The Quixotic Pastor

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Cutting Edges and Polyamory

Different Christian Denominations are experiencing different cutting edges, or, speaking euphemistically, different opportunities/challenges for growth.

For instance, in the worldwide Anglican Community, in Roman Catholicism, in certain strains of the Baptist tradition, the full inclusion of women in the life of the church remains a cutting edge that divides some people in the church from other folks in the church. The people who argue for full inclusion of women are "voices from the edge" so to speak.

In many, many different Protestant traditions, the full inclusion of GLBT people in the life of the church is a similar cutting edge, threatening to produce a schism of one kind or another.

In my particular denomination, these things are NOT cutting edges --they are pretty well taken for granted. Most of our elders are women; most of our pastors are women.

However, even in my mostly GLBTQueerQuestioningIntersexedAlliedSameGenderLoving
Add-Another-Letter-Here denomination, we too have many cutting edges, things over which as a denomination we are deeply divided ... but don't have the time to really talk about yet.

Polyamory is one of those things. I believe one's beliefs regarding polyamory is one of the things which identifies a person as liberal or conservative in my denomination.

What I am about to say regarding polyamory has the potential to get me in trouble with someone, whether it is a member of my church or congregant that reads my blog, or someone else. It doesn't matter which side I take or what I say --someone I love and care for will be offended, I guarantee it. Someone may decide to leave my church over what I write here --I hope not. I hope we can agree to disagree in love, and live in the tension between the already and the not yet ...

It is also my opinion and not that of my churches or my denomination. It is possibly different from the opinion of Rainbow Pastor, the only other MCCer known to me who is a part of the RGBP blog ring.
I first became exposed to the concept of polyamory at the 1999 MCC General Conference in LA. In MCC, besides a rite of Holy Matrimony [sacred commitment ceremony with officiant signing a marriage license as a witness of the state between two persons] we have a rite of Holy Union that, as the bylaw stated then and states now, unites two people in a sacred committed relationship, no license. A proposed bylaw change made it to the business meeting which would remove the word "two" from the Holy Union language, so that UFMCC pastors could unite more than two people in a Holy Union. [Some of us were doing that anyhow, not paying that close attention to the actual wording of the bylaw ... ;) Whoops.]
We sit in two houses to do our bidness, clergy and laity. Clergy traditionally vote their own conscience; lay delegates are elected to serve their churches as representatives of the will of the congregation. There are, of course, scads of categories of official observers with voice but no vote, where as a candidate for ordination I sat in 1999.
So, after much debate, the question was called. Red and green cards flew up into the air, too close to call, vote had to be counted. Removing the word "two" was narrowly defeated in the lay house, narrowly passed in the clergy house --which meant the overall defeat of the entire proposal.
Much to my chagrin, it has not made it to the floor of General Conference business meeting since, although there have been many valiant efforts to get another vote and change the wording. My suspicion is that most laity are agin it, most clergy are for it --and lots of people are afraid that, if MCC would approve Holy Unions for more than two persons, it would hamper our efforts for full marriage equality for GLBT persons. It would give the Religious Right more ammo in their battle against marriage equality. I'm not so sure that's true. More about that later.
Nevertheless, the practice of polyamory is alive, if not necessarily well, in my denomination. One of our elders is a member of a long-term triadic relationship and is very open about his relationship. During the state of the clergy meeting at our most recent clergy conference he expressed his hope that one day many of our clergy would be able to come out of the closet regarding their relationship status --and still be called to serve churches in our mostly congregationalist polity. A clergyperson in my region is very open about her long-term triadic relationship --and I was blessed to serve them communion at the closing worship service of this year's General Conference, when I felt no fear in acknowledging their triad, because in MCC our communion table is open to everyone. That is enough justification.
I was asked not long ago if, as a clergy person I would unite two persons in Holy Union who had an open relationship. [Many polyamorists would not define an open relationship between two persons as polyamorist.] I said that, Yes, I would --as long as I was convinced that the couple in question were thoroughly committed to one another and thoroughly confortable with their agreement with one another to be open. I would want them to discuss and agree upon what was acceptable to each in their openness, as well as ask them the usual hard questions one asks couples who are about to commit.
The same person also asked me if, as a clergy person, I would unite more than 2 people in a Holy Union. I said that MCC bylaws currently prohibited me from doing so and that I would not endanger my clergy credentials by opening myself up to complaint --but that I would do my best to work with that group of individuals to come up with a commitment ceremony, a time of blessing that would somehow acknowledge the sacredness of their relationship. Or I would refer them to someone else who would perform a Holy Union for them.
I am not happy with my response to that question, because I know what it is like to be excluded from full inclusion in a faith community. I know what it is like to have my gifts and graces for ministry denied because of whom I love. I know what "the closet" feels like: it looks and feels very much like a tomb.
Someone might accuse me of advocating for what some call "marriage-lite." I don't think I am, because, from what I have observed about people in open relationships and people in polyamorist relationships, their unions are far more complicated than the usual dyadic relationship. To make them work, participants in these relationships must be far more intentional about their commitments, their communication and their care for one another. It calls for a certain kind of unselfishness, often called "comperssion" by polyamorists, in which one lover delights that another lover has experienced pleasure in loving yet another ...
Would I personally engage in an open relationship? Nope, because I am in a committed relationship with someone who, currently at least, has no interest in doing that and I, currently at least, have no interest in doing that. If DH ever changes her mind [if Hell freezes over] we'd have to negotiate that.
Would I personally engage in a polyamorist relationship? I'm not sure I'd ever be up for that challenge, for a variety of reasons.
This is a long post --but remember, you didn't have to read it.


  • At 8:02 AM , Blogger Magdalene6127 said...

    Thanks for this... very thoughtful and helpful.



  • At 10:42 AM , Blogger Rainbow Pastor said...

    No, we are not at far apart. In fact, I pretty much echo your thoughts here, without the historical component, not having been there in LA...

    God blesses relationships, we are the conduit.

  • At 5:20 PM , Blogger Mary Beth said...

    And I thank you for it. Very good information and background.


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