I suppose the thing which most troubles the honourable and diligent patriarch who wishes to place Yahweh first in his life is how he may love his wives equally and without partiality, especially given that he is human and imperfect. Another concern that he has is how to avoid what might be called sexual deviancy given the sudden availability of much more sexual variety compared to the monogamous situation. I hope in this brief essay to be able to address these two important issues although I have already touched upon them briefly elsewhere.
For the benefit of plural wives and women investigating polygyny who may also be reading this I wish, though I have done it many times before already, to stress one very important thing about your husband or prospective husband that you must clearly understand: he is neither perfect nor a superman. What he is confronted with, though, are challenges with problems of far greater dimensions than the monogamist man will ever meet, and for this reason alone should be accorded more rather than less sympathy for what is a very difficult calling, especially if he is a young and inexperienced patriarch. Plural marriage is as much an exploration between the parties involved as monogamy is, and given the more complex equation with various personality types, giftedness and personal problems, the man or woman in a polygynous marriage must expect a lot more time to elapse in space for giving the relationship to settle down than in a monogamous one. As a general rule it is always best to come with few expectations other than to give as much of yourself to everyone as you can. It is hard enough when a monogamous couple come with various expectations of one another, but when you are three or more, arriving at a consensus becomes exponentially more and more difficult and in the end you are forced to be practical and allow the husband to make many of the decisions even if they are not always to your liking.
Therefore without a doubt those who enter plural marriage, having experienced situations in their lives where they are forced to accept decisions which they do not necessarily like, will have a great advantage over those used to having their own way. In my country, where there is compulsory military service, such an environment is good for learning this quality of submissiveness. Whilst I am not by any means saying that plural marriage should be compared to a military situation (Yah forbid!) I am saying that learning to be under headship is good preparation for polygamy. This is true in any number of situations, not just the military, where we must submit ourself in work to a boss. Learning to accept what one doesn't necessarily like at first is certainly good training for polygamy because polygamy is, above all, about change - change from self-centredness to Christ-centredness and community-centredness whilst at the same time preserving the essential qualities of individuality.
Polygamy - and especially in a polygamous situation where new wives are coming in every now and then - requires that one learn the skill of constant readjustment. The success at which a family is able to readjust depends very much on the communication skills they have acquired and their ability to respond as one. An army platoon is full of different kinds of personality but on the command of their leader they are able to move as one single unit with a common purpose. A polygamous family is no less different and although it ought not to be on a battlefield, it ought to working together with a clearly defined set of goals which can only be attained as the collective effort of a team.
In my home the sovereignty of individuality begins and ends in a wife's private room. There she may arrange it in whatever way she and her husband want to. I am, of course, sensitive to a wife's need to express herself as much as possible therein and whilst theoretically how it is arranged and organised is a joint decision, in practice I usually give her a free hand. And whilst it is theoretically 'our' room I do encourage her to think of it as 'her' room too.
Everywhere else in the house is the product of team work where true plural marriage functions. This means that where there are differences of approach to different things I must set the standard to be imitated by all. To a very large extent the rest of the house is a reflection of the patriarch himself and the way he has absorbed the likes and preferences of his several wives. It means that there is a certain style and way of doing things which reflects a collective family spirit. Inevitably, wives are, from time to time, going to feel slighted when their ideas are not accepted or implemented, and it is here that learning to submit, and to be content with this, is essential. My responsibility is to take the best of everything that the wives have to offer in the creation of our own Garden of Eden. I think that for the most part I 'get it right' but I must admit that sometimes I may implement a system which is inferior to the suggestion of one or more wives. This is why I mention that wives should not expect perfection of their husband. In this situation it is very important that the wives learn to yield gracefully if they disagree with their husband. One thing that you cannot afford in a plural marriage is for one wife to 'withdraw' in a huff and become unpleasant because her better idea is rejected. What she must do, if she is convinced that she is right and that she should influence her husband and family with what she sincerely believes to be inspired of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), is to do so by loving and gentle persuasion, not nagging or getting annoyed, irritated, or bitter, or withdrawal of attention or affection, because the latter will simply get her nowhere (besides being very immature). In yielding to her husband whom she may believe has made a wrong decision, she must realise that she is surrendering to his Yahweh-ordained calling as patriarchal head and not necessarily to his wrong decision. She must learn to be wise, exercising patience and caution, for such situations can so easily cause unnecessary and painful family strife. Another thing she must not do in yielding to her husband is to withhold her love from him or from the other sister-wives who may, per chance agree with him, for this is born of a selfish and egotistical spirit. She must learn to love what she does not like until - or if - (for she must be prepared to accept that she will never get her wish) her husband changes his mind.
As you can imagine, disagreements are a delicate matter that can so easily upset the equilibrium in a plural family. Everyone, husband as well as wives, must, without exception, learn to happily live with things which he or she doesn't like. And this is the real secret of the success of a polygamous family. It would be wrong for me to say that I never yield to things I do not like for in truth Yahweh has told me to do things which I do not like too. In plural marriage there is a lot of this which is why it is such a wonderful place for learning grace, patience, long-suffering and forgiveness. Unlike the army where in all likelihood you probably do not like or love your commanding officer, polygamy is, after all, a marriage where love lies at the core of everything. Christ-like love loves in spite of people and not because of them.
The reason why so many plural marriages are plagued with difficulties is, in my opinion, because those entering it are in love with their husbands more than they are with the Author and idea of plural marriage itself. For many polygyny is accepted simply because it is the only way they can get the man they are in love with or because they are forced to accept it as true much as a country occupied by an invader is forced to reluctantly admit that the invader is managing their country better and more prosperously than their own former independent government. If polygamy is to be successful, those entering it must also love the principle. And whilst I suspect many may come to polygamy for the wrong heart-motives, it is most important that they work hard on attaining this love for the idea of marriage itself. This, perhaps, is the most difficult task of all for those coming out of the monogamy-only mindframe. The principle is accepted only because the divine will has impelled them towards a place they do not want to go but to which they know they must go. In that respect, they are no different from the apostle Peter who had all sorts of ideas as to what following Yah'shua (Jesus) meant but which in Messiah means to give up everything and get seven times more back again. Following the polygamous way is exactly like that.
Once you have fallen in love with polygamy itself and can become an enthusiastic protector and protagonist for it, you have crossed the threshold of your struggle to make it work for you. As every General knows, his best fighting troops are always those who are dedicated to the cause for which the army is fighting; and as every government knows, professional soldiers are always better than conscripted ones. That is why I am a part of the 'polygamy-by-love' movement and am bitterly opposed to the 'polygamy-by-force' one. The latter can never really lead to happiness, which is the object of following Christ, is it not? And if you do not believe polygamy leads to happiness, you ought not to be seeking it until Yahweh has reassured you that it does.
I have titled my essay today, The Quality of Wholeness, because I and my wives are firmly convinced that the path of Christian polygamy is one of the best paths to spiritual wholeness. The battleground of the Christian, no matter what he may personally believe in regarding doctrine and practice, remains that of self vs. Christ. To be a truly born-again and obedient disciple walking in the fullness of love means that the war against self has been won and that Christ is Sovereign Lord. To be a true Christian means to be in a symbolic polygamous relationship with one Bridegroom as one of many millions of allegorical brides. The love we derive from Christ is a love which is shared by many. And whilst it begins as a one-to-one relationship in the New Birth, it immediately progresses to its consummation by being a many-to-one polygamous love. That is why those who do not manage to fit into a local congregation or assembly - who have no concept of the Body of Christ in their lives - have not really come to know the Messiah at all, who exists not just for you, but for many. Moreover, it is His will that His Body - His plural bride - become one in mind, heart, purpose, and love, as it is his will that the wives of a patriarch become the same. The polygamous marriage is an earthly reflection of that divine relationship between Church/Messianic Community and Saviour. So long as we model our plural marriages on this one overriding principle, we shall thrive and ourselves become a great blessing to the Universal Church/Body of Messiah, for one of the purposes of polygamy, I am convinced, is to show graphically this spiritual relationship in an incarnated form. When the members of a polygamous family are truly one with each other, then the Body has a living model to follow in its spiritual quest. And it is for this reason that I believe that Christian/Messianic polygamy has been restored in our day to show the Body of Christ the way forward, and it is why I believe that the great majority - if not all - of the Church's/Messianic Community's future Remnant leaders are going to be polygamists.
Thus for a polygamist to love his wives equally he must, without exception, imitate the Great Bridegroom in heaven in His relationship to His Body. And we must look to the way that our Lord works with different Christians and Messianics to see both the equality of His love and how we all receive different callings which in no way diminishes that love. Whether apostle or layman, Christ loves all equally. Irrespective of giftedness, beauty, sexual prowess, faults and weakness, or whatever, the faithful patriarch will love his wives the same. Elohim (God) does not love a man more than another because He gives him special gifts - we must realise that our giftedness is a stewardship for which we must give an account! It is not something we can show off or boast about because of the fact that it is a gift and not something that is earned. Thus if one wife is more skilled in one area of domestic ministry than another - if she is a better cook, better lover, better administrator, etc. - it is not because she as a person is 'better' than the other wives but because she has been given a gift for which she must give an account. Indeed, a wife with the gift of being a good cook has as one of her responsibilities the duty of teaching the other wives how to be better cooks themselves, and the duty of the other wives if to humbly learn! Every wife should be learning from and imitating the others so that collectively the family grows. Thus there should be no envy on the part of any sister-wife if her husband appoints another wife as 'chief chef' but rather she should rejoice in that call. My wives all have special areas of responsibility to which the others must defer. They must all learn leadership in their respective spheres and to defer to those who have skills and callings which the other wives do not. This does not mean that we have a 'clergy-laity' divide - it does not mean that one wife does all the cooking, another handles all the home schooling, and another handles all the economy. These tasks are always shared but one may have the overall responsibility.
Not everything is necessarily by appointment. Many times wives seem to gravitate into certain areas of activity and 'do' jobs without being asked. This is good but has its downside as often the others 'assume' that as she loves this activity so much they need not necessarily join in. At some point the patriarch must organise activities that have spontaneously started so that there is an equal and fair distribution of labour. It happened that way with gardening in our family. Initially we had very little time for it and so I placed very little emphasis on it. One wife got the ball rolling and started and everybody was soon enjoying the fruits of her labour in terms of the beautification of our home as well as the productivity of edibles. But no-one else wanted to get their hands dirty and made all sorts of excuses about it not being their 'thing'. It took quite an effort on my part of get everyone organised but now gardening is a major activity that all are involved in some way or another. I give this as an illustration on how important it is for wives to take initiative but also how important it is for the husband to take his cue and organise it effectively and to ensure it becomes an enjoyable family activity.
Sometimes 'initiative' can be taken in the wrong area which takes time, effort and resources from essential activities. In such cases the husband may have the painful task of bringing such an initiative to an end. I had one wife who was absorbed in hobbies to such an extent that it was taking her away from her domestic duties which in turn created resentment amongst the others. It had actually become her 'escape' from dealing with family problems. The confrontation was not a pleasant one and actually contributed to an estrangement for some years. As I said, the plural household is a community and everyone has communal responsibilities. When any wife deserts these, the others suffer by being burdened with work on top of what they already have. I know there are polygamists who believe in separate households where such problems may not necessarily exist but to my way of thinking this is not true polygamy - its parallel would be lots of Christian families each having private church separately but never actually coming together as a plural Body of Christ at all. The Wedding Feast of the Lamb is not a private candlelight dinner with Yah'shua (Jesus) - it's a great gathering of everyone together. To be sure, there must be time for private interests and hobbies, and this is allowed for. The responsible wife will not abuse this privilege but sometimes there are those who are not so community-minded who need reminding of their callings and responsibilities. True plural marriage is neither for the selfish nor the idle.
Organisation is very important once the family reaches a certain size and whilst a structureless system has its advantages in terms of spontaneity it is not always practical. What must be sought is a balance between the two in which there is structure and flexibility. The family must neither become a military camp nor a vaccation centre. Not every individual is as disciplined as the other and 'breaking in' such people into the polygamy way of life may at first be hard for them. This can be particularly true for the very 'private' person where privacy is, in fact, a luxury. If a person does not thrive around others then plural marriage is likely to be difficult for them. That is not to say they cannot thrive for I am convinced that everyone was created to be social - the 'privacy syndrome' is more often than not the product of those who do not wish to change or are sheltering private sins they do not want confronting, though they may also be those who are psychologically damaged inside and need healing. The solution is not, however, withdrawing but in making an effort to 'join in'. As one myself who had this problem as a youth I think I understand it very well.
There is, you might say, a polygamy dynamic, or a physical-mental-emotional-spiritual movement which is a family's signature tune. The dynamic changes a little as new wives and children come into it but the theme, under the conductorship of the husband, must remain constant. We are particularly blessed inasmuch as we are following a system of thought and practice as is revealed in the (now - January 2003) Twelve Books of Abraham which describes a model patriarchal family and is a blueprint for the kind of polygamy which we as a family want.
A man or woman's perspective of Christian polygamy is bound to change as he or she acquires spiritual wholeness and can see the practicability and desirability of this dynamic. I think many people are turned away from this lifestyle because for them there are so many unknowns and few rôle models. Further, some of the rôle models they have seen (usually those with a high public profile) are usually of the 'polygamy-by-force' crowd. Interestingly, whilst the latter advertise themselves widely they actually reveal very little of themselves personally whereas the converse seems to be true of the 'polygamy-by-love' movement. It has been my policy, and that of my wives, to be as open as possible about our successes and failures without compromising our private lives (which is why we use pseudonyms and conceal our geographic whereabouts). We do not exist to sensationalise polygamy by getting media attention for ourselves (we're not interested in it) but like to work quietly in the background and be a blessing to those who are genuinely and humbly seeking for light into this Biblical truth.
I am sometimes asked how the added 'sexual variety' a patriarch obtains through several wives affects him spiritually and his relationship with his other wives, and how, indeed, they the wives benefit from it, especially as this aspect of plural marriage is considered by many to be a disadvantage to the wives who must content themselves with only 'one' kind of sexual experience because they only have one husband.
To begin with, sex, as I have said before, lies at the bottom of our list of priorities, even if this may be the opposite of the secular mindframe. At the same time this does not mean that sex is unimportant to us. Whereas the human personality exists in enormous diversity, the sexual act is really limited to a small spectrum of techniques (66 'positions', so I'm told). How you put your sexual 'act' together depends very much on your personality to be sure. In plural marriage the husband learns from all his wives and vice versa, each wife having her preferences. That is not to say that the patriarch must become the 'sexual jack of all trades' but it is to say that he must be flexible and sensitive to the different needs and likes of his wives. As such, then, the demand upon him can be great. However, in the Christian/Messianic context, the sexual act is tempered by certain standards of behaviour which are designed to give the maximum glory to Yahweh. We may, if we wish, behave like animals in the sexual act, but this is not an option for the Christian/Messianic. Sex must fit into the Christian/Messianic dynamic whose motive force is spiritual in essence, with sex merely a physical expression. This at once limits the 'diversity' of sexual technique employed. In my experience, the differing personalities of the wives notwithstanding, sexual habits of couples in polygamy tend to be fairly similar. And whilst there may be said to be a maturing process in this area as in the emotional, mental and spiritual, there is also a degree of difference which lies no so much in the sexual act itself but in the subtle forms of communication between the soul during that act. Once the 'basic techniques' of sex have been mastered, which need not take very long, the future development or unfolding of it in polygamous marriage has more to do with soul communion than anything else. There is a definite progression from the vigour, coarseness and clumsiness of youthful sex to that of the more subtle, calm and controlled variety of the one who is maturer.
As I have matured myself I have noticed that what matters in sex is not so much different technique or how powerful your sexual dynamo is but whether there is a genuine communion of persons at every level of being. Sex is progressively seen as a vehicle rather than an end, a means of enhancing a relationship rather than consummating it in some ecstatic 'high' that is here one second and gone the next. As a polygamist with wives of different ages, maturities and sensitivities, I try to lead them in the direction of what I call a 'whole experience' where Christ lies at the core. Paul said: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do (including sex), do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31, KJV). In the sex life of Christian/Messianic polygamy this must be the guiding principle, and is one I teach to all my wives. The question naturally follows: how can sexual activity give glory to Elohim (God)?
To me there is only one answer to this question, and it is whether my sex life actually causes me and my wives to be more loving generally. If the joy of sex leads my wife to afterwards be more giving to my other wives, to be more caring of our children, and to be a better Christian/Messianic generally, then I would say that sex is being used to glorify Yahweh. And it seems to me that the only way it can do this is if it is leading a person to spiritual wholeness. If the intimacy of sex leads to deep inner contact where the barriers of inhibition are lowered and truth is nakedly bared, then Yahweh, our Father in Heaven, surely is being honoured. This, then, is the goal of sex in my family - not for sensual pleasure (though it certainly brings this) but as a means of perfecting the soul through becoming more honest and transparent. This, I would say, is my personal philosophy of sex in plural marriage.
True sex will liberate a soul from possessiveness and the desire for exclusivity. When wives are able to joyfully share their husbands sexually with sister-wives, without jealousy or resentment, then true liberation from the selfishness of the flesh has been attained. Sex must ultimately be liberating, not enslaving, as it certainly becomes when it is the centre of carnal obsession. Thus Paul's words, "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any" (1 Corinthians 6:12, KJV) takes on added meaning. Sex is lawful within marriage but not all forms of sex are expedient; sex is good, provided it does not bring the soul under bondage such that the soul loses its freedom.
In plural marriage a Yahweh-honouring doctrine of sex is essential which neither suppresses it not exalts it out of proportion. If husband or wives are using it for carnal gratification with no thought for spirituality it may well lead them seriously astray, create unnatural tensions, and perhaps even lead to marriage problems and break-ups. Thus the patriarch must know exactly where he stands in this area and have enough self-control to regulate sex in a Yahweh-honouring way with the agreement of his wives. He will understand the different needs of the young and the older, and the newly married and those more mature, and be able to adapt himself accordingly whilst gently and lovingly leading his wives to a point which may loosely be called 'spiritual sex'. Sex will be something fully integrated into marriage life and not something merely recreational (though it may well be this at times) or incidental to be ignored or overindulged. He will wish to understand the why's and wherefore's of its existence, and particularly want to know the difference between the pure and the impure - the godly and the ungodly. Time and experience, a close communion with Yahweh, lots of time invested in prayerful Bible study, and the counsel of experienced patriarchs, will help him in this endeavour.
He must also demystify sex for his wives who are naturally curious about the kind of relationship he has with each of them. No wife likes to think that she is an inferior lover. It is important for him therefore to persuade them that whilst everyone is different and some more skilled in certain techniques than others, that the pleasure of the relationship is the same and the love he feels for one is no more or less than for the others.
I know some wives occasionally discuss techniques between themselves and this has a wonderful effect of lowering barriers and easing suspicions, for their worst nightmare is always fear of the unknown: "What does he do with her that he doesn't do with me, and why?" If two wives consent, then I will freely discuss sexual matters with them together. And if they want to be together with their husband at the same time, that is also their privilege. The frank exchange of ideas and/or sharing the same bed brings an equality and a trust that silence and secrecy do not. Not all want to be so open and that I respect too. In time, though, even they tend to open up and wish in retrospect that they had done so earlier.
Once sex has been demystified then it becomes just another part of the daily life of the polygamy dynamic that excites no special curiosity, envy or jealousy. It has reached the point now in my family that I may be making love with one wife when another comes into the room to get something and neither will be the slightest bit bothered at all - they may exchange greetings or even join in! There is such an understanding and closeness between two of my wives that I may be making love with one whilst the other is sitting nearby reading a book with both being completely relaxed and respectively absorbed in what they are doing. It doesn't happen very often but does show the total trust they both have for one another. They also know that I love them equally and completely. Once there is love and trust, then the traditional sources of jealousy in the sexual arena simply evapourate. That 'at-easeness' does take a substantial degree of maturity, though, and those with major insecurities will recoil at such with horror. Another reason why such things must be spontaneous or not not happen at all. This, mind you, is experience, not theory, so I am not speculating.
Sex is usually the last bastion of the monogamy-only mindframe. Problems of jealousy arise only (a) if you have an exclusive mindframe, and (b) there are unknowns. Teach the mind to think right, and the heart will follow naturally enough. Furthermore, I also know the Ruach (Spirit) is in these things for we may all (three of us, in the example cited above) afterwards have a Bible study and prayer and praise Yahweh fervently. We've even learned how to meditate on spiritual things during union which we call echad sex.
This state of affairs will not be achieved over night and it would be naïve and foolish to think otherwise. Don't just suddenly 'try' this. Souls do not open themselves up all at once but must be allowed to progressively do so as a flower does: to unfold naturally. Trust can sometimes take a long time (many years) to build up but is made easier the more Christ-centred, honest and transparent you are. The idea that there are certain things which should be sealed hermetically in the sexual arena in plural marriage is, I believe, a dangerous one, even though there are plural wives who seem content to live 'not knowing' anything about their sister-wives' relationships with their common husband. That must be a matter of personal consciousness and must also be respected. My own view is that we should be seeking the innocence of the Edenic condition. But that, too, cannot be forced. Each soul must choose how far along the road of discipleship she wishes to travel.
Finally, it is important - so very important - to admit the Ruach (Spirit) into your sex life. We try to follow the example of Tobit in the Apocrypha, having prayer and/or Scripture study before our times of intimacy. Having the Shekinah - the Divine Presence - there makes it a hundred times more special. Indeed, I would say, it makes for real, Yahweh-honouring sex.
I realise that the heads of some types of 'traditional' Christian are going to spin hearing this because it undermines the taboo of their monogamy-only prudery. And no doubt the free-love hippie types may think what I am saying is wonderful without really having the faintest idea of what I am talking about since their spiritual base is entirely different from mine. I make no apology to either. Both are probably obsessed with sex in their different ways - the former suppressing what for them seem like demonic urges and the latter indulging in impurity, unholiness whilst being spiritually shallow. Once you have come to terms with the sex impulse and properly brought it into alignment with the Ruach (Spirit), it ceases to hang over you like a gaping monster. And so for us it truly remains at the bottom of our hierarchy of values (spirit > mind > heart > body), even though on this occasion I have spoken much about it in the hope of demystifying it further. The polygamist must deal with this matter thoroughly otherwise he will be inviting problems into his marriage.
(One footnote - an important one - and that concerns children. We do not let them witness sex between parents - ever. Indeed, we do not even raise the subject until they are in their teens, save to warn them against strangers asking for 'favours'. In our view, pedophiles merit the death sentence).
In conclusion I will say this, especially to those of you who are wondering if polygamy does have a natural 'completeness' and 'wholeness' - an endpoint, if you like, where those in it can say: "I've made it!" My answer is a resounding 'Yes!'... if you're willing to make the sacrifices.
I can honestly say that my polygamous family, as it stands today (2001) with those living under my roof, has found its rest. We have found wholeness. We are not perfect and we make mistakes still, but the mystery of plural marriage has, I think, been understood, accepted, and integrated into our way of being. It is no longer an experiment, a hope, or a dream, but an actuality. We've made it, and we're still making it, praise Yahweh!