Even in Addressing 'Slippery Slope,' Gay Methodist Caucus Won't Oppose Multiple Partners

John Lomperis is the director of the United Methodist Action program of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
John Lomperis is the director of the United Methodist Action program of the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

The arguments in many Western churches today over whether or not to abandon very clear biblical and historic Christian teaching against homosexual practice have raised the question of what other biblical boundaries for sexual ethics might also become up for grabs, after Scripture is abandoned as authoritative for morality.

Within America's second-largest Protestant denomination, the United Methodist Church, the main organization pushing the LGBTQ liberationist cause is the extraordinarily well-funded Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN).

In a recent article, RMN tackles the "slippery slope" argument, in its own way, in apparent hopes of refuting, "a few anti-gay Christians [who] have liberally used fallacious logic and hateful rhetoric."

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From its opening by singling out an African-American pastor for ridicule through its rambling at length about "why we don't marry mops" to its approvingly citing Karl Marx to its bizarre sci-fi digression of suggesting openness to "inter-species marriage relationships" between humans and extra-terrestrials, the essay makes clear that THE central, and perhaps only firm, sexual boundary for RMN's rather secularized sexual ethics is consent.

Hence, traditional United Methodists are assured that because of this standard, RMN would agree with us in opposing rape and bestiality. RMN would also agree with us in opposing parent-child romance, although the article's stance on other forms of incest is less clear.

But what about "polyamory" – the practice of having multiple sexual partners in overlapping periods of time – a term I first learned from monitoring RMN? And what about the reality of "monogamish" relationships – where two "committed partners" allow each other to cheat – being so widespread in the LGBTQ community that liberal Slate magazine reports the "dirty little secret about gay marriage" that "Most gay couples are not monogamous"?

Here RMN rather awkwardly tries to walk a fine line between strategically appealing to the sort of "respectable moderates" turned off by lewd "pride" parades while also avoiding calling its own community to too-firm moral boundaries of sexual self-control.

The author, Rev. Dr. Dave Barnhart of Birmingham, Alabama, briefly presents "reasonable arguments for monogamous exclusivity" and "against multiple-partner marriages," arguments which are mainly sociological in nature.

But on the other hand, the RMN blogger rushes to makes clear: "I am not, by the way, ruling out multiple-partner marriages, but illustrating one way to think about it." He goes on to admit that "it may be possible for more than two people to enter into" what would constitute a healthy marriage according to his criteria.

Then immediately after suggesting his "reasonable arguments for monogamous exclusivity," Barnhart retreats into conceding that "this does not rule out the possibility of other marriage arrangements."

Barnhart also makes some lazy references to biblical accounts of polygamy and to Old Testament rules we don't follow today, apparently not caring how easily he could be answered by anyone with passing knowledge of Scriptural teaching about the monogamous ideal and relevant New Testament teaching about the new covenant. Once again, RMN seems to hold a very low view of its fan base's biblical literacy, perhaps with good reason.

We could see much less of such theologically and biblically sloppy thinking in our denomination's public discourse if United Methodist leaders like the North Alabama Conference Board of Ordained Ministry would, before rushing to ordain painfully under-prepared people, first make sure that they actually understand the distinctions affirmed in our denomination's Doctrinal Standards between the Old Testament's still-binding moral law and its no-longer-binding ceremonial and civil law. Some day!

In any case, from this outline of its vision of "Christian sexual ethics," I guess RMN is willing to present "one way to think about this" that would support the ideal of monogamy, but also wants to make clear that RMN is totally cool with non-monogamous relationships if that floats your boat. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a single instance of RMN leaders publicly expressing the belief that multiple sexual partners, or sex before marriage or before a "holy union" commitment ceremony, are inherently sinful behaviors from which they wish people, particularly within the church, would refrain. (Seriously, if you can recall a single instance of this that I missed, please let me know in the comments!)

But if I summarize their sexual ethics as "anything goes, as long as it's consensual," they'll still get mad.

Or respond with straw-men arguments about good reasons not to marry mops.

John Lomperis is the United Methodist Director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He has an MDiv from Harvard Divinity School and is the co-author of Strange Yokefellows: The National Council of Churches and its Growing Non-Church Constituency. Connect with him on Twitter @JohnLomperis.

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