A young married couple with children who are active members at our church practice a “polyamory lifestyle” and see nothing wrong with it since some people in the Old Testament had multiple wives. How should the church respond?
According to one polyamory website, a polyamorous relationship is “a romantic relationship where the people in the relationship agree that it’s okay for everyone to be open to or have other romantic partners.” It is not to be confused with “swinging” because it emphasizes commitment and emotional love as opposed to simply recreational sex. And polygamy is only one possible form of polyamory, as it does not insist that all romantic partners have to be married. This movement seems to be growing, even among some Christians.
Although the Bible does not explicitly condemn polyamory per se, the Bible does present monogamy as the ideal. Jesus upholds Genesis 2—the two will “become one flesh”—as the basis of marriage (Matt. 19:4-6). Other New Testament passages also point to monogamy as the ideal for romantic relationships (1 Cor. 7:2; 1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6). Polygamy was tolerated and allowed in the Old Testament but never held up as a prescribed ideal. As Jesus taught concerning divorce, God sometimes allows practices that are not ideal (Matt. 19:8-9). In fact, Scripture often portrays the dysfunctional dynamics that arise from polygamous relationships. The Old Testament examples, therefore, cannot be used to justify polyamory.
Polyamory follows our culture’s tendency to reduce sexual relationships to mutual consent and desire. But feelings and desires need to be disciplined and directed. Scripture consistently used marriage as a metaphor for God’s covenant love for Israel and for Christ’s sacrificial love for the church. Therefore, marriage is not simply about meeting our sexual and emotional needs. Christian marriage has a missional dimension of bearing witness to God’s faithfulness. Monogamy’s exclusiveness better portrays God’s exclusiveness (as opposed to idols) with us.
The church community should pastorally and prayerfully help this couple learn this biblical ideal through gentle and patient instruction. We should not be quick to judge but must rather aim to be kind, “realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4).