Now that I have been involved with the Christian polygamy movement for a while, I am noticing a common theme amongst many monogamy-only proponents, particularly the women. They charge repeatedly that polygamy is oppressive to women and somehow diminishes them. I do understand the rationale for that, as I have stated in earlier articles, I was not too long ago of a similar opinion myself. However a calm and objective assessment of that statement reveals that this is just not supportable. In fact the opposite could be said to be true and be far more easily supportable by objective fact, theological implications notwithstanding. Let us explore further, shall we?
Oppressed eh? Well, ok then let us discuss this issue first. Let us take a look at early history and how things have developed through the centuries.
In the beginning when Yahweh created the world, He did not create mankind in huge numbers to produce a ready-made population. He created Adam and Eve that we know of, and if He created any after it is an obscurity in scripture and surely not in enough numbers to stabilize the population. Instead, He gave the people He did create the ability and the commandment to be fruitful and multiply. That means have babies folks, and that is what they did. He designed women to have babies so therefore He designed the family structure to provide the women and children with the protection and security they needed to have a decent opportunity to survive and thrive. Now so far this does not sound too oppressive to me.
Then came the Fall, which brought pain, death and much greater travail and jeopardy in childbirth. This event occurred at the very early end of human history so the mandate to be fruitful and multiply was still critical, and then, just as today, women had the children. But now, you see, the danger and suffering in having them was dramatically increased. What this means practically, is although having children was critical to the survival of the human race, it was now much more dangerous to a woman's health to do so.
Now it has already been established that plural marriage was commonplace in Hebrew society from the very earliest times of the patriarchs. Not only practiced, but blessed by Yahweh. Not only that, but in Hebrew society we find that women were held in higher esteem as a rule than any other of the ancient societies. We are given in scripture descriptions of virtuous women conducting business, managing their homes and children and living full and rewarding lives, yes, in plural marriages.
Then history progresses till early in the third century AD. This is when the church begins passing ordinances severely restricting the priest's right to marry which would eventually lead to enforced celibacy of the priesthood in the Roman Catholic church and, most important to this discussion, a ban on polygamous marriage which has dominated through the centuries until the present time. In 385, Siricuis, Bishop of Rome, ordered that any priest or deacon in his diocese who took a second wife should be removed from office, which was the beginning of official church condemnation of polygamy. In 600 the Catholic Emperor Justinian outlawed polygyny outright. Although women throughout early cultures were held in fairly low esteem, this is where the outright enslavement of women wholesale began.
See, with the advent of the monogamy-only mindset, a whole new outlook came about. Women became regarded as breeding stock, only valuable for their ability to produce children. Since a man could have only one wife, he was solely interested in a young fertile wife who could produce children. This emphasis was so deeply ingrained in Europe in the Middle Ages that it led King Henry VIII to divorce the wife of his youth to marry Anne Boleyn, thus causing the split between England and the rest of Catholic Europe. In his desire for a child, not to mention his attraction to other women besides his wife, he married 8 times, after executing several of them on trumped up charges to allow marriage to yet another. I would say that is a pretty oppressive scenario. Just think, if polygamy had still been in practice, the whole of English history could have been changed. Not to mention the fact that Henry VIII's first wife, Katherine, would not have died alone and neglected.
There is another consideration. During a time of lower life expectancies and high infant and child mortality, it became common practice to marry young girls off at 13 or 14 years old and for them to stay pregnant till they died, usually at an early age. It was not at all unusual for a man to go through several wives during his lifetime, quickly killing them off in childbearing. Now if polygamy had been acceptable, there would have been neither the need nor the likelihood of overbearing men taking such a toll on women. This practice has gone on unabated even until the present day. Particularly in Catholic cultures where the sexual aspects of marriage are so vilified and seen as solely for the purpose of procreation, it is still not unusual for young girls to marry in their early teens and have several children by the time they reach their early twenties. While modern medicine has greatly reduced the mortality in pregnancy in the developed nations and infant mortality is also greatly reduced in said nations, the fact remains that these women are still in bondage. They have several children before they actually reach adulthood themselves and then are left with a house full of children to raise and tend to by themselves, hopefully with the father present in the home but too many times not. This all too often leads to crushing poverty and hopelessness for these women and has led to one of the most heinous of civil laws passed in history, the legalization of abortion that most western countries have adopted. Isn't it ironic that the same societies that decry polygamy as sinful and oppressive have no problem with abortion on demand? Does anyone but me see the dilemma here?
And how, you might ask, would the practice of polygamy alleviate these abuses? The answers are very simple. First and foremost, there would not be the necessity to justify an abortion for the sake of no one to care for the child or too much stress on the birth mother, as in a polygamous family, a healthy one anyway, there would always be loving hands available to assist in child care or even take it completely if necessitated by reason of physical or mental infirmity requiring rest and treatment. Also, while still able to fulfill the original mandate of Yahweh to be fruitful and multiply, the whole of the reproductive responsibility does not fall on one woman, thereby negating the need for her to remain pregnant till her innards fall out. And with more productive adults, and trustworthier, free childcare, there would be more productive members of the family as well to alleviate the crushing poverty so many mothers find themselves in now.
A common complaint by women opposed to plural marriage is that is belittles the worth of the woman while giving the man all the privileges and that is a persuasive argument on the surface but is it really a valid argument? Let's consider, shall we? Let's reflect on the value of women in our modern monogamy-only societies and see if it is any greater as a result of that culture. We have all seen the theories about the imbalance in the number of marriageable men and women, but let us assume that the numbers are essentially balanced. I hate to burst anyone's bubble but even in a society where the numbers were more equal, a monogamy-only mind frame would tend to lead to oppressive conditions for women for the simple fact that women have babies. Men, being territorial and domain builders, are going to look for women that can give them children and guard the one wife that they are permitted to have with great jealousy. That is the major underlying factor to men wanting young, attractive and fertile wives as a rule, and would tend to weigh the scales for remarriage against remarriage for younger widows and single mothers since a man only allowed one wife would naturally seek one that did not already come with baggage. That mindset would not change all that much even if the gender numbers were more balanced, and reduces the status of women to property, benignly treated pets at best, and horribly abused pack animals at worst. This is not just my opinion or the opinion of those who are proponents of plural marriage. It is easily supportable by objective evidence and recent history.
As the incidence of domestic violence and domestic murder grows to epidemic proportions in modern western society, I believe we are seeing the extreme consequences of a monogamy-only mindset. The selfish, possessive mindset of the monogamy-onlyers is now killing women by the hundreds. The kind of mind that says if I cannot possess you totally and exclusively, no one will. This is, I am sure a prime reason for the prevalence of divorce in this modern society. That and the sense of entitlement that so many have that makes them demand their rights and never asks about their responsibilities. This is in addition to the toll that domestic violence is taking on women, and increasingly on their children as well. This would seem pretty oppressive to me.
Now please do not misunderstand me. I am sure that someone who looks can find a polygamous marriage in which women are mistreated and suppressed. Being that human beings are part of it and human beings have a fallen nature that is beyond question. But I do not think there will be nearly the incidence of suppression and violence in Christian/Messianic polygamous marriages as is running rampant in the monogamy-only societies in present days. It is an interesting idea to contemplate and I am sure a very uncomfortable one to the monogamy-only folks, as it forces them to admit that their way is not working effectively at all. I do truly hope that honesty and spiritual maturity will lead them to the truth, not only of Yahweh's will, but the true freedom and beauty that a true Christian/Messianic plural marriage can bring.