Is Polygamy Next?

Who’s Afraid of Polygamy?” taunts John Tierney in a New York Times Op-Ed piece not long ago (3/11/2006). Referring to the HBO series “Big Love,” which features a husband with three wives in Utah, Tierney calls polygamy, not “a barbaric threat to the country’s moral fabric,” but “an arrangement that can make sense for some people in some circumstances, but not one that could ever be a dangerous trend in America.” Tierney even insinuates, in the kind of conspiracy theory that is increasingly en vogue (witness the Da Vinci Code phenomenon) that monogamous marriage is nothing more than “the monogamous majority” “safely proclaim[ing] its moral superiority and outlaw[ing]” polygamy!

One week later (3/19/2006) Charles Krauthammer, a syndicated columnist, commented on polygamy with reference to the same series on HBO. In contrast to Tierney, Krauthammer is less enthusiastic about polygamy. In fact, he offers a penetrating analysis of the recent polygamist movement in the context of the wider “civil union” debate. Noting that gay activists “do not want to be in the same room as polygamists,” Krauthammer declares that this aversion to polygamy in the homosexual rights camp is inconsistent, since polygamists are using the same arguments that homosexual activists have used (with considerable success) in the public debate. Krauthammer does well to bring out this inconsistency. Unfortunately, he does not rush to the defense of the traditional (and biblical) definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. Instead, he writes that he’s “come to a studied ambivalence” concerning gay marriage and later places himself in the agnostic camp.

Comments and sentiments such as these strongly reinforce the need for organizations such as Biblical Foundations. The erosion of the biblical foundations for marriage and the family was one of the major reasons why I wrote God, Marriage & the Family. The Bible makes clear that monogamy is a foundational part of God’s design for human relationships (Genesis 1–3; see esp. Gen. 2:24). Together with divorce, adultery, and homosexuality, polygamy was one of the inevitable results of the Fall of humanity (the first instance of recorded polygamy is found in Gen. 4:19). Polygamists in the Old Testament include Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, David, and Solomon, to name but a few.

Despite these instances of polygamy, however, Scripture is unequivocal that having multiple wives constituted a departure from God’s plan for marriage. This is conveyed not only in Scripture verses that seem univocally to prohibit polygamy (cf. Deut. 17:17; Lev. 18:18), but also from the sin and general disorder that polygamy produced in the lives of those who engaged in the practice. Some of those marriages experienced disruptive favoritism; jealousy was a recurrent problem between competing wives; Solomon’s many foreign wives induced him to idolatry; and David’s multiple marriages led to incest and murder among his progeny.

Scripture everywhere insists that individuals who abandoned God’s design of monogamy and participated in polygamy did so contrary to the Creator’s plan and ultimately to their own detriment. The sin and disorder produced by polygamy are further testimony to the goodness of God’s monogamous design of marriage as first revealed in the marriage of Adam and Eve. Not only is polygamy nowhere in the Old Testament spoken of with approval, many passages clearly uphold monogamy as the continuing ideal (e.g. Prov. 12:4; 18:22; 19:14; 31:10–31; Ps. 128:3; Ezek. 16:8).

Whether polygamy is “a barbaric threat to the country’s moral fabric,” I do not know. It well may not be. But what I am convinced of is that the way in which the liberal media elite such as John Tierney mock biblical morality and extol the virtues of gay marriage and polygamy is one of the many symptoms that our country’s moral fabric is already seriously torn apart. The solution is not found in clever journalistic sloganeering, persuasive rhetoric, or political lobbying, but in a return to the biblical foundations—which, as Genesis 2:24 makes clear, are monogamous, not polygamous: “A man [singular] shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife [singular], and they shall become one flesh.”

For further discussion of polygamy and related issues see God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation (2d ed.; Crossway, 2010), esp. Chap. 2.

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