Thursday, May 29, 2008

Polygamy: Silent Social Challenge

Alice C. Linsley

Polygamy is against the law in the United States and rarely prosecuted, unless it involves sexual abuse of minors. The recent intervention in the case of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints in Texas is about sex with minors, not polygamy. In fact, state officials in Utah, Arizona, and Texas are reluctant to prosecute polygamy cases. It means wading into religious waters and Constitutional challenges.

The religious justification for polygamy is found in the Old Testament. It was the practice for Afro-Asiatic chiefs to have 2 wives living in separate households on a north-south axis. These wives marked out the boundaries of the chief’s territory. Sometimes there were also concubines, but these women did not have the social status of the 2 wives. Abraham’s father, Terah, had 2 wives. By one wife he had Abraham and Nahor. By the other wife he had Sarah (Abraham’s first wife) and Haran. Abraham also had 2 wives: Sarah and Keturah. Isaac had 2 wives and so did Jacob. (For more on this read this.)

There is no evidence that all the men of Abraham’s culture had 2 wives. It appears to have been the case for the first born sons of rulers, those sons who would take over their fathers’ territories. So while there is no doubt that polygyny (multiple wives) was practiced by biblical figures, it was a custom of rulers, not the common man. It served to build up a man’s kingdom. And this is exactly what polygamist leaders in the US are attempting to do.

While state officials waffle in their thinking on the issue, polygamy silently spreads across the US among Moslems. According to a recent NPR report, Moslems in polygamous relationships number between 50,000 to 100,000. Legal challenges are avoided because only one of these marriages is officially recognized by the state. The other marriages are religious ceremonies not recognized by the state. In many cases, Moslem men maintain wives in the US and in their homelands.

These unofficial marriages are often secret, and the second and third wives are without legal rights or protections. There are many incidents of abuse by both the husband and his first wife.

For more, read the NPR article here.


Oldanglican said...

The difference between the polygamy practices of the Afro-Asiatic chiefs and the sects of today is that the polygamist of today are just randy old men who want as many young girls as possible. Polygamy today is thinly disguised pedophilia.

FrGregACCA said...

The way I heard the NPR story, the 50K-100K number includes all polygamists in the United States, regardless of religious affiliation. One thing I found interesting about the story was that, words in the Quran aside about taking wives, "two, three, four, or, if you fear you cannot be just, only one wife", the adolescent daughters who were interviewed seemed quite intent on being in monogamous relationships as adults.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Yes, Old Anglican, I think we have here another example of using Scripture to justify evil.

Fr. Greg, I will check that and make the necessary corrections. It wasn't clear from the NPR article I read, but that number must pertain to all polygamists.

The article also stated that the higher the income and education levels, the less likely the Moslem man was to take multiple wives.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Here are the exact words from the NPR story: "No one knows how many Muslims in the U.S. live in polygamous families. But according to academics researching the issue, estimates range from 50,000 to 100,000 people."

Ellie said...

Very interesting.

Les said...

I have been reading through the blog. It is fascinating as always. I found the whole polygamy issue quite bizarre. Is it wide-ranging across all states or is it only found in select areas? Are there cultural or socio-demographic issues involved?

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Alice, for your commentary. I am an Anglican mother of three in Texas, and I have been following this story on NPR and in my local daily newspaper. I am shocked by the tolerance of polygamy – even a recorded statement from a state attorney in Utah promising polygamists they would not be prosecuted. Both girls and boys in the FLDS system seem to be victims; the boys evidently are thrown out on the street in adolescence, since they are a threat to the older men. My heart aches for them all, and I am angered that FLDS leadership takes advantage of our social and legal fabric to satisfy its own selfish and perverted aims.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Les, I can't answer those questions because, frankly, I don't think we know the actual extend of polygamy in the USA. This needs to be studied, but can you imagine the difficulties in determining the number of polygamous households. The US Census Bureau should ask this question, but even then we probably won't get an accurate picture.

Doing a little more research on the 50,000 to 100,000 estimate, it appears that this number includes polygamy among African Americans who belong to the Nation of Islam cult.

Alice C. Linsley said...

You are welcome, Anglican Mother of Three!

Between gay "marriage", illegal immigration, and polygamy, the American culture as we have known it will be gone within a decade. I fear that Americans are going to wake up too late to these erosive trends.

Anonymous said...


When the OT records incidents of polygamy, it raises questions like, "It's found in Scripture, so does that mean then its morally acceptable?" So I'm wondering, does the OT contain any textual clues that tell us what Scripture thinks of polygamy?

One clue where I think Scripture looks down on polygamy is Genesis 4:19 where, "Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah." This comes right after the Fall and right after story of Cain and his murder-- where chapters 3-11 illustrates humanity's failures.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Analysis of the kinship pattern of Abraham's people indicates that Lamech was not the first in his line of chiefs to have 2 wives in separate households on a north-south axis. He is not remarkable for this, but rather for his spiritual arrogance in setting his wives on an east-west axis, which was to pose himself as an equal to God.

Two wives was how the chiefs among Abraham's people established and maintained territories. The common man did not have 2 wives. Later, in a effort to gain status, men began to take multiple wives (just as people today try to look like the rich by doing things the rich do.)

Scripture does not condemn the custom of these chiefs: Terah, Abraham, and Jacob, however we find that there were conflicts between the wives. Also, Adam is given only one woman and we are told "a man will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife." So, while 2 wives were the custom among chiefs of Abraham's people, this is not what God ordains as the universal ideal.

Eschatalogically, the 2 wives or 2flocks of Christ will be made one in the Kingdom. Both the Church and those who died in expectation of Messiah's appearing will be brought under Christ's banner and tent as His appearing.

Please read the essays on The Biblical Theme of Two Sons and The Theme of Hidden Sons.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the feedback!

Zim said...

Your blog is such a blessing Alice! I'm a South African of the Xhosa speaking people (these identifiers still matter in these realms). Our people have always believed in a Creator and the ancestor veneration and lamb sacrifical system here was/is a means to reach the Creator.

I'm re-calling this because polygamy within our tribe died much earlier on, compared to our neighbouring tribes, and even then it seemed to be among the royal families. Our government legalized polygamy some few years ago, but the Xhosas have never taken up this offer.

We are also known by our culture of circumcising of boys (no modernity seems to overcome this practice among the Xhosas).

I do believe that there is a connection between the Horite (I hope I have the term correct) people you mention somewhere in your blog, amd my ancestors - but then, mine is just an observation without studies.

Do you perhaps have posts that attest to a movement of the Horites to the Southern parts of Africa OR to the Great Lakes?

Alice Linsley said...

Thank you, Zim. I appreciate your sharing information about the Xhosas. I too believe that there is a connection between your people and the ancient Horite Hebrew. Much research has yet to be done and your input matters so much!