You’ve heard the slippery slope argument applied to the gay marriage debate: If we legalize marriage between homosexuals, then the polygamists will be demanding their “rights,” too! (And why shouldn’t they? If all you need to make a valid marriage is love and consent, then of course polygamy should be recognized.)
But, what strikes me as interesting is the way everybody simply assumes polygamy is just as immoral as homosexuality. The slippery slope could lead to incest or bestiality… But, is polygamy another example of a lewd sexual practice like these?
Before you try to make the Bible say what it may not, consider that your very monogamous culture may have influenced your perception a bit…
I’ve been chewing on this topic for about a year, so I have a lot I could share. But, rather than hit you with about 50 pages of ideas, I’ll give you the bullet point version. (And maybe we can discuss further in the comments section?)
–God never prohibits polygamy in the Bible. In the New Testament, churches are instructed to elect leaders with only one wife. And we know that men with multiple wives often dealt with extra problems. So, you could make an argument that monogamy is ideal. But polygamy, at the very least, is given allowance.
–Polygamy still makes economic sense in many places in the world. If a wealthy man wants to love and care for more than one woman in a country where women find it difficult to care for themselves, then a polygamous relationship could be beneficial to everyone. Also, when women significantly outnumber men, they may be happy to “share” a spouse (rather than go without).
-We are told that marriage symbolizes Christ and the Church. But a marriage consisting of one husband (Christ) and several “church members” wouldn’t take away from that analogy. Furthermore, a man can love multiple women, much as parents love multiple children. But it would be difficult for a wife to serve/obey multiple husbands. Thus, I’m of the opinion that the Bible allows for Polygyny (multiple wives) but NOT polyandry (multiple husbands).
-Adding to the bullet above, the Old Testament says if any sexual activity takes place between a man and a married WOMAN, then both lovers must be put to death. This is adultery. But, men are given instructions for how to behave if they take additional wives. (Ex. 21:10) Also, Exodus 22 says a man who sleeps with a virgin–essentially–just bought himself another wife. This underscores my belief that multiple wives are tolerable but multiple husbands never are.
So…how might polygamy relate to American culture?
-I’d argue: Most of society practices polygamy already. It’s very common for people to have multiple sexual partners in their life time; they create emotional and spiritual bonds with a person, with no practical difference from a marriage relationship. But then they pick up and do it again with the next lover. We are a polygamous culture…only, without the protection, respect, and stability which marriage is supposed to bring to the picture. We’re reaping the results of everything negative about polygamy, and nothing potentially positive…
–I personally don’t think of polygamy as either “good” or “bad.” It’s neutral. So, I would encourage Americans–especially missionaries–not to automatically lump polygamy into the same category of sexual sin as homosexuality and adultery. If it’s practiced widely in a culture, we need to ask ourselves if that’s really a PROBLEM…and we’d have a hard time arguing that it is. That said, there really isn’t an economic reason for a man to take several wives in the United States. And, since it complicates things (and Paul says the best situation is for each husband to have his own wife and vice versa), I don’t think we should encourage fellow Americans to practice it.
Interesting topic, huh? Do you have any thoughts to share on polygamy?
Here are some Bible verses about polygamy.