Poly And Religion: Poly and Catholic

For Poly & Religion week, Amy Shiner, coming to us from the Huffington Post, discusses her struggles between her poly life and her Catholic upbringing... and family.

Being Poly and from a catholic background creates a whole new type of guilt.  I often read articles online about the struggles that the GLBT community is going through. I see an endless flow of individuals who use biblical quotes, sometimes out of context or cherry picking, to prove a point that the bible, and in return Christianity, has this agenda to exclude the GLBT community.  I was recently asked by a co-worker what I thought would be the next “movement” after same-sex marriages become a federal law.  I responded by saying that poly marriage would most likely be the center of attention.  In all honesty, whenever I heard my more conservative relatives talk about same-sex marriage, there's always been background noise, sounding something like: how could more than two people exist in a romantic relationship together?

Needless to say, being poly and having a catholic family is sometimes a tightrope act.  It’s almost an expectation to conform or become comfortable with the term “excommunication.”  My ability to stay connected to my traditional catholic family members, for the amount of time that my father’s side accepted me, was nothing more than a miracle. Luckily, I am in an odd position: my family is two stereotypes related by a former marriage.  I have had the unique experience to have both traditional catholic views and liberal Irish Catholic upbringing as a part of my life.  I remember reading the bible (which – in my experience – is in an uncommon practice for catholics), and realizing that the bible had a thin layer of alternative lifestyles. 

I’ve never attended a catholic school, nor am I endowed with a guilt complex that includes a whole list of topics that I blush at with a drop of a hat.  My biggest struggle, and a way that I connect with other people, has been the topic of faith and religious background.  I’m on a popular alternative lifestyle social networking site; one evening I logged on to show an ex of mine my profile.  I was in the midst of “corrupting” my friend when we started discussing how information is structured on the site. She was getting to know someone else a lot better, possibly to enter a relationship with them, and she was spending a lot of time getting to know this person’s needs, wants, and passions.  The website in question, although it shows dislikes and likes of intimate activities, doesn’t really get down to the nitty gritty relationship questions.  When I meet new people, wanting to know about their life, and they’d like to know about mine, the awkward position I'm always in comes up when I get asked what I'm into. I struggle, on occasion, to bring up my volunteer work in the church or wanting to go for an MA in Divinity.

There’s this perception of the Catholic Church that has been so ingrained in me that relating to poly partners, understanding their shifting glances or a quick change in topic, is show-stoppingly difficult.  I realize that Catholicism isn’t the greatest religion in the world.  Its reputation has taken a few hits to the gut, and there have been a few scandals that I am not proud of.   In the general discourse with new partners, when I mention my faith, there is a line of unneeded apologies.  And, yes, I do leave the catholic school girl uniform at home on first dates.

The looks and awkwardness always comes back to church teachings. The teachings of the church, and of the bible, in my spiritual opinion, are a guide--not a dictator.  Oral history has a strong role in the records of the bible.  When I think of the bible, I think of it as a guide to life, but not the only guide to life.  There is also some guidance from the priest, from catechism, and from parents.  I will be the first person to say that the bible can be used as a weapon against anyone.  If we follow some people's belief, the bible states that homosexuality is wrong… but it also says that shellfish is bad, and we eat it; and mixed fabrics should also be avoided, and I think almost everyone wears them. Despite homosexuality taking a blow, the one thing that isn’t really commented on is the theme of polyamory in the bible.  In fact, Abraham, David, Jacob and Solomon had multiple wives. (Solomon had 700 wives.)  

For better or worse, my family has been a guide in my lifestyle choices. Generations change, and within those generations, in my family, I can see tolerance and acceptance change.  It’s something that I can see from watching my grandmother up to my father and mother.  Looking back at stories I’ve heard, catholic guilt has taken a toll on how my family perceives my lifestyle choice.  My paternal grandfather and my father both have infidelity in common.  Catholicism, which states “thou shall not commit adultery”, also (at least in my family) brings on this unspoken agreement that if something isn’t talked about, then it doesn’t exist.  This holds true for even my generation in my family.  If it’s not part of the discussion, it doesn’t exist in “their reality.”  This concept has been a struggle for me.  My father’s family has been toiling under the impression that I have been single for years. 

              A recent phone call home to my mother shined a new light on her acceptance of my lifestyle choice, though.  When we spoke of my father’s infidelity, she commented that if this was the only fault in the marriage, if everything else was okay, she was happy to accept it.  In her mind, if she is taken care of, her children taken care of, and she had him home when she needed him, it was okay. In a way, my mother, with her more liberal views of Catholicism, was sort of a pioneer of the polyamorous lifestyle in the early 1980’s, without knowing it. I find that to be the most common explanation primary partners give in regards to their relationship style. I do feel for my mother; she is actually monogamous, and happy being monogamous. But I can really understand how she got to this point accidentally. 

Being the next generation of my family, I’ve gotten to my mother’s view purposefully. I’ve always been one for open communication with partners.  I know that sometimes, with my background, feeling accepted spiritually and being comfortable with that are two different things.  I try to make sure I keep in mind that how someone defines the bible, and Catholicism, is really up to them. I follow my beliefs, and to deny that Catholicism plays some role in how I treat relationships would be a lie. I never lie to partners about other partners, or act as if I’m monogamous out on first dates; I would certainly hope I never put a partner in the shoes my mother has been in.  But watching how my catholic family labels monogamy has created an ideal of what a “healthy” relationship really looks like.  To be honest, if the love, respect, and total togetherness is there, numbers of partners--either one or more--is not important when I accept people of faith.  I hope for the same acceptance when people meet me.

Looking back on my constant struggles with Catholicism, I’m reminded of something that my mother says to me on occasion. She views Catholicism as a lifelong commitment: “Once you’re Catholic, you are always Catholic.”  That’s a heavy burden to carry in life. Although I may not fully agree with her, it is her opinion, and her path. The fact that acceptance of my lifestyle to her is never-ending really is what being a Christian is about to me--welcoming with open arms.



About the Author

Amy Shiner - Writer - Active Contributor

Amy Shiner is an avid researcher of everything non-mainstream. Active in her local Unitarian Universalist Society she has been presently diving into the search for connections between spirituality and her personal interests. She is a former catholic, pansexual, submissive, polyamorous unicorn and continuously colors outside the lines. Her present blogging includes sex-positive education and the connection between Buddhism and Kink.