Zinnia talks about her faith & polyamory

Hi Zinnia! If you are comfortable with it, would you mind talking a little bit about your faith and its relation to polyamory? I was raised Catholic in a rather strict community and had to unlearn a lot of toxic teachings to become comfortable with polyamory. I’m curious about your experience and keeping with the faith.

This answer ran really long, so I’l put it under a cut and break it up into sections.

My identity

I believe that I have always been polyamorous; I can look back at some thoughts, feelings, and questions I had even as a young kid and recognize that traditional monogamy just would never have been healthy for me. This “born this way” narrative helps strengthen my conviction that polyamory is an okay way to be; it’s not just urges that I need to resist to be a good person.

My personal faith journey is a bit unconventional in the sense that I was not raised Christian but converted as a teen. So I was lucky in that I didn’t grow up with a lot of toxic teachings about bodies, sexuality, relationships, purity, etc. I converted in the context of the Evangelical church, passionate and individual-focused, but I never held to much of their theology around social issues.

When I discovered polyamory as a term and concept and started practicing, I was 19 and had been Christian for about three years. I wasn’t too concerned with how it intersected with my faith; I was still learning who I was and what I believed, and I was the only Christian in my social group, so there wasn’t much pressure around that. My parents are okay with my polyamory and NOT okay with my conversion to Christianity. Go figure.

By the time I was 21, my identity and theology as a Christian, and my identity and philosophy as a polyamorous person, had both crystallized. They grew in form together, informed by my studies into queer, liberation and feminist theology. My polyamory is part of my faith; my faith is part of my polyamory. I see traditional attitudes about relationships, gender roles, and property rights as violent and outdated, and standing in opposition to the Gospel message, and healthy, intentional polyamory is one way, for me, of re-claiming the dynamic vision of wholeness that I believe the Kingdom reflects.

Romans 13:10 tells us: “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” I believe sin is anything that separates us from God, each other, or ourselves; anything that denies someone agency and wholeness; anything that causes trauma to our bodies, earth, relationships, or minds. I can see no evidence that healthy, intentional polyamory does harm. It liberates us from rigid relationship roles that are tied up in oppressive ideas about gender, bodies, and economics. I don’t think it’s “wrong” or “sinful” to be polyamorous.

I am fully aware that parts of the Bible clearly prescribe monogamy - but I believe those sections must be understood in the context of the time. It is clearly sinful to cheat on someone, to use your body or your language in ways that hurt someone or leave someone vulnerable. Without a cultural concept of healthy polyamory, unhealthy non-monogamy of course looks sinful.

But the Bible also condones slavery, plural marriage, and violence against children, so, again, it’s important to understand context and culture. My old priest used to say “Jesus talked a lot more about economics than sex,” and she’s right. If you look at the core message of Jesus - liberation, wholeness, reconciliation, redemption, love - it is a lot more compatible with polyamory than a lot of the stuff we see in the Old Testament, stories being related to us not as an example to follow but a historical record of a specific people’s relationship to the Divine.

I get really insulted when people (that means you, everyone who messages me on OKCupid) imply that my polyamory and Christianity exist “in spite of” each other; or that I must “compartmentalize” in order to be both, or that I have to do some “reconciling” to avoid “cognitive dissonance.” To me, they are intertwined; they inform each other; they are rooted in the same thoughts, beliefs, values, feelings, desires, and needs. 

My Christianity influences my polyamory - Gospel ideas about growth, healing, inclusion, and love. My polyamory influences my Christianity - practices centered around intentionality, identifying and communicating needs, honoring a person and their relationships without having to fit it into a pre-existing box. I am both a Christian Anarchist and a Relationship Anarchist, and that’s not exactly a coincidence.

Being polyamorous in a Christian community

I immediately started running into opposition, however. My spiritual leader on campus, the InterVarsity coordinator, disapproved of my polyamory and cited Scripture about it. It hurt my heart to have such an important part of my life and relationships rejected by someone who I needed to be a safe person, so I sort of just dropped that as a conversational topic, and she did the same, though I know she continued to “pray for me” over what she saw as a dangerous and harmful choice I was making.

Later, I took a volunteer gig as a youth ministry helper in a church. But since I was living with my boyfriend and unmarried, I was unable to sign the covenant the church required of actual volunteer-staff, which was why I remained a “helper” instead of a “leader.” In practice, had all the same roles and responsibilities as a leader, but on paper I held a lower position. The youth pastor and his wife were supportive and welcoming, treating the whole situation like a bureaucratic annoyance. But it was a clear signal that my understanding of sexual morality was different than this church’s party line, and so I kept my polyamory to myself.

I was accidentally outed during a conversation with the youth minister’s wife - I mentioned a college boyfriend, but she remembered that I had been with my current partner since high school. I said yes, we opened our relationship to get through the distance of college. She said “but now that you live together, that stopped, right?” I could have lied to her, but I really don’t like doing that - staying closeted through omission of details is one thing, but answering a direct question with a lie feels gross. I told her the truth.

She was clear with me that she doesn’t believe that is a wise or healthy or Godly choice. I was clear with her that I respected her position but wasn’t interested in being evangelized out of my relationship and identity. She told me she would pray for me and encouraged me to spend some time with the Holy Spirit seeking discernment about this. I told her that I would (knowing that the Holy Spirit and I frequently come to conclusions together that she wouldn’t agree with). She also made it clear that I was to keep this private at church, especially since I worked with the kids. I promised her that I would. She continues to be a good friend of mine, a loving and supportive sister in Christ.

When I moved to where I live now, I sought out a more open church. I found my way to the Episcopal church. They are known for being incredibly progressive in issues of sexuality, gender identity, etc. They have openly gay and  leaders in the church, perform same-sex weddings, teach comprehensive sex-ed rather than purity-culture nonsense in their youth programs. I joined an Episcopal church in the area and soon was interviewing to be their youth minister. As part of the interview process, I told my priest, who would also be my boss, about my polyamorous identity.

He was less aggressively this-is-wrong than the other church leadership I’d spoken to, but was also not immediately welcoming. He told me that he didn’t see it as a problem and was still happy to hire me to minister to the youth of the parish. However, as a condition of my employment, he did want me to stay closeted at church. Essentially, his position was, he didn’t have an issue with it, but he also wasn’t “for it” enough to take a stand for me if the parents of the parish were put off or uncomfortable. He didn’t want me to put him in the position of defending something he wasn’t sure he was able or willing to defend. He also didn’t want concerns to be raised that I was teaching the kids something inappropriate or out of line with the church’s beliefs.

So I agreed. It was worth it - I love the kids and wouldn’t trade my place in the community for anything - but it is painful and isolating. I do live in fear of being “caught.” I have two long-term partners right now, one of whom is seen by the church as my boyfriend; and another who is my “friend.” I am very lucky that this person doesn’t pressure me to let him be his true self, hold my hand or kiss me when he visits me at church to hear me preach - it is a big thing I am asking of him, too, to be closeted as well, to be kept a secret. I have a lot of church people on my Facebook, so I cannot wish him a public happy anniversary, refer to him as my boyfriend, post any photos of us kissing, etc.

But I also live in most areas of my life as an out poly person. I run this blog (actually, the login page for my gmail which clearly says “polyamoryadvice” was accidentally projected to the entire parish when I plugged my computer in once, which gave me a gnarly panic attack but thankfully had no consequences) and have an OKCupid account (where local people have found me!). I worry about being doxxed or being seen out and about with one of my other partners. So It’s a fine line to walk and I do carry a lot of stress and sadness about it. 

I have been open with my priest about my future desires to go into the Episcopalian priesthood, and he is very unsure of whether he could support me if I continue to be a practicing polyamorous person. If I started in the seminary, I would want to be out and proud, but that is not a bridge I need to cross just yet, because I am making different plans for the next few years of my life.

Why I don’t fight for inclusion right now

I would love to be able to write this blog under my real name. I would love to be able to publish articles about polyamory elsewhere, under my real name. I would love to be able to include all my partners in all areas of my life. I am often asked why I don’t push my priest, and my church community, to be more inclusive and accepting.

The answer is two-fold: one, I simply don’t have the energy right now. I am the only person of faith in my polyamorous network right now, and the only person my age in my church community. I just don’t have the peer support or community foundation to start such a fight right now. This sometimes makes me feel ashamed - I look at the pioneers who fought for women’s ordination or LGBTQ rights in the church, and I know their journey was lonely, and difficult, but ultimately worth fighting. I am just not ready to make those sacrifices just yet, to step into that loneliness and pain and struggle.

The second answer is that I want to be sensitive about what I am asking for. Church community and church beliefs are messy, complicated, and, for many people, sacred.

I wouldn’t appreciate it if I was running a community with a set of stated values and someone just showed up and insisted we change to accommodate them. Even if I agree that inclusion is a good thing! Even if the change they’re asking for would ultimately be for the better! This is the kind of thing where, sometimes, you stay in your seat and be a passenger for a while before you try and take the wheel to change course. I respected the right of my former church to set their morals and covenants, even if they didn’t suit me entirely. 

I do not get to show up to an established community with established values and an established identity and start making a big mess of things. I don’t get to demand that they change the way they do everything to include or accept me. I wish I could. I wish there was space for me, all of me, in the church right now. But there isn’t. This makes me feel sad and lonely. And I intend to continue fighting for myself and others like me, looking ahead to a future where I don’t have to be so closeted or compartmentalized - but, for now, the healthiest thing for me to do right now is keep my head down on this issue, because I need a secure place in a church community to build a foundation on before I feel safe striking out on my own like that.

In conclusion

So there you have it! I hope this answers your questions.

This is a really sensitive topic for me - I often feel rejected and alienated from polyamorous communities because of hostility against Christianity, so please don’t send me hate mail about that. I honor and recognize that a lot of people, especially people in the queer community, have a lot of pain and trauma history around childhoods in the church, and you have every right to your anger. But please try not to direct it at me. I get enough snide comments and casual alienation in my daily life, where 99.9% of my peer group is atheist, and it’s pretty lonesome being a polyamorous Christian in an incredibly secular area, attending a church where my demographic is under-represented along every axis. 

And if you are a Christian who wants to send me hate mail about how my Biblical interpretations are wrong and I am a hedonistic sinner, also, please just don’t. It really hurts my feelings. I don’t exactly fit in anywhere. I literally cried when I saw an etsy listing for a polyamorous-and-Christian pendant. So trust me, whatever you have to say, I’ve already heard it, and it made me feel bad, but I’m still polyamorous and Christian, so, save your energy and do something slightly more Christlike with your time. <3