Recently on the Unitarian Universalist Minister Rev. Tom Schade's blog (The Lively Tradition), there has been some discussion on the lack of transparency surrounding the recent decision by the Unitarian Universalist Association's Board to reduce the number of Unitarian Universalist Independent Affiliates.
There's a lot of excellent commentary on the lack of openness and transparency -- you can read the most of this blog discussions using the following links:
- Serving Congregations?
- One meaning of the Independent Affiliate mystery
- The Independent Affiliate mystery deepens
- The most obvious theory about the IA mystery and what it means
Part of this discussion has been speculation on the potential role of polyamory and Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness in the recent decision to reduce the number of affiliates.
We really don't know the UUA Board's thinking here and I don't want to speculate any further than I already have online.
In the most recent blog post on Tom's blog, the blog conversation explored polyamory and asked what stand our religious movement should take on polyamory.
Fausto of The Socinian blog replied with the following about polyamory:
"As to the narrower question of polyamory, is there or is there not room at the table for a good-faith argument that polyamory is morally and spiritually dangerous, both to its practitioners and to their children, and that it therefore should not be presumptively entitled to the same societal or religious acceptance and blessing that we freely extend to monogamous unions?"We can evaluate danger when it comes to mental health, physical health, and other empirical measures. Polyamory can be evaluated for its impact on mental and physical health. This is a social sciences question that can (in theory) be asked and answered. I'm not aware of any research on poly families.
However, "morally and spiritually dangerous" concern is something that we probably can't find common agreement on beyond agreeing that we should minimize the possiblity of harm to others and self.
However, some individuals may look at factors other than harm to others and self. This aspect of sexual morality is covered by Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Faye Flam in her column "What fuels the hatred of homosexuality?" Here's an excerpt from this column:
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt wants to help liberal types like me understand why some people condemn homosexual relationships as immoral.I suppose one can speculate on health, relationship stability, and other "danger" aspects surrounding polyamory. The problem here is we've got a lot of speculation and very little information to base our decisions. When that happens, the potential for basing one's moral decisions on disgust instead of reason becomes very likely.
As an exercise, he says, imagine that a neighbor has installed a sign in her front yard reading Cable television will destroy society. You ask her to explain, and she responds: "Cables are an affront to the god thoth. They radiate theta waves, which make people sterile."
Now imagine another neighbor, with another sign. This one announces Gay marriage will destroy society, and she justifies the statement by saying that homosexuality is an abomination to God and will undermine marriage.
If you're a liberal, you may view both neighbors as equally out of touch with reality (though the woman with the theta-wave theory is more original). That's the way most academics would traditionally see it, too.
But Haidt, who works at the University of Virginia and specializes in issues of morality, says the conservative viewpoint isn't just theta waves - it's based on a moral compass that points in dimensions liberals simply don't perceive.
"There's been this enormous change in how scientists are thinking about morality," he says. He outlined the new view recently in the journal Science.
In Western societies, secular and liberal-minded people base their moral beliefs on fairness and the avoidance of harm. That explains why, in previous columns, I wrote that I saw nothing immoral about premarital sex, homosexuality or sex toys - except, perhaps, for nonrecyclable batteries.
Dozens of horrified readers quickly blasted me as disgusting.
Which Haidt says is exactly the point. Most people set their moral compasses based on their sense of disgust. This is an additional moral dimension, which he calls purity/sanctity.
Fausto later wrote the following on this blog thread:
"When I talk about moral objections, I'm thinking instead about the often unappreciated but nevertheless very real potential for deep emotional, psychological, and spiritual damage that can so easily occur in polyamorous situations despite all precautions. Not only to the consenting adults (if indeed they are giving their fully informed and free consent, which is another significant question), but especially also to their children or prospective children, who need to grow up in a stable and secure environment."The issue that I have with this line of thought is we really don't have any data to answer any of the concerns raised. Are poly relationships more dangerous? If so, are they so dangerous that we should strongly discourage them? Are poly relationships so unstable that we should discourage them in order to prevent harm to children?
To the best of my knowledge, we don't know the answers to any of these concerns. All we have with respect to poly questions are anecdotal evidence. And the plural of "anecdote" is not "data." And the collection of anecdotal evidence often is distorted by a "confirmation bias" (a tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions and avoid information and interpretations which contradict prior beliefs).
Tom Schade then replied on this thread:
"Poly panels, which I have seen, are a exercise in propaganda. They are arguments from 'best-case anecdotes.' The persons who are participated in the panel are currently happy in their relationships and will willingly testify to the joy of their lives."I'll agree that guest panels are often the "best-case anecdotes" ... We do the same thing with sexual orientation guest panels that are used in the Our Whole Lives and Welcoming Congregation programs. I've never heard of a sexual orientation guest panel including an "ex-gay" person who has undergone "reparative therapy."
Is that one-sided propaganda or just a reasonable limitation on the information that we wish to present in our congregations and other religious settings?
Tom Schade then replied further on this thread:
"And, by restricting the 'moral' argument to these best case examples, they discount all negative experiences elsewhere. The stories about 13 year coerced brides in Utah are not relevant in those discussions, because that is bad patriarchy and we are only talking about good polyamory."Tom ... these stories are not relevant because we're talking about consenting adults and coerced adolescents are not consenting adults. This is a "red herring" fallacy.
Tom Schade then replied further on this thread:
Regarding OWL: the guidelines you quote refer to specific sexual relationships -- not social policy and the witness of a religious movement in the cultural circumstance in which it finds itself.Actually, the values in the curriculum go beyond the interpersonal. We need to avoid double standards in providing ministry to families. We need to promote justice and inclusivity.
Tom Schade replied again on this thread:
BTW, many of the poly panels at which I have been supposedly trained, include the testimony of someone who argued that they had numerous problems with adultery until they "came out" as a poly, realizing that they were just incapable of being faithful to one person.Would it be better for a person to have this self-knowledge before attempting to live monogamously? One possibility with this self-knowledge is this person would know that any monogamous relationship that he or she enters will be a challenge. Another possibility would be this person would use this self-knowledge to attempt to live non-monogamously and ethically.
The danger here is assuming that everyone has the same needs and the same relationship type can meet the needs of every individual.