going through, others have already gone through and survived. We may disagree with where and how these types of relationships exist and are thriving, but I trust God and humanity enough to find a way to balance itself. To spring back, like a rubber band. We’ll ride this wave, then change and evolve.
Sixth, I would radically disagree with you. Our concept or perception of God changes and by extension God does change – in fact, God blessed polygamous relationships in the Hebrew Scriptures, so… If anything… We’ve changed our concept of what God approves of. Your logic, that God does not change, nor do God’s opinions change, is entirely off base otherwise. If you were right, all of Christianity is wrong since we believe Jesus was the end of sacrifices, all of Judaism is wrong since they no longer offer sacrifices, Western culture is wrong for allowing Victorian ideals to suppress our sexuality – a sexuality which seems so clearly on display from Creation through Song of Songs. Sexual metaphors are rampant in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, and any true desire to return to “the way they did it in the Bible” would mean that you allow your spouse to have an extramarital lover. Indeed, Martin Luther once said that if a husband cannot produce a child with his wife, the wife was free to take up with another man without divorcing her husband! Further, Martin Luther once wrote
I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife, he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the word of God. In such a case, the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter.” (De Wette II, 459, ibid. p. 329-330)
Where does it stop, our rewriting of scripture? God’s acceptance of Gentiles into the household of faith is wrong, wearing certain clothing is wrong and on and on. It’s important for us to recognize that our concept of what a marriage should look like comes from St. Augustine, who saw a conflict with Old Testament polygamy. He wasn’t the first I would wager, but his breadth of writing and prestige in the canons of patristic theology allow us to set a time, date, and name to our modern concept of a monogamous relationship. In his The Good of Marriage (410 A.D.), Augustine writes that though polygamy
was lawful among the ancient fathers: whether it be lawful now also, I would not hastily pronounce. For there is not now necessity of begetting children, as there then was, when, even when wives bear children, it was allowed, in order to a more numerous posterity, to marry other wives in addition, which now is certainly not lawful. (ch. 15, para. 17)
Now, this is the fourth century – 400 years after Jesus and some 350 years after Paul. To beat the point, polygamy existed and was still a part of the Christian communities – plural. It wasn’t one just a singular location. Our concept of Biblical dilemmas is that while Ephesus was facing one issue, Jerusalem did not have that same problem, that the cities (and religious communities) were isolated from one another, and that Paul was a “genius” because he could juggle mutually exclusive ethical issues. I do not hold this belief, at all. Nor do I agree with Augustine that time separates us either. Time and distance mean very little to me – and I admit, this is probably a result of living in a modern era, but when you look over the cycles of history you see how true Ecclesiastes was… and is. Nothing is new. Time and place do not change the nature of humanity to do the same things. Indeed, while Augustine may have declined to judge the patriarchs (I believe this was false humility on his part, as he implies as much), even raising the thought that he is refraining from such smacks of pious superiority. Further, even in implicitly judging-by-not-judging (something people of a religious persuasion have perfected, mind you), Augustine did not deduce from their practice the ongoing acceptability of polygamy – which is what we have held to (for the most part) ever since.
To restate, Augustine forbade polygamy and polyamory. Jesus and Paul and John and Peter did not. I cannot make this clear enough – Jesus didn’t discredit polygamy, and Paul can be read both ways, but it took Augustine’s explicit condemnation (while not retroactively condemning those who came before) to mark a cultural shift in understanding. Augustine. Not Jesus. Still, in another place, Augustine tips his hand by writing, “Now indeed in our time, and in keeping with Roman custom, it is no longer allowed to take another wife, so as to have more than one wife living” – marking a conditional or contextual loophole. In his time, was it permissible in other cultures? Or, in other times but still in Roman culture, was it not permissible? Augustine creates loopholes so wide you could time travel through them.
On principle, I agree with your position that God doesn’t change, we do, but I’ve seen God’s Name misused every possible way from Sunday to sundown to allow for the possibility that God isn’t behind half of the things we think are fixed. Further, there is scriptural precedent of God changing his mind and being argued/berated into a different opinion. Scripture records there have been times when God has “repented” or changed. The only question is whether we are following that pillar, following that cloud, or whether we are out of sync with where God is headed – whether and where we must repent and change.
Seventh, I’m no one‘s Randall. Haha! With (false) humility, I would say that I attract “theological crushes,” but once a girl has me to herself, she doesn’t know what to do with me because I’m “too much” – the ever-present debate of whether an interest is “too much” or “not enough” is one which we all must endure, some more than others.
Moving on, I want to say that open relationships exist across all races and cultures. In the northwest (i.e. “Baptist” end) region of Louisiana, where my mother lives, I know open relationships are incredibly prevalent among both affluent white and lower-class African Americans. Across the border in East Texas, the stats flip. White Evangelicals are more permissible of open relationships and polyamory. In Los Angeles, it is rampant – Christians and atheists, agnostics and Buddhists, Muslims and Mormons. Twentysomethings, thirtysomethings, fortysomethings, every age and demographic can be accounted for with so much as a brief vista to MeetUp.com
Go with me on this – The Bible isn’t enough. To quote scripture isn’t enough. What God says isn’t enough. We filter scripture and God and revelation through a series of lenses until we are no longer focusing on “God” but on what we think of God, what we think God said or is saying. There exists some preconceived ideal in our minds of God, and we move towards that because we have been programmed that way.
Notice, I have still not yet picked a “side” of this discussion. I have been putting information out there, but haven’t really engaged with scripture, faith, tradition, or my concept of God yet. I recognize this may be frustrating, since, again, you want me to name it. As a reader, you want me to tell you what to think – some of you have come to this post with a preconceived idea against open relationships and have read what I am saying though that lens. Oh, he’s some hippy-dippy liberal out in California. Sinner. And others of you are reading this from a sociological lens, wishing I would cut out God and dialogue with the data more. This is a conscious choice on my part, one which I will continue in my next post.