The last thing any Christian/Messianic family wants to see is one of their children going the way of the world and getting hurt in the process. We all want the best for our children, and if we're Christian/Messianic, we're naturally anxious that they should find Christ and stay on the strait and narrow way that leads to eternal life. And if we're honest, we also worry about our witness to the world and how the world will react when it sees our children turning away from, and sometimes against, our ideals. We worry, usually unjustifiably, that we are giving Christ a bad name, forgetting that each individual is responsible for his or her own actions. I'm sure Adam and Eve never dreamed the way their firstborn son Cain would go.
It is particularly painful when in a relatively new movement like Christian/Messianic polygamy things go terribly wrong. It hurts not just because we feel (or ought to feel) for the people who are suffering but it hurts because we know how the movement itself will possibly be damaged. Part of the problem is that not all Christian/Messianic polygamy ministries are alike, particularly when the grieving parties go public. Indeed, we may strongly disagree with some of their policies. Ordinarily we would make cases where polygamy has gone wrong an internal matter for the ministries involved but once the aggrieved go public, we must naturally, if led by the Ruach (Spirit), involve ourselves to one degree of another, for the sake of the whole community.
As I have stressed from the very first articles I wrote for this ministry, polygamy is no different from monogamy when things go wrong. The problems that result in any marriage are usually the fault of the people involved and not the biblical principle of marriage itself. When we are calm and collected and think things through soberly we all know this is true, but if you are a victim of abuse in a minority marriage practice like polygamy it is very tempting to vent one's anger and frustration on the principle itself. And it happens all too often. We don't, for instance, find women who have been battered by wicked husbands in monogamous marriages calling monogamy a 'cult', do we? We may rightly blame a false system of marriage (like shotgun, forced or arranged marriages) and we may rightly blame forms of polygamy based on force and oppression, but we can't blame the institution of marriage itself (monogamy or polygamy).
Yesterday I received an email from a woman who had, she claimed, been battered in a very unhappy polygamous marriage in America. She sent me the URL of her webpage and added sardonically, 'I hope you enjoy it!' Well, I didn't, and she knew I wouldn't. I doubt she is interested in salvaging her marriage and I suspect she intends to become an anti-polygamist crusader (as indeed transpired), like so many other women who have had unhappy experiences (though most of these have not been abused but are simply in rebellion against Scriptural teaching).
Our modern society is producing a high proportion of dysfunctional people who are most certainly not equipped for polygamy. There are many polygamists who regard plural marriage as a kind of 'recovery centre' for damaged people and there is no doubt that there are many fine examples of women who have been helped by upstanding polygamous husbands. The problems begin when those who are not spiritually mature start marrying women with major problems they are unequipped to handle.
When I first wrote this article, I wrote the following:
This was mosty definitely true in 2001. Though proper discipling certainly contributes to stability in later marriage (monogamous or polygamous), there is no failsafe against someone who, for whatever reason, makes a bad choice, openly defies Yahweh and turns to the flesh. And when the flesh is yielded to, and clung to, then someone who was once an angel can so easily do a complete character flip. This I have witnessed many times in 35+ years of marriage with even someone grounded in the faith since they were little, who loves Yah'shua (Jesus) and has years of faithful and fruitful ministry behind her, do a complete U-turn and in the space of time become a heathen. It happens all too frequently. You just don't know how someone is going to turn out, whether wife or husband - I have witnessed once strong Christian wives desert marriages and once strong Christian men do the same. I know of one polygamist man, who clearly had serious issues but who put on a good front for years and was a leader in the polygamy community, murder a wife who wanted to leave him. All the same human risks, all the unpredictable behaviour of the fallen man/woman, that are found in monogamy are to be found in polygamy too but much more intensely and frequently. Be under no illusions. Polygamy is not a bandaid solution to poor marriages - it's a terrifying baptism of fire for those who are not spiritual overcomers that can be a ticket to singleness.
"I supposed I have been blessed inasmuch that I have never married a wife who, even in her worst moments, ever resorted to threats, violence, bad language or the like. But then I guess that has a lot to do with the discipling program we undergo in our Order which so stresses self-discipline and self-control. The nearest to anything remotely like the experience of the American family above was when once my third wife started driving dangerously fast in order to vent her frustration and I had to sharply rebuke her for risking our lives (it never happened again, praise Yah!). I can't remember when last an angry word was exchanged between myself and my wives, and certainly there has never once been even the tiniest hint of violence - ever. In that respect we have been extraordinarily blessed."
In our community we still don't usually permit plural marriage until a high level of self-mastery has been attained by a patriarch aspiring to have muliple wives. We expect him at the very minimum to be a Deacon with some experience behind him and preferebly an Elder. Though this might seem restrictive to others in the patriarchal community, it is precisely with a view to what can so easily go wrong in a marriage coexisting with a society where most are brought up as heathens lacking self-control. I believe it is right to toughen up the restrictions in times like ours, always allowing for exceptions, of course, for those who demonstrate the required qualities of a Christian/Messianic patriarch. We also recognise the need for first wives to be prepared in a society which in no way prepares her for such a lifestyle. It is different in Africa where polygamy is common place and a part of the culture but in the West there is a need for even greater care.
My polygamous life began in my 20's before I consider I was properly prepared, and not really for earnest until I was 32. I personally do not feel that the modern man is prepared for polygamy until he is at least 30 (the age at which Scripture permits a man to become a priest/minister), and for many possibly not until much later. We live at a time when people are sexually maturing much faster than a century ago but who are entering adulthood as mental, emotional, and spiritual infants. As one observer has put it, today's Westerners have been brought up in "an empty wilderness of purposeless pleasure and endless adolescence". When adults come to Christ from such a culture there is a lot of maturing to be done. Worse, a high proportion of them are emotionally and intellectually dysfunctional, and need spiritual and psychological help, not to mention deliverance from demonic oppression, to simply function as humans, let alone patriarchs!
Polygamy is not a game and it is not, as someone once said, something that should be "tried at home". By that he meant that extensive educating and spiritual maturing is needed first that I suspect only trial and tribulation will adequately produce.
I agree with him totally. We live in an age of feminised men and defeminised women, where sexual identity is confused, and the libido has run wild where, to quote the journalist again, "impulse is given its way. People don't bother to grow up and we are all fish swimming in a tank of half-adults". And the half-adults, having few or no adult rôle models, believe themselves to be mature. Men and woman have first to be rehumanised, matured and then spiritualised before they can hope to be ready for this the most difficult and challenging of godly lifestyles. If they aren't, polygamy will crush them as their own inability to function as adults in marriage, let alone multiple marriage, is revealed in their inadequacies. I believe, unfortunately, that only the collapse of Western culture and the need for men to finally become men, and women to become women, will enable Westerners to discover their true humanity in Christ and be up to the task of starting large families.
Pray for those for whom polygamous marriages have backfired and caused so much grief for there are so many. Since entering the ministry and putting up a polygamy website I have discovered that most of my enquiries are from those who desperately need help. The rest are the wannabees of whom perhaps less than 1 per cent are actually qualified to live the principle. But the 99 per cent go ahead anyway and their wreckage soon litters the polygamy landscape.
I have had no reason to change my opinion in the decades I have been counselling. My prayer today, as it was back in 2001 when I first wrote this article, is that the 99 per cent who are not called, who mat come across my website, may come to understand that the solution to dull or failed marriage is not 'more marriage' but more Christ - more surrendering, more accountability, more love until grey or collapsing monogamous marriages are turned around and become lights on a hill as they are supposed to be. They will then discover that this was the way Yahweh always intended them to live, that monogamy is not inferior to polygamy but is foundational to Christian life. For too many, born and raised in a consumer society, polygamy is just another 'product' which they discover is 'allowed' and which they want to 'try out' for pleasure. That's a totally wrong and potentially lethal attitude. It's not even Christian/Messianic. You don't get to become a marine just because you like playing with children's bows-and-arrows.