Over the years ministries like us have been asking the question whether or not polygyny is a sin from the Biblical perspective and for the most part answers have revolved around the 'letter-of-the-Law'. Rightly, we have all said in unison that polygamy as a lifestyle - as a form of marriage - is not a sin but blessed and protected by Yahweh Himself who delights to bless men and women alike with this sacred union.
There is another dimension which I regret has, however, tended to be down-played or outright ignored, and that is whether something which is lawful vis-à-vis Torah is not, at times, sinful vis-à-vis the Spirit. Thus it is possible for someone to enter into a polygamous relationship legally justified by Scripture and yet such a person may be grievously sinning against the Spirit and the will of Yahweh.
Those of you familiar with John Bunyan's wonderful allegory of the Christian life, Pilgrim's Progress, may remember an episode in which Christian and Faithful enter the City if Vainglory. Before the two travellers various temptations are presented before them both unlawful (anti-Torah) and lawful (pro-Torah), both of which are temptations hindering them on the Way. And it is here that many Christians/Messianics have problems understanding that what is sometimes lawful (like polygamy) can be sinful for them. Thus a person entering polygamy may be committing a sin if polygamy is, for example, impeding their call at that time and in that place, in the same way that Jeremiah getting married would have been a sin because it would have got in the way of his prophetic ministry.
Polygamy can be sinful (and therefore enslaving) in many other ways too. For instance, Yah'shua (Jesus) taught that if one of your eyes is causing you to sin, dig it out (or the equally graphic treatment for an offending hand). For many (the vast majority) who lack the self-control, spiritual discipline, and overflowing love that is required, polygamy can create hell on earth both for himself and his wives. This would equally be true of a monogamous relationship, because the purpose of marriage - monogamous and polygamous - is to create an environment of joy in which to nurture husband, wives and children, as well as to present to the world a picture of the happy intimate union of Christ with His Church (Messianic Community).
Whilst I was in hospital a couple of days ago lying helplessly in bed I began thinking back on the many disasterous polygamous relationships that I have encountered over the years and against which I have so strongly warned, pleading sometimes in tears that men would abandon their vain confidence and conceit and try to listen to Yahweh's will instead. I have preached the very unpopular message that plural marriage is only for the spiritual mature and have generally been unheeded. Only the other day one of the most vocal and influential pro-polygamy ministries collapsed (whilst pretending that everything was still alright) in the light of the utter disaster that the leader's own polygamous marriage was and the abject misery which his wives lived under. In the he abandoned all but one wife. His theology and practice was, quite simply, wrong and sinful, and the much trumpted freedom he preached a terrible lie. Yahweh will use him as an example of what not to do.
The bottom line of true polygamy is this: if it does not bring forth tangible fruits like joy it is wrong. Now that does not mean that such joy must be attained instantaneously because I acknowledge that polygamy (particularly in the West) requires not only the complete adjustment of a monogamy-only mindset but confrontation of major sin areas which polygamy pushes to the surface (such as jealosy and partiality) ... often violently. What I am saying is that in spite of such struggles, there ought to be be genuine, bona fide victories along the way - not falsified ones (masks and pretense) created for public consumption, but a true marriage in Christ whose fruit is a spontaneous joy.
As Christians/Messianics we are able to have peace and joy in our lives in spite of external adversity because the inner man (or woman) has been redeemed. The living presence of Yah'shua (Jesus) in our hearts equips us to meet sorrow and pain as "more than conquerors" (Romans 8:37, NIV). The problems start only when the inner peace and love is displaced by fear, doubt or willful carnal rebellion.
I somehow doubt that many husbands in modern polygamous marriages actually know their wives at all. Whilst lying in my hospital bed I got to meditating on the polygamy meat market and the many people I had encountered who were advertising for wives and literally proposing to them after 48 hours of cyber-chat. And I asked myself the question: 'How can such men possibly know the women they are wooing as persons?' If you meet someone on-line and propose marriage to them two days later (or even a week or a month) then what you are in fact doing is treating them as objects. You can't intimately interact with a living person in so short a time. Indeed, when you marry a person in such a way you are merely treating them as a commodity to be used. Such a person can never find real joy and happiness that way. Real joy and happiness comes from being intimately known, understood, and appreciated.
Any marriage whose foundation is anything other than love is going to be inherently sinful because it will contain the seeds of immense unhappiness. Yes, it is important to know Yahweh's will and to be sure you are walking in it, but that alone is not enough as I discovered to my cost in my first marriage. For a relationship to work in any kind of marriage there must be more than a perception of heavenly approbation, more than additionally a knowledge of the correct theology of marriage, more than will-power to succeed: for unless you have a genuine heart-love there from which joy can spring naturally, you will be creating a relationship that is sterile and unfulfilling, and which most likely (in the majority of cases) will lead to deep unhappiness and rupture, and sorrow all around.
Now these things may seem obvious to the majority of people. The only reason I am stressing it is because of a certain poisonous mentality that has arisen in the Christian polygamy community whose disasterous fruits are now appearing on the branches of the first Western polygamous marriages. That poison is a virulent form of patriarchy whose dominating thesis is that women must obey and submit whether their husbands love them or not, whose remedy for unhappiness is 'biting the bullet'. They have little or no appreciation of the female psyche and certainly no understanding of the give-and-take spirit of echad (unity/uniplural) marriage. Theirs is what I would rather call yachid polygamy, a marriage essentially made up of a single person consisting of the husband - a great, oversized, bloated coconut with several shrivvelled raisons (the wives) orbiting around them. Perhaps a better term would be vampire marriage. And such a marriage I would unhesitatingly describe as sinful and utterly contrary to the whole purpose of marriage. Such men, moreover, when viewing the ugly spiritual condition of their wives which they have created seem to have no scruples in throwing them out when the raisins fail to please them. They have turned into parasites, exploiting their wives until they are drained. To such I have only one word: REPENT!
I am not, of course, saying that men are entirely responsible for this state of affairs, for women with a Jezebel spirit can do just as much damage. What interests me in this essay is the responsibility of those (the men) who initiate polygamy, and have the ultimate responsibility for it, and the terrible destruction they bring on their own heads, and those of their family, when they presumptuously try to initiate this lifestyle without divine authority. How many men are there out there who have been presumptuous and lost everything, whose excuse is they are 'standing up for the truth'? How many married men are now single because of polygamy? How many lost first wives and, instead of ending up with two wives, retained only their second wife, so that their 'standing up for the truth' has left them monogamists still? Again, I am not saying that some of these men weren't called or that they necessarily acted presumptuously, and that their first wives were blameless - what I am saying is that many of them are guilty for sowing a whirlwind when they should by now be reaping a harvest.
What do we do with all the damaged marriages entered into hasily and presumptuously by men and women alike? What do we do to rebuild them on a correct foundation? How do we get the vain-glorious and arrogant patriarchs off their thrones and down to ground level to meet with their wives as real persons? For our purpose cannot be to punish those who have done wrong - Yahweh will already have done that - but to help them into the true liberation and freedom of wholesome and productive marriages in Christ. It is easy point the finger at the fallen but it takes much effort, commitment and patience to help fragmented and marooned families back on their feet.
The problem we face is that many men entering polygamous marriage do so emotionally damaged and unequipped to tend to the needs of their wives. Many are covering up serious psychological and spiritual problems by concealing them beneath a mantle of authority and dominance. I am sure that many of these men want to be good husbands but they simply don't know how. They are like lost children grown up before their time, or as one counsellor calls them, 'adult infants'. Men from abusive homes or coming out of cults that have crippled them emotionally and spiritually often look to 'unusual' remedies (as they suppose) such as polygamy. The lifestyle is used as a prop instead of a deep responsibility, and unable to meet up the demands of multiple wives who look to them for guidance, fall back on the whip when their starving women rebel. The end is all too predictable.
Many confused men come to me interested in entering polygamy who have no idea how to form inter-personal relationships and who know even less about women. They are like time-bombs waiting to be triggered by the unmanageable pressure that polygamy invariably brings. They come seeking positive reinforcement for their desire to become 'patriarchs' and invariably - because there is a psychopathic drive behind many of them - refuse sound counsel to fix their eyes on monogamy as an eventual lifestyle after they have received healing.
A whole ministry of healing needs to be in place and functioning for all men and women coming out of the secular (and increasing pagan and demonised) society. Long before they even consider having multiple wives, or seeking out a polygamous man, they need to undergo basic marriage counselling. They need to know who they really are and to become whom Yahweh intended them to be as whole humans. We have enough problems with a 50% monogamy failure rate in the West to then have men and women unequipped for monogamy clamouring for polygamy. That is why I will not advise anyone to marry polygamouly who does not at least have the maturity of a local church/assembly Elder. I will not take responsibility for those whom I feel are ill-equipped for the lifestyle. True, there are exceptions - and sometimes very admirable ones - but as a rule I do not advise first generation 'polygamy-aspiring men' to take a second wife until they are between 30 and 40. I advise all men entering marriage for the first time not to take monogamy-only vows whilst at the same time committing them not to even consider polygamy until they have attained the maturity of an Elder in our local churches (assemblies). This is for the well-being of everyone, and especially for the more fragile gender.
For those of you who would like to undergo some preparation in this field, I strongly recommend the following text which, although written by monogamy-only Christians, is one of the best books I have read on spiritual and psychological development and explains, furthermore, what I mean by an 'Elder' (which is not just an elderly Christian):
Polygamous marriage can be liberating, invigorating and joyful but first it requires that the participants deal with sin issues, live the lifestyle the way the Master intended it, and find personal wholeness in Christ. Then the bondage, which has unnecessarily afflicted so many in the first generation, will be transformed into true freedom. But if you don't intend to live polygamy the way heaven requires of you, better that you remain monogamous or celibate.
The Life Model - Living from the Heart Jesus Gave You - The Essentials of Christian Living
by James G. Friesen, E. James Wilder, Anne M. Bierling, Rick Koepcke & Maribeth Poole
Shepherd's House Inc.,
1539 E. Howard St.,
Pasadena, CA 91104, USA.