Recently Christianity Today ran an essay on polyamory—meaning three or more people of varying identity in a consensual sexual relationship—that purported to offer pastoral guidance on the matter.
It seemed fine enough, and it passed without much mention. After all, the article by Preston Sprinkle and Branson Parler laid out some principles that are true, and it technically identified polyamory as against God’s will. Yet in the midst of such material, the article features a bombshell of a claim: Sprinkle and Parler argue that “good things” do “draw us” to polyamory. Here’s the quotation: “We can acknowledge that many of the elements that draw people to polyamory—deep relationships, care for others, hospitality, and community—are good things.”
Half-truth (polyamory is technically wrong) mixed with half-falsehood (we pursue polyamory for good reasons) equals unsound teaching. There are no “good things” that draw us into sinful actions. We have heard this claim now for several years in evangelical circles; we have heard that there are parts of homosexuality, for example, that can be “sanctified” and identified as good. But this is not the case. At no point in the New Testament are we told that “good things” draw us to evil practices. We think of the teaching laid down by Jesus in Matthew 5:21-30. When a man looks at a woman with “lustful intent,” for example, he is committing adultery with her (28). Jesus does not say in this passage that there are good and understandable reasons why a man would lust after a woman who is not his wife. He does not say, “This is technically adultery, but the good desire for romance and sexual union is compelling you to commit it.” No, he tells his disciples to pluck their eye out if they are enmeshed in lustfulness—otherwise they are bound for hell.
In similar terms, there is no identification in Romans 1:18-32 of “good things” in pagan sexuality. While unbelievers can know truth from general revelation (and do things that are morally right in an earthly sense), Paul does not tell us that the pagans are expressing glad reverence for God’s world when they worship the creature (25). In their pagan creature-worship(driven by pagan desires from a pagan heart), there is only wickedness, idolatry, and sin leading to everlasting damnation. As I’ve covered elsewhere, this is because evil desires lead us to sinful practices and to drinking the “wrath of God” in eternity without measure of mercy, even as this wrath is already “revealed” among those who blaspheme God in a paganized way (18).
We may observe the same (see this piece) regarding 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul identifies a man who is sleeping with his mother-in-law. Paul does not commend the sexual partners for “good things” that have drawn them into a depraved sexual relationship. He does not note that the man in question may justifiably yearn for a maternal bond, or that the woman may well be expressing some commendable interest in a son. He commands the Corinthians to cast the sinning man out from Christian fellowship; he is to be “delivered to Satan,” so deep is he in sin (2). There are no “good things” to identify in his conduct; church members must not associate or eat with this man (11). He is not fine, pursuing some positive things amidst some bad things; he is following Satan and is in eternal danger.
Nor does Peter identify any positive element of false teachers in 2 Peter 2. He does not tell us that they have a genuinely positive desire to shepherd and lead people that is misfiring in practice. They don’t have a good heart, to use common evangelical language, but bad deeds. They have a wicked heart that manifests in wicked deeds. They are “secretly bringing in heresies” and leading many to gratify the lusts of the flesh (2). There is no goodness in what they do.
Nonetheless we commonly hear today what we could call the “sanctifiable sin” view. I assume, now that this unsound teaching has been applied to homosexuality, transgenderism, and polyamory, that it will soon be applied to pedophilia and any final sexual taboos (though we’re nearly at the end of the cultural precipice). Why would it not? Pedophilia is no more pagan than polyamory, and per the argument the pedophile is drawn to children because of some “good things”—he or she loves kids and wants to express those instincts with them. But the pedophile ends up acting in harmful ways toward children, sexually abusing them. I hardly need state how troubling it would be to tell a pedophile that they were drawn to abuse children because of some “good things,” but this is merely the “sanctifiable sin” view in action. In truth, predilection toward a certain sin pattern is in no way indicative of any contextually positive intent or goal in a person.
For those who still have ears to hear in this shocking era: the “sanctifiable sin” view is unsound, a half-truth (polyamory is technically not good) mixed with a half-falsehood (polyamory is driven by good instincts in us). It will seep into sound churches and corrupt and confuse the sheep. There is nothing, truly nothing, in our sin (of any kind) that is good. There is nothing in lust that is good. There is nothing in homosexuality that is good. There is nothing in murderous anger that is good. All these desires and behaviors are evil, pure evil. They demand repentance. Every one of us must continually repent of such desires and behaviors, or else travel the broad way to destruction.
Sin is not sanctifiable. Sin is not partially good and partially bad. Sin is wicked because it is oriented to and focused on wicked ends. Sin is evil all the way down. We might think when we sin that we’re committing only partially bad deeds, but we are not. We are wronging God every time we have an evil thought, evil desire, evil inclination. We are personally offending our Creator when we engage in sinful actions. In such instances, we must be excruciatingly careful to confess our sin as sin and repent of it fully and without excuse before the Lord. Indeed, faithful preaching must lead people to such humble repentance, and faithful worship services should include corporate confession of sin as part of ecclesial pedagogy.
By contrast, Sprinkle and Parler urge the very opposite. In a breathtaking word of counsel—a truly audacious word of instruction out of sync with the history of orthodox Christian proclamation—they tell pastors not to speak directly against polyamory. This is what they commend: “Instead of preaching about polyamory directly from the pulpit, consider constructing a positive vision for monogamy. Instead of addressing homosexuality, educate your people on the meaning of marriage and sexual expression. Instead of doing a sermon series on transgender identities, talk about what it means to be created in God’s image as male and female. People are much more eager to follow a positive vision for marriage and sex than to adhere to a list of “don’ts.” How odd. This surely does not represent the practice of Chrysostom, Augustine, Calvin, the Puritans, Edwards, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, and other sound expositors that we rightly read today.
Biblically faithful pastors must speak about polyamory and all pagan perversion of God’s beautiful design. The sheep are tempted to sin, and to walk away from the faith one day at a time, one small decision at a time. We all are. For this reason, pastors must address homosexuality. Pastors must preach and teach about transgenderism. Pastors must tell people the “don’ts” of Scripture. In point of fact, pastors must preach what the Bible lays out—so they won’t be able to avoid condemnation of sin. Nor should they. No such warnings should come, of course, in isolation from a full and God-exalting unfolding of the glorious complementarian design of man and woman. Thankfully, we are not forced into the false choice Sprinkle and Parler offer us. We do not have to choose between preaching only positively about divine design or preaching only negatively about sexual sin. We must do both, and seek by divine grace the safe shepherding of the flock to everlasting life.
It is true that Sprinkle and Parler say some technically correct things in their article. Not every word of counsel they offer is unsound; further, polyamory is a real and rising problem. But their approach to polyamory is fatally flawed. It teaches us that there are “good things” that draw us to evil. Further, Sprinkle and Parler call for the quieting of warnings against sexual sin. They say this calmly and reasonably, but this is not reasonable counsel. Half-truth mixed with half-falsehood is not fine; it is dangerous, very dangerous indeed, especially because it is hard to spot the lie in the midst of the truth.