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Saturday, May 15, 2004

In praise of strategic thinking.

Steve Caldwell (in the course of our "Make Way for Polyamory?" conversation) objected to my advocacy of strategic thinking. So let me try to be clear about what I'm saying, both in general terms and also specifically about "polyamory," which I continue to view as a marginal issue for organized, institutional Unitarian Universalism.

First, "strategic thinking" means knowing what your goals are, identifying effective ways of achieving them, and then effectively achieving them. Being strategic is not the same thing as being reactionary, nor is it the same thing as loving the status quo. Please understand what I'm getting at: The opposite of strategic thinking is not visionary prophetic thinking; it's wandering every which way or trying to do everything at once. Without strategy, you're just lucky — if that. More often, you're just confused, and you're certainly ineffective.

When I say that I want UUs to be more strategic, this is what I mean: I want us to stop being frivolously and ineffectively at cross-purposes with ourselves. We can't do everything, so let's set priorities and goals, and then be deliberate about achieving them. For example, rather than pass, oh, five or six entirely symbolic and utterly fruitless "actions of immediate witness" every year — demanding things like zero population growth, a one-state solution in Israel-Palestine, and a U.S. Department of Peace, guaranteed to be ignored by just about everybody and implemented by nobody — wouldn't it be something if our General Assembly set some goals that our churches actually wanted to reach and gave them some tangible steps to take along the way? I want us to stop saying righteous-sounding but impotent things while blaming the culture around us for being too stupid to recognize our moral superiority. I want us, really and truly, to be persuasive and convincing because I want liberalism to matter in the culture at large.

I think being genuinely persuasive require strategic thinking. I think it requires us to know what we're advocating and why. I think it obligates us to know where we do draw lines — for we certainly do — and to be intellectually honest and candid about our reasons. We simply must start thinking strategically.

The most important thing that anyone said at last year's General Assembly in Boston was this comment about new goals for the UUA's public witness work, from UUA director of advocacy and public witness Meg Riley:

“Historically we’ve mostly reacted to news events,” she said. “Now we’re trying in a more disciplined way to actually go out and influence the public debate.” Three criteria, she said, will determine whether an issue moves to the top of the Association’s public witness agenda: “Grounding: Does this issue have authentic and deep UU roots? Fit: Is there a match between our resources, aspirations, and ability to make a difference? Opportunity: Do we have an opportunity to be heard on this issue?”

When I say we should be thinking strategically, I am urging Unitarian Universalist leaders to keep our goals and our values in mind at every decision-making level. I am saying that we ought to be asking questions about grounding, fit, and opportunity.

Now, on to polyamory. I want to point out that Steve ignored the main point of my critique of polyamory advocacy, which had nothing to do with suggesting that people might not be ethical in a polyamorous relationship. The issue is how polyamory is related to marriage, especially to gay marriage. I have argued that suggesting that polyamory represents any sort of "next step" in Unitarian Universalist marriage ethics plays directly into one of the more viscerally compelling (if logically implausible) arguments against same-sex marriage. When conservatives charge that polyamory is next on the slippery slope, how is it helpful to have liberals urging us to start slipping? Steve, that really is my question to you. Is there a slippery slope or isn't there? Look: a strictly "strategic" argument against polyamory essentially concedes that the conservatives are right — polygamy is next on our agenda — but hopes nobody will notice if we don't bring it up just yet. I'm saying that this would be a foolish way to go.

Which leaves three options. The first option is to ignore polyamory. (But it won't go away. It has an advocacy group that wants press coverage and congregational and denominational recognition.)

The second is to acknowledge that Unitarian Universalists have no principled reason to participate in civil marriage at all. By this logic, we're only really committed to individual sexual freedom and object to any legal, religious, or societal constraints on it that aren't established by the participants themselves. This would mean that our churches should stop celebrating marriage ceremonies and our ministers should stop signing marriage licenses — permanently. If marriage is oppressive, wrong, and disciminatory by its very nature, then let's get off that bandwagon altogether. (The chances that our society will buy this line of thinking are nil. The chances that UUs will buy this line of thinking are perhaps somewhat higher.)

The third option is to recognize that the liberal church does have a stake in some social institutions, including marriage. We may not have done much thinking about it lately, but in practice Unitarian Universalists recognize that marriage is a good thing not just for the couple but for the community, that improving and strengthening marriage is a liberal goal, and that our advocacy of gay marriage is rooted not in sexual libertarianism but in a deeper recognition of the value of marriage itself. That's why Unitarian Universalist leaders should oppose calls for the legal or religious recognition of polygamy on principled grounds, and not merely strategic grounds. It is inconsistent with our goals for marriage.

I should add that the UU conversation about polyamory seems to be conflating two somewhat different sets of concerns. (This is because "polyamory" seems to refer to a confused jumble of left-libertarian ideas about sexual expression and social institutions. Is polyamory just the "liberal" version of polygamy, a multiple-partnered marriage? Or is it marriage-less? Or is it supposed to be a sexual orientation? News flash: everybody is attracted to lots of people.)

One set of concerns involves sexual ethics, the range of sexual behaviors and relational values a "good UU" can openly practice without being shunned or criticized. Liberals have come to accept the idea of "single" people having a series of sexual partners. To the extent that UUs accept bisexuality, it also falls under this category of broad-mindedness about personal sexual ethics. Similarly, although many UUs might find a threesome personally distasteful, they may not mind knowing that a member of their church thinks that's a good time. (Actually, they might not mind in principle, but might find it an odd sort of thing to learn about somebody in particular.)

The equation changes, however, when sexual broad-mindedness intersects with a promise of marital fidelity. We value marriage differently than we value "relationships." Marriage is more than simply a special case of sexual ethics.

The social value of marriage is not the same as the sexual ethics of heterosexuality. And, as gay marriage becomes legal in Massachusetts, the social value of marriage won't automatically encompass all the sexual ethics of homosexuality, either. (There are a whole host of sexual and relational issues that we have to think about that aren't limited to or perhaps even relevant to marriage.) Part of the confusion about what exactly Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness wants stems from their own lack of clarity about what they are advocating.

I want to point out that civil unions in Vermont and legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts could not have come about without extraordinary strategic thinking. (Evan Wolfson in particular deserves praise and, more importantly, emulation.) I hope UUs will pay close attention to what Neil Miller describes in his UU World cover story about gay marriage, because we UUs played a role but did not drive or even lead the way on this major social change. We caught a wave, folks, that we did not create. Efforts to welcome and celebrate the contributions of openly gay and lesbian people in our churches made a big difference, don't get me wrong, but the people who made gay marriage possible were a thousand times more deliberate than any Unitarian Universalist campaign. They planned and they strategized and they picked their battles, and we joined their cause. But to think that polyamory will find social acceptance if UUs embrace it is to get the UU relationship to the gay marriage campaign backward.

Finally, social support for long-term, stable, recognized same-sex partnerships represents a success for two values in our culture: It certainly represents an emerging dignity accorded to gay people, but it also represents mainstream America's growing acceptance of some gay relationships as roughly (or entirely) analogous to monogamous heterosexual marriages. It is the likeness of gay marriage to traditional marriage that has helped many straight people accept this fairly significant social change. Polyamory is not similarly like marriage, because marriage has come to mean monogamy. That's why polyamory is not a next step for liberals.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 15 May 2004 at 1:24 PM

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24 comments:

Steve Caldwell:

May 15, 2004 10:52 PM | Permalink for this comment

Philocrites wrote:

"Now, on to polyamory. I want to point out that Steve ignored the main point of my critique of polyamory advocacy, which had nothing to do with suggesting that people might not be ethical in a polyamorous relationship. The issue is how polyamory is related to marriage, especially to gay marriage."

Philocrites,

The relationship between polyamory and marriage to me is that they can both involve long-term commitments between the parties in the relationship. Some marriages -- gay, bi, or straight -- may also be non-monogamous and some marriages may be monogamous. One can certainly question the idea that emotional fidelity in a marriage requires limiting one's self to one partner sexually. Open/non-exclusive and closed/non-exclusive is a decision that affects long-term relationships including marriage.

There's also a RE curriculum linkage as well. OWL for Adults (the UUA curriculum that deals with adult sexuality) opens up a discussion on what role (if any) does non-monogamy have in long-term relationships. It does allow us a safe space to explore monogamy and non-monogamy within a framework of values that are supported by our UU principles.

I'm not in a polyamourous relationship nor do I consider myself polyamorous, but I do think that this issue is related to the future of Unitarian Universalism. I have met folks from a Boston-area UU congregation as part of a polyamory guest panel a few years ago and listening to their stories was eye-opening. I have also talked to folks at UU conferences about polyamory as well.

At a UU conference last summer, I was talking with a mid-20s young adult who wanted to know more about OWL for Adults. He was asking me "what does OWL teach about ..." for several subjects. I told him what it presented on polyamory (very little .... 15-20 minutes of very open-ended discussion in 14 2 hour sessions), but I did say that it provided a place where the poly topic can be raised safely.

This person thought that was great and I replied that I had heard some UU leaders raise concerns about polyamory because it might distract us from growth and social justice concerns ... all the "strategic concerns" that have come up on your blog. This young adult laughed and said that all the UU young adults he knew in his community were poly and the acceptance of polyamory suggested to him that future UU growth considerations needed to stay poly-friendly.

Philocrites wrote:

"I have argued that suggesting that polyamory represents any sort of "next step" in Unitarian Universalist marriage ethics plays directly into one of the more viscerally compelling (if logically implausible) arguments against same-sex marriage. When conservatives charge that polyamory is next on the slippery slope, how is it helpful to have liberals urging us to start slipping?" Steve, that really is my question to you. Is there a slippery slope or isn't there?"

I don't know if this is a slippery slope or simply the next logical step if we view sexuality through a liberation theology lens.

Of course, your comments lead to another question ... should we allow the religious right and other conservatives to determine the envelope for acceptable sexual practices and acceptable relationships? I can guarantee that the conservative forces are not looking at this topic with justice or liberation in their minds.

Philocrites wrote:

"The second is to acknowledge that Unitarian Universalists have no principled reason to participate in civil marriage at all. By this logic, we're only really committed to individual sexual freedom and object to any legal, religious, or societal constraints on it that aren't established by the participants themselves. This would mean that our churches should stop celebrating marriage ceremonies and our ministers should stop signing marriage licenses — permanently. If marriage is oppressive, wrong, and disciminatory by its very nature, then let's get off that bandwagon altogether. (The chances that our society will buy this line of thinking are nil. The chances that UUs will buy this line of thinking are perhaps somewhat higher.)"

I think that your suggestion about rejecting marriage totally is a bit excessive. The theologians that I've read who write on ethical issues involved with mixed gender and same sex marriage, monogamy, polyamory, etc from a social justice and liberation theology do not advocate that extreme step.

For further discussion on this, you may want to read Marvin Ellison's book _Same Sex Marriage_, that was recently published by our UCC cousins. Marvin's suggestion in his book is that marriage should be de-emphasized as an institution but not eliminated totally. The sexual ethics problems related to marriage may be a result of marriage over-emphasis rather than marriage under-emphasis. But ... again ... I suggest that you read Marvin's book directly rather than my paraphrase.

There are some folks who sincerely want the traditional two-person monogamous marriage. If we are to allow people to responsibly develop their own sexual values and make their own sexual decisions, then we need to preserve marriage as an option.

Philocrites wrote:

"The third option is to recognize that the liberal church does have a stake in some social institutions, including marriage. We may not have done much thinking about it lately, but in practice Unitarian Universalists recognize that marriage is a good thing not just for the couple but for the community, that improving and strengthening marriage is a liberal goal, and that our advocacy of gay marriage is rooted not in sexual libertarianism but in a deeper recognition of the value of marriage itself. That's why Unitarian Universalist leaders should oppose calls for the legal or religious recognition of polygamy on principled grounds, and not merely strategic grounds. It is inconsistent with our goals for marriage."

Given the words that I've heard from UUs who happen to be polyamorous, the suggestion that polyamory is simply "sexual libertarianism" may be insulting. I would suggest that UU goals for marriage are promoting the idea that marriages are based on responsibility, respect, love, and commitment. Responsibility, respect, love, and commitment can happen in two person relationship and can also happen in relationships with participants numbering greater than two.

Philocrites:

May 16, 2004 08:02 AM | Permalink for this comment

Two very quick things, and then more later (I promise):

I did not know that the OWL program includes a discussion of polyamory. If a couple who asked me to officiate at their wedding acknowledged up front that their vow to each other did not include a promise of fidelity, I'd tell them to find another officiant.

It is interesting to read what UU youth and young adults have had to say on polyamory. Here's the conversation at FUUse after last summer's AP story on the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness presentation at GA. For what it's worth, I and a good number of the people who have chimed in on the polyamory discussion here are also "young adults."

Jeff Wilson:

May 16, 2004 11:05 AM | Permalink for this comment

Here's the other side of the anecdotal equation: I'm a birthright UU, a young adult, and I've never met a single UU involved in multiple (mutually-approved) relationships. Whenever I've heard it come up, which is rare, the idea puzzled everyone and no one advocated it in theory. Most of the time, we had to guess at what "polyamory" or such terms might mean, we never met an actual advocate. So I think we can't assume that because one UU young adult claimed that everyone he knew was involved in such relationships, that this really is the mainstream (or even the cutting edge) of young adult UU sexual relations.

I have known some young UU people (teenagers, and some twentysomethings) who (mostly in theory) kept "open" relationships. This is an idea we picked up from our parents' generation, who in the 60s and 70s were experimenting with such things (from cheesy "key parties" to other arrangements). In just about every case, our folks eventually married one person and settled down. Sometimes, they subsequently divorced and remarried another person. But the lesson most of us learned from this is that exploring varieties of sexuality and relationships is common as a young person, but as you grow older these things lose their appeal, become too complicated, and are less appropriate to fully responsible adults. So as young adults we may accept greater freedom in our choice of partners and types of liasons, but when you actually marry and begin producing kids, the monogamous two-person couple is definitely the ideal.

This contrasts with the young adult UU perspective on homosexuality. I would say that close to 100% of young UUs fully accept homosexuality, bisexuality, even transgender sexuality. I've never heard a young UU speak unkindly about any of these varieties of sexuality, and while I haven't indulged in them myself, I know an awful lot of queer (or at least curious for a time) young UUs.

The concept of plural relationships may be one area where young adult UUs' ability to tolerate variant lifestypes and beliefs should not be taken as actual acceptance. Most of us who grow up UU learn skills from the cradle for looking at things from multiple viewpoints, accepting that one's perspective is just one approach, and valuing people regardless of how their ideas align or clash with one's own. I won't claim that we're perfect at all this by any means, but it is a general aspect of being raised in a (healthy--not all are!) UU environment. The result is that when we encounter people with unexpectedly different ideas or behaviors, we are able to "go with the flow." Young adult UU encounters with people in plural relationships may be one such instance of this phenomenon. I don't think its a good idea, and I'm not eager for the UUA or UUism generally to take a positive stance on what seems to me to be an aberrant fringe lifestyle. But I like to think that if I met some folks involved in this subculture, that I'd be able to accept them as human beings who happen to have a different point of view in one area, and should still be taken as a whole with respect. From the outside, this could be seen as acceptance of polyamory as a legitimate or acceptable practice, when really it is acceptance of the people involved as fellow travelers fully endowed with natural worth and dignity.

Philocrites:

May 16, 2004 03:32 PM | Permalink for this comment

Elizabeth at Mama Mantras didn't much like my post, but she does have some personal experience on the topic:

I've been in several polyamory relationships and I have to say they suck. I have yet to know of a single person who can make it work well, and for longer than a year. At this point, I don't think the human race has the ability to do this. It's great in theory, but the reality bites. Much like communism.....

chutney:

May 16, 2004 04:15 PM | Permalink for this comment

This young adult laughed and said that all the UU young adults he knew in his community were poly and the acceptance of polyamory suggested to him that future UU growth considerations needed to stay poly-friendly.

None of the UU young adults I know are poly. And we have a group of 40+ of us.

For what it's worth, I and a good number of the people who have chimed in on the polyamory discussion here are also "young adults."

Here here.

Melanie:

May 16, 2004 06:08 PM | Permalink for this comment

I'm with Elizabeth. The UU Poly people are engaged in yet another liberal illusion: because something can be imagined doesn't mean that the execution is going to be worth much. The lived experience of humanity is that maintaining an authentic, intimate relationship with just one other person is already very difficult. Your ordinary marriage is a very complex thing, I can't imagine opening it up in a way that would be real and respect the real needs of multiple partners when it is so difficult with just two.

Steve Caldwell:

May 16, 2004 07:09 PM | Permalink for this comment

Philocrites wrote:

"I did not know that the OWL program includes a discussion of polyamory. If a couple who asked me to officiate at their wedding acknowledged up front that their vow to each other did not include a promise of fidelity, I'd tell them to find another officiant."

Philocrites,

I need to provide a minor correction here.

Strictly speaking, the term "polyamory" isn't used in the curriculum ... the closest Adult OWL gets to the poly question is a discussion of what role (if any) does non-monogamy have in long-term relationships.

When I attended the Adult OWL training of trainers back in July 2000, one of the background info enrichment activities we attended was a polyamorous guest panel of four UUs living in the Boston area.

One of our covenantal principles is promoting a "free and responsible search for truth and meaning" in our congregations and in our lives. When looking at polyamory, this raises two questions related to this UU principle:

1. Is it possible to responsibly examine the issue of polyamory if one hasn't listened to the stories of poly folk in guest panels and other settings?

2. Is it possible to responsibly examine the issue of polyamory if one hasn't participated in values-based UU human sexuality RE program like OWL for Adults first?

Of course, I will acknowlege my conflict of interest here as a trainer for Adult OWL and see what other have to say ... I'm shutting up for now.

Jeff Wilson:

May 16, 2004 09:14 PM | Permalink for this comment

Steve, I'm worried that it's getting a little elitist to insinuate that folks who haven't gone through OWL or its equivalent might not be able to make responsible decisions about human sexuality. I say this as someone who went through AYS in his early teen years and thought it _rocked_, it was a great part of the overall experience of growing up UU. I think AYS really did give me tools to better evaluate my developing sexuality and to appreciate that there are multiple ways to live a healthy and responsible life as a sexual being. However, I have many non-UU friends who made equally responsible and intelligent choices about their sexuality and relationships. Having AYS/OWL gives UUs an extra dose of info, support, and methods of making decisions, but that certainly doesn't preclude others (or UUs who haven't taken advantage of this program) from responsibly examining all sorts of issues, sexual and otherwise.

As for whether one can responsibly examine the issue of plural relationships--or any other issue--without listening to special panels of advocates, this seems like a non-starter to me. Of course it is responsible to make decisions based on what info one has at the moment--what other possible criteria for responsible decision-making could there ever be? It would only be irresponsible if someone came along and offered new information, but it was rejected because one didn't even want to consider the other's viewpoint or possible contribution. As it stands, few of us have ever encountered such a panel. I've never been to any event where such a panel was offered. That doesn't keep me and others from responsibly following our conscience, relying on the information available to us (for me on polyamory this means the Web, since that's the only place I've ever seen UUs discuss this issue), and drawing on our own experiences, on this or any other issue.

Like I said, point #1 seems like a non-starter to me, since it seeks to redefine responsibility to meet an impossible standard. It's #2 that really bothers me. We can't let ourselves think that our decisions are the only ones based on logic, morality, or whatever. It's very arrogant to assume our decisions are responsible and others are irresponsible.

James Field:

May 17, 2004 02:38 PM | Permalink for this comment

I do not consider myself a polyamory critic or advocate. ( I guess technically I am still a young adult, although because of my rural existence my main young adult activity is the Young Adult Parents email list)

I am not sold so much on the social institution of marriage. Some of what is said here seems to insinuate an attempt to domesticate all those scarry queer folks. In other words, it's all fiine, as long as they look like other suburanites and shop at Pottery Barn. This is the reverse slippery slope, us convincing more conservate folks that with marriage gays will quit acting so scarry (as a bad comic would say, and stop having sex like other married people). Put more nicely, I am fearful of the implications of the implied argument that the social good of marriage is that it "civilizes" men or "civilizes" gay folks.

I would say that what I recognize/value in a marriage seems at least theoretically possible between more than two people. (Personally I have come to the conclusion that relationships take work and that it takes twice as much work with twice as many people)

Explain to me the theological difference between a committed (or a committed to) relationship between opposite sex couples, same sex couples, and a group of three people. If it is socially or theologically worth supporting a heterosexual person to marry a heterosexual partner and a homosexual person to marry a homosexual person, how is it less valid for a bisexual person to be in a committed relationship with two people.

Before I learned the term :"Service of Union" I heard more of my gay and lesbian friends talking about their "Committment Ceremonies". Even though we know most marriages will fail (One often-cited expert, Peggy Vaughan, author of The Monogamy Myth, estimates that 60 percent of husbands and 40 percent of wives will have an affair at some point in their marriage) we honor the committment. Can we honor similar commitments between more than two people? As officiants and as a church what are we recognizing and celebrating in marriages?

Elizabeth McKeeman:

May 17, 2004 04:45 PM | Permalink for this comment

As a bisexual woman in a heterosexual marriage I'd like to officially say that I am personally against polyamory. As I said in my Blog, I have done it and I am now older and wiser.

Marriage is about commitment, not gender or the like. It's about working out the differences and loving each other even when your tits hang to your knees and no one has any teeth. As I said in my Blog, I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYONE MAKE POLY AMORY WORK, queer/bi/straight. As far as I know, it has a 100% failure rate after the first year.

Speaking as a long-term member of the queer community I can say that from my point of view the legalization of queer marriage is about having the legal rights granted only to those who are legally married. You can file IRS form when you are legally married, have guaranteed visitation right in hospital s when married, buy a home *together* and many more things that are only granted to those with a *legal* marriage.

The spiritual and psychological marriage is already done in commitment ceremonies. This fight is about the legal issue. Very simply put - not allowing a couple a legal marriage based on their being the same gender it discrimination based on gender alone.

I personally see polyamory and marriage equality as two separate issues. I have never heard of a polyamours relationship where in a ll the parties involved wanted to marry each other.

So the question ends up - should there even be legal marriage. What was it institutionalized by the government in the first place?

Richard Hurst:

May 18, 2004 03:54 PM | Permalink for this comment

Ohhhh there have been major portions of my "young adult" life where I have been, hmm, "poly." That doesn't mean that I need to have that particular constellation of relationships held up as ideal, nor does it mean that I need that have that constellation of conduct made static, nor does it mean that I need to have the Government or the Church (for the love of God) bless, approve, condone, provide tax breaks or rituals for it.

Give me a break, sisters and brothers.

Steve Caldwell:

May 19, 2004 10:54 AM | Permalink for this comment

Jeff Wilson replied to Steve Caldwell:

"Steve, I'm worried that it's getting a little elitist to insinuate that folks who haven't gone through OWL or its equivalent might not be able to make responsible decisions about human sexuality."

Jeff,

I wasn't looking at this as just a "personal choice" human sexuality issue ... there may be some social justice concerns here as well.

The reasons I suggested that we as Unitarian Universalists need to explore this topic in a safe setting with access to information and opinions with a wide range of views. If we don't do this, I fear we will:

(1) be reacting from visceral concerns and ancedotal evidence, and

(2) never meet face-to-face real live polyamourous people and unintentionally judge an entire class of people as an unknown abstraction.

What many of us are attempting to do with the UU discussion on polyamory would be analogous to attempting Welcoming Congregation as a self-study project and never ever meeting real live BGLT people face-to-face.

Jeff Wilson replied to Steve Caldwell:

"However, I have many non-UU friends who made equally responsible and intelligent choices about their sexuality and relationships. Having AYS/OWL gives UUs an extra dose of info, support, and methods of making decisions, but that certainly doesn't preclude others (or UUs who haven't taken advantage of this program) from responsibly examining all sorts of issues, sexual and otherwise."

One more thing ... I don't know if it's necessarily "elitist" to suggest that folks attend a UU sexuality education program as a starting point for discussing poly issues.

Unlike About Your Sexuality (AYS), which was only available for adolescents and usually only available in UU settings, Our Whole Lives (OWL) is a lifespan curriculum that includes an adult RE component that can be taught in both UU and non-UU settings. It's possible for UUs who didn't take AYS or OWL as adolescents to take Adult OWL. And it's also possible for non-UUs to take Adult OWL as well. It can be offered as UU RE curriculum or as a non-religious curriculum (the UU materials come in a separate supplement to the OWL curriculum).

Jeff Wilson replied to Steve Caldwell:

"As for whether one can responsibly examine the issue of plural relationships--or any other issue--without listening to special panels of advocates, this seems like a non-starter to me."

Listening to "special panels of advocates" appears to work for exploring BGLT issues in both OWL and Welcoming Congregation ... both program suggest having BGLT guest panels. What's wrong with that suggestion for exploring poly issues? Are we afraid of this?

Jeff Wilson replied to Steve Caldwell:

"As it stands, few of us have ever encountered such a panel. I've never been to any event where such a panel was offered."

Well ... prior to hearing the stories of poly people in a UU guest panel workshop in 2000, I wouldn't have considered polyamory a social justice issue.

A poly guest panel may be something that your local congregation, congregational cluster, or district should offer for you and others. It's a great opportunity to explore this issue.

Jeff Wilson replied to Steve Caldwell:

"Like I said, point #1 seems like a non-starter to me, since it seeks to redefine responsibility to meet an impossible standard."

Well ... if one's perception that OWL is only for kids and not for adults, then this would sound impossible (and OWL 7-9 wouldn't really help you that much ... non-monogamy doesn't come up as a topic).

However, Adult OWL is something that UU congregations can offer now for both UU and non-UU participants. It's available and on the shelf today for any congregation or group who wants to do it.

"It's #2 that really bothers me. We can't let ourselves think that our decisions are the only ones based on logic, morality, or whatever. It's very arrogant to assume our decisions are responsible and others are irresponsible."

I'm sorry if I sounded arrogant ... that was not my intention.

My fear is that we can all too easily arrive at our poly opinions without ever meeting poly people face-to-face and hearing their stories. This is troubling for me ... especially in light of the earlier UU history with BGLT issues.

On the UUA Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Concerns (OBGLTC) web site, the first UU RE curricula that addressed sexual orientation in our congregations were AYS (1971), The Invisible Minority (1972), and The Welcoming Congregation (1989).

Given our BGLT social justice history, it's surprising that the 1967 UU Committee on Goals published results of its survey on beliefs and attitudes within the denomination with the following results:

-- 7.7% of UUs believed that homosexuality should be discouraged by law

-- 80.2% that it should be discouraged by education, not law

-- 12% that it should not be discouraged by law or education

-- 0.1% that it should be encouraged

Without education that addressed BGLT issues and advocacy work by BGLT UUs in our congregations and other UU settings, we would not have experienced the change in UU views on sexual orientation that we see between 1967 and today.

I think that OWL for Adults is a responsible first step in this conversation on polyamory and other forms of non-monogamy in relationships in our congregations and the wider UU community.

Steve Caldwell:

May 19, 2004 11:30 AM | Permalink for this comment

If anyone is curious about what OWL for Adults says on the subject of polyamory, you may want to check out my latest blog article:

Our Whole Lives for Adults: What Does It Say About Polyamory and Non-Monogamy?

Thanks.

Jeff Wilson:

May 19, 2004 11:48 AM | Permalink for this comment

Hey Steve, thanks a bunch for addressing my concerns and offering that info on OWL. Since it comes in the wake of my AYS education, I'm not as familiar with the program and can use the update. I'm going to use your links as jumping off points to do some surfing and learn more about how OWL is being implemented. Funny thing, a bunch of other younger UUs I know who went through AYS assumed that OWL was a prettified version that watered some things down in the wake of the lame piece Bryant Gumbel did on TV. Guess I need to give it a closer look.

Glad too to hear that the arrogance that I thought I perceived isn't intentional, it's hard to tell online. I still say "yes" and "yes" to both your original questions. Interesting stats from 1967, by the way.

Steve Caldwell:

May 19, 2004 11:04 PM | Permalink for this comment

Strategic Thinking

My comments on one example of effective "strategic thinking" in my congregation can be found on my blog here:

Steve's Defense of Strategic Thinking in Unitarian Universalist Congregations and Other UU Settings

My personal opinion is that we do strategic thinking because we know that we will not be able to find every bit of justice today and we are willing to compromise as an interim step towards a more just world for all.

tully monster:

May 21, 2004 03:02 AM | Permalink for this comment

Elizabeth McKeeman said:

I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYONE MAKE POLY AMORY WORK, queer/bi/straight. As far as I know, it has a 100% failure rate after the first year.

Thank you. I have not, either, and as a former OWL instructor I wouldn't have dreamt of presenting it as an option to my thirteen-year-olds, whose notion of marriage was fragile enough as it was.

Steve Caldwell:

May 21, 2004 09:27 AM | Permalink for this comment

... And I wouldn't dream of initiating a discussion on this in a middle school OWL class either for the same concerns that you mentioned.

But I would suggest that you re-read the earlier posts. I never said anything about exploring non-monogamy and polyamory with 13 year olds.

I wasn't talking about OWL for Grades 7-9 and polyamory. I was talking about the OWL curriculum for Adults ... where polyamory isn't mentioned by name, but the topic of non-monogamy in long-term relationships is discussed for 15-30 minutes in the course of 14 two hour sessions.

Although polyamory isn't age-appropriate for a middle school group, it is age-appropriate for an adult group. Remember that OWL isn't just an updated AYS ... it's a series of curricula that covers most of the lifespan from grades K-1 through Adults, where each age-range is approached in an age-appropriate manner.

Harlan White:

July 12, 2004 12:50 PM | Permalink for this comment

Elizabeth McKeeman wrote:

"I HAVE NEVER SEEN ANYONE MAKE POLYAMORY WORK . . . . As far as I know, it has a 100% failure rate after one year."

Then, with all due respect, I must say it doesn't seem you know very much. You evidently haven't read any of the many materials about polyamory and the experiences of polyamorous people. And you've obviously never met me. I have numerous polyamorous relationships currently in effect, which have lasted, respectively, 10 years, 8 years, 5 years, 4 years, 2 years, and 10 months. These people all know each other and consider themselves members of an ongoing, potentially life-long, family of lovers.

I am very sorry that the religious right has made polyamory an issue in the gay marriage debate. I am a strong adovocate of the right of gays to marry. However, I and my polyamorous kindred exist, and there's little we can do about what the religious right chooses to make an issue of. Interestingly enough, most polys I know have little if any interest in advocating strongly for the legalization of plural marriage. We have other things on our mind, like whether we can be open about being polyamorous in our UU congregations.

Sally K. Amsbury:

July 12, 2004 03:19 PM | Permalink for this comment

Rev. Parker's further comments on multiple relationships are here:

http://www.sksm.edu/info/news_and_events.php

Hello, I am a lifelong UU (even before they joined) and just for the record I did not seek out publicity. Don Lattin, the S. F. Chronicle's eclectic and open minded religion writer, called and I pointed him to Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker.

I am not the poster child for responsible non-monogamy though I have been this way (lol) since before the word polyamory existed and my ethics and compassion are well respected among my peers.
What do you consider a successful relationship? One that lasts from the day of commitment until you die? No matter what kind of itimacy or equality is or is not involved? One that looks good from the outside?

I, too, believe in stratigic thinking. I am not trying to push I just want ministers and congregations to encourage love, self awareness and examination of assumptions about relationships.

At General Assembly in Long Beach there was a great celebration of the many kinds of honest love.

NZPolys:

July 12, 2004 09:46 PM | Permalink for this comment

Regarding "polyamory" by PaganPoly of NZPolys

(I was led to this page by Valerie White on the UUPoly mailing list, and hope it's ok for me to write a message here even though I am not a member.)

Thank you, polyamory supporters, especially Steve and Harlan. We really appreciate your understanding, support, and advocacy of us 'polys' !!

I am part of a polyamorous M-F-M family, with other poly friends and lovers in New Zealand. We've been together for four years, and feel we would have been together for very much longer if only we'd 'found' one another sooner - in a society/culture that doesn't exactly welcome and spread lots of information about the poly option.

There are three children, 11 and under, in our immediate family - and they all feel fortunate and blessed to have the love and support, as well as training and discipline, of more-than-just-two parents. In a very few years, they'll be able to post their own messages here themselves!!

We three 'grown-ups' in the family (so far, we are open to 'finding' others!) are happy and grateful to have one another's love, help and support in our respective lives. We go through trouble spots in our relationships, very much like 'ordinary' couples, and certainly feel advantaged over them (we call them 'diads') in that we have more than 'just-one' partner to help us get through any problem areas that come up. All in all we feel very blessed to have found one another and to be able to share our deep loving friendship.

Those are the facts. Now come some 'feelings'/opinions of mine: I have a strong sense that even among the more 'liberal' traditional types there is anything from a deep-seated fear of 'sex' and the power of it, to some sort of yuk-yukky revulsion about 'sexual contact' among multiple partners *at the same time*. One-after-the-other, what we tend to call 'serial monogamy', is far more accepted and 'acceptable'. 'Group sex' is felt, I sense, as something inherently 'messy' and 'immoral' - especially among the English-speakers of the world, although it seems to me that 'sex' has come to be seen and dealt with as a 'dark' power by all mainstream religions in the world today. (And I really don't think it was always that way.)

So, I sense that we polys seriously 'threaten' something that has come to be deeply embedded in the human psyche - particularly among people brought up, trained and conditioned in 'westernised industrialised' societies and cultures.

I say "embedded in the human psyche" because I personally do not feel that 'monogamous marriage', exclusivity in human intimate sexual relations to one-partner-only, is embedded in "human nature" at all.

Quite the opposite. My personal experiences lead me to the observation that when human beings are, and feel, free to be ourselves rather than obeying some imposed rules, we are much more naturally inclined to behave like bonobos - with whom we share something like 97 percent of our genetic makeup - than to adhere to the suppossedly 'correct' and 'proper' 'sexual fidelity' meaning 'sexual exclusivity' of the 'two-partners' only model - so powerfully entrenched in us, individually, as members of the current 'mainstream'.

And that observation and experience leads me to the opinion that polyamorous relationships may well go much much further, and faster, and involve many more people in this century than any of us yet imagine, no matter what anyone wants to happen or to stop happening. I see that supportive people can certainly be helpful in easing the transition and assisting those who are finding it difficult, but I sense that in the long run nothing and no one will really be able to do much regarding this trend - perhaps this evolution in our species? - toward human 'sexual' relationship forms that are much more varied, interesting, durable, responsible and joyful and longer lasting than those that are predominant today. I sense that the revolution/transformation has hardly begun !

"There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come", wrote Victor Hugo. I hope/trust/feel that this is the case for polyamory.

With much love to you all - in whatever ways you appreciate it most and best !

PaganPoly, NZPolys family and friends
PolyPioneers in Aotearoa/NZ
http://polypagan.tripod.com
( Supporters of The Institute for 21st Century Relationships
www.lovethatworks.org and Unitarian Universalist Polyamory
Awareness www.uupa.org )


Cynthia Armistead:

July 13, 2004 01:30 PM | Permalink for this comment

I've read many interesting comments here. Unfortunately, I believe that a fair number of them are marred by lack of exposure to openly polyamorous UUs who are living in successful, committed relationships. Honestly, I find some of them downright disrespectful of and bigoted against those of us who are practicing responsible non-monogamy.

My life partner and I have been together for about six years. I've been polyamorous for more than 20 years. We live in a three-adult household in the metro Atlanta area. We're pretty boring folks, happily middle-aged and spending lots of time homeschooling my daughter and improving our home.

My daughter, age 13, sees polyamory as one possible way of living. We don't claim that it's better or worse than monogamy, just different.

I do believe that polyamory is healthier than serial non-monogamy.

I wasn't raised UU, so I have no experience with AYS. The congregations in which we've been involved have not offered OWL to my daughter's age group yet, so I have little first-hand knowledge of that program, either.

Polyamory is not about the inability or refusal to commit to a relationship. Rather, it involves openness to and acceptance of multiple loving, committed relationships.

It is unfortunate that opponents of same-sex marriage have linked it with polygamy. I don't honestly believe that government has any business interfering in private relationships between consenting adults.

Philocrites:

July 13, 2004 02:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Cynthia writes:

I don't honestly believe that government has any business interfering in private relationships between consenting adults.

As I've argued on this site, marriage isn't a private relationship — it's public — and because it isn't merely private, our churches and our laws celebrate marriages and accord married couples particular responsibilities and privileges. We don't expect the same things from "relationships" and we don't give them the same status as marriage. I support same-sex marriage because I value marriage, not because I want the government out of it.

It's inconsistent of polyamory advocates to claim to support same-sex marriage when they also oppose government involvement in regulating any relationships in the first place. If you really want a world of purely private relationships, you ought to oppose civil marriage entirely.

NZPolys:

July 13, 2004 05:01 PM | Permalink for this comment

As for ourselves, we do not oppose 'marriage' - whether civil, religious, heathen or pagan - at all. We oppose any sort of "official/legal" discrimination against responsible partnerships.

((In a similar way as we oppose special favourable treatment for, and definite discrimination against, various kinds of business and corporate partnerships. We're on Adam Smith's side for healthy competition on a reasonably level playing field, and against all sorts of "legal deals" favouring certain corporate entities and thereby enormously disadvantaging smaller businesses and partnerships.))

Cheers ( the expression used in closing, down here in Kiwiland ) -

PaganPoly

Philocrites:

January 7, 2006 11:47 AM | Permalink for this comment

Polyamory-watchers in the UUA -- and, in fact, any UUs involved in promoting civil marriage for same-sex couples -- will want to note the cover story in the 12.26.05 issue of the prominent neoconservative magazine The Weekly Standard. Large sections of Stanley Kurtz's latest anti-gay marriage article are devoted to the independent advocacy group Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness, the UUA's same-sex marriage advocacy, and the AP and San Francisco Chronicle stories about the UUPA. The whole thing is so predictable.

("Here come the brides: Plural marriage is waiting in the wings," Stanley Kurtz, Weekly Standard 12.26.05; see also "The Weekly Standard's absurd case against gay marriage," Rob Anderson, New Republic 12.23.05, sub req'd)



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