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Ethics and Religion Talk: Can a Christian engage in "Swinging?"

I’m married to a man who I’m not sure is a Christian. He is adamant about following the works of Jesus by helping the poor and needy. He is also adamant about engaging in the swinging lifestyle.

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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Lately, Ethics and Religion Talk has received a number of questions about sexual practices. Bring it on! We’ll tackle the most difficult of questions! Contact us as [email protected]

JM writes, “I’m married to a man who I’m not sure is a Christian. He is adamant about following the works of Jesus by helping the poor and needy. He is also adamant about engaging in the swinging lifestyle. I’m trying really hard to balance my Biblical upbringing about marriage and sex with engaging in the lifestyle while pleasing my husband in being a submissive wife. I’m so confused and in spiritual turmoil. I need answers!”

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

“Your husband is trying to do a trade-off with God. To compensate for the sin of fornication and adultery, he does the works of a Christian in helping the poor and needy. Many have attempted such ethical tradeoffs. For example, King Herod the Great rebuilt and beautified God’s temple in Jerusalem, while he imbrued his hands in the blood of countless victims of his savage tyranny. ‘Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’ (Galatians 6:7). Herod came to a bad end, and so will your husband, if he continues in gross sin.

“Your duty as a wife is ‘to be obedient unto [your husband] in all lawful things, as to the Lord,’ as it says in the Liturgy of the Reformed Churches. Fornication and adultery are unlawful things, that is, sins against the law of God. You should refuse to have any part in your husband’s ‘swinging lifestyle.’ You are free to leave him and to divorce him. The way out of confusion and turmoil is to remind yourself that your first duty in life is to ‘fear God and keep His commandments’ (Ecclesiastes 12:13).”

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

“Unitarian Universalists see marriage as an equal partnership between two adults. The idea of having one spouse be submissive to the other spouse is quite foreign to us. As a minister I would counsel that if you are uncomfortable engaging in the swinging lifestyle then please do not do it. It is unhealthy to engage in activities, whatever they may be because your spouse is being adamant. I think part of your spiritual turmoil is that your Christian upbringing is in direct conflict with what your husband is demanding of you. Everyone deserves a marriage where they feel loved, respected and appreciated.”

Chris Curia, the Director of Youth Ministries at Fairway Christian Reformed Church, responds:

“Thank you for your vulnerability. First, for what it’s worth, I affirm your confusion, spiritual turmoil, and desire for answers. I wish we could talk more so I could better understand your specific hurts. But I empathize with what I do understand. What you’re experiencing is really difficult.

“Psychologically speaking, our experience of trauma over prolonged periods of time actually rewires us to become more self-protective, which partially explains why maintaining healthy relationships can become so difficult. Without knowing either of you or your situation in-depth, I wonder how your husband’s behavior has affected your emotional wellbeing. I also think it would be helpful to discern how his behavior reinforces how you have been taught to see yourself in terms of the roles and expectations that have been put on you. I would recommend processing some of those feelings deeper with a therapist or trusted spiritual director.

“If you feel that having a conversation with your husband would be safe and beneficial, I think you can start by (1) asking him to have the hard conversation; then (2) by recalling your observances of his behavior; then (3) by speaking to your feelings about his behavior and how it has caused you hurt and conflicted with your core values; and then (4) by inviting him, when you are ready, to help you understand where he is coming from.

“Moreover, if you have any ideas about how he might be able to change his ways to be kinder to you, let him know. If he makes no apology or concerted effort to change, then I would consider seeing a marriage counselor to help you both navigate through the conflict.”

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

“Doing good works and helping the poor and needy does not make anyone a Christian. Jesus promoted holiness and faithfulness and the swinging life style is not congruent with holiness and faithfulness. Furthermore, anyone who claims to be a Christian must exhibit the fruit of the Spirit in his or her life. ‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law’ (Galatians 5:22-23). I am so sorry that you are in this predicament and confused as to whether submission to your husband includes submitting to his lifestyle. I would say that submission to God and your faithfulness to Him comes first.”

 

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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