A few months ago, Methodist pastor and blogger Allan Bevere wanted my viewpoint on the argument that the acceptance of same-sex marriage will lead to polyandrous relationships. (Allan doesn’t share that view, but is trying to answer that question.)
I have to admit that I haven’t answered Allan’s question yet.
It’s not for lack of trying. I have thought about it. But I haven’t been able to come up with an answer that says same-sex marriage is okay and polyandrous relationship aren’t- at least with what society and mainline churches have used as an argument.
The view that I have encountered from liberal Christians and liberal society as a whole is centered on a sense of equality. As long as other people don’t bother us, then they are free to do what they want. Being a soft libertarian, I think that’s the way I want to go. Let people be.
But if that’s my answer, then I could also use that argument to support three people getting married as much as I could two members of the same sex.
The problem with the libertarian/equality viewpoint is that it can treat all forms of sexuality as equal if they don’t harm people.
Which is why I haven’t answered Allan yet. I think the answer I could give Allan would come up short.
My predicament is one that Damon Linker wrote about recently. Linker notes that there is something to the traditionalist understanding of sex:
From that time, in the fourth century, down to roughly my grandparents’ generation, the vast majority of people in the Western world believed without question that masturbation, pre-marital sex, and promiscuity were wrong, that out-of-wedlock pregnancy was shameful, that adultery was a serious sin, that divorce should either be banned or allowed only in the rarest of situations, and that homosexual desires were gravely disordered and worthy of severe (often violent) punishment.
Of course there were exceptions. In cities, and in certain eras, greater sexual freedom was sometimes possible. But that was not the norm. When people engaged in deviant behavior, they did it covertly, concealing it from others, aware that they were defying communal standards and expectations, and strongly suspecting (and fearing) that they were transgressing God’s will…
Those who feel most at home in sexual modernity tend to dismiss this traditionalist terror, writing it off as an expression of ignorant bigotry or a simplistic refusal to question authority. When traditionalists try to defend their views on pre-marital sex or homosexuality, what their opponents think they invariably hear is some version of: “I disapprove because it’s icky — and anyway, God/Jesus Christ/Scripture/The Church says it’s wrong.”
Traditionalists do sometimes talk and think this way. But I submit that underlying such views is something deeper and more worthy of reflection — namely, a series of contentious but not implausible assumptions about human beings.
What are those assumptions? That we are flawed, weak, needy, sinful creatures. That we can’t be trusted — especially when it comes to sex, which arouses our most intense physical longings and desires, and insinuates itself into our imagination and emotions, badly warping our judgment in the heat of the moment. That these longings and desires, left untamed by firm strictures on our behavior, will lead us to wreck our lives, our culture, our civilization.
That sex is profoundly dangerous.
I can remember as a youth and later in college hearing from my campus pastor the “dangers” of sex. On the one hand, such worries like simply lying on a bed with your girlfriend seems nutty. But as much as I might disagree with the overall social conservative outlook is on sex, they at the very least respect its power, its danger. Social conservatives are believers in original sin and know that humans can really screw things up when it comes to sex and relationships. Which might be why social conservatives seem so bent on restrictions and limits; because too much of a good thing might actually be bad.
The deficiency of the more modern outlook on sex, is that it doesn’t really prepare any of us for the rough patches that come our way. I say this as a out gay man in a same sex marriage; I am quite happy to not go back to the past that Linker describes. But that doesn’t mean our current sexual milleau is the promised land. There are always downsides. As I look back on my own sexual history ( yes, pastors have sex lives), I can tell you that there were good times, but there were also bad times and in all of those situations liberal Christianity wasn’t there. I probably didn’t expect it to be there, and I might have even not wanted it there, but the fact is when it comes to something as big as sex, liberal Christians need to do more than advocate for freedom and equality. The church also needs to tell us what to do with our sexuality and to find ways to connect it to our spirituality. There has to be a way to think theologically about sex. We have to find a way to tell those in the pews and especially our children, that our sex lives matter to God.
Why should two men get married? Why not three? When is premarital sex okay? How about being in a nonmonagamous relationship? What kind of birth control is okay? What does it mean to be transexual? What does God think of any of this? Why does it even matter?
These are the sort questions that liberal Christians need to wrestle with. Taking these questions on doesn’t mean we will end up at the same place social conservatives end up. In fact, we might not change our positions. But at least then we are really thinking about this. Discipleship means learning what it means to follow Jesus. To be a disciple means that everything, everything is up for discussion in how this matters to God.
I still haven’t found an answer to Allan’s question. Maybe as I learn to be faithful to God and to my husband, the answer will rise. Sometimes the answers we seek come from the life that we live.
Dennis, I don’t have an answer to the question either. That’s why I asked you. I appreciate that you are struggling to answer the question as well, but I also appreciate your thoughts in this post. Very helpful.