As churchgoers around the Valley return home from services this Sunday afternoon, a former deacon named Dave will be hosting a special nondenominational "fellowship meeting" for a select few of his own followers.

Nothing particularly unusual about that, except for one thing. Dave has never actually laid eyes on any of his 20 guests before. Nor do any of the people who'll be attending the couples-only event know each other, either.

Not to worry, though. Since Dave's Christian coffee klatsch is "clothing optional," most guests at the house party will probably not remain strangers for long. And if all goes according to plan, a few members of this newly formed flock may eventually get to "know" each other even better--as in the Biblical sense.

Tryst almighty! What, pray tell, is going on?
According to Dave, the group's director and co-founder, Liberated Christians is a national network of "enlightened" Christian couples interested in exploring "responsible nonmonogamy" with a clear conscience. Recruiting members through ads posted on computer bulletins and in sex tabloids, the Phoenix-based group is believed to be the only Christian-oriented swingers group in the country.

"First of all, we are not a church and we've got no intention of becoming a church," says Dave, who requests that his last name not be used. "And we are never going to be a traditional swing club, just getting together for the sake of having sex."

Heaven forbid!
"We try to avoid the 'S' word around here," explains Dave. "Not that there's anything wrong with it, but most people associate swinging with wild parties and sex orgies, and that's not what we're about. Or at least, not as most people understand it."

Waving a copy of a sensationalistic article about his organization that appeared in a skin magazine several months ago, the good-natured "polyamorist" rolls his eyes to the heavens in mock exasperation.

"Contrary to what Adam magazine might like you to believe, we are not 'holy hedonists,' nor are we 'faithful fuckers,' as they so colorfully put it," says the nonmonogamous messiah during a recent interview in his office in a midtown business complex. Laughing, he adds, "And I can assure you that, no, we won't be conducting any 'Jacuzzi baptisms,' either."

Instead, under the guidance of Dave and a friend named Bill, soul-seeking sybarites attending Liberated Christians' inaugural meeting will spend the afternoon engaged in a variety of exercises--staring into one another's eyes, stroking each other's faces, like that--designed to expand, explore and otherwise spelunk the uncharted depths of human sensitivity and nonsexual intimacy. And if a newly enlightened soul suddenly gets the urge to get in physical touch with himself--or others--well, praise God and pass the KY Jelly. "Some woman wants to climb on the Sybian and go wild?" says Dave, referring to a masturbation machine that'll be available. "Fine. And if someone else decides to drag three men into the bedroom with her, that's okay, too. Liberated Christians is about choices and options. We're not against pleasure. Far from it."

Middle-aged, paunchy and graying, the nonmonogamy messiah may be an unlikely looking sexual libertine. But since slapping a name on his epiphany two years ago, Dave has spent thousands of dollars mailing out his literature, all of it adorned with Liberated Christians' Hallmark Card-like logo and motto--a huggy bear accompanied by the slogan "Huggers Embrace Life." A weird wedding of sex, Scripture and pop psychology (the group's introductory literature may be the only publication on Earth where you'll find the phrases "Old Testament" and "vibrating nipple clamps" on the same page), the information packet currently includes a dozen different brochures. Topics range from a rather impenetrable 50-page treatise on the Liberated Christians sexual ethic to a practical four-pager on G-spots and where to find them. And a special report titled "The Facts, Not Hysteria" offers peace of mind to reticent swingers who fear the threat of AIDS; armed with statistical data, Dave offers the comforting thought that Liberated Christians (the non-drug-using, heterosexual variety) are far more likely to be killed in a car crash en route to a swing club than they are of contracting the deadly virus once they get there.

"The response has been overwhelming," says Dave, whose confidential mailing list now numbers more than 1,000 enthusiasts. No longer able to single-handedly foot the bill for printing, postage and handling, he's now requesting a $20 donation to defray costs of the monthly newsletters, "special reports" and other mailings.

Of course, some of his promotional attempts haven't panned out as well as others--like last fall's unsolicited mass mailing that succeeded only in puzzling some 3,000 single women in the 85016 zip code area who received it. Intended to equalize gender balance within the group, the pricey fiasco didn't draw a single response.

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Dewey Webb