Three women smiling together. The first woman has short blond hair and is dressed in a light grey shirt and black pants. She is placing her hand on the second woman with shoulder-length brown hair, dressed in a dark grey shirt and black pants. Her arm is being held by the third woman with long brown hair, dressed in a black shirt and black pants.
"A 2021 study found that nearly 17 percent of people would like to engage in polyamory, and nearly 11 percent have done so during their life," Rev. Tori Mullen writes. (Photograph by Adam Winger)

Topics: Ethical Living, October/November 2023 | Relationships

Why the church needs to talk about polyamory

"Focus not on monogamy, but on how to care for others ethically in relationship," writes Rev. Tori Mullin


If you have had a reason to be on a dating app recently, you may have noticed phrases like “poly and partnered” or “solo poly” on profiles. This is a relationship style that is growing in popularity in Canada, and I have not seen our churches speak to it.

Polyamory can mean many different things, but at its most basic level, it is a different way of thinking about relationships. In practice, we see many different dynamics between partners. Polyamory values all relationships equally in a way monogamy does not. This can include multiple sexual partnerships, but it can also include platonic life partnerships, chosen family, and different relationship configurations (such as triads, a relationship between three individuals; or quads, a relationship between four individuals). It is so much more than just sex — it is about living an ethically non-monogamous life.

Younger generations aren’t the only ones taking on the label of “poly” either. Older couples are also opening their relationships up to additional partners. A 2021 study found that nearly 17 percent of people would like to engage in polyamory, and nearly 11 percent have done so during their life. I and other ministers connected with the non-monogamous community want to see the church speak to the Gospel into these not-so-new forms of relationships. If the church desires to be relevant, then it needs to start talking about polyamory.

Jesus, in my mind, would have had plenty to say on this subject, as so much of his ministry focused on living ethically within community. His annoyance at his listeners’ fixation on sexuality, such as with the woman accused of adultery in John 7:53–8:11 or his teachings on divorce in Matthew 19, show his concern is less with upholding monogamous principles and more so on living justly.

Equally, we cannot ignore the polygamist and non-monogamist roots of our faith in the Hebrew Bible, with stories that point us in the direction of compassion and social well-being. The story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar is an example of biblical instruction. Focus not on monogamy, but on how to care for others ethically in relationship. The story of Tamar and her dead husband’s relative is an example of non-monogamy as a form of social safety net.

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People have been practising non-monogamy since the dawn of time, and too often the church’s response has been to shut down conversation instead of engaging with people’s reality. I want to see a conversation about non-monogamy that asks important questions about what it means to live a sexually and romantically ethical life, knowing full well that if we refuse to be a part of the conversation, we will be missing out on an important moment in our cultural formation.

The new call of the United Church is deep spirituality, bold discipleship, daring justice. We envision a church that has much to say on the subject of ethical living, one that engages in courageous conversations about what a faithful life of service to Christ might look like.

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Is there a place, then, for polyamorous Christians to share their experiences and wisdom with us? Their struggles and hopes? Might we make space for members and their partners in our communities? What could these members teach us about ethical communal living and respectful relationships?

The conversation is just beginning, as churches engaged in the Affirming process look to include all peoples, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, social class and, I would also hope, relationship status. I hope that those who are asexual or aromantic can find a place in our sanctuaries, as well as those who are partnered, be it with one or many.


Rev. Tori Mullin is a United Church minister and creator in Hampton, N.B.

This story first appeared in Broadview‘s October/November 2022 issue with the title “The church needs to talk about polyamory.”

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