More Than Marriage: What’s Behind Polyamory In the Church

October 18, 2017

When I first heard the term “polyamory,” it sounded like one of those eyebrow-raising issues you hear about on daytime talk-shows—shocking, extreme, and on the fringe.[1] Less than a decade later, it’s creeping out of the shadows and into the mainstream, and even into the church.

What is polyamory? The word comes from both Greek and Latin and means, “many loves.” Essentially, it’s an arrangement between a (usually) married couple in which one or both spouses agree to have other romantic and sexual relationships, also known as an “open marriage.” As one source defined it, polyamory consists of “consensually non-monogamous relationships.”

The prevalence of polyamory among professing Christians recently came to the forefront. In the days following the roll out of the conservative evangelical Nashville Statement, and the counter-ideological Christians United Statement, one man asked a rather valid question: Why do LBGT-affirming churches fail to give public support for polyamorous unions?

The author, Chuck McKnight, describes his marriage as polyamorous and laments the fact that churches provide “next-to-no spiritual support” for the “thousands of faithful Christians” in their congregations with open marriages.[2] McKnight’s final exhortation for poly-inclusive churches claims, “[P]olyamory is here, and it is growing—regardless of what we may personally think about it.”

Within the Christian worldview the authority to define marriage belongs to God alone

As shocking as his claim may be, polyamory among professing Christians is just one more manifestation of an increasingly common mindset.  

Is it biblically unconscionable? Completely.

Is it theologically incongruent? No doubt.

But is this really new? Not quite.

Whether we’re talking about polyamory or monogamy, homosexual or heterosexual marriage, you can boil down every perspective of marriage and human sexuality to the same foundational issues: authority, belief, and worship.

Authority: Where it all begins

Everyone grounds his or her perspective of marriage and sexuality in someone’s authority. Whoever has that authority has the right to define what a marriage is and how human sexuality ought to be expressed.

For someone in a polyamorous relationship, authority is in that person’s sexual desires. And the definition of marriage follows. Even the definition of fidelity adapts to the individual. The polyamory-promoting website, MoreThanTwo.com, assures that an open marriage isn’t unfaithfulness, since neither spouse is breaking the pre-established rules: “If you aren’t breaking the rules of your relationship, you are not cheating, by definition.”

So, the two spouses have the authority to define what marital faithfulness is and is not. This definition comes from believing that they have the authority to define their marriage according to their personal desires. And if marriage were simply a social contract with mutually agreed upon terms prescribed by the individuals involved, that might be true.

Within the Christian worldview, however, the authority to define marriage belongs to God alone. God created humanity (Gen. 2:8, 19), sex (Gen. 2:24), and marriage (Gen. 2:24).[3] Therefore, only God has the authority to define both marriage and the right use of our sexuality (Matt. 19:4-6; Rom. 7:2-3; Heb. 13:4). And, his commands are for our good (Deut. 6:24; 1 Jn. 5:3). Therefore, every misuse of human sexuality expresses a denial of God’s authority and is always to our own detriment.[4] It all begins with authority.

Belief: Our response to authority

Authority directs belief. What you believe about human sexuality (both one’s actions and identification) is directly informed by the person or idea you believe has authority. Thus, when McKnight describes polyamory as a “relational orientation,” he is expressing a conviction about his own identity (belief), according to how he has defined himself (authority).

Interestingly, for McKnight, polyamory isn’t simply a lifestyle. Instead, he calls it a “relational orientation.” The language here is significant: Just as homosexuality is considered as a non-volitional, “born this way” identity, he regards polyamory as part of his identity, and subsequently, as who he was created to be. In other words, for the polyamorous person, non-monogamy is not just something you do, but something you are.

Plus, if polyamory is indeed an “orientation,” then demanding monogamy is not only unnatural[5], but contrary to his authentic self. The same concept applies to his description of professing Christians who “feel drawn to see if they are [polyamorous].” The ground for their identity—for who they believe themselves to be—comes from ascribing authority to their sexual desires to determine their decisions.[6]

We also see this principle in biblically based convictions about marriage and sexuality. If you believe God has authority to define what is good and right for humanity, then your beliefs about human sexuality—both in action and identification—will reflect your acknowledgment of his authority. When it comes to sexual integrity and marriage, the root issue is not primarily about what we do, but rather whom we believe.

The difference between the two ways of thinking goes all the way back to the garden (Gen. 3). The first slouch toward sin began with doubting the authority of (and motive for) what God said, which led to disbelieving what God said, then finally disobeying him completely. All sex outside the covenant of marriage includes this same deception—we are deceived about the happiness and freedom it promises us. We are deceived about the consequences it will bring us. We are even deceived about the very purpose of human sexuality and marriage altogether (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:22-33).

Belief follows authority.

Worship: The expression of belief

Worship expresses belief. What do you orient your whole life around? What purpose or person are you living for? What do you value and hold in such high honor and esteem that everything else in your life is defined according to it? Whatever it is—or whomever it is—that’s what you worship.

God created and redeemed us to worship and glorify him (Is. 43:1-7; Jn 4:21-24; Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 1:1-14; 1 Cor. 10:31; Rev. 4:8-11). This worship encompasses everything we are—including our sexuality—and is to the exclusion of everything and everyone else.

Even more, God created sexuality and marriage so that we would know and worship him.  The entire point of marriage is to display the spiritual reality of Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22-33). God gave us marriage so that we could know him and understand concepts like an exclusive covenant relationship and faithfulness.[7]  Throughout the Old Testament, faithfulness to the Lord was compared to faithfulness in marriage (Is. 54:5; Jer. 3:20; Ezek. 16; Hos.). The only way one could justify polyamory is if the Lord said he was OK with his people worshipping other gods since, after all, serving him exclusively was too much to ask! Adultery—even mutually consented adultery[8]—distorts the purpose for which God created marriage.

Every choice we make with our God-given sexuality is an expression of worship (Rom. 12:1-2). [9]

Let all who have this hope

The presence of polyamory among professing believers is yet another manifestation of a culturally accommodating Christianity that seeks to worship the Lord on its own terms. Yet, it is also a reminder that true children of God are called to be set apart for him alone, to live under his supreme authority, to believe his good and life-giving commands, and to worship him with all of our being.

When it comes to discussing sexual integrity, faithful Christ-followers will sound like a broken record. That’s because our song of redemption proclaims the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light (1 Pt. 2:9).

Let all who have this hope in him, purify themselves, just as he is pure. (1 Jn. 3:3)


[1]I’m indebted to Dr. Evan Lenow and his graduate course, “The Christian Home.” Dr. Lenow predicted that Christians would need to address polyamory years before it became a culturally familiar term.

[2]For some eye-opening evidence of this, check out Terri Stovall’s “The Secret Lives of Christian Swingers”, especially the comments.

[3]Marriage defined and used in this post to mean a lifelong covenant unto the Lord between one man and one woman.

[4] Some would point to the presence of polygamy in the Bible to support extramarital relationships, or refute arguments against polyamory or swinging. While biblical law restrained human sinfulness and regulated the cultural practice of polygamy/polygyny among God’s people (Ex. 21:7-11; Deut. 21:15-17), his design for marriage never adapted to the ancient Near Eastern culture. In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus (the fulfillment of God’s law himself) addresses the practice of giving a woman a certificate of divorce, noting that, while God permitted it because of the hardness of their hearts, it was never his design: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So, they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” God’s law regulated polygamy/polygyny among his people, but it was not his original plan. It is also significant that Isaac, the child of the covenant that God promised Abraham, was born to Sarah, Abraham’s first wife (Gen. 18).

[5]The idea that monogamy is “unnatural” is nothing new. A few years ago, CNN featured an op-ed arguing that one partner for life went against our own biology.

[6]The same line of logic is often found in arguments supporting same-sex relationships among professing Christians. See God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines (Convergent Books, 2015).

[7]John Piper, “Sex and the Supremacy of Christ: Part One,” in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, John Piper and Justin Taylor, eds. (Crossway, 2005), 26-30.

[8]It is noteworthy that the only time “mutual consent” shows up in Scripture is in reference to the exclusive intimacy between a husband and wife (1 Cor. 7:5)

[9]Concerning sexual purity, Paul directly links sexual integrity to worship in Romans 1:21-26, specifically identifying homosexual sin as a manifestation of trading the truth of God for a lie and worshipping the creature instead of the Creator. In light of this, same-sex relationships and transgenderism are also distortions of the good design and purpose for which God created gender and sexuality (Gen. 1:26-29).

This article originally appeared here.

Katie McCoy

Katie McCoy serves as director of Women’s Ministry at Texas Baptists (Baptist General Convention of Texas). She holds a Ph.D. from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where she previously served on faculty. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24