Q. There are many like me in the patriarchal community would would like a definitive, authoritative word on the practice amongst some polygamists of ménage à trois. Since you are the oldest and most respected Christian polygamist with the most experience, we take your views seriously. I know you don't like to comment very much on sexual practices since you think it's a private matter. However, they are many women like myself who are very worried and disturbed about what we are hearing from some polygamists, for we believe ménage à trois is sinful. Since I know you have the Spirit of God and because of the respect that we have for you, we would really appreciate some kind of apostolic scriptural statement for our guidance and for the guidance of other women coming into polygamy who do not want ménage à trois.
Dear sister, I do empathise with you, and I, like you share a number of deep concerns about this subject. Though I have a clear opinion on this matter, I feel it is my duty as a counsellor to stick close to what the Bible says (or doesn't say) on this matter and leave it at that. As you know I am wary of anything akin to a "Polygamists' Talmud" coming into existence and would rather keep things simple and a matter of personal conscience where the Word leaves any matter open.
Let me start by saying that sexual perversion of any kind is a serious matter that not only opens doors to satanic activity but very clearly excludes those practicing it from the Kingdom of Elohim (God). We are to literally flee for our lives from sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18,13; 10:8; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 1:7; Revelation 2:14,20-21, etc.). The Bible lists the various things which in Yahweh's eyes are sexually immoral such as fornication (sex between unmarrieds), adultery (sex with those we are not married to who are married to someone else), bestiality (sex with animals), homosexuality (men having sex with men, and women with women), marrying those to whom one is closely related (several categories, e.g. brother to sister, your father's wife who is not your mother after he is dead, etc.) (Leviticus 20:10-21). We are to keep the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4).
Beyond that, the Bible is pretty quiet. We are told nothing about sexual conduct within polygamous marriage. We can guess some of it from what we know about cultural history but even that is pretty sparse. In some, plural wives had their own tents or rooms, and in others they shared the same tent or room. Those who were rich tended to keep their wives in their own quarters as we know of Pharaoh's daughter, the wife of Solomon.
The only piece of love-making we have in the Scriptures - the Song of Solomon - describes the intimacy of one man and one woman and has traditionally been used as a lovers' manual amongst the Hebrews over the centuries. It is my belief that everything one needs to know about love-making is to be found in that book. It is not, however, a comment about different styles of marriage and cannot really be used as a proof-text for different forms of intimacy within marriage. All married people know that it is up to married people's imagination how they engage in the most intimate of unions, remembering always that the body is a Temple of the Spirit with which we are to honour Yahweh.
Where the Scriptures do not speak, we must seek personal direction from the Holy Spirit. Where we are unsure, we must live by our conscience or by apostolic counsel, remembering that our conscience isn't necessarily a source of pure revelation because it is defiled (1 Corinthians 8:7; 4:4). Nevertheless, we must live by our conscience to some degree while we discover what the truth is, and to ignore it is to sin (e.g. 1 Corinthians 8:12).
Ménage à trois - a man sleeping with two of his wives at the same time - is neither condemned nor approved in the Bible. This in itself does not automatically make it permissive, though.
There is no doubt that ménage à trois (MT) between those who are not married is a perversion like fornication or adultery. Psychologically-speaking, there is no doubt that behind the desire to practice MT outside marriage is a hunger to fulfill longings in the heart which can only really be satisfied in marriage. Several studies have been made on MT but none within the marriage estate. MT can therefore become a kind of false release augmented by carnal desire and Satanic influence. The Sandfords believe:
Of course, the Sandfords come out of a monogamy-only mindframe so we must be aware of that tainting as we read their materials. For them, MT is a perversion, period. But their basic observations about the drive behind aberrant sex definitely hold. If MT becomes a compulsion for a polygamous man and he feels he cannot do without it, then I would suggest that there is very definitely something wrong. Just as a polygamous man should be content with one wife and not need another (see Polygamy and Sexual Aberration), so I believe a man who is not satisfied and fulfilled with one-to-one sex is probably on the slippery slope. In short, if either the man or woman are no longer satisfied with one-to-one sex, and feel they can only get their intimate 'high' in MT, then something, I suspect, may be wrong.
"When deadness of spirit prohibits true fulfillment, and hunger couples with other flaws in human nature, the answer for resultant lust can be idetified by the mind in terms of some aberrational form such as ménage à trois. No aberrational experience truly satisfies, but thrills enough to hold promise, and so captivates and becomes compulsive. Once started down that path, the person must either tire or find more and more degradations to explore" (John & Paula Sandford, The Transformation of the Inner Man, Victory House, Tulsa, OK: 1982, p.284).
All aberrant sex has, as its subconscious driving force, the lust to defile and destroy the one who is performing in the sexual act. Certainly all forms of sex outside marriage, even one-to one heterosexual sex, are acts of spiritual (and sometimes physical) destruction. And the Torah (Pentateuch/Law) warns against all kinds of destructive sex. It is a little odd, if MT is without qualification a perversion, that no mention is made of it in the statutes governing polygamy. Leaving ones feelings out of the equation (and therefore, for the moment, ones conscience), one is bound to say that since MT is not excluded within polygamous marriage that it is permissive.
Having said this, though, I am most definitely not giving the green light to all or any polygamists to practice MT. Far from it. My own view here is to tread with great caution. Sometimes silence in Scripture may be seen to be discouraging something even if it is permissive. For example, the Bible teaches in some places that the drinking of alcohol is, in moderation, permissive, but in far more places it strongly discourages it. Alcohol consumption is neither outrightly endorsed nor condemned in a general sense. It is, however, condemned if taken to excess, and so serious a matter can it become, that drunks are ranked alongside sexual perverts in being excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven:
We are also taught that we ought to be full of the Spirit and not full of alcohol, suggesting that the two are in some way mutually exclusive. And we know that Priests on duty in the Temple were not allowed to consume alcohol. Yet as a medicine for a bad stomach, Paul encouraged the sickly Timothy to take a little wine from time to time (though this could have been the non-alcoholic variety, oinos referring to pressed grapes, both fresh and fermented).
"Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of Elohim (God)? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NIV).
The point of my giving this comparison is that some things are good under special conditions but otherwise under others can be so evil that to indulge them may under circumstances endanger our salvation. I would be inclined to look at MT through a similar lens.
Under what circumstances (if any) could MT be justifiable or desirable? Using the alcohol example (which may, or may not, ultimately, be a good illustration), very few, and possibly only in a remedial sense, and maybe never. (I am not giving a judgment here, merely asking questions which the reader may in turn ask him- or herself). And who would be competent, mature or wise enough to know when MT might be desirable? How would the patriarch know where to draw the lines? Might it degrade into lesbianism or bisexuality (a major risk, I would suggest, for the weak, especially those who have formerly led immoral lifestyles)? Are the risks worth it? (The risks are demonisation and exclusion from the Kingdom of Heaven).
I have to say, in all candour, that whilst the Bible does not disallow MT in polygamy that I would strongly counsel against it, especially amomgst those who may have had a history of sexual immorality. I would certainly give as my judgment, on the basis of free agency, a very negative vote against a wife being compelled to enter into it by her husband. Whilst it is true that a wife's (or wives') body (or bodies) is (are) not her's, but her husband's - and whilst it is true that a husband's body is not his but his wife's (or wives'), it is not true in a multiple-consent situation as MT poses that a majority decides - there would have to be complete consent of all and clear consciences all round. And there would have to be accute alertness to any deviancy, self-control to put it to an end if necessary, and honesty enough to confess if it turned out not to be pure.
The only historical case study of MT that I know anything about is of the last Manchu Emperor of China, Pü-Yi. The Chinese Emperors were, as you know, polygamists. Prior to marrying his Queen, Pü-Yi had been married to a concubine for some time and the imminent arrival of the new wife understandbly unsettled the concubine (remember they were not Christians). The Emperor usually slept alone, as was the custom, and wives came (singly) to him as they were summonsed. At this time the Emperor was effectively in exile, confined to the Forbidden City, in what was then Republican China initially under Sun Yat-Sen and then Chiang Kai-shek who were naturally hostile to the monarchy. According to Pü-Yi's own account, during one of the many uprisings when all around them Peking (Beijing) was in upheaval, both his wife and concubine came to his bed for comfort and safety. The result was MT. The effect of this encounter was to break down the walls of uncertainty between the two women who thereafter became the closest of friends and, in many respects, near ideal sister-wives. It was only Pü-Yi's later flirt with Western ideals which led to the sad demise of his family, his concubine leaving him and his wife becoming a heroine-addict. That aside, the incident of unplanned MT (not, as far as I know, repeated subsequently) had the very desirable effect of bringing the two women close together by demystifying the intimacy of the relationship each had with their husband. As such, it might be claimed, MT had therapeutic value for the marriage as a whole.
This is not, however, to say that MT is absolutely 'needed' to 'demystify' the relationship that one wife has with her husband, only that in this case it did. It might well be traumatic for someone else, especially if it was expected, and lead to untold problems.
In such discussions as MT we face innumerable problems that tend to cloud the issue at times. Firstly, in Western Christianity we have an inbuilt Doceticism inherited viâ the Catholics and Protestants which teaches that sex is in someway 'nasty' and 'dirty' even between married persons. That has laregly been overcome, for good and evil, as a result of the 1960's youth rebellion, only now things have swung in the opposite direction where sex has been exalted and blown out of all proportion relative to its true place within the human experience. The modern Christian/Messianic ironically has inherited a mixture of both Doceticism from the Church (which in many ways perpetuates this heresy) and libertinism from the secular society, creating more tensions. If Christian/Messianic polygamy is going to be successful and find a proper balance it must excise both of these destructive elements.
I must admit I was very wary about answering this FAQ because I was aware of the different ways in which my answer might be read - and probably misread. I councel great caution in what can only be a very minor and exceptional practice within the Christian/Messianic polygamy community for those who feel comfortable with it and then only for spiritual edification, as in the experience of the Chinese Emperor's family. It would be easy to say that MT was wrong and leave it at that, and thus probably preclude some of the unwise burning of fingers, but such would be to be going beyond the Word which remains silent on the issue. Because of our sexually mixed-up world, from which we are drawing out damaged souls for the cause of Christ, I would think that for this generation, at least, MT is something to be avoided for the vast majority of polygamists.
Conclusion: Avoid MT, but if under very exceptional circumstances you are led to it for the edification of your wives, it should not necessarily be seen as sinful unless it leads to something else which Scripture very definitely classifies as perversion. If in doubt, avoid it completely, and certainly don't cultivate it. Never press for it or expect it as a patriarch, and better to forget about it altogether. If the wives mutually agree, then don't stand in their way, whilst remembering the boundaries. That would be my counsel.