Survive + Thrive

Polyamorous community seeks more support from Unitarian Universalist Association

By Lynette Suazo

DSCN0918.jpgValerie White has been a part of the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamorous Awareness (UUPA) organization since it first began in 1999. White, who defined polyamory as being in "an open and loving relationship with more than one person," said that to her knowledge, UUPA is the only religious-based organization that supports the polyamorous community.

Although this may be true, Desmond Ravenstone, a member of the Arlington Street Church, a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Boston, said that the UU denomination quietly accepts the polyamorous community but still has a long way to go.

"They're not open about their support. Ask them about the polyamorous community, ask them about the kink community and you'll get hemming and hawing," said Ravenstone. "You will find some ministers and some lay leaders who are outright hostile to the kink and poly community."

Ravenstone, a part of the bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism and masochism (BDSM/kinky) community, as well as polyamorous, feels that the subject of polyamory is not even open for discussion at most UU churches. He argued that members of the UU congregations who are a part of the BDSM or polyamorous community aren't getting their spiritual needs fulfilled simply because the UU congregation is not open about their support.

Click below for more from Ravenstone:

"There are many UU's who are polyamorous or who are kinky and have difficulty expressing that," said Ravenstone. "I know people who are very much in the closet about being poly or kinky and don't feel comfortable telling their ministers. When people separate their church and sex life, it is soul damaging."

DSCN0934.jpgRachel Walden, Information Assistant at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), said in an email reply, that the UUA has not taken an official standing on polyamory. She explained that "while UU congregations strive to be safe and welcoming spaces for families of all kinds to come together to worship, they are independently organized and often vary quite a bit in their overall theological perspective, style of worship, and demographic makeup."

Dina Johnston is one of those polyamorous people who separates her sex life from her church life. Johnston recently experienced hostility from a UU church that she does not want to name. Johnston was a part of this congregation for five years. For the first three and a half years, Johnston attended alone, leaving her three partners at home.

"I am a very reserved person," said Johnston. "I wanted to get spiritually fed and leave my sexual preferences separate from my church life, at first. As long as I was getting spiritually fed, I saw no need to reveal my sexual orientation. Once I got comfortable with that congregation, I opened up and I regret it to this day."

Johnston said she is Christian and first practiced her Christian faith at a traditional church. She was forced out of that congregation when others learned of her multiple partners. After hearing from a friend that the Unitarian Universalist church would accept her lifestyle, Johnston made the move to the UU church even though she did not agree with their doctrine.

"I knew I needed to go to church. I was spiritually craving. It didn't matter to me that the Unitarian Universalist church doesn't believe in the Trinity or in the idea that God will send you to hell if you don't repent of your sins. Who cares? I just needed to go to church," said Johnston.

After the shock of being kicked out of her former Christian church, Johnston was even more upset when her UU congregation also proved unwelcoming.

"They kicked me out slowly but surely by making me feel unwelcome, especially when my partners came with me. I can't believe I made it a year and a half being treated like that," said Johnston.

Walden said the UUA has a "Welcoming Congregation program, where congregations complete a program to reduce prejudice by increasing understanding and acceptance among people of different sexual orientations." She said that the program is "voluntarily adopted by congregations" and that not all Unitarian Universalist congregations are Welcoming Congregations.

White, on the other hand, has had a different experience at her church, Unitarian Church of Sharon. She even wrote a song entitled "One Place," where she talks about her church being the "one place where it is safe" for her to be herself.

Regardless of her lifestyle, she has been president of her congregation in the past. White described her church as "very diverse, inclusive, theologically liberal and welcoming of diverse beliefs," but White does recognize that not all UU congregations are as welcoming.

Click below for more from White:

As the former national president of UUPA and a current board member, White is often approached by ministers of various UU congregations as a resource on how to minister to polyamorous families and make them feel welcome.

"My advice to ministers is, 'Don't assume that two is the magic number.' When talking about families, don't make that assumption that a family has no more than two parents," White said. "Ministry to poly people begins with education of the UU church in general that this is a legitimate, ethical and principled way to live your life."

Ravenstone has created a support group called Sacred Eros. Ravenstone describes Sacred Eros as a "safe place where people can share their ideas and experiences about sexuality in a spiritual and ethical context." The group meets at Arlington Street Church and is open to the public. He said that some who attend Sacred Eros do so because their home congregation doesn't accept them.

"Some of these people have to check themselves at the door at their home congregations and they shouldn't have to," Ravenstone said. "The BDSM or poly person wants to know they can get spiritual counsel about sexuality without freaking anyone out." Ravenstone added that poly people "want to know that their ministers and lay leaders will handle their issue as if it were a medical problem or a question of theology."

Johnston said that she was not able to get this type of spiritual counsel at her former UU church and now admits to struggling with her spiritual faith because of it. She said she considered "living the heathen life and not believing in a higher power," like all three of her partners currently do.

"Even after my experience at my church, I still think that the UU congregation is one of the only religions that half-way accept the poly community. That is more than most other religions accept us," said Johnston. "I just picked the wrong congregation to go to. I didn't do my research. I would look for another congregation but it burns having gone through this twice."

Walden said that the UUA does not have a list of congregations that are open to the poly community. She points to the UUPA as a resource for those looking for a poly-friendly congregation.

Walden said that the UUA is a democratically governed religious organization. She explained that the UUA's official position on many issues "comes from the thousands of members who join the church each year at its General Assembly." Those in attendance vote on issues that matter most to them. Walden said, "If a Unitarian Universalist wishes to explore giving public support to the polyamorous community in the future, it would have to be voted on by members at the annual General Assembly."

Should more religious denominations support the polyamorous community?
No free polls


Polyamory is a lifestyle and relationship modality based on the idea of the freedom to enjoy open-hearted connections more fully and openly more than one lover (which may or may not include sexual interaction). It is based on ideals of freedom of expression, openness and honesty.

There is way too much hypocrysy in this culture holding to ideals and traditions that just to not match the true actions of a culture who studies have shown have very high percentages of the population having "illicit" relationships in and outside of marriage.

It is time we woke up and just acknowledged the facts of what is really happening? Don't the ideals of freedom, openness, honesty and authentic self-expression typify what America is really all about?

Just because it is not what we may have originally had in mind, If those are ideals we can get behind, I think it is clear that polyamory could be an answer to a lot of the pain and hurt that happens when people ascribing to monogamy are unsuccessful at it. I think we should support such lifestyle explorations as long as they are not hurting anyone else.

It kind of disturbs me to see "heathen" equated with "atheist", given the large number of Heathens I've known personally over the years, who are VERY devout in their religious practices.

Aside from that, and the myopia presented by everyone in this article regarding religious groups and acceptance of polyamory, it's good to see that it's being discussed in the context of a semi-mainstream organization.

From a distance, as both a former Christian, and as minister of a faith that considers polyamory to be a matter between those involved, and no one else, I find it interesting to note that the anti-poly stance of Christianity is (according to what I was taught in Bible college) based on a single passage in a letter by Paul, which listed his idea of the requirements for a bishop of the church. When did the requirements for a bishop become mandatory for ALL Christians?

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