Wednesday, June 2, 2021
It's Wednesday, June 2nd, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
If “Family” Can Mean Anything, Then It Means Nothing: The Redefinition of the Family Is at Stake in the Normalization of Polygamy and Polyamory
For years now, we have been tracking the course of the moral revolution, this vast change. Indeed, revolution in sexual morality and in the entire contour of Western civilization. Driven by what was first known as the sexual revolution, it quickly became a revolution in just about everything else, but sex was always in the picture. And one thing led to another. In my book, We Cannot Be Silent, I cited how the rise of contraception came just before the advent of no-fault divorce, which came before the legalization of abortion, which just in following sequence, carried us through things such as an increased tolerance for cohabitation, for sex outside of marriage, eventually for the redefinition of marriage as two men or two women with the advent of so-called same-sex marriage.
And of course, there's been much beyond that. Particularly we are looking at polygamy and polyamory. Now there's an interesting discussion going on currently in the culture that takes us back to our ongoing consideration of how a moral revolution happens and why it is basically unstoppable. Now back, for example, when there was much public conversation about same-sex marriage, back before the Obergefell decision of 2015, many of us warned that redefining marriage in one way would lead to the redefinition of marriage in any number of other ways. In particular, it was noted even before the Obergefell decision was heard, even before the case came before the court, it was openly argued and debated whether or not same-sex marriage would lead to the recognition of polygamy, and eventually the legalization of the polygamous unions.
Now the conversation has changed somewhat, and we're going to be tracking that today. But the bottom line is that you had advocates for same-sex marriage who said, "Of course, this will not lead to polygamy. Of course, this will not lead to polyamory." But you also had in the course of the handing down to the Obergefell decision, the chief justice of the United States, who made clear that the argument made by the majority of the court in legalizing same-sex marriage had no particular boundary to keep it from applying the same principles to the legalization of polygamous or polyamorous unions. Now remember, Obergefell was handed down just in 2015. That is not yet six years ago. But already, we see open conversation about what we were told would not and could not happen, what would not follow the legalization of same-sex marriage, which is the normalization of multiple partners in the case of polygamy, which is marriage, or polyamory, which is the relationships without marriage.
But now for example, you have The New Yorker. As I pointed out, The New Yorker is one of the most elite publications in American society. It has been so throughout most of the 20th century, and now into this century. It reflects the moral worldview of so many of the opinion shapers of our country. It's rooted in New York. It's published in New York. It reflects New York. And New York has an outsized influence on the rest of the country in the respect of moral change.
Andrew Solomon, writing a major article for The New Yorker entitled How Polyamorists and Polygamists Are Challenging Family Norms, updates the discussion to 2021, telling us, as the headline indicates, that these new polyamorous or polygamous unions are indeed redefining and challenging the idea of the family, what is referred to here as family norms. Now with the publication of this kind of major article in The New Yorker, the conversation is very public. It doesn't show up in The New Yorker first. By the time it shows up here, you have very well-advanced arguments. You have real social and cultural phenomena that have made a lot of progress in popularity in places such as Manhattan.
Solomon begins by describing some of the polyamorous or polygamous couples or groupings that he talks about. After all, you really can't use the word couple when you're talking about polygamy or polyamory. He writes, "As many as 60,000 people in the United States practice polygamy, including Hmong Americans, Muslims of various ethnicities, and members of the Pan-African Ausar Auset Society. But polygamists face innumerable legal obstacles, affecting such matters as inheritance, hospital visits, and parentage rights. If wives apply for benefits of single parents, they are lying and may be committing welfare fraud; but if they filed joint tax returns, they are breaking the law." Now, as this goes on, we also discover, "Polygamists have been more vocal about achieving legal rights since the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide, in 2015."
So we've been noticing this with other stories and other developments. We notice this with individual cities basically legalizing and recognizing polyamorous or polygamous unions. But you'll notice here that there's an explicit citation of the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage as what opened the door and gave momentum to the demands to normalize multiple partner unions. But it's also very interesting that Andrew Solomon makes a real distinction between polygamy and polyamory. This has been noted by many others before, but in this kind of context, it's really important to recognize what this means in moral terms. Polygamy is, after all, what's supposed to be multiple marriage. You have usually one man with multiple wives, as you see in some sectarian break-offs for Mormonism and in Mormon history back in the 19th century. You also see other patterns in other places. It is one man with multiple wives. There's the reverse of that in some cultures, but they tend to be very isolated.
The norm in polygamy is one male with numerous women, at least more than one by definition. But polygamy is, or at least theoretically is, a form of marriage, and polyamorists are basically rejecting polygamy as too conservative. They are arguing for a more libertarian or liberationist understanding of multiple partnering, which means that marriage and any kind of covenant or restriction really isn't part of the picture at all. Solomon writes that polyamory, "Tends to be based on utopian ideas of sexual liberty and may involve a broad range of configurations." Let me just say that is quite an understatement to say that it may involve a broad range of configurations. It involves such an endlessly broad range of configurations that we can't possibly go into any detail about them. In the end, he says, however, "The real difference is what term fits people's paradigms. As with much of identity politics, affiliations are self-determined. In the popular imagination," Solomon writes, "Polygamists are presumed to be right-wing misogynists and polyamorists to be decadent left-wingers."
But he says the two groups share goals, and often, ways of life. "In the years I spent talking to members of both communities," Solomon writes, "I have found that it's usually the polygamous who are more cognizant of common cause." But citing one person interviewed, "People can't seem to unite under one platform." It's very important to recognize that Andrew Solomon here does tie this issue to identity politics. That's a big change just in terms of how these issues have been debated over the course of recent decades.
You did have the issue, of course, of gay identity, as it was known, but in a political sense, this is a very new development where every single human being is basically identified by some kind of political label, and this identity politics drives us everything ideologically in the culture.
But the fact that this is conceded as identity politics means everything here is inherently ideological. Everything is political. The sexual theorists are now very much onto this issue, understanding that a failure or resistance to recognizing multiple unions represents just another form of oppression. Those who are committed to critical theory and to a basic Marxist understanding of oppression have to put everything in an oppressor oppressed category. And in this case, you have a society that is oppressing people because we will not recognize or legalize their multiple unions.
And recognize just how radical this is, by the way. As you're thinking about the legal recognition and moral normalization of multiple unions, you're looking at the fact that you are redefining the family in a way that is just as basic as redefining it in terms of gender, because changing the number means that the entire society, which is based upon a recognition of marriage as a private institution and the family as deriving from marriage, here, you have an ultimate redefinition not only of marriage, you have a redefinition, not only of romance and acknowledged and celebrated and normalized romantic relationships, but you have a new definition of the family.
And that's exactly why this article by Andrew Solomon in The New Yorker doesn't state that polyamorists and polygamists are changing marriage norms, but rather family norms. The redefinition of the family is what is at stake here. And as you have the sexual theorists and those arguing for sexual liberation very much engaged in this issue, the polyamorists are basically arguing that the polygamous are too wedded to old, outdated patriarchal norms. Basically, they're arguing for the elimination of marriage as any kind of recognizable institution.
That takes us into another very interesting issue, which is that back when same-sex marriage was being debated, there were those in the gay community, now referred to as the LGBTQ community, who were actually not for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Why? It is because they felt that it would then become a restrictive moral norm among those who were in the same-sex community. Marriage would become an expectation and exclusivity would become a part of that expectation.
Now here we have to note, as I said, in tracking the progression of this moral revolution, there was a breakdown in moral sanction in this country about sex outside of marriage or sex before marriage long before you had the advent of same-sex marriage. But same-sex marriage was such a fundamental moral shift that it accelerated everything else. It's like starting a fire and adding an accelerant. That's exactly what we're seeing here.
The radical notion of polyamory basically means the total destabilization of marriage. You just have any number of consenting adults, presumably, who can organize themselves, relate themselves in any way they want for any particular period of time. And of course, children will often be a part of the equation as well. That points to how difficult this is going to be to get through the culture in any meaningful way without basically dissolving the very institution of the family, because if you're going to have the family, just like if you're going to have marriage, you have to have some kind of social and legal definition of the family. And throughout human history, the way that the family has been defined has been in terms of two things, marriage and the children who result from that marriage. That has been the essence of the definition of the family.
Now there's an extended family beyond that. There's also the reality that children come into the family by adoption. But the definition of family has been for millennia of human history based upon two things, institution of marriage, man and a woman in covenant, and the children who come out of that marriage. You destabilize one, you destabilize the other. You redefine marriage, you redefine the family. If you basically redefine the marriage into an absolutely relativistic entity, then you also create the same reality for the family. The family becomes relativized. It becomes basically an evaporating norm. If the family can mean anything, then the family means nothing. One thing to note to this point is that when you're looking at the polyamorists, they're not necessarily demanding legal recognition yet because they think that legal recognition would come with a cost when it comes to restricting their definition, redefinition, endless redefinition of the family.
But once again, if you're looking at insurance, you're looking at medical coverage, you're looking at parental care and parental rights and responsibilities, you're looking at any number of economic relationships, these relationships will have to be defined in some way even if it means basically the family ceases to be that basic unit of legal recognition.
Driving the Sexual Revolution by the Means of Cultural Production: Blue’s Clues and Kohl’s Become Engines of the Sexual Revolution
But secondly, today, we need to look at something else, and we need to understand that there's a huge question here. And that is if you were going to try to drive this kind of revolution in a society like ours, how would you do it? Through the courts? Yes. And these issues are sure to arrive in the courts just as sure as same-sex marriage. Would you drive it through the universities? You bet you would. And we have seen the ideologies of sexual liberation spread through the secular universities and elite academic institutions with lightning speed, so much so that they are now the prevailing orthodoxy. And for years now, you've had institutions such as Yale University celebrating an annual Sex Week, which turns out to be an annual celebration of endless perversion. I'm not exaggerating. Don't look it up.
But what I want us to consider today is that if you are trying to drive this revolution, one way to do it is by gaining control of the levers of cultural industry, of the mechanisms of cultural production. What would that look like? Well, it would look like Blue's Clues. The family program that began in the 1990s, just in recent days, featured a program that normalized polyamory, polyamorous parenting, and an entire array of sexual lifestyles, LGBTQ. And don't forget the "plus" because by the time you get to the end of this animated parade, you really are talking about "plus." The message comes again and again. All families are made different and all families are good. That's the message.
And of course, the host of the event is an animated drag queen. The drag queen actually in the animation celebrates, "Ace, bi, and pan grownups," you see. Give those three terms. Ace, bi, and pan. That means polyamory, pansexual. It means a lot more than we even want to consider on The Briefing today. And this is being broadcast in a way that celebrates all of this moral revolution not just to adults, but to children, the viewers of Blue's Clues. Blue's Clues then becomes a major engine of the moral revolution, normalizing all of this vast spectrum of sexuality and sexual relatedness and redefinitions of the family and parenting, celebrating all of this in an animated parade scheduled, of course, for the annual observance of Pride Month.
And by the way, how ridiculous is this? You've just heard that June is Pride Month, but you've been hearing all this Pride language for the last 11 months. Pride Month is just now one more month amplifying the cultural messaging that is coming throughout most of the cultural avenues day by day, hour by hour, 12 months a year, 52 weeks. You get the drill. But it's not just the drag queen and the Pride parade on Blue's Clues.
You also have to look at how major American corporations joined the revolution and then drive the revolution not only through their employment policies, but also through their messaging. And one of the central avenues of their messaging is advertising. And in this case, the company we need to talk about is the major national retailer Kohl's. In their online advertising and on their own website, they are celebrating Pride Month. In one of the pictures on their own site, they put up a picture of three adults with a child. We don't have to wonder what the company was trying to say here as if there's any question because the company then said it right out loud in terms of the text and the advertising. "At Kohl's, we believe in not just accepting people for who they are, but celebrating them because of it. That's why we're excited to celebrate Pride Month not just this month, but every day throughout the year," as if we needed to be told it was every day throughout the year.
But notice just how powerful the revolution is in furthering its goals through, in this case, a corporate representation. People going to shop at Kohl's perhaps for clothing for the summer, or just for the needs of their family, they're going to be looking at a picture of three adults and a child, and they're going to be looking at the very clear, emphatic moral messaging, "This is good. This is right. This is normal." And then Kohl says, "We're not just acknowledging this new reality. We are celebrating it." In the language of the company, right under that photograph, "We believe in not just accepting people for who they are, but celebrating them because of it."
That raises a very interesting question that we should pose to the spokesperson for Kohl's. Is there any limit to that statement? When you say that it means not just accepting people for who they are, is there any limit to that statement? When you extend it to the fact that that's not enough, but instead the company is going to be celebrating them because of it, well, you're now openly putting three adults and a child in the picture of your advertising. What's next? Or to put it another way, by your policy, what could possibly be excluded?
Looking at this situation, Rod Dreher, The American Conservative, writes perceptively, "The elites who run our culture's institutions, including children's media and corporations, are breaking us down. We are allowing it," Dreher writes.
By the way, Andrew Solomon, writing about the sexual frontiers of the present and the future, mentions that there are those who dismiss comparisons between poly marriage and same-sex marriage, but he says this. "Legal scholars take the argument seriously." In an anti-poly paper–that's anti-polygamy paper–in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, he writes, "John O. Hayward writes, 'Now that the US Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the only remaining marital frontier, at least for the Judeo-Christian nations of the West, is polygamy.'" He needs to add to that polyamory, which doesn't even pretend to be marriage.
But we need to recognize that legalizing polygamy is a significant legal challenge. It would take something as big as the Obergefell decision at the Supreme Court to bring that about. Decriminalizing it would be an easier matter, and that's happening, at least in some cases, state by state. But when it comes to polyamory, which is after all a more radical notion, the law really doesn't have to change at all in terms of allowing such unions to take place.
We see them happening all over. There is not one state in the union in which many of these polyamorous unions would be illegal. We have so demoralized sexuality in our society that anything has become possible. But it's not just possible. These days, just about anything has become actual, and just about anything or everything is now or in the near future going to show up in advertising at Kohl's or as an animated feature for children on Blue's Clues. You have been warned.
Theological Confusion Is Soon to Be on Full Display in the Skyline of Berlin: Germany Breaks Ground on the “House of One” Project
Meanwhile, on the front of strange theological developments, we turn to Berlin, Germany, and the breaking of ground there in recent days for a very expensive multi-million dollar complex to be known as the House of One. The House of One is the idea of bringing together a synagogue, a mosque, and a Christian church into one facility. Each would have separate worship areas, but they would have a common space. And the idea is that there would be the acknowledgement by this project in architecture and in gathering space of the fact that all three basically share a monotheism, they share reverence for a canonical scripture, they basically share the same monotheistic theology. And even though they will worship separately, they are reflective of the House of One.
Now this is presented in liberal Berlin, and this turns out to be very much a part of the equation as an exercise in tolerance. The breaking of ground, by the way, came with the announcement that this extremely expensive project is going to be largely funded by the government of Germany and by the legal authorities right there in Berlin. About 75% of this construction cost in one of the most expensive construction zones in the world is going to be borne by the German taxpayer.
But what I want us to note is that when you look at the specific church and the specific synagogue and the specific mosque to be involved in this project, they are exactly what you would imagine. They're the kind of church, the kind of mosque, and the kind of synagogue that would come together for the House of One, which is to say, this is going to be a very liberal church, a very liberal mosque, and a very liberal synagogue, which is another way of saying that when you look at this kind of project, it becomes a parody of itself because the church that we'll meet in this place, the synagogue that we'll meet in this place, and the mosque that we'll meet in this place are actually not representative of the Orthodox branches of any one of those three religions. Not at all.
Berlin, of course, is a very liberal city. It along with Paris has been one of the major engines for moral liberalism in Western civilization throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries. And of course, there are many demons, historical demons that are haunting cities such as Berlin. The House of One is no doubt intended to be a part of the liberal statement of an increasingly secular Germany, and of course, in Berlin, one of the most secular cities in all of Europe.
The architecture here is not incidental on the statement for the House of One. Under the subject heading architecture, we read this: "The House of One is a contemporary expression of religious life, and as such must be expressed in an equally modern architectural language. With this in mind, the initiators placed an enormous amount of importance on the architectural competition." This reminds me of what took place decades ago when the novelist Peter DeVries described a very liberal church building as very liberal building in such a way that there were no sharp corners or straight lines. That would be far too orthodox and restrictive. Liberation and harmony could only come by endless curves. No corners, no straight lines.
One thing I'm sure here we can be certain of is that in the House of One, theologically speaking, there will be no hard corners and there will be no straight lines. Just as if to make that point emphatically, the organizers of this project pointed out that those who hold to a completely atheistic, agnostic, or secular worldview, of course, are welcome as well. And otherwise, they're going to be in island in the city of Berlin, which is so incredibly secular. But theologically speaking, I'll just say out loud that there's not likely to be much difference in theology between the secularists and the religionists in this complex. When you read the charter of the organization, it makes clear that there is to be absolutely no proselytization. There is to be no evangelism, no seeking to win converts to any or either of these three religions to be all in one space in the House of One. I think it's safe to say there wasn't much danger of evangelism in the first place.
The location of this project is on the side of what had been the Protestant congregation of St. Peter and St. Mary. We can only imagine what the apostle Peter and Mary, the mother of Jesus, would have thought about this. I think we actually know.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.