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Month 10:30, RC Preparation Day, Year:Day 5937:296 AM
Gregorian Calendar: Thursday 30 January 2014
East African Polygamy
From Tradition to Yah's Kingdom


With the ministry now firmly established in East Africa a number of questions have been raised concerning converts and the practice of polygamy. We shall be limiting our study today to Tanzania and Kenya, where were are mostly operating, and be looking closly at one particular tribe that lives in both countries, the Maasai, who of all African tribes, are the most deeply entrenched in polygamy anywhere in Africa.

Goals and Methods of This Study

We shall be looking at East African polygamy through three lenses:

  • 1. Traditional African values;
  • 2. Old Covenant (Tanakh/Old Testament) Torah (teaching and law); and
  • 3. New Covenant (Messianic Scriptures/New Testament) Torah (teaching and law).

We shall also be looking on the Christian experience and practice of Polygamy in the East African Church principally through the lenses of the Lutheran, Seventh-Day Adventist and Catholic Churches. The goal of the study is to have a concise and clear theological and practical solutions to aid plural families in their transition from traditional to Messianic Evangelical values.

Polygamy in Modern Kenya

According to a recent study [1], the practice of polygyny (one man married to two or more women) is slowly declining at a rate of about 3% every 5 years owing to the pressures of secularism. Though polygamous families are to be found in the towns and cities, they are either declining in number or living secretly so as not to jeapordise their social and economic mobility where secularists and traditional monogamy-only Christianity has power. Kenyan polygamy is therefore primarly a rural, cultural and tribal affair.

Demographics of Polygamist Families in Kenya

2.5 million Kenyans live polygamy, of which 700,000 are men and 1.8 million are women. This means in these families there are an average of 2.57 wives to every husband. With an average of about 3 children per polygamous marriage, this means that about 5.4 million others are involved in the polygamous lifestyle whether they subsequently adopt polygamy or not. The secularist-orientated Kenya Demographic Health Survey (2009) estimates that 60 per cent of women in Kenya are married and 13 per cent of these are in polygamous unions. The same document says about 50 per cent of men in the country are married with 7 per cent of them in polygamous unions, a fairly substantial size of the population. Not surprisingly, the capital, Nairobi, has the fewest number of women practicing polygamy (2 per cent, though probably higher) and the province with the highest number of women living the lifestyle being the Muslim-dominated North-Eastern Province (36 per cent). Of the non-Muslim provinces - that is to say, tribal-animist and Christian - Western, Nyanza, Rift Valley, and Coast provinces all have proportions of women living polygamously ranging between 15 and 23 per cent, with Nyanza harbouring the highest number of men practicing polygamy in the country.

Current Trends

Given the current trends of the decline in polygamy in Kenya, we may safely assume that it will be still be around in some force when Yah'shua (Jesus) returns. Though in Kenya, Tanzania and throughout the whole of Africa, where polygamy was well established when the first Western Christian missionaries arrived, it has been in decline, the missionaries failed to eradicate it and ended up making compromises with their own belief systems.

Four Fundamental Truths About Biblical Polygamy

Before we examine the historical response of monogamy-only Christian Churches to the polygamy question, it has to be stated from the outset that:

  • 1. Polygamy, plural or multiple marriage is upheld and regulated by the Torah revealed by Yahweh to Moses and in the Tanakh (Old Testament) generally;
  • 2. It is never described as either fornication (sex outside marriage) or adultery;
  • 3. It is never described as a sin and no penalties exist for living it; and
  • 4. It is not proscribed (prohibited) by the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament).

Defining Biblical Marriage and Its Spiritual Goal

Rather, the implied definition of marriage - one man married to one ('monogamy') or more ('polygyny') women in numbers not exceeding a man's ability, capacity and spiritual maturity to be able to properly take care of them - is consistenly upheld throughout the Bible. Indeed, the only difference between Old and New Covenant marriage is Messiah's clearly stated purpose in raising the bar of spiritual conduct so that it altogether becomes more qadosh (sacred, set-apart, holy) in order to reflect the perfect and ideal union of Yah'shua (Jesus) to the Body of Messiah (Messianic Community, Church).

A Complete Biblical Exegesis

For a complete biblical exegesis of polygamy, see our Holy Echad Mariage website which includes our book, The Truth About Biblical Marriage. You should study these before reading on in order to have a solid biblical foundation. You are also invited to carefully study the following articles:

Monogamy the State of Natural Man

That said, common sense alone tells you that Yahweh never intended polygamy to be the de facto general lifestyle of the world if for no other reason than statistics: the average ratio of men-to-women globally is more or less 1-to-1, with some countries having a slight excess of men and others a slight excess of women. In other words, nature tells you that monogamy - one man married to one woman - is the de facto ordained ratio for humanity as a whole, for the saved and unsaved generally. In other words, monogamy is the natural state ordained by Elohim (God) for mankind.

Defining 'Natural Man'

But what is 'mankind' and what is 'natural'? Natural man is, in a nutshell, fallen or unredeemed man. His carnal tendency is toward lawlessness, personal self-gratification, and self-exaltation. For his own good, Elohim (God) has ordained that he demonstrate self-control, self-discipline and responsibility by contenting himself with one wife.

Are Men By 'Nature' Polygamous?

It is sometimes argued that by 'nature' woman is monogamous and man polygamous. That rather depends on how you define 'polygamous'. Most ungodly, carnal men want to enjoy women sexually without the responsibility of having children and raising a family. In otherwords, he is only interested in recreational sex. He is hedonistic. In the modern secular West, men either practice fornication (having sex with whomever they wish, without the responsibility of a lifelong committment to raise a family) or practice 'serial polygamy' - having multiple sequential monogamnous relationships and divorces. From a purely sociological point-of-view, this has been disasterous to society, creating as it does insecure and dysfunctional children who grow up without a clear sense of family values. So a better description of 'natural mankind' would be women who by and large want a single, open-ended relationship at a time and men who want multiple, open-ended serial relationships. Because of this tendency of fallen men and women, Yahweh has ordained marriage for the whole human race - monogamous marriage. He simply isn't responsible enough for anything else.

Originally All Cultures Were Family-Oriented

Prior to the advent of Western secularism, Africa (like Europe, Asia and the rest of the world) was entirely family-orientated as Yahweh ordained. Why, then, did polygamy arise (apparently from the eareliest times) throughout the world in nearly all societies, and how does this kind of polygamy differ from the polygamy described in the Bible? Why, indeed, is polygamy even allowed in Scripture if, as it is claimed by some, it is adulterous and sinful?

What Would You Naturally Choose?

We can answer the latter question by simple observation and common sense. Polygamy is clearly not 'natural' in the sense that given a choice, what woman would want to share a husband if she has the option of having one all to herself? Put a group of men and women who respect one another in a room and tell them they have a choice of living monogamous marriage with total committment until 'death-do-you-part', and polygamous marriage with total committment until 'death-do-you-part', and, with rare exceptions, the women will all choose monogamy, and probably most of the men would too. Ask any group of men and women who believe in the sanctity of life-long marriage covenants and family and the overwhelming majority will choose monogamy. Were the men completely honest some would probably choose polygamy, for a variety of carnal reasons. Those unaware of the dynamics of the biblically-sanctioned polygamous lifestyle, having had no exposure to it, would tend to assume (rightly or wrongly) that polygamy benefits men but not the women. In a moment we shall look into the sociology of African polygamy.

That, then, would be an observation of 'natural' men and women committed to life-long marriage.

The Genders Are Not Evenly Numbered and Women's Options

However, were you to visit thousands of Christian (principally Protestant) and Messianic congregations around the world it would not take you long to be struck by the fact that women believers vastly outnumber men believers. There will be variations depending on the country, culture and other demographics, but overall you will find that women tend to outnumber men by around 7-to-1. In some parts of East Africa where polygamy has been banned, it's worse. Whatever the 'reasons' maybe, this is the reality, leaving women with four brutal options:

  • 1. Compete to find a good husband with the odds against you (7:1 in the average-case scenario);
  • 2. Remain single and die as an old spinster (unfulfilling for most);
  • 3. Marry an unbeliever (forbidden by Yahweh); or
  • 4. Fornicate and commit adultery, i.e. become a whore (forbidden and with terrible eternal consequences).

When Catholics Became Polygamous

In Catholic Europe and South America (Paraguay), in spite of its strong anti-polygamy stance, the Church has often permitted 'temporary polygamy' after the decimation of the male population owing to war to equalise the gender numbers in the overall population. Whilst the perfectly obvious solution, there is a measure of hypocrisy here that becomes immediately obvious: if, as the Church has taught for so long, that polygamy is a sin, why supposedly damn men and women to hell (and become complicit yourself) in order to build up the population again? The Catholic Church has never been able to answer that question even though its action was clearly right and the only way to both repopulate the war-devastated lands, maintain the integrity of the family and preclude the degradadion of women by forcing them into either marriage unions with unbelievers or into immorality [2][3]. It is an easy matter for happily married Christian women to counsel these unmarriable women (because of a lack of believing men) to remain 'happily single'.

The Bible Prophesies End-Time Polygamy for the Remnant

Alongside the statistic of a surplus of women believers is the Bible teaching that not only is polygamy permissive but it actually prophesies that women will outnumber men 7-to-1 in the end-times but that these women will seek honourable men (men with a tov shem or good name) to marry them, and be willing to make sacrifices for the privilege (Isaiah 4). Thus the clear implication is that women will outnumber men in the Kingdom of Heaven and that they will be united to them polygamously.

Uncomfortable Truth

This uncomfortable emet (truth) does not, and cannot, rest easily with the natural woman (who fears to be fogotten by her husband, loved less or replaced) or the carnal man who is required to share his wealth and become spiritual...these women do not seek dirty old men who just want extra sex, men who want high status amongst fellow men, or men with a power complex [4] - they want rather men of high spiritual character and standing [5]. Added to this is the biblical teaching that the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) is female (our Heaveny Mother) and that there isn't one Ruach (Spirit) but seven, and you are left with some inescapable conclusions about the nature and set-up of the supernatural realm of which the family life of King David was supposed to be a heavenly reflection [6]. The only thing in the way of these conclusions is human tradition and naked fear - the fear of woman (sharing a husband) and the fear of man (becoming a mature, spiritual and responsible Man of Elohim (God) spreading his wealth).

Living Marriage to the Glory of Elohim

From this very short summary we come to the conclusion that monogamy is the default state of marriage ordained by Yahweh for the natural man and that true biblical polygamy is unnatural - it can only be lived, to the glory of Elohim (God), supernaturally, that is to say, in the power of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). That is not so say, of course, that Christian or Messianic monogamy cannot, or should not, be lived supernaturally too. It absolutely must be if it is to be godly. Likewise, polygamy can, and usually is, not lived to the glory of Elohim (God) when it could and should be, the difference between natural and supernatural polygamy being the way it is lived. When monogamy is lived to the glory of Elohim (God), it becomes a picture of Adam and Eve and of the unitary Body of Messiah joined to Yah'shua (Jesus). When polygamy is lived to the glory of Elohim (God), it becomes a picture of David and his seven wives on a human level and of the multiple nature of the Body of Messiah which consists of millions of believers. Therefore both monogamy and polygamy bring glory to Yahweh when lived spiritually and the two are not in competition with each other. They are merely different aspects of the same thing - divine marriage.

The Damage Done to Africa by Western Christianity

Today we must address the issue of African cultural polygamy verses Scriptural spiritual polygamy. Instead of effecting this transformation as they should have when they came to Africa from Europe and America, traditional Christian Churches - Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Adventist, and others - have created new tensions by making new problems, caused considerable damage to polygamous African family life, and held back polygamist men from serving with honour as leaders in local congregations.

Three Sociological Forms of Traditional African Polygamy

Polygamy in Africa may be viewed in one of three ways sociologically:

  • 1. A custom that is dying out in a given society;
  • 2. A common option; or
  • 3. A traditional ideal.

Introducing the Maasai

We will now take a look at the Maasai people and make it a case study in polygamy, contrasting the traditional with the biblical. I have partly chosen them because they live on both sides of the Kenyan and Tanzanian borders where we are most active and partly because, of all the tibes of East Africa, they are the most entrenched, deeply-rooted polygamists of all the East African tribes. Polygamy lies at the very heart of their culture.

Why Eradicating Maasai Polygamy Has Failed

To be Maasai is to be polygamous which makes them different from many other African societies where polygamy is an epiphenomenon or a seconary cultural value. Though attempts have been made by Western colonialists and secular modernist Kenyans to eliminate Maasai polygamy, these have all failed for three main reasons:

  • 1. Polygamy is closely tied to the Maasai economy as is true of other cattle-keeping peoples. A man with one wife can never acquire the wealth and status associated with hundreds of cows, for it is the wives and children who take care of the cattle [7];

  • 2. A social function of polygamy is its capacity for men to gain prestige in society. Any 'elder', i.e. a man who has graduated from the Moran (warrior) stage of life in his 30's, wants to be respected, which usually includes a sizeable household; and

  • 3. A third notable reason for polygamy (with no doubt other less obvious ones) is the function it has for women. An unmarried woman does not have a recognised status in Maasai society, but the danger of remaining single is reduced if she can be added to an existing marriage union. It may even happen that a woman who has no husband approaches a wealthy polygamist in order to be added to his family of wives, which the rich man often gladly accepts. The decision to add a wife is not, however, always made by the man alone. Typically, the first (senior) wife may suggest to her husband that he marry a second wife, saying to him: 'Why should I do all the work alone?' or 'Why should you not become a man whose honour is visible in society?'

Yah'shua's Reasons for Marriage

Now whilst we may not agree with all these reasons for living polygamously, that is the reality and the starting point. Yah'shua (Jesus) has an entirely different set of reasons for entering marriage but these are things polygamous converts can only learn degree by degree so that the values percolate throughout their society.

Divorce Unheard of in Maasailand

Divorce is almost unheard of amongst the Masaai because of the shame attached to it, especially for the woman divorcee and her father. Accordingly, the father will do everything he can to ensure that his daughter remains with her husband. This is true even in proven cases of adultery by the wife - instead of the woman being divorced, a fine is usually imposed on the guilty male, and the wife's father may bring a cow and implore the husband to keep his daughter to avert the great embarrassment of her being divorced. This is considered full restoration and is almost universally preferred to breaking up the family unit. Divorce is so uncommon that it requires a meeting of elders to settle the issue. And because it implies the return of brideswealth, it may be an almost impossible thing for a not-so-well-off father-in-law as the brideswealth cows may not be available anymore. If a divorce should nevertheless happen, the situation can become very difficult indeed - remarriage of a female divorcee is very hard to achieve, and it is common for her to be regarded like a prostitute, for there is no husband who would claim the honour of exclusive sexual access to her and to therefore defend her.

Changing Polygamous Ways

Though there are similarities between Maasai marriage and cultural practices and Torah, there are also major differences. How does a convert change his ways to those required of Torah whilst continuing to live in a culture that demands conformity in order to be socially accepted and to trade? Part of the problem of living Biblical Torah-based polygamy anywhere is the pressure, and sometimes outright persecution, of those who seek to be different from the dominant culture. Unless you can convert sufficient numbers, like a whole village, you are unlikely to be successful in making the transition from tribal to biblical polygamy.

The Four Christian Missionary Positions to Polygamy

Christian monogamy-only missionaries of all denominations, yet dedicated to the Roman form of matrimony, have essentially taken 4 positions toward African polygamy, namely that it is:

  • 1. Forbidden under all circumstances, is sinful and adulterous;
  • 2. An unacceptable, inferior form of marriage;
  • 3. A practice to be tolerated though not ideal; and
  • 4. An acceptable alternative to monogamy. [8]

The position of this ministry has always been the fourth proposition but with certain qualifiers that I will address presently.

The Maasai Unpenetrated Before the 1960's

The African colonial experience was that most missionary churches did not accept male polygamists in most societies for baptism, though there was apparently an exception in Tanzania [9]. Among the Maasai, however, where a Christian missionary breakthrough only happened in the 1970's and 1980's, the picture was more diverse. Though as I have pointed out, the Roman Catholic Church, whilst theoretically rejecting polygamy, has in practice tolerated it to a very large degree in the same way it has tolerated paganism in order to win converts. One of the most well-known and often cited books tolerating polygamy amongst their converts in Africa was written by a Roman Catholic [10].

The Lutheran Compromise

The Lutheran Church, having staunchly rejected polygamy in Tanzania for decades until after independence, devised a policy for the Maasai (but not for other tribes) which has pretty much been universally accepted by Protestant denominations opting for tolerance (#3) amongst all, or at least many, polygamous tribes. This policy, which was the policy of our own East African congregations until they converted to NCAY, is:

  • 1. Polygamists can be baptised; but
  • 2. They must promise not to marry any more wives after baptism [11].

Forbidding Marriage is a Doctrine of Demons

However, this is, according to Scripture, a latter-day "a doctrine of demons":

    "Now the Ruach (Spirit) expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the emunah (faith), giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry..." (1 Tim.4:1-3, NKJV)

Reading Scripture Through Monogamy-Only Eyes

Traditionally this passage has been interpreted by Protestants to mean forbidding to marry at all (i.e. dogmatically forcing people to be celibate, like the Catholic clergy) but since "marry", by a composite biblical definition, can mean a man being married to one or more women, it can mean forbidding either monogamous or polygamous marriage. Therefore it is never a sin to marry polygamously but it may well be a sin the way the marriage is contracted or the way it is lived. However, these are two separate issues that are beyond the scope of this article. Neither the Maasai nor anyone else living polygamously is living in sin or committing adultery or living an 'inferior' lifestyle in the general sense of the term. Rather, those who forbid either monogamy or polygamy are the clear sinners and, worse, are heeding "doctrines of demons". We'll clearly see the demonic aspect of this as we see how Western churches deliberately set about destroying polygamous families.

Maasai Child Betrothals

One problem the Lutherans experienced with the Maasai, in spite of their new policy, was the Masaai practice of contracting betrothals while girls were still small children, a custom that most definitely should be stamped out. Lutheran Maasai polygamists therefore added even more wives after baptism based on the fact they had betrothed child-brides who were awaiting adulthood before being sexually married (unlike Muslims who take children as sexual brides, a far more heinous sin). Nevertheless, child betrothals are wrong, as are all arranged marriages even for adults where the bride has no say in the choice of a husband, or vice versa. Rebekah, the future wife of Abraham's son Isaac, though guided still had the choice to go to Isaac or not.

Lutheran Maasai Churches Have a Huge Surplus of Women

The consequences of the Lutheran policy were predicably dire. Lutheran Maasai churches today consist of 80 per cent or more women because men understand the church's insistence upon monogamy even if there are 'loopholes' to get around it. Because of the excess of African Lutheran women, they now face the same dilemma as other women in monogamy-only churches worldwide, a huge social problem that could have been wholly averted by fully retaining polygamy.

Some Pentecostal Attitudes

A few Pentecostal denominations tolerate polygamy but add a third clause to the Lurtheran policy:

  • 3. Church leaders and pastors must be monogamously married for life.

Assembly Leaders are Not Scripturally Banned from Practicing Polygamy

This man-made rule is based on a faulty exegesis of a couple of similar passages in 1 Timothy and Titus which nowhere excludes polygamous believers from positions of leadership [12]. Rather, they teach that leaders must be married for the obvious reasons they are the spiritual fathers and mothers of congregations and must have the experience to counsel married people with their problems.

Pentecostals and Baptists Usually 100% Oppose Polygamy

Pentecostals are few and far between among the Maasai in Tanzania, however, except in the south of the country. The majority of pentecostals, like baptists, reject polygamy entirely.

The Seventh-Day Adventist Experience

The Seventh-Day Adventists (SDA), who are numerous in Kenya and Tanzania, created their own ruling in 1941 which remains in force, which basically forbids polygamous males from being baptised at all! However, in spite of this ruling, the Adventist stance has changed many times, leading to a major controversy [13]. But the story starts earlier than this and we must go back to Kenya in 1930 when the SDA General Conference opened the way for probationary membership of polygamists.

Very Little SDA Moderation

Meanwhile in Tanzania, the local division SDA leadership, introducing the 1930 policy in 1939 [14], complained that a change of direction in the neighbouring country would become known among Kenyan Adventists. They feared to lose face because having refused to make any concessions to polygamists, they were now doing an about-face. Accordingly the Kenyan SDA Church demanded that the Tanzanian SDA Church comply with their mode of handling the issue. This conflict finally led to the reversal in 1941. But in spite of this, the position of the SDA Church leaders in Kenya and Tanzania was one of uncompromising rejection of polygamist converts like their fellow Baptists and majority Pentecostals. Except in a few rather undecided voices in the pre-First World War period [15], no advocate for a moderate stance was ever heard until after independence.

A Refusal to Baptise Polygamist Men...but Not Women

The peculiar practice of baptising polygamous women but not polygamous men was therefore a feature of SDA policy for a long time and says much about the consequences of following the traditions of men rather than following clear biblical practice. Though the subject was frequently hotly debated in committee meetings, the real action was taking place on the ground, sometimes with tragic consequences. In some areas like Majita at Lake Victoria, polygamous marriages were broken up without too much objection, but in other areas like the Pare Mountains, where the SDA Church had planted its first mission, the problem persisted until the 1960's. In a few places so many men reverted to their old polygamous ways, having already been baptised, that the Adventists lost most of its male leadership, as happened in Kurialand near Lake Victoria where many of those who converted in the 1930's and 1940's became polygamists in the 1950's.

The Adventists Create New Unwelcome and Unneeded Social Classes

The result of excluding the polygamist men from membership and fellowship caused several new classes of people to emerge among the communities where Adventists worked:

  • 1. Male converts-turned-divorcees-by-policy;
  • 2. Female divorcees, frequently baptised but often very unhappy;
  • 3. Unbaptisable men who sincerely desired full membership who would not renounce polygamy;
  • 4. Women in polygamous unions who were Christians while their husbands were officially still 'pagans';
  • 5. Backsliders (and their wives) who had converted to Adventism but could not understand why they should not live the way Abraham or Jacob had done or who continued valuing this traditional pattern of life [16]; and
  • 6. Hypocrites who did not wish to lose their membership privileges but secretly upheld intimate relationships with their divorced partners or their clandestinely increased wives.

The Maasai Refuse to Cave In

Though the problems decreased over the decades, given the impact of Christianity in Tanzania and even of Adventism in some regions, the situation amongst the Maasai continued to be the most 'difficult' due to the pervasiveness of the polygamous lifestyle in their midst.

Mathayo Njake's Rebellion

No concrete attempt was made to take the Besorah (Gospel) to the Maasai until the 1930's because of their entrenched polygamy even though there were a million of them, half in Kenya and half in Tanzania, with the first stable congregations not arising until 1964 amongst the Pare, a neighbouring ethnic group where the SDA were already very strong. The first significant SDA congregation was established amongst the Maasai at Kwedihalawe, its membership reaching about 600 by the year 2000 compared to a membership in the Maasai region of Kenya of 5,000. But Adventism is still in its infancy in most Masaai locations where it is present. Nevertheless, former regional Adventist director, Mathayo Njake, silently ignored Church policy and tolerated polygamy, a rather risky thing for him to do that might have jeapordised his membership. He cleverly played on the negative impact of Adventist churches containing only Maasai women on their fellow tribesman, who, viewing the Adventist Church through their own cultural lenses, came to view it as having 'low status'. But by disobeying his own Church's policy on polygamy, Njake was able to attract a large body of respectable Maasai men into the movement. But at what cost? SDA integrity for one.

Three Examples of Forced Divorce of Polygamists

Njake was not the only closet rebel in the SDA ranks. Other local Adventist leaders refused to advise polygamous husbands to divorce all but their first wife because of the tragic consequences of such an action. Three examples of the forced divorcing of wives in Adventist Churches carrying out Church policy reveals the evil of the monogamy-only mindset.

Example #1 - Loitopuaki Lebabu

In a place called Mwakikonge, near Tanga at the coast, there lived a man called Loitopuaki Lebabu who had two wives and asked to be baptised in 1986. He was told by the SDA Pastor at Tanga, Imani Yohana, that he should separate from one of his wives. So he separated from his oldest wife, which is quite common since younger wives often have young children to care for. Younger wives don't have older children to care for her. So Lebabu was baptised with another monogamist man. Many others had been interested in the SDA gospel but when it came to the conditions of baptism, no none except Lebabu accepted this step. In the end, Lebabu could not make himself divorce his older wife but remained in a separated condition because the common feeling among the people was that 'Adventists have good teachings but destroy family unity'. This stumbling block against evangelism remains to this day.

Example #2 - Lendakuya Lairumbe

In the second case study, Lendakuya Lairumbe had four wives in the late 1990's when he asked for baptism. Upon being advised to divorce all but one, he used a traditional way of geographical separation (but not divorce) to satisfy these demands. When a wife has a grown-up son, the son can be instructed to take care of his mother in his kraal, although the old man will still visit his wife. So this is what Lairumbe did for his elder wives, but the reaction of society was still very negative: they felt that if Adventism insists on such proceedures, it's not a denomination to join.

Example #3 - Abraham Ladaru

The third case study is of one Abraham Ladaru, a rich man who owns more than 800 cows. Converted and baptised in 1999 at the first Maasai camp meeting in spite of having five wives because the district pastor ignored the SDA policy on polygamy. Three years later, the elders from the Pare Mountains told him he had to divorce four of his wives in order to be a 'perfect Christian' and was also told that a polygamist man cannot be involved in any church activity, 'not even sweeping the floor'. Now this was a serious man of Elohim (God) who not only tithed 80 of his cows to the SDA Church but previously had built a Lutheran Church (which converted to SDA upon his conversion). When he informed his wives that he wanted to divorce all but one of them, they refused. How, they argued, could four of them live in shame and grief while one remained and lived in self-gratification? Moreover, none of the wives' parents were willing to leave one wife with him while all the others were divorced, and so all his wives went away! This caused such a stir in the area that it became a common opinion that 'the [SDA] Sabbath religion kills the kraal (family)'. Of the original 50 members of the Mwakikonge branch, 30 left after this tragedy.

The Datooga Tribe

Among the cattle-keeping tribes only the Datooga are as entrenched in their polygamy as the Maasai, their traditional arch-enemies.

The Problem of Secularism

In these days of secularised Christisnity whose leaders tend to be more interested in city evangelism and the development of state institutions, polygamy sadly receives little sympathy. In view of the imminent collapse and growing feudalism of the ruling corporate class, this is to be deeply regretted, because clearly it is in the rural regions that the fullness of the Besorah (Gospel) is best lived out and to which believers must ultimately move to escape the persecution of the emerging totalitarian secular state.

A Brave Tanzanian Adventist Scholar Speaks Out

In the meantime as the secular state tries to stamp out polygamy through humanist education and so align itself with the United Nations and the emerging world dictatorship, the trend of many Christian denominations is, for the moment, in the direction of polygamy and to the Lutheran position, as is that of one brave Adventist scholar, Tanzanian Dr. John Kisaka, who wrote in his dissertation the following reasoning. Where he is in error, I have marked the text in red:

  • 1. Polygamy does not only exist in Africa. A Western variant is 'consecutive polygamy' or 'serial polygamy', i.e. the process of divorce and remarriage common in present-day Europe and America;

  • 2. The Bible does not forbid polygamy and actually endorses it for the levirate institution;

  • 3. Problems experienced in polygamous marriages, such as envy, impersonal relationships, or dividing love between different parties, all occur in monogamous marriages as well;

  • 4. Traditionally, polygamy ensures offspring, helps avoid immorality, and is an economic asset. Therefore, it should not simply be dismissed as an adulterous condition;

  • 5. Most importantly, although polygamy is not the ideal, there is no direct order from God that a polygamous husband...'shall upon conversion be required to change his status by putting away all his wives save one, before he shall be considered eligible for baptism and church membership' as is required by present Adventist policy;

  • 6. Polygamous husbands should be baptized into membership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church since 'there is no Biblical prohibition or theological hinderance' for doing so, but should not hold church office such as that of an elder or a deacon. [17]

Corrections to Dr. John Kisaka's Thesis

This is by far one of the most inspired and biblically accurate positions that I have seen to date from a non-polygamst church though I doubt, regrettably, that European and American Adventists would be sympathetic with this bold African. There are only three errors that need correcting to make this useful as a Messianic Evangelical statement of belief in regard to the practice in East Africa and elsewhere:

  • 1. The Bible not only endorses polygamy for the levirate institution (which does not apply today since we are not in the Promised Land) but Yahweh approved it in the case of men with a tov shem, like King David (before he sinned by committing adultery with another man's wife, Bathsheba) and told him that he might have had more (2 Sam.12:8). The Bible specifically prophesies that in the last days seven women will seek the hand of a single man with a tov shem (Isa.4);

  • 2. The Bible nowhere says that 'monogamy' is the ideal because no distinction is ever made between 'monogamy' and 'polygamy', Greek words which did not have equivalents in the Israelite world - 'both' are simply called 'marriage'. Therefore one is not greater than the other and are to be viewed as equal in the eyes of true believers as they are by Elohim (God); and

  • 3. The Bible nowhere says that polygamists cannot be elders or deacons (as we have already seen) but rather prohibits these offices to those who have never been married.

Polygamists May Serve in Any Congregational Office

Therefore there is no barring polygamists (men or women) from being baptised or holding the highest offices in the Messianic Community (Church) as far as Messianic Evangelicals are concerned. They are in no way inferior, no way guilty of any sin, and in no way in violation of any biblical mitzvah (commandment). Being polygamous is no grounds for discrimination of any form by other believers, and such discrimination must be vigorously opposed.

All Believers are the Spiritual Children of a Polygamist

As the children of polygamist Abraham by emunah (faith), our spiritual father is a polygamist. Rather, Yah'shua (Jesus) said, criticising the Pharisees:

    "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham" (John 8:39, NKJV).

Paul also said:

    "For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called.' That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of Elohim (God); but the children of the promise (believers in Yah'shua/Jesus) are counted as the seed [of Abraham]" (Rom.9:6-8, NKJV).

All Believers Must Make Marriage Adjustments in the Gospel

Whether you have many wives (like Abraham, Jacob and David) or one (like Isaac and Joseph), you are of the seed of Abraham, provided you are born again and living Yahweh's Torah. This is not to say that those East African polygamists like the Maasai don't have to make considerable lifestyle adjustments to be in harmony with Yahweh's Torah, because they do, just as formerly unbelieving monogamists must adjust to Christian/Messianic ways. In these matters we have been given considerable revelation and have much experience.

Accept Polygamists into Full Fellowship

We are to set examples in both accepting polygamists fully into fellowship, teaching the emet (truth) about biblical marriage, and dispelling the prejudices and demonic anti-polygamy doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church and its Protestant offspring, including the Adventists who, it seems to me, have taken a far more dangerous position than the Lutherans. Teaching the Maasai and other polygamist tribes in East Africa that they are fully welcome as full members in good standing, provided they are living according to the terms of the NCAY Constitution, is not only a great opportunity for evangelism but a means of strengthening the Body as a whole. We do not exist to please the world, or the false and demonic doctrines of apostate churches, but to bring forth the whole emet (truth) for the glory of Elohim (God). All are free to choose whether to live in marriages consisting of one or more wives but husbands must be true to their marriage vows, if they have made them, not to add to their families, because it was on the basis of such vows that monogamous women entered the covenant. Jacob made one such vow to his father-in-law, Laban, not to take more wives, and he kept it. So too must husbands who have made vows to their wives not to have others, for we as a community shall absolutely hold our members accountable to these binding vows.


The Maasai and others await this good news of "the restoration of all things" (Ac.3:21). Let us not waste this opportunity to bring many fine men and women into the Kingdom who have been ostracised or labelled as second-class members by Western prejudice.


[1] Gatonye Gathura, Polygamy still deeply rooted in Kenya despite image of modernity, 8 August 2013
[2] See John Cairncross, After Polygamy Was Made a Sin: The Social History of Christian Polygamy (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London:1974)
[3] Bernardino Ochino, A Dialog on Polygamy (Ed. Don Milton: 2009), originally published around 1560
[4] See Carnal Multiplication: A False Marriage Doctrine Exposed
[5] See Seven Laws of the King
[6] See The Wells of Salvation (Part 2)
[7] McIville Herskovits, The Cattle Complex in East Africa (American Anthropologist: 1926), pp.230-272, 361-388, 494-528, 633-664
[8] Adrian Hastings, Christian Marriage in Africa (SPCK, London: 1973), p.73
[9] Klaus Fiedler, Christianity and African Culture: Conservative Protestant Missionaries in Tanzania (CLAIM, Blantyre, Malawi: 1999), pp.69-76
[10] Eugene Hillman, Polygamy Reconsidered: African Plural Marriage and the Christian Church (Maryknoll, NY: 1975)
[11] Leonard A. Mtaita, The Wandering Shepherds and the Good Shepherd: Contextualization as the Way of Doing Mission With the Maasai in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania-Pure Diocese (Verlag für Mission und Ökumene, Erlangen, Germany: 1998)
[12] See The Husband of But One Wife
[13] Clifton R, Maberly, The Polygamous Marriage Variant: The Policy and Practice of a Church (Andrews University MA thesis: 1975)
[14] J.I.Robinson, Letter to E.D.Dick, 16 May 1940 (General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventist Archives, Silver Spring, MD: 1940)
[15] Sklaven Kotz, Letter to W.A.Spicer, 28 August 1910 (General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventist Archives, Silver Spring, MD: 1910)
[16] Adrian Hastings, The Church in Africa, 1450-1950 (Clarendon Press, Oxford: 1994), p.321: "The effect of missionary dealings with polygamy was often less to deter conversion but to produce a long-term post-baptismal problem: that polygamy re-emerged among Christians"
[17] John Aza Kisaka, The Adventist Church's Position and Response to Socio-Cultural Issues in Africa (Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI: 1979)


[1] Stefan Höschele, Polygamy amongst the Tanzanian Maasai and the Seventh-dayAdventist Church: Reflections on a Missiological and Theological Problem

Comments from Readers

[1] "Thank Yah for this revelation. I have been praying about this issue of the Maasai and I have learnt that we are working in the Ruach. I have some good connections with the Maasai. I worked there as a teacher from 2002 to 2005. My wife has the Maasai blood line and some of her relatives are there" (CBY, Kenya, 2 February 2014) connection.

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