1) Another Look At Polygamy

Back in 2007 (Nov. 25th edition), we looked at Polygamy. The item was entitled, “WHAT DO YOU THINK OF POLYGAMY?” and the text of the item went, “OK… remember my two sons? They’re at it again. Today at lunch they started asking me about polygamy. Well I knew to tell them that elders and deacons should just have one wife. But what do I tell them — scripturally — about marriages in countries that *allow* polygamy legally? I know it’s a problem, when missionaries confront new cultures where polygamy is dominant. Christianity arrives, the missionaries teach monogamy, and — what does that say to existing believers who are already married to 4 wives? If you have an answer… or a good scriptural response (especially one in the New Testament), or if you can even remember what you said before (back in Nov. 2007), please click “Comment” below. When we transitioned to this new format, it meant we lost those comments. Brigada participant, Charmaine, recently wrote to ask, “I received an email from a friend in Tanzania asking some contextualization questions. I remembered a fascinating conversation from Brigada that I followed a little over a year ago on polygamy. I followed a link from Brigada website and read the fascinating story of a missionary in west Africa working with Muslim peoples and his observations about polygamy. Please help us rebuild a thread on this important topic. Thanks.

11 Responses to 1) Another Look At Polygamy
  1. Anonymous Reply

    Scripturally, I think the best you can say is that it is not the wisest course of action. I cannot think of a single instance where God instructed someone to take another wife. He speaks of the Church being the bride of Christ, and he tells us to rejoice in the wife of our youth. I also do not see where God has condemned someone for more than one wife, so i don’t think we can either. He condemns adultery, but seems passive and silent about the multiple wives some of his key chosen men had. he does allow scripture, though, to reveal many of the problems poligamy cause these people, and scripture talks a bit about how one cannot serve two masters, and how Jacob and others loved one wife specially.

  2. History man Reply

    When it comes to polygamy, it seems to me the verse to remember is in 1 Cor. 7: 20* Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.
    21* Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you–although if you can gain your freedom, do so.
    22* For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave.
    23* You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.
    24* Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.

    From this I think the apostle is saying that we do not need to unnecessarily upset new believers or their families. True, I think we can establish that one woman, one man is God’s plan from Genesis when the Lord created Adam and Eve, not Adam, Eve, Mary and Sue. Nonetheless, God takes us as we are. The marriage covenant (and the kids and all the other issues) are serious, even in a polygamous marriage. For a missionary to try and break up a family because of polygamy is, I believe, misguided, especially when you see the many men of God who had multiple wives and it did not seem to keep the Lord from using them: David, Abraham and Jacob come to mind.
    Polygamy is not the Lord’s institution, but neither is divorce, and he permitted it because of the hardness of heart of people.
    Kerby

  3. Anonymous Reply

    I remember hearing years ago of a mission dealing with the same issue. Their suggestion was that the man take his first wife. Then the others he had taken on or married move out together in another place while he stops having sex or special alliances with them, but that he supports them financially, helps them get job training, etc. That seemed pretty resonable to me.
    John H.

  4. Anonymous Reply

    For a short, thoughtful discussion on this topic, consider the book Polygamy by Dr. I. Gaskiyane, published by Piquant Edtions in 2000. It is out of print, but available on Amazon Marketplace.

  5. David G. Fish Reply

    One of the best resources I have ever seen (written by a Westerner, anyway) is Walter Trobisch’s book (from the 1970s): My Wife Made me a Polygamist.

    It is, of course, out of print, but used copies can still be found for reasonable prices:
    http://tinyurl.com/ckfhty

  6. Marti Smith Reply

    I don’t have an answer on this one but can give you some more questions! That is, if any of you find yourself in a position where you want to help others understand and wrestle with questions like this that straddle the distance between culture and morality, get yourself a copy of Hiebert’s “Case Studies in Missions.” It includes quite a few cases, several pages long, where believers/missionaries are trying to figure out what to do about a certain situation.

    I’d also be happy to share a one-page document with five short case studies to invite students into common struggles of first-generation believers, esp. in Muslim contexts. Write me at martismith(at)calebresources.org.

  7. Fawn Reply

    Recently we were in Northern Uganda holding an East African Reconciler's Gathering with leaders from Sudan, Congo, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda, and I realized as I heard their stories this important fact; The roots of genocide, sip at the river of polygamy. I never had an African leader say that his dad was a polygamist, without hearing a cry in his throat. Identity and blessing that is suppose to be passed down from fathers, almost never happens in polygamy. The child is often an unread footnote not the main text. If identity is to be had, it usually defaults to tribe & clan. In polygamy (at least in the African context), this tribal/clan identity can turn septic and result in genocide of other tribes. If you look at the amount of warfare in East Africa, much could be said about the paucity of identity, fueling the conflict. Character that is to be passed down from father to son, is often missing in many polygamous cultures.

  8. Anonymous Reply

    We worked in Nigeria for 12 years. The church had made the decison that polygimists could not be members of the church but could attend. The wives could become members if they accepted Christ. Or the man could keep only his first wife and return the others to their family. Some of these wives became mid-wifes or found other useful employment.

    At one time one of the missionaries proposed that they allow these men to become members along with their wives too but the leader of this church said, no, you don’t know how much trouble having more than one wife causes in families and between their children.

    If you make that rule all the boys and men will wait until they have several or at least more than one wife before they attend church and join. So he won and the church is now a large and strong denomination this area.

  9. Harvey T. Hoekstra Reply

    I was a missionary for nearly thirty years serving in the Sudan and Ethiopia. 1948-1977
    We dealt with the questions surrounding polygamy and whether or not to baptize those who came to profess faith in Christ when multiple wives were involved. Let me invite you to listen to chapter eleven of my book, “Honey, We’re Going to Africa” in audio on our website, http://www.talkingbibles.org. I think it will be instructive and inspiring. You will learn how one of the kings became a believer and was baptized even though he had four wives. A few months later his four wives professed faith in Christ and were baptized. Let God be praised. Harvey Hoekstra, retired Bible translator, chairman of Talking Bibles Int’l board.

  10. fresnel Reply

    In grad school I had an assignment to look up every passage in the Bible touching this subject and write an analysis of the overall teaching of scripture. That’s too long to post here but I’ll send it to you if you’re interested. billatbillandrobinharrisdotcom

  11. jamden Reply

    This is a response to one comment where the person states:
    “When it comes to polygamy, it seems to me the verse to remember is in 1 Cor. 7: 20* Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21* Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you–although if you can gain your freedom, do so.
    22* For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave.
    23* You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.
    24* Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.
    From this I think the apostle is saying that we do not need to unnecessarily upset new believers or their families.”

    Some thoughts personally:
    I do not believe we can use that reasoning. If we used the reasoning that everyone should remain in their current situation, then what about other situations such as spousal abuse, child abuse, a murderer, a thief, etc? Scripturally remaining in the “situation they are in” seems to pertain to occupational scenarios rather than what might be “sinful scenarios”. The scripture reference to marriage for men and women is that if an individual becomes a Christian, they should remain with their unbelieving spouse. It is in a singular reference, not plural.

    My opinion is that we need to be careful to not think less of the Holy Spirit’s power nor the ability for Him to do His work. We teach and preach the truth, and then the Holy Spirit convicts a person accordingly. Additionally, the individual needs to come to grips with his/her morality situation in life. I prefer the Priscilla and Aquila approach. Rather than confronting a situation in public, they met privately with the individual in their home. By addressing the situation with the individual and explaining our reasoning and the impact it has on Christianity and the local church, it allows opportunity for the individual himself to make changes. It also allows the Holy Spirit to convict the individual.

    We also cannot negate the power of prayer. We must continue in prayer in our churches over situations like these and also about other situations.

    Another approach could be to have an individual who has come out of such a situation talk to the individual about his situation.

    Hey, I’m not an expert on this and thankfully, I have not had to deal with polygamy in my mission work. My heart goes out to those of you who do have to deal with it and I will pray for you. In one church we worked with, there were five female members who were pregnant outside of marriage. One male member had impregnated two of those ladies. We met with each of those individuals privately and there were some rocky moments for the church. However, through individual repentance and the Holy Spirit’s guidance, the church is strong today. Four of the ladies, as well as the man, repented and continued in the church. More importantly, their children are faithful and have not fallen into the same trap that their mothers and father did. One of the two ladies (impregnated by the same man) is active in another church. I believe God would not have blessed this church had it continued in that scenario. If we don’t address situations, it could have the potential to do further harm to the local and/or national church. God bless!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Please enter your name, email and a comment.