Saturday, August 08, 2015

Polygamy: Miraculous Unity of the Faith

Many Evangelical and Protestant have a hang-up with LDS historic practice of polygamy.  When people think of polygamy they immediately think of modern media depictions of the practice by a tiny corrupt FLDS group who chase adolescent boys out their isolated community and brainwash and coerce uneducated young girls into the the practice.  But instead of actually supporting these women and their children, FLDS wives collect government welfare as single mothers which is exactly the opposite of why polygamy was ever instituted in the first place.  Unfortunately, this hang-up prevents many from taking any type of serious investigation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the Book of Mormon. 

The Bible warns of false prophets in the Last Days. If there are false prophets, doesn't this suggest there would be true prophets? But the Bible also says that we can differentiate false and true prophets by their fruits.  What of the fruits of Joseph Smith?  What about Joseph Smith's and Brigham Young's practice of polygamy?  Was Joseph Smith's implementation of polygamy a clear example of bad fruit?  I'm sure reasonable people hear about Joseph Smith and polygamy and instantly roll their eyes and think its exactly the corrupt kind of thing that any corrupt and false, cult-leader, megalomaniac would do.  Jesus Christ via Joseph Smith declared in the Doctrine and Covenants:

"We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." (Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 121:39)

Because polygamy can easily be abused and corrupted, does that make it inherently bad? What does the Bible have to say about polygamy?  Let's start with marriage. We read that God performed the first marriage in the paradisiacal Garden of Eden before the Fall saying that it was NOT good for man to be alone. Well if is not good for man to be alone I think we can assume its not good for women to be alone either.  And, in the garden we have the ideal union between one man and one woman. 

"And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.  ... Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (Old Testament, Genesis, 2:18;24)

So what about polygyny specifically? Admittedly, polygyny is NOT the ideal.  But are there conditions where God has allowed, sanctioned or even commanded its practice?  What does the Bible say about it?  Abraham is the clearest example of polygyny with 2 wives who is considered the Founding Father of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions. Jacob had 4 wives and 12 sons. While Jews historically practiced polygamy; today, only Muslims still consider it acceptable but not recommended.  What does Islamic scripture say on the matter?

"If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans, Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four; but if ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one, or (a captive) that your right hands possess, that will be more suitable, to prevent you from doing injustice." (Qur'an, Sura 4, Ayah 3)

These Verses were revealed after the Battle of Uhud, in which many Muslim men were killed, leaving widows and orphans. Thus, many argue that these Verses have been revealed “because of God’s concern for the welfare of women and orphans who were left without husbands and fathers who died fighting for the Prophet and for Islam. It is a verse about compassion towards women and their children; it is not about men or their sexuality.”  (Wiki)

Back to the Bible.  What does Moses have to say about it?  Immediately after giving the Ten Commandments which forbids adultery, God instructs the men of Israel that  "If he take another wife for himself; her food, her clothing, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish" (Exodus 21:10)

Later, the Bible says, "If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated, and they have born him children, both the beloved and the hated; and if the firstborn son be hers that was hated: .... But he shall acknowledge the son of the hated for the firstborn, by giving him a double portion of all that he hath: for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his. (Old Testament, Deuteronomy, 21:15-16)

Deut 25:5-10 proscribes the practice of levirate marriage which obligated a man whose brother has left a widow without heir to marry her to continue his brother's name  in Israel. According to the Old Testament at least, multiple marriage was considered a realistic alternative in the case of famine, widowhood, or female infertility. (Wiki)

But what about the New Testament.  It seems that Rome together with some Early Christian writers condemned polygamy. But what does the New Testament say?  Paul discusses the care of widows with Timothy.  Paul specifically instructs younger widows to remarry and continue to "bear children".

"I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully." (New Testament, 1 Timothy 5:14)

But who would take on this responsibility to marry a younger widow already with or without children and take on the management of another household?  Consider the historical stigma against an already married woman with children.  Paul says that the married Elders and Sisters of the Church should receive them and support them.  Then Paul makes a direct reference to Deut. 25 and the commandment for Levirate marriage with "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn."  

"If any man or woman (married couple) that believeth have widows (younger), let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it (the Church) may relieve them that are widows indeed (eg older widows without family or prospects)." (New Testament, 1 Timothy, 5:16)

But what about Paul's instruction that among the qualifications of a Bishop in Titus 1:6 and Timothy 3:2, that he be the husband of one wife?  The word "one" in Greek is "mia" not "eva" which is more correctly interpreted as "man of the first wife" which is not talking about number of wives but is talking about a man who has never been divorced and is still married to his first wife. But even if you disagree, the alternate interpretation itself suggests polygamy was in common practice and would only exclude one from being the Bishop but not an Elder.

However, the most important point here is like the Qur'an, Paul's instructions are about compassion towards women and their children; caring for the fatherless and the widow; and not about men or their sexuality.   Remember that in James 1:27, pure religion is all about caring for the fatherless and the widow and keeping ourselves unspotted from the world. 

By the way, what does the Book of Mormon say about polygamy?  Despite the polygamy of Abraham, Jacob and King David and others, Monogamy is the ideal and polygamy is forbidden in the Book of Mormon and only allowable if the Lord commands it.

"Wherefore, I the Lord God will not suffer that this people shall do like unto them of old. Wherefore, my brethren, hear me, and hearken to the word of the Lord: For there shall not any man among you have save it be one wife; and concubines he shall have none; For I, the Lord God, delight in the chastity of women. And whoredoms are an abomination before me; thus saith the Lord of Hosts. ... For if I will, saith the Lord of Hosts, raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things." (Book of Mormon, Jacob 2:26-30)

When it comes to Early LDS Church practice of polygamy; what was the intent and the outcome?  Whether the Church leaders knew it or not, God knew the LDS Church and His saints would soon be cast out of their city of Nauvoo, Illinois at gunpoint and forced to flee the United States of America to settle the wastelands of the Great Salt Lake Valley. The LDS Church with 70,000 people left all civilization in America and Europe to settle a valley of complete desolation surrounding a dead salt sea.  There was no WIC or Medicaid, or Social Security or Disability back then.  If you were a newly immigrated young woman with children and without family in frontier Utah, you didn't stand a chance.  

But, according to James 1:27, welfare is the business of the Church of Christ and polygyny was ONLY instituted as a calling and assignment to those who were willing, worthy and capable to care for the fatherless and the widow.  My wife Ruth Emily Cornish comes from polygamist ancestry on both her maternal and paternal sides.  Pure Christian  Charity was the motivation behind their initially reluctant acceptance and faithful practice of polygamy and great spiritual and temporal prosperity was their reward.

So, if polygamy was commanded by God why did the LDS Church cave to pressure and abandon polygamy?  The real question is why Christian Americans caved to allowing the US Congress to pass the illegal Edmonds-Tucker Act which the Federal Supreme Court later ruled to be constitutional despite knowing the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights strictly forbids the Federal Congress from making any laws with regard to religion or its practice?  Marriage is a practice of religion and off-limits to the Federal Government.  But this was the first of many subsequent rulings that have slowly eroded away the rights reserved in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. 

Nevertheless, why did the LDS Church cave?  Read Official Declaration 1 in the Doctrine and Covenants for yourself.   1. Monogamy is the ideal. 2. Polygamy was no longer absolutely necessary as a welfare mechanism and 3. the Church leaders followed the direction of Jesus Christ and inspiration of the Holy Ghost to act (as Peter's denial) to preserve the keys, authority, and function of the Church.  The Federal Government was ready and able to seize all church property, arrest all church leaders, and shut down all Temples. Instead, the Church, in unity, followed the prophet and took great pains to comply with the new law of the land and we were blessed with great spiritual and temporal prosperity.

Maybe some would have preferred a showdown.  They seek for a sign.  They would have preferred to see the prophets of God surrounded by the armies of Satan and watched entertained as the Earth shook, plagues were unleashed, and fire came from heaven to consume our enemies.  One day those signs will come.  But the bigger miracle was to see the Latter-day Saints act with unity to follow the Lord and His prophet and avoid conflict and war.   Which is more of a miracle, for God to command the elements or for God the change the heart of a man or an entire nation?  Unity was the greater miracle.

"Husband of the first wife" vs. "Husband of one wife" comes down to these words being in the genitive case and not in the nominative case.

Genitive Case:1 Tim 3:2 "mia gynaikos" = "of the first wife"John 20:19 "mia sabbaton" = "first of the week"

Nominative Case: John 10:16 "mia poimne heis poimen" = "one fold with one shepherd"
Eph 4:5 "heis Kyrios, mia pistis, hen baptisma" = "one Lord, one faith, one baptism"

Polygamy was illegal in the Roman Empire and the Jews were terribly persecuted for practicing polygamy. Yet, at the same time, Roman society accepted adultery, fornication, homosexuality, divorce, concubinage, and prostitution. Doesn't sound too different from today's morality.  You can cheat all can get away with but you can't, with full adult consent, take on the responsibility and fully support two households.  Not the ideal situation but maybe better than the alternatives in difficult circumstances.

Again, the miracle was the unity of the LDS Church, despite the great personal sacrifice, in following the Lord's prophet when the Lord commanded to practice polygamy and then commanded to discontinue its practice. The LDS Church was unified except for a small handful.

Was there the same kind of miraculous unity in the Catholic Church following the Council of Nicea or in the Presbyterian Church when it was decided to ordain women to the priesthood?

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