Utah polygamy ruling has the Sister Wives rejoicing, but how will it affect Mormons?


Late this week, a judge affirmed December's legal decision in favor of the Brown family, the polygamous clan that stars in the reality TV show Sister Wives. You can read the RNS news story here.

In essence, the way has been paved for plural marriage to be legal in Utah, as long as there are no other laws being broken: no underage marriage, rape, domestic violence, etc.

Yesterday a reporter for the International Business Times asked me questions over email about how this would affect Mormon life. Will missionaries have a harder time making converts now that polygamy is becoming legal in Utah? Will LDS leaders counter the ruling in sermons and statements to the faithful, stressing once again that Mormons cannot be polygamists? Will the ruling set the Church back years in its campaign to distance itself publicly from its polygamous past?

My answers were no, maybe, and no.

Most Mormons will meet the ruling with a shrug and a yawn.

So I was surprised when the reporter emailed me the link to the story and the headline was so fearmongering:

Utah Polygamy Ban Reversal ‘Bad News’ For LDS Church: Mormon Scholar

Really? How exactly is it bad news?

Come to find out, the one who thinks it's bad news is my co-author of Mormonism for Dummies, Chris Bigelow.

"As polygamy becomes legal, the LDS church will likely come under pressure to accept polygamists back into its membership ranks. With the law on their side, polygamists could ratchet up a 'civil rights' campaign within the church along the same lines as we're currently seeing with the church's gays and feminists."


First of all, it's hardly the case that what is the law in Utah, which claims fewer than 2 million of the LDS Church's more than 15 million adherents, will be in any way binding to Mormons in Fiji or Guatemala or South Africa. That is a myopic and provincial view of a global church.

Secondly, a Pew study cited in the article shows that 86% of Mormons consider polygamy to be morally wrong. That's even higher than the percentage that disapprove of sex between unmarried adults (79%) or of abortion (74%). I hardly see from those numbers the makings of a full-fledged civil rights campaign.

And finally, Chris's comments suggest an inability to separate the distinct issues of people's civil rights under the law of the land and their ecclesiastical privileges in the LDS Church. Just because someone is legally permitted to marry under state or federal law does not mean that a church is going to be required to honor that marriage in its own religious rites.

That's true whether the marriage is polygamous, same-sex, or in any other way different than "traditional" marriage between a man and a woman. So Chris's final comment is frankly odd:

“I'm sure the church will rather stop performing civil marriages altogether than face increasing legal and social pressure to perform gay or polygamous marriages within its sacred temples,” Bigelow said.

Let's be clear. No one is going to force the LDS Church to perform religious marriages in the temple for anyone it would not already approve to hold a temple recommend. That's true whether the law in Utah allows gay marriage, polygamous marriage, or marriage between a fish and a monkey.


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  1. It’s important to note that striking part of the bigamy statute is not the same as granting a marriage license. In our system, “not illegal” is not the same as “legal”. Quoting from the RNS news story:

    “[The judge] struck the section of Utah’s bigamy statute that can be applied when someone “cohabits with another person” to whom they are not legally married. Utah law made such a union a felony punishable by up to five years in prison. . . . [But] let stand the portion of the statute that prevents someone from having more than one active marriage license.”

  2. The ruling just makes Utah laws the same as those in the other 49 states. It doesn’t make polygamy legal. It makes it legal for a married person to live with an adult of the opposite sex who is not their spouse.

    it’ll have ZERO effect on whether the Church will (un)willingly reinstate polygamy.

    I’m surprised so many think polygamy is immoral. It may be a sin because of the OD1, but polygamy can in NO WAY be considered immoral. To those questioning God’s approval of polygamy, let’s see what the Bible says. Abraham was a polygamist. Jacob, who later was renamed Israel (from whom the 12 tribes of Israel came) was a polygamist. These were hardly men who discounted God’s will.

    The most telling evidence comes in 2 Sam. 12:7-12. Here we have the prophet Nathan quoting God in condemning David for his adultery with Bathsheba. In verse 8, God says that He (God) gave David his master’s wives and then goes on to say that if he (David) wanted even more, God would have given him more. But because of his sin, verse 11 says that God is going to take away David’s wives and give them to another individual man who will have his way with them.

    If God hates polygamy, why did God give David those wives? And why did God offer to give David even more? More importantly, why would God take those wives from David and give them to another INDIVIDUAL man rather than giving them to several men so that the women would have monogamous marriages?

    Regarding Paul stating that Christian leaders be restricted to having one wife, such restrictions indicate that polygamy was found in the early Christian church. If everyone was monogamous, why would Paul feel the need to include that restriction? It would be like prohibiting leaders from being idol worshipers or unbelievers. Since the church contained none such, such prohibitions would be silly. Specifically banning polygamy for leaders shows that polygamy WAS practiced in the early Christian church and that polygamist men might have been considered to be bishops if it weren’t for this restriction. Such a ban wouldn’t have been needed had there been no polygamy in the church.

    Having extra wives and the extra kids that they’d produce would require polygamist men to spend more time with family and less of their time on other matters than monogamist men. They’d have less time to dedicate to being a church leader and tending to the needs of the flock. Because of this, men with just one wife would be better suited to serve the Christian community as a leader. Paul wasn’t condemning polygamy but rather simply making sure that church leaders had time to adequately deal with the responsibilities of being church leaders.

    Polygamy is in no way condemned by God in the Bible.

  3. Chris, that was my thought, too. Most relevant (to the future of polygamy) seems to be this line:

    “Waddoups [judge] found the Utah County Attorney… violated the Browns’ constitutional rights when he oversaw a 2010 investigation into whether the Brown family was committing bigamy.”

    In other words, it’s unconstitutional to investigate whether or not individuals are practicing polygamy (or, bigamy, which is no longer a felony). That’s a step in the direction of acceptance, maybe, but not endorsement.

  4. Us Mormons have a lot of dumb ideas about morality including follow the brethren because “the prophet cannot lead the Church astray…” (my favorite). The same prophet who most famously stated this from the pulpit would not have agreed with the 86% who claim polygamy to be immoral by any means. If Pew is accurate, we can see where we are now. Jana Riess I like reading your column.

  5. “Let’s be clear. No one is going to force the LDS Church to perform religious marriages in the temple for anyone it would not already approve to hold a temple recommend.”

    I think this is wishful thinking. The gay lobby fully intends to force churches, all churches, to recognize and even perform their weddings. Just wait.

    While you’re waiting, here is an indicator of times to come–
    “The country’s parliament voted through the new law on same-sex marriage by a large majority, making it mandatory for all churches to conduct gay marriages.”

    I am certain that one day soon, opposing gay marriage will be branded as a hate-crime. Just wait.

    While you’re waiting, here is an indicator of times to come–
    “For the first time, a federal US judge has ruled a persecution of LGBT people is a crime against humanity.”

  6. As usual, polls such as this often come down to how the question is posed.

    If one had asked the same subset of Latter-day Saints if they considered polygamy “to be morally wrong under circumstances where the Lord reveals its practice to His living prophet,” the “morally wrong” percentage of 86% would plummet.

    It’s the same dynamic as exists with the question of female priesthood ordination. As Jana posted in a recent blog post invoking a 2011 Pew poll which asked the following “yes or no” question: “Should women who are dedicated members of the LDS Church be ordained to the priesthood?” According to Pew, 8% of Mormon women and 13% of Mormon men said yes. (see: http://religionnews.com/2014/05/23/many-mormons-seek-expanded-role-women/)

    If the question were worded thus: “If the prophet announced a revelation that all worthy women may now receive the priesthood, would you support this revelation,” the above numbers would flip.

    Why? Because in the Latter-day Saint universe the Lord reveals His will unto His servants the prophets, and we sustain them and the teachings they present to us.

    It is for the very reason that we believe the church to be of God, and not of man, that the answer to almost any critical question comes down to the will of God as taught by His anointed leaders as opposed to what we might personally prefer under any given circumstance.

  7. “The same prophet who most famously stated this” would agree that we should look to our living oracles for guidance in the day in which we live.

  8. ji – It may not be possible to force a church to perform a same-sex wedding, but advocates of such will nonetheless pull out all the stops to punish such churches through tax law and every other avenue available to them.

  9. It’s fairly safe and correct to say the following even to those with the most to say about obedience (veiled or overtly). “I follow the prophet because he follows the Lord.” Following the brethren should be an act of love and obedience because of the good acts they do. In other words, we follow the Lord because we love Him and we know he can do no degree of evil. Thus we must evaluate if leaders are following the Lord or not when He expressly forbid us NOT to pluck out the tares while the wheat is still growing. He said angels would do that job and not us. It is also fair to evaluate whether or not disciplinary action are indeed “local matters” or an orchestration from the Strengthening Church Members Committee. If it is a product of “the committee” then our church spokesman lied to us and the world. Then there is the little matter of how these actions affect the ordinary intercourse between “local leader” to member and member to member. If it tends to shut us down and stifle our discussions, then is it something which promotes revelation or kills it? It’s time to allow members to speak openly again and it’s time to love our leaders conditionally for their acts of goodness and love.

  10. Paul commanded that pastors have but one wife to keep any possible scandal associated with divorce and remarriage (which Jesus had condemned) out of church leadership. Polygamy had mostly died out (though not completely) among the Jews of the early christian era, and of course it was not practiced by Romans. There is no indication that it was ever acceptable among early christians. Several of the early church fathers condemned it quite strongly.

  11. The problem with your theory is that it would prevent men whose first wives died, and who later remarried, from being bishops or deacons, etc…because they’d be the husbands of more than one wife. It would disqualify honest and righteous men from leading a congregation.

    The Catholics took the anti-polygamy line one step further by eliminating married men altogether so that they could dedicate all of their time to the church rather than splitting it with a wife and especially more than one wife.

    There is nothing in the Bible that condemns the practice and plenty of passages that show it was practiced by righteous men.

  12. When I was at the Y, an instructor in a psych class, during a lull in the action, asked the class if he could ask a question of the sisters in the class. Naturally they all agreed and he asked, “How many of you are looking forward to plural marriage?”

    There were some groans, but two students (of the female persuasion) raised an arm. One young lady said that she already had a sister wife picked out and her husband had been so instructed. The second sister said something to the effect that it was the Law, so…

    You think OW was a problem? What’s it going to be like when a faithful High Priest and his lovely bride tell their Bishop that they want said High Priest to be sealed to a second wife in the temple, because besides fulfilling The New and Everlasting Covenant, it won’t be illegal, which is of course the ONLY reason Pres. Taylor was moved by the Lord to issue The Manifesto. If the Bishop says no, and the couple start a movement, like OW, but called Everlasting Covenant (EC), the poop could well hit the fan. Either Sec. 132 means something, or it doesn’t!

  13. President Woodruff issued the Manifesto, not President Taylor.

    There were many who believed that the Manifesto didn’t apply in Mexico and elsewhere where polygamy was not yet illegal. That got smacked down.

    Official Declaration 1 stands until the Lord reveals otherwise, the laws of various states and countries notwithstanding.

  14. The article about Denmark refers only to the GOVERNMENT OWNED state churches. No LDS bishop has performed a SSM there. Those countries with state churches can logically require those churches to perform SSM.

    If there was ever such a move here, a constitutional amendment would pass so fast and no politician would dare support it. I’d bet that even the majority of gays would back it.

    Sorry Chicken Little, the sky isn’t falling.

  15. I don’t see the ruling as a big deal, and even positive. It has nothing to do with marriage law, but simply says that the government has no say over who you choose to live with. It makes no more sense than a law stating that a single unmarried, unrelated man and woman can’t cohabit.

    And for the question of the morality of polygamy, that seems to be situationally rather than universally immoral. At times God has condemned it, at times permitted it, at times mandated it, according to the situation as He see it.

  16. Thanks for the correction, TomW.

    I certainly agree with you about how the leadership will view this, at least for the time being. But what about when my mythical EC brethren start agitating, a la OW, for said leadership to check with the Heavens to see if the path they, the EC people, want might find favor in God’s eyes.

    Because unlike OW, this mythical EC has scriptural backing. The Manifesto was written because of outside pressure, so what would be wrong with inside pressure asking for the issues to be revisited?

  17. What TomW doesn’t remember is how confusing the OD1 was to latter-day saints especially as the OD1 prophet took on at least 1 new wife himself after 1890. Then there was the matter of the post OD1 prophet urging (and commanding) my great grandfather in law to take on 2 new wives in 1901. One of the things we do as non-thinking obedient Saints is assume a whole bunch of things based on current conditions and popular attitudes. We all do it from top leadership down to the primary child. We didn’t expect to be forced to resort to OD1 but federal judges made it impossible for us to do otherwise because our property and rights were being stripped away. We didn’t expect to see Utah’s reasonable constitutional amendment to be struct down by a federal judge regarding marriage. It was. Our prophet didn’t expect to see California’s hard-won constitutional amendment struck down. It was. We don’t expect to have a federal judge order us to perform SSMs in the temple, but it could happen soon. This is not chicken little talk. Furthermore, we would hope to have clarifying revelation about Kate Kelly so we can teach doctrine, true doctrine, because we don’t know how to defend our leaders. The fact is there is no doctrine for current leaders to defend the opprobrium of apostasy upon the head of Sister K. If there was a strong declaration from the Lord we would have heard about it a long time ago. It’s better to have the freedom to discuss these things openly so that “local leaders” don’t feel it necessary to pluck out what they assume is a tare from the field. If women hold the priesthood through their endowment (something we used to teach and discuss) then we are simply not permitting them to exercise it in the same manner males are allowed to exercise it. If we were more interested in following the Lord we could be explaining these things to our daughters and granddaughters with clarity. For now, however, we excommunicate instead of teach.

  18. The phrase “husband of one wife” is in every way the converse of the phrase “wife of one husband” which Paul uses when discussing widows eligible for church support–and which quite obviously does not imply that women in the early church were practicing polyandry.

    What Paul was getting at here was that in a culure of infidelity and promiscuity, church leaders were to be one -man women and one-woman men without any taint associated with infidelity. It obviously wasn’t meant to frown upon remarriage of widows and widowers, which Paul expressly encouraged.

    Your interpretation of this passage is inconsistent with Paul’s other writings, particularly in the complete absence of any corroborating evidence that polygamy ever existed in the early church.

  19. You assume that the Brethren haven’t put it to the Lord just because they don’t permit OW to dictate how it should go down.

    Believing Latter-day Saints would agree that the living prophets and apostles make their pending General Conference remarks a matter of deep reflection, study, fasting, and prayer. As such, the bulk of the membership would conclude that Elder Oaks, prior to presenting his April 2014 General Conference remarks about the priesthood, had indeed made the question of female priesthood ordination part of his communion with God. What he said at that time is about as authoritative as things get for our day. By all means Elder Oaks appropriately left open the door that the Lord may reveal alternatives at any time He so wishes. The entire membership of the church should remain willing to embrace everything that the Lord may yet reveal, just as they should be willing to embrace what He has now revealed.

  20. Jonathan, you assume too much.

    I was fully aware that plural marriages continued with varying levels of support at the apostolic level until a second manifesto was issued in 1904 by Joseph F. Smith. I just didn’t want to burden the conversation with minutia, having been requested by Jana in the past not to make my responses longer than her blog posts (which can be VERY difficult for me at times!).

    I don’t know if one can claim what the church expected to have happen in the late 1800’s. It’s not as if the United States government had been its loyal friend all those years. It would have been presumptive for the church and its members to expect that their rights of religious exercise would go untrampled.

    The church has no control over the actions of judges. It can only teach correct principles and urge the members to act accordingly. The actions of judges do not change the importance of following the direction of the living prophets. Prophets don’t reserve their teachings only to those things where the membership of the church will find their efforts upheld in the courts.

    And whatever your thoughts may be regarding the priesthood and temple ordinances, the fact of the matter is that women were never ordained to the Aaronic or Melchizedek orders of the priesthood even when they received the ordinances of the temple, so whatever that manifestation of priesthood may be that they wield, it doesn’t correlate to the offices of the priesthood which are conferred upon males. Elder Oaks has referred to it as delegated authority. That’s probably as good as any explanation for now.

  21. It might also be a detail of translation, where “one” might have actually been “a”, or in other words, that a bishop should be married as opposed to single.

  22. It’s true that no LDS bishop has performed a SSM in Denmark, but it’s important to note that ji never said that. The clear inference was that pressure to do so would exist in the future based on the current trajectory.

    Perhaps you can guess when the following quote was made (no cheating and using google).

    “Nobody is talking about gay marriage except the people who are trying to wave it around as a straw man issue.”

  23. Yes… and that’s how we roll. Elder Oaks said it and that’s all there is to it. The problem is we have other sources of knowledge which don’t conform to our obedience first (look-everyone-I-follow-the-brethren) popular interpretations of the gospel. The temple endowment treats men and women the same as it relates to the greater and the lesser priesthoods and invites both sexes to receive the fullness thereof.

  24. @Tom.
    Yes, that’s possible too. Except that Paul said so many good things about singleness that I have my doubts about it.

  25. You state – “What Paul was getting at here was that in a culure of infidelity and promiscuity, church leaders were to be one -man women and one-woman men without any taint associated with infidelity. It obviously wasn’t meant to frown upon remarriage of widows and widowers, which Paul expressly encouraged.”

    1 Cor 7:2 says that marriage helps prevent fornication. leaders need to be married to help them avoid fornication and to understand the challenges that come with marriage. It’s good for him to have the one, but having multiple wives/families would diminish a leader’s ability to serve likewise makes sense. There is no disagreement here. There is nothing in the verses that outlaw polygamy.

    Paul here recommends marriage to prevent fornication yet also wishes all people would be single to serve God 100% rather than dividing up their time/efforts with a spouse. There is no condemnation of polygamy.

  26. The Greek word used for “one” in Titus 1:6 and 1 Tim. 3:2 is “mia” which means “one”, “a” or “first” so the verses can’t be used by those opposing polygamy saying that the verses restrict the number of wives that a leader can have. Even if Paul DID mean “one”, the polygamy ban was placed on just the leaders since polygamy must have been found in the church, hence Paul’s need to mention it. if Polygamy wasn’t in the church or was at least forbidden, there’d be no need to mention it.

  27. The point is that the governments in England and Denmark simply directed the government owned churches to perform SSM. There is no pressure anywhere on non state owned churches to do so. As stated, if such pressure even existed here, an constitutional amendment would be passed at lightning speed, supported even by gays. No church here will EVER be forced into performing SSM against their will. the electorate won’t stand for it, even those who support SSM.

  28. Regarding whether polygamy is moral or immoral, there are 2 types of crimes – “Malum in se” which means that something is forbidden because it is evil in and of itself” and “Malum prohibitum” which means it’s forbidden because someone doesn’t like it.

    murder, rape, robbery, fraud, assault, etc.. are examples of the former and hunting dear out of season is an example of the latter. There is nothing inherently evil about shooting deer in August rather than October. There is nothing inherently evil about driving on the left hand side of the road. Those 2 things are outlawed because outlawing such make society run better.

    Polygamy is a “prohibitum” class of sin. it isn’t inherently evil because God has approved of it. We LDS don’t believe it is approved right now so we abstain rather than abstaining because it is inherently evil.

  29. True that there is no condemnation of polygamy– because nothing indicates that it was ever a thing in the early church, nor that church leaders “needed” to be married, nor that the distractions of marriage had anything to do with a plurality of spouses. Paul spoke of marriage being a possible distraction for women as well; does that mean to you that women in the early church were practicing polyandry?

  30. That is an outright lie. But one commonly told to pretend that those who oppose marriage equality are somehow potential victims.

    NOBODY is going to force a church under color of law to change how they perform any kind of marriage rites. At best it is members of the congregation leveling criticism about it.

  31. I was right the first time I said it. I remain so. Its telling that people who linked the article, didn’t actually read it.

    The separation of church and state isn’t such a bad thing after all, amitrite?

  32. The legal objection to polygamy has NOTHING to do with morality. It has to do with practical elements of our laws. It simply cannot be accommodated into existing marriage based laws which presume binary defaults.

    Until polygamists get off their duff and draft versions of laws which are affected by multiple marriage which is fair, reasonable and sane for all parties involved, nobody has to have it.

  33. God told David NOT to multiply wives. David disobeyed God and ultimately paid the price with the consequences of the dissolution of his family and disruption of his kingdom. You misread and misinterpret the Bible.

  34. Since the early church was overwhelmingly Jewish converts and Jews practiced polygamy, there would be no doubt that there were Jewish polygamists that became Christians. The fact that neither Paul nor Peter nor John nor Jude spoke against it indicates to me that it was accepted. it died out as monogamy practicing gentiles dominated the numbers of later converts and leaders.

    As stated, the “one wife” guidelines for leaders likewise hint that polygamy was found in the early church otherwise such a restriction on leaders wouldn’t be needed. It’s be like saying that leaders can’t be murderers or idolators. Obviously Paul thought it possible for local congregations to choose a polygamist as a leader and he wanted to prevent that and my explanation of a polygamist not having enough time to vote to being a leader is a reason why. Not offending potential monogamist gentile converts could be another reason.

    the bottom line is that polygamy isn’t condemned and definitely not anti-biblical.

  35. As I have stated, 2 Sam. 12:7-12 has God giving David all of his wives and offering to give him even more. If God was against David’s polygamy, He certainly would not have said that He had GIVEN David his wives.

    It was only because David had sinned, in committing adultery by taking another man’s wife, and then causing that man’s death to try to hide David’s sin, that the Lord was calling him out through the prophet Nathan. There was no sin in the polygamy at all.

    This is later confirmed that this was the only matter by 1 Kings 15:5, which says the following:

    “Because David did that which was right in the eyes of the LORD, and turned not aside from any thing that he commanded him all the days of his life, save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” .

    So David’s polygamy was fine according to this verse. Also, back in 2 Sam. 12:7-12, the Lord gives all of David’s wives to a single man rather than giving them to other men or sending them back to their families. If God hated polygamy, He would never have done that, nor given David all of those wives in the first place.

    The verse in Deut. 17 forbids kings from multiplying wives unto themselves…IOW taking wives of their own accord, but this is NOT what David did. The **LORD** gave David those wives. I’m sure that if the Lord gives you the wives, that overrules Deut. 17. The Lord can make exceptions to His own rules.

    Despite your accusation, I think I divided the word correctly. i’d love to hear your version on the verses I reference. i look forward to hearing from you.


  36. Larry, you responded specifically to my comment, claiming it was an outright lie, but your remarks don’t seem to fit what I said. Were you responding to somebody else?

  37. Again, Kevin, do the “one-husband” guidelines likewise hint that polyandry was practiced in the early church, otherwise such a restriction wouldn’t be needed?

  38. It was a lie. A very bad one.

    You had to use an example from a country where there is a government run church. Why would anyone on an English language American based website think an example in Denmark is relevant?

    Not at all the situation you were trying to pretend could be happening here. There is nothing honest about that.

    Do you think Jesus wants you to lie?

  39. Larry, I think you’re attributing something to me that someone else said. Can you please quote specifically what you think I said?

  40. if there were any cultural or biblical evidence of there being polyandry, then you might have a point, but there isn’t any. You are grasping at straws.

    You also need to address god giving David those wives and then giving them to another SINGLE/INDIVIDUAL man to have sex with. If God hated polygamy, he wouldn’t have done that.

  41. Exactly, Kevin. Likewise there is no evidence of polygamy in the early church — particularly not in the churches that Paul was writing to, which were composed primarily of Gentile converts from Roman paganism. This is why Paul was known as the apostle to the Gentiles. The only evidence you’ve cited for this is the existence of a phrase which can not mean what you claim because it is applied to women as well as men.

    Jesus specifically told us that the Torah contained provisions which were temporary concessions to the man’s hopelessly fallen nature. Divorce was one of these, and no doubt slavery and polygamy were others. They were never part of God’s original plan for His creation, the restoration of which was the entire aim of Jesus’ earthly mission.

    “You also need to address god giving David those wives and then giving them to another SINGLE/INDIVIDUAL man to have sex with. If God hated polygamy, he wouldn’t have done that.”

    The giving over of David’s wives to another was no more an approval of the same than His giving over of Israel to its enemies numerous times was an approval of pillage and destruction. It was the consequence of sin, meted out by other sinful beings without God’s protections–which was spurned when the path of sin was chosen in the first place. The SINGLE/INDIVIDUAL man who had sex with David’s wives, BTW, was his own son — which was a serious transgression even under the Torah, let alone the NT (Paul severely condemned a man in the Corinthian church who did this). It was not something God blessed but one of the EVILS that God specifically foretold that He would allow to rise up out of David’s own house and family as a result of sin.

  42. I agree that the churches to whom Paul wrote were mostly Gentile, but if the Timothy/Titus verses prescribe “one” wife rather than “a” wife, then my point remains. if Paul’s intention as “a” wife, then the verses simply mean that a leader must be married and they therefore have no input into whether polygamy is right or wrong. As stated, there is nothing in the OT or NT condemning polygamy.

    Regarding David’s wives, you completely failed to address the point that they were given to an INDIVIDUAL man. If God hated polygamy, he would have given them to several men so that each would be in a monogamous relationship God could have sent them home to their individual families to look for husbands or to remain single. God could have eliminated the evil of polygamy, but God preserved it for these women and may have brought in that man who may have been single or monogamous. God may have expanded polygamy.

    Mormons believe that that vast majority of Mormons in heaven will be practicing monogamy. Polygamy is a rare exception since men and women are born in about equal numbers.

    The bottom line is that though monogamy may be the norm, there is NO justification in the Bible to condemn or outlaw polygamy between consenting adults.

  43. I would not outlaw it between consenting adults either–let everyone cohabit with whomever they wish. And no doubt it is not nearly as bad as the (both official and unofficial) serial polygamy that goes on in our society–at the very least polygamy obliges a man to take permanent responsibility for his sexual meanderings. But no, your point does not remain. If “one wife” means no polygamy, then what does “one husband” mean? I think it means that those in positions of church leadership (or official objects of church support) should have no divorces behind them (even biblically-justifiable ones) in order to avoid scandal. Both Jesus and Paul made marriage equally binding upon men and women, which would neatly explain the one-husband/one-wife passages. Jesus’ words about marriage and divorce, BTW, would be ridiculous if He approved polygamy; “marrying another” would not logically constitute any kind of adultery at all, with or without a divorce in the mix. Perhaps this is why the disciples were so aghast at His words about this — He would have been disposing of not just one but two Torah provisions, even if the one had nearly died out and the other was recognized to be less than desirable in God’s eyes (see Mal. 2:16).

    “Regarding David’s wives, you completely failed to address the point that they were given to an INDIVIDUAL man.”

    Actually I did, but I think you overlooked it. God “gave” multiple wives to David in the same way He gave His fallen creatures laws to regulate divorce and slavery until the time came for His original order of things to be restored and for His laws to be written upon the Spirit-filled heart. Serving a temporary purpose, perhaps, but never God’s best and never presented in a favorable light but always highlighting in neon colors the woes that result from messing with God’s design.

  44. Author

    To be clear, the Denmark example was brought into the discussion by ji, not by TomW. So accusations about “lies” that are directed to Tom should be reassessed.

    But to ji, how in the world can you think that a precedent set by a nation that has an official state church — a church that is constitutionally designed to answer to the government — is in any way “an indicator of times to come” in the United States of America? Our First Amendment rights would not permit such a gross violation of the free exercise of religion.

    If you don’t believe me, try listening to LDS attorney Hannah Clayson Smith’s comments — including the Q&A — at the FAIR conference earlier this summer, where she presented on religious freedom. At the end of her session, she was specifically asked this question about whether same-sex marriages would someday be enforced in Mormon temples. According to the Deseret News:

    One of the crowd of about 500 at the Utah Valley Convention Center asked what might happen to LDS temple marriages in Utah if gay marriages become legal in the state.

    Temples are sacred to Latter-day Saints, and temple marriage is one of the faith’s most important ordinances.

    “I think it’s really important to recognize what’s a problem and what isn’t a problem,” Smith said.

    “I don’t ever think we’ll get to the place where the government would step in and say, you have to perform a same-sex marriage within the temple. That is something that is so sacred and so much at the heart of the religious practice of our faith that I don’t think that will ever happen.”

  45. The comments (they are usually more interesting than the article) and so many seem to point to the idea that polygamy is once again legal. It is not. Co-habitation is no longer illegal, but plural marriage has not been made legal with this ruling. Therefore, any discussion of what the Church might, or might not, do is pure speculation, and pointless.

  46. The verses that deal with men being asked to have ONE wife deal with leadership positions. the one verse dealing with women having one husband is to qualify for support and needing to be at least 60 and having raised kids. it has nothing to do about women being married to only one man. The Greek in both are very different as well. You can’t compare them. Your “one wife” = “one husband” analogy makes no sense.

    If polygamy wasn’t found in the Church, there would have been no need to make that restriction. All men would have been the husband of just one wife. The only exception would be for death or biblical divorce and men should not be denied leadership positions due to those things, which have nothing to do with his character.

    Regarding 1 Sam. 12:7-12, I agree that the OT was a schoolteacher to bring the Jews to a place to accept Christ. Certain things were allowed in the OT that aren’t in Christianity and visa versa. That doesn’t excuse what God did by giving all of those women to one single man. It’s one thing for weak men like Abraham, Jacob and others to have multiple wives. The Lord looked the other way and let that slide….because they were weak mortals. God holds himself to a higher standard. He is not a mortal man with mortal weaknesses. By him giving all of those women to the one man, God is endorsing polygamy. If He had given them to other men so the women could live monogamously, that would be a statement that God doesn’t really condone in. God’s actions here show that He’s fine with it.

  47. I beg you pardon, no, the Greek is not “very different.” “Mias gynaikos andra” (most literally, one-woman man) vs. “henos andros gyn;” (one-man woman). Same sentence construction. Your claim that “it has nothing to do about women being married to only one man” is more than a little dishonest, to say the least. You certainly can compare them; in fact, every detailed commentary upon the one-woman-man passage does exactly that.

    If the former deals with polygamy, then the latter deals with polyandry. Therefore, by your own reasoning, if polyandry wasn’t found in the Church, there would have been no need to make that restriction. All women would have been the wife of just one husband.

  48. Are we talking about the same verses? What you said the Greek said didn’t seem to match up with what I’m looking at.

    The one husband woman verse I’m looking at dealt with a widow being supported. it says that if she’s at least 60 years old and a widow of one husband, she can be supported. It is not a restriction on whether she can remarry. If she is a widow, she can obviously remarry so there is no restriction on her. The Titus/Timothy verses are restrictions on leaders from having multiple wives. The only way around that is to forbid leaders who are widowed or biblically divorced from being leaders. We both agree that such a requirement makes no sense. therefore the Tim/Titus restrictions either hint at polygamy or the “one wife” is really “a wife” which would simply require leaders to be married. in either case, polygamy is never condemned in the NT.

    As stated, we know that polygamy was accepted amongst the Jews who were the earliest Christians. There was never any hint of polyandry so discussing it made no sense.

  49. The verses are 1 Tim. 3:2 and 5:9. Exact sentence structure with the genders simply reversed. If there was no polyandry (and we agree there was not), then all widows would be widows of “one husband” by your own logic, and a qualification would be unecessary.

    “The only way around that is to forbid leaders who are widowed or biblically divorced from being leaders. We both agree that such a requirement makes no sense.”

    I don’t agree with that at all. I’ve already stated that I believe the verses prohibit even scripturally divorced and remarried men from serving as church leaders. The remainder of the relevant passage discusses the need for men in positions of church leadership to manage their families well and be above reproach. Divorce, even when justified, represents a failure that disqualifies a man from providing reliable guidance to others in their family relationships. Even today a divorce, no matter how justifiable, is invariably followed by clucking about how “it’s never the fault of just one.” No doubt it was the same then.

    And while you may think requiring church leaders to be faithful even in widowhood makes no sense, it was a well-known perspective within the early church. Tertullian wrote, for example:

    “Wherefore, so far as we can, let us love the opportunity of continence; as soon as it offers itself, let us resolve to accept it, that what we have not had strength (to follow) in matrimony we may follow in widowhood. The occasion must be embraced which puts an end to that which necessity commanded. How detrimental to faith, how obstructive to holiness, second marriages are, the discipline of the Church and the prescription of the apostle declare, when he suffers not men twice married to preside (over a Church ), when he would not grant a widow admittance into the order unless she had been the wife of one man; for it behooves God’s altar to be set forth pure.”

    Even before Tertullian, “The Shepherd of Hermas,” an early 2nd century writing very popular with the early church, stated: “If a wife or husband dies, and the widower or widow marries, does he or she commit sin?” “There is no sin in marrying again,” said he; “but if they remain unmarried, they gain great honor and glory with the Lord; but if they marry, they do not sin.”

    BTW, I’m quite interested in hearing how you square your view of polygamy’s acceptability with Jesus’ injunction against committing adultery by “marrying another,” but unfortunately I’ve been left hanging. How is it adultery to marry another with your first wife OUT of the house but not with her IN the house???

  50. I’m sorry, I misread the Greek.. You are correct. The verses still are very different. The Greek on both can be “a husband/wife” or “one husband/wife”. 5:9 deals with the widow’s past. She was the wife of a/one man. It doesn’t provide any evidence on whether polyandry existed. it simply says that she had been a wife. It implies nothing about the status of any other woman.

    3:2 says that leaders must be a husband to a/one wife. IOW, to qualify for leadership, they can’t be single. If Paul meant for “mia” to mean “a” wife, then the verse neither supports nor condemns polygamy or implies it existed in the church. It avoids addressing it. If Paul meant for it to mean “one” numerical wife, then polygamy may be inferred, especially in the greater culture that allowed it., unless his intent was to eliminate those whose spouses died or had been biblically divorced from being leaders. The NRSV renders it…”married only once”. These translators apparently felt that a leader can’t remarry after the death of a spouse or biblical divorce. Neither of us buys that. Therefore, if Paul meant “one”, it would have been to prevent polygamists from being leaders…probably due to them not having sufficient time to do the work and/or because they might offend the growing number of Gentiles in the church who culturally opposed polygamy. This would be a violation of 1 Cor. 10’s command to avoid doing things, even if allowed, that might offend non-Christians, which offense may cause them to reject the gospel message.

    Regarding “marrying another”, it’s quite simple. It’s not a condemnation of polygamy, but of unbiblical divorce. In polygamy, the previous wife isn’t “put away”. She is kept. Jesus condemned replacing the first wife for unbiblical reasons. This isn’t the case in polygamy. All wives are kept and honored. Men divorcing for unbiblical reasons aren’t deserving of another wife.

  51. “The Greek on both can be “a husband/wife” or “one husband/wife”. 5:9 deals with the widow’s past. She was the wife of a/one man. It doesn’t provide any evidence on whether polyandry existed. it simply says that she had been a wife. It implies nothing about the status of any other woman.”

    Past or present has nothing to do with anything. What you consistently fail to grasp is that the phrase that you see as so critical is used in the same manner for both women and men, but you insist that they be given different meanings. All widows have by definition been a wife of someone. You can take out the three Greek words in question altogether and still have that. To add the qualifier “one man” or “one husband” (derivatively) does add something to the passage just as it does conversely in the passage about men in leadership positions. And if it must add the implication of polygamy in the case of the man, then it must add the implication of polyandry in the case of the woman–and this obviously does not work. However, if it adds a requirement that church leaders and widows not be divorced and remarried, then that works quite nicely. And this was, in fact, how the earliest known commentators upon the pastoral epistles understood these passages.

    “Regarding “marrying another”, it’s quite simple. It’s not a condemnation of polygamy, but of unbiblical divorce.”

    Interesting, then, that the guilt would not hinge on the putting away itself but on the marrying of another. By your logic the husband could throw the wife out and be guilty of nothing as long as he didn’t remarry. Pretty hollow. Actually the “adultery” arises not from the fact that the husband is not deserving (when did that ever have anything to do with adultery?) but that the purported divorce does not actually exist. He is still bound to his first wife and therefore is not authorized to take another.

    The Pharisees who asked Jesus about divorce were essentially asking Him whether He sided with Hillel or Shammai. And His response boils down to, Forget them both–go back to God’s original design and let that be your guide. God created one woman for one man, the two joined into an indissoluble one. God’s plan of creation corrupted by the offspring of the first Adam, and restored by the second Adam.

    Thanks for this discussion. It’s been very interesting.

  52. I think that we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this. I think that if the verses indicate a numerical “one”, then the Tim/Titus verses COULD imply polygamy since polygamy was present in that culture and there is a logical reason or 2 to not have polygamists as leaders. You discount this because applying that same logic to 5:9 could imply polyandry existing. I think your assertion is specious and you feel that I’m being inconsistent. i guess that we’ll have to let the lurkers of the thread make up their own minds.

    I’d be happy to take the position that both the Tim/titus verses and 5:9 really mean “a” rather than “one”. the verses would make complete logical sense without having anything to do with polygamy/polyandry. that would also eliminate the possibility of the Tim/titus verses implying that if a man’s spouse dies or he has a biblical divorce, that he would be disqualified from the ministry. I don’t think either of us would support such a restriction. your statement – “…if it adds a requirement that church leaders and widows not be divorced and remarried, then that works quite nicely. And this was, in fact, how the earliest known commentators upon the pastoral epistles understood these passages.” makes me feel that makes me feel that you may not be totally on board.

    Regarding “marrying another”, I think Jesus was dealing with an overwhelmingly monogamous crowd. Even in cultures allowing polygamy, there simply aren’t enough extra women for many to practice it, especially if a rich guy is snapping up several for himself. Jesus may have been thinking about the scenario wherein a man puts away his wife SPECIFICALLY to marry another woman (younger/prettier, etc…whatever). Doing so definitely would be a sin if no adultery was what prompted the divorce.

    We know that polygamy wasn’t a sin because it was practiced by the best Jews – Abraham, Jacob, David, etc… 1 Kings 15:5 said that David obeyed the Lord in everything except regarding Bathsheba. Solomon’s sin wasn’t in the polygamy, but in marrying non-Jews. the Lord Himself gave all of David’s wives to another individual man. if the Lord hated polygamy, he obviously wouldn’t have done that.

    Jesus was condemning non-biblical divorce, not polygamy.

  53. I am against what God is against, the Bible is very CLEAR arrogance of people is their own demise. Marriage is for ONE man and ONE woman period, it is a Holy union and needs to be taken very seriously. God wrath is upon all and NO ONE gives a dam. REPENT for God’s Kingdom is near, whether you like it or NOT God, WE need to OBEY God unless you do not care about your soul DO as you please.

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