The Faithful Meaning of Adultery

In a previous post, I promised to elaborate some more on Adultery.  It is among the dirtiest of words in the English language.  It conjures up thoughts of the most serious kind of betrayal.  There is perhaps no more serious a crime than the treachery of betrayed trust.  Indeed, Dante places it at the very bottom of the pit – the 9th and very lowest circle of Hell.  In Genesis 20:9 adultery is referred to as, “[the] great sin“.  It is important then that we know what constitutes this great sin.

Inferno 3
Sandro Botticelli’s The Abyss of Hell (a chart based on Dante’s 14th-century epic poem Inferno)

Image result for mormon doctrine first editionThis is especially true perhaps in the case of polygamists, who are accused of committing this heinous sin by virtue of their marriages.  For example, the last paragraph  under the entry “Plural Marriage” in the book Mormon Doctrine, by Bruce McConkie, said, “Any who pretend or assume to engage in plural marriage in this day [when the President of the LDS Church has forbidden it], are guilty of gross wickedness.  They are living in adultery, have already sold their souls to Satan, and (whether their acts are based in ignorance or lust or both) they will be damned in eternity.”  These are strong accusations to make.

First of all, let us establish that God has very clearly commanded,

Exodus 20:14  “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

It is the 7th commandment, and violation of this prohibition brought the most serious of consequences.  As for punishment, there is no difference between the sexes, it was to be punished by DEATH for both parties (Leviticus 20:10).  Certainly then we would want to know what constitutes this grave sin, so that we may utterly eschew it.

What is adultery?  The answer to this question may seem simple, and indeed it is.  And yet, the answer may nevertheless still surprise many people.  Of course, as God is the author of this law, we ought to consult the scriptures for an answer.  But first, let us look at the present usage of the word.

Unfortunately, the modern notions of what constitutes adultery have strayed in a very significant way from the original meaning of the word.  Of this grammatical apostasy, some will say that the Biblical definitions of words, such as ‘adultery‘, are not as relevant in these modern times, with our modern understanding, and our modern morality.  To this I would reply, that the Bible is the very reason that ‘adultery‘ is even in our vocabulary.  It is the Biblical teachings on the matter that are the source of our conceptual understanding of this topic.  The Bible is foundational to our notions about the immorality of adultery in the first place.  Furthermore, no matter what the modern understanding of a word may be, we must understand the original, Biblical meanings of words in order to understand the Biblical stories, teachings, and commandments.  As in all things, context is crucial.  Let us be faithful to the word.

Here is the modern definition of adultery from some well-respected dictionaries:

Adultery:

Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and someone other than that person’s current spouse or partner.  – Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

Voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a person who is not their spouse. – Oxford Dictionary

Sex between a married man or woman and someone he or she is not married to.            – Cambridge Dictionary

Certainly language evolves, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.  It is expected as our world changes.  There are constantly new things and new situations that need to be described.  Perhaps these definitions wouldn’t bother me so much if they stated that they were strictly modern definitions and that the original meaning of the word was something else.  Without this sort of disclaimer, people will interpret ancient occurrences of the word in the incorrect light of a modern definition.  Case in point: dictionary.com used to include the biblical definition of adultery on its “adultery” page, but that section was deleted just recently (sometime between March and May of 2017).

Here are some older definitions of the word:

Violation of the marriage bed; a crime, or a civil injury, which introduces, or may introduce, into a family, a spurious offspring.  By the laws of Connecticut, the sexual intercourse of any man, with a married woman, is the crime of adultery in both.        – Webster’s 1828 Dictionary

Black’s Law Dictionary (5th ed.) starts with the modern definition, but then adds:

In some [US] states, however, as was also true under the Roman and Jewish law, this crime is committed only when the woman is married to a third person.

I like the wording of these definitions very much. In the Webster’s 1828, it says that Adultery may introduce spurious offspring into a family; thus, adultery requires the woman to be married (i.e. she is part of a family).  To adulterate a thing is to corrupt it by adding something foreign to it – to add or mix something with it that would not normally be mixed with it.  To do so is to commit adultery.   The adulterer is adding his seed to another man’s wife, and potentially his offspring to another man’s family.

Whether or not adultery has been committed depends exclusively on the marital status of the woman.  The marital status of the man has nothing to do with it.  He may be married or single, divorced or widowed; it is all inconsequential.  Let me be very clear and precise: adultery happens when a married (or betrothed) woman voluntarily has sex with a man who is not her husband (or her betrothed).  That is the simple, scriptural meaning of the crime of adultery.  This does not mean that only women can commit adultery!  Both parties are equally guilty, and the punishment is the same for both.

Let’s compare these common definitions with the definitions from a selection of Bible Dictionaries.  As you read these you’ll get the impression that one of these things is not like the other…

Adultery:

Conjugal infidelity. An adulterer was a man who had illicit intercourse with a married or a betrothed woman, and such a woman was an adulteress.  – Easton’s Bible Dictionary (1897)

Adultery was understood as sexual intercourse between a man and another man’s wife or betrothed woman. Similarly, any act of coition between a married woman and a man who was not her husband was also regarded as adultery.  – Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology (1996)

The parties to this crime, according to Jewish law, were a married woman and a man who was not her husband.  – Smith’s Bible Dictionary (1884)

The unlawful association of men and women. Although generally having reference to illicit activity of married persons, the scripture often does not distinguish between the married and the unmarried.  – LDS Bible Dictionary (1979)

A few things stand out to me as I read these definitions.  First, I am very pleased with the descriptions given in the first three dictionaries.  And yet, with this correct understanding of scripture, it makes me wonder in disbelief, how there can be such a generally vehement opposition to polygamy from the Christian community at large.

The other thing that stands out to me is the LDS definition.  It just makes me shake my head.  What are they talking about, “the scripture often does not distinguish between the married and the unmarried”??  Every single instance of adultery in the scripture where the marital status of either party is mentioned makes reference to the marriage or betrothal of the woman.  Every single one.  Here are several examples:

Leviticus 20:10And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wifeeven he that committeth adultery with his neighbour’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”

Proverbs 2:16-19 “Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman, from the wayward woman with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth [i.e. her husband] and ignored the covenant she made before God.”

Proverbs 5:3,20 “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil…Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife? Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?”

Proverbs 6:26-32 “For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life.  Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?  Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent.  Men do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry…But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul.”

Jeremiah 29:23 “Because they have committed villany in Israel, and have committed adultery with their neighbours’ wives, and have spoken lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them; even I know, and am a witness, saith the Lord.”

Ezekiel 16:32 “But as a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband!”

Hosea 3:1 “The LORD said to me, ‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.'”

Hosea 4:13-14 “They sacrifice upon the tops of the mountains, and burn incense upon the hills… your daughters shall commit whoredom, and your spouses [feminine noun] shall commit adultery.  I will not punish your daughters when they commit whoredom, nor your spouses [feminine noun] when they commit adultery: for themselves are separated with whores, and they sacrifice with harlots: therefore the people that doth not understand shall fall.”

Romans 7:2-3 “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth… So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”

In light of this fact (that every instance where marital status is explicitly mentioned in connection with adultery the woman is married to another man), we can use this as a key to understand two other cases of scriptural references.  The first case is when adultery is not explicitly mentioned, and second case is where marital status is not explicitly mentioned.  Here is an example of the first case:

Genesis 20:2-6,9 “…Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah.  But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man’s wife…and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?  Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.  And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.  Then Abimelech called Abraham, and said unto him, What hast thou done unto us? and what have I offended thee, that thou hast brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin?”

No where in these verses is adultery explicitly mentioned, and yet we know this is the sin that both God and Abimelech are speaking of (and the sin which Abimelech was spared from committing) – because of Sarah’s marital status.  Abimelech took Sarah with the intention to make her his wife, thinking that she was unmarried.  In verse 17 we read that Abimelech was already married, and yet both God and Abimelech knew that what he was planning was with “integrity”.

Here is another example of the first case.  What is the difference between these verses in Deuteronomy and this verse in Exodus?

Deuteronomy 22:22 “If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman:”

Deuteronomy 22:23-24 “… If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die… so thou shalt put away evil from among you.”

Exodus 22:16  “And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.”

The difference between the outcome of these verses is the marital status of the woman.  The situations in Deuteronomy are clearly adultery, for the woman is either married or betrothed, and the penalty is correspondingly harsh.  The situation in Exodus describes a woman who is neither married nor betrothed, and the consequence is correspondingly light.  I don’t know if I would even call this a punishment (altho I did in a previous post for humorous effect).  It is also of note that the marital status of the man, in all these verses, is entirely inconsequential.  He may be single or married; the consequence is the same either way.

As for the second case, here are some examples where there is no explicit mention of marital status.

Exodus 20:14  “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Deuteronomy 5:18  “Neither shalt thou commit adultery.”

However, we must interpret these verses in light of the rest of scripture.  By using the term adultery there is an implicit mention of the marital status of the woman.  The  very word adultery implies the woman involved is married (or betrothed) and having sex with a man other than her husband (or her betrothed).

One scripture commonly used to make accusations about polygamy being adulterous is:

Matthew 5:27-28  “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.”

Those making this accusation feebly reason that a man must have lusted after subsequent wives, and is therefore guilty of adultery.  However, they condemn themselves as well since the marital status of the man is not mentioned by Jesus.  They fail to grasp that by their own understanding of Jesus’ words, an unmarried man looking for a wife is just as guilty as a married man looking for an additional wife.

Indeed, I have known several monogamous people (both men and women) who have wondered whether they are guilty of committing adultery since they have “lusted” after their own spouse.  Of course, they are not guilty of anything (in this regard), but there are several problems with their interpretation that led them to this faulty conclusion:

  • First, even if they were “guilty” of “lusting”, it would not be of adultery; it would be of “adultery in their heart”, which (altho it is still a sin) is not the same thing as committing adultery with your body.  Hopefully this is self-evident to every reader and can be left without further discussion.
  • Second, the word lust is not merely sexual in meaning.  Certainly lusts can include sexual desires, but in this context, and in most other contexts in the scriptures, a better term might be covet.  Coveting is all about wanting something that is not yours.  It is about wanting your neighbor’s things.  This saying of Jesus is as much about the 10th commandment as it is about the 7th.  He is reaffirming the command, “thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife” (Exodus 20:17), and, “Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour’s wife” (Deuteronomy 17:21).  Coveting your neighbor’s wife is the adultery in the heart that Jesus is referring to.
  • But how do we know that the woman he is talking about is a married woman?  Because he uses the word adultery, and as we have seen, adultery always involves a married woman.  This is the third point of common misunderstanding with these verses.

Many common English Bible translations use the potentially ambiguous term, woman, in Jesus’ saying quoted above, but this word is only ambiguous to our modern understandings.  Ancient readers knew that the women Jesus was saying not to lust after were other men’s wives.

Reformation Day was last week, and this year my family studied the life and contributions of William Tyndale.  The man was a chosen servant in the hand of God, and his contributions to the world are undervalued by a large margin.  He is the man who gave God an English voice, and he did a beautiful job at it.  Here are those verses in Matthew from Tyndale’s 1526 translation of the New Testament:

Tyndale

If you had some difficulty reading that “English” text, have no fear, here it is with modernized spelling and punctuation:

     Ye have heard how it was said to them of old time, thou shalt not commit advoutry [adultery].  But I say unto you, that whosoever eyeth a wife, lusting after her, hath committed advoutry [adultery] with her already in his heart.

Tyndale hit the nail exactly on the head!

Those who make accusations of adultery had better beware of what they do lest they find themselves in violation of the 9th commandment.

Exodus 20:16  “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.”

Violating this commandment may be more serious than it seems.  The Law requires the false accuser to receive the punishment appropriate to the accused crime.

Deuteronomy 19:18-19  “And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.”

In other words, if a person falsely accuses another person of a capital offense, the punishment for the false accuser is also death.

May we all speak with understanding and not with ignorance, and may we be cautious in making accusations of wrongdoing.

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.  – Proverbs 10:19

Reformation Day (or What Martin Luther Thought of Polygamy)

On the 31st day of October, in the year 1517 AD, the Catholic monk, Martin Luther, nailed his famous 95 Theses to the door of the All Saints Chapel in Wittenberg, Germany.  luter_marcinThe 95 Theses were 95 points of debate, question, and criticism of the Church’s teaching and practice of selling letters of indulgence.  In other words, they were selling forgiveness of sins (even sins that had not yet been committed), for money.

Here is a selection of some of Luther’s  95 Theses:

21) Thus those indulgence preachers are in error who say that a man is absolved from every penalty and saved by papal indulgences.

27 & 28) They preach only human doctrines who say that as soon as the money clinks into the money chest, the soul flies out of purgatory.
It is certain that when money clinks in the money chest, greed and avarice can be increased; but when the church intercedes, the result is in the hands of God alone.

32) Those who believe that they can be certain of their salvation because they have indulgence letters will be eternally damned, together with their teachers.

36 & 37) Any truly repentant Christian has a right to full remission of penalty and guilt, even without indulgence letters.
Any true Christian, whether living or dead, participates in all the blessings of Christ and the church; and this is granted him by God, even without indulgence letters.

41-43) Papal indulgences must be preached with caution, lest people erroneously think that they are preferable to other good works of love.
Christians are to be taught that the pope does not intend that the buying of indulgences should in any way be compared with works of mercy.
Christians are to be taught that he who gives to the poor or lends to the needy does a better deed than he who buys indulgences.

45-51) Christians are to be taught that he who sees a needy man and passes him by, yet gives his money for indulgences, does not buy papal indulgences but God’s wrath.
Christians are to be taught that, unless they have more than they need, they must reserve enough for their family needs and by no means squander it on indulgences.
Christians are to be taught that the buying of indulgences is a matter of free choice, not commanded.
Christians are to be taught that the pope, in granting indulgences, needs and thus desires their devout prayer more than their money.
Christians are to be taught that papal indulgences are useful only if they do not put their trust in them, but very harmful if they lose their fear of God because of them.
Christians are to be taught that if the pope knew the exactions of the indulgence preachers, he would rather that the basilica of St. Peter were burned to ashes than built up with the skin, flesh, and bones of his sheep.
Christians are to be taught that the pope would and should wish to give of his own money, even though he had to sell the basilica of St. Peter, to many of those from whom certain hawkers of indulgences cajole money.

79) To say that the cross emblazoned with the papal coat of arms, and set up by the indulgence preachers is equal in worth to the cross of Christ is blasphemy.

82) “Why does not the pope empty purgatory for the sake of holy love and the dire need of the souls that are there if he redeems an infinite number of souls for the sake of miserable money with which to build a church?” The former reason would be most just; the latter is most trivial.

86) “Why does not the pope, whose wealth is today greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build this one basilica of St. Peter with his own money rather than with the money of poor believers?”

94 & 95) Christians should be exhorted to be diligent in following Christ, their Head, through penalties, death and hell.
And thus be confident of entering into heaven through many tribulations rather than through the false security of peace (Acts 14:22).

The 95 Theses was not his only criticism of the corruption and apostasy he saw in the Church.  For these criticisms he was called to a tribunal before the Diet (Assembly) of Worms with the Emperor, Charles V, presiding.  There he was asked to recant his writings.

His response was, “If I recant those books, I will do nothing but add strength to tyranny, and open not only the windows but also the doors to this great ungodliness [speaking of the corruption in the Church].” He went on to say,

I am but a man, and I can err, but let my errors be proven by scripture.  Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the scripture or by clear reason, and not by the words of the Pope or of councils which have so often contradicted themselves, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything.  To go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other.  May God help me. Amen.

These words were his death sentence.  The Pope (Leo X) issued a decree for his arrest and punishment.  Fortunately, Luther was taken into hiding by Prince Frederick the Wise at Wartburg Castle where he worked to produce a common language text (German) of the Bible so that the common man could have access to the Word of God.  The actions of Martin Luther were key to the Christian Reformation, and the nailing of his 95 Theses to the chapel door, which was a catalyst for the Reformation, is celebrated on this day (Reformation Day, October 31st).

Incidentally, Joseph Smith was very fond of Luther’s translation.  He often quoted from it in his sermons and said of it, “I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages. I have been reading the German, and find it to be the most [nearly] correct translation, and to correspond nearest to the revelations which God has given to me for the last fourteen years.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 349)

Lutherrose.svgFor Martin Luther, the scriptures were primary to the foundation of his faith.  He rejected the “traditions of the elders”, and relied solely on the authority of the Word of God to inform the tenets of his faith.

What does all this have to do with polygamy?  The freedom of both thought and action that were spawned by the Reformation allowed previously “heretical” or suppressed ideas in the scriptures to come again to light, to be discussed, debated, and even to be adopted as part of individual faith. Among these topics was the idea of polygamy.  Speaking on this topic Martin Luther wrote:

I confess that I cannot forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict the Scripture. If a man wishes to marry more than one wife he should be asked whether he is satisfied in his conscience that he may do so in accordance with the Word of God. In such a case the civil authority has nothing to do in the matter.”

Letter to Chancellor Gregory Bruck, January 13, 1524
(De Wette II, 459, pp. 329, 330)

In fairness, it must be mentioned that Luther was not in favor of the general adoption of polygamy as a Christian form of marriage.  Indeed, he advised that it be reserved for extreme situations where the first wife was ill, etc.  However, he freely admitted that his objection to the general practice of polygamy by Christians was not based on any prohibition found in the words of scripture, but rather founded on social reasons; that scandal may be avoided, and that offenses be not given.  He quoted St. Paul saying, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient” (1 Cor. 6:12)

Even so, his views towards polygamy remained, shall we say, “permissive” throughout his life.  Sixteen years after the letter to Chancellor Buck, quoted above, Luther and other Reformation leaders were found giving their consent to the plural marriage of Prince Phillip of Hesse.  A fact which has proven an embarrassment to many Protestants since, and is considered to be one of Luther’s “warts”.

Not too surprisingly, Brigham Young had favorable things to say about Martin Luther (and Mormons in general view him, and all the reformers, in a very positive light – and not necessarily for his views on polygamy):

“We have been told a great many times that polygamy is not according to Christianity. The Protestant reformers believed the doctrine of polygamy. Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, one of the principal lords and princes of Germany, wrote to the great reformer Martin Luther and his associate reformers, anxiously imploring them to grant unto him the privilege of marrying a second wife, while his first wife, the princess, was yet living. He urged that the practice was in accordance with the Bible, and not prohibited under the Christian dispensation. Upon the reception of this letter, Luther, who had denounced the Romish church for prohibiting the marriage of priests, and who favored polygamy, met in council with the principal Reformers to consult upon the letter which had been received from the Landgrave. They wrote him a lengthy letter in reply, approving of his taking a second wife, saying,

‘There is no need of being much concerned for what men will say, provided all goes right with conscience. So far do we approve it, and in those circumstances only by us specified, for the gospel hath neither recalled nor forbid what was permitted in the law of Moses with respect to the marriage. Jesus Christ has not changed the external economy, but added justice only, and life everlasting for reward. He teaches the true way of obeying God, and endeavors to repair the corruption of nature.’

This letter was written at Wittemburg, the Wednesday after the feast of St. Nicholas, 1539, and was signed by Martin Luther, Philip Melancthon, Martin Bucer, and five other Reformers, and was written in Melancthon’s own handwriting.

The marriage was solemnized on the 4th of March, 1540, by the Rev. Denis Melanther, chaplain to Philip. Philip’s first wife was so anxious ‘that the soul and body of her dearest spouse should run no further risk, and that the glory of God might be increased,’ that she freely consented to the match.

This letter of the great Reformers was not a hasty conclusion on their part that polygamy was sanctioned by the gospel, for in the year 1522, seventeen years before they wrote this letter, Martin Luther himself, in a sermon which he delivered at Wittemburg for the reformation of marriage, clearly pronounced in favor of polygamy.

These transactions are published in the work entitled, ‘History of the variations of the Protestant churches.’

Ladies and gentlemen, I exhort you to think for yourselves, and read your Bibles for yourselves, get the Holy Spirit for yourselves, and pray for yourselves, that your minds may be divested of false traditions and early impressions that are untrue.”  June 18, 1865, Journal of Discourses 11:127

We owe a large debt of gratitude to the great man, Martin Luther, and to William Tyndale, and John Wycliffe, and Jan Hus, and to all the other brave men and women of the Reformation who risked both their lives and their fortunes to live and teach the Truth as they saw it.  They sowed some of the first seeds of religious freedom, and tho the crop is slow in growing, we are still reaping the benefits of their labors today.

HAPPY REFORMATION DAY!

Flying in Formation

The website Biblical Families has a forum full of positive discussions about polygamy.  This is a great place to hang out and get support if you’re interested in living this way.

Chris Nystrom (who occasionally comments on this blog) recently wrote a post in which he compares flying in formation to marriage (and by extension, to plural marriage).

His idea was too good not to share with my readers, so I have included it here in its entirety, with permission from the author.

I have long thought that flying in formation was a good metaphor for marriage.

Here are 8 specific points for you to consider:

1. How do they do it? The key is that there is one leader and the rest are followers. If there is no leader you are not flying in formation.

2. Due to advance communication everyone knows where they are going, but the leader leads and the followers have to keep a close eye on the leader.

3. The followers job is to position themselves correctly in relation to the leader.

4. The leader has to call the maneuvers so that the followers can expect the movements and react to them accordingly. They communicate constantly as needed.

5. There has to be at least two to fly in formation, but structurally you can add on more.

6. Not easily done. It takes intention and practice.

7. It is also mandatory for safety in aerial combat. Singles are picked off like sitting ducks.

8. You need someone to check your six. No individual has complete vision or situational awareness. But good teams are unbeatable in aerial combat.

When done well it is a beautiful thing. Formation flying is commonly seen at air shows for the appreciation of all.

Note: The differences between the original forum post and this version were made by Chris in preparing the post for the Biblical Families newsletter.

Not what social media would have you believe.

Hello, my name is Tianna Foster.

I am 20 years of age.

I live at home with my dad, my three amazing mothers and 20 going on 21 siblings, whom I adore!

I grew up in the red rock country, in a beautiful community surrounded by wonderful people, each with a different background.

I have heard many different assumptions about the life of a child with “polygamist parents.” I know that the sad truth is that in some cases those assumptions are true, but what I want you to understand is that the problems that are pointed out in the polygamist communities exist all throughout the world, they are not things caused by polygamy, they are caused by self-focused humans. They are human problems.

However my life as a child raised in a polygamist family was much different than what social media would have you believe.

I had a wonderful childhood filled with the outdoors, adventure after adventure, traveling, family, friends and more love than most people receive in a lifetime.

When I was young, (before I was old enough to know about what the world thought of us) all I knew was that I was the lucky kid who had a dad and two moms to cherish, support, and want me. (My third mother joined our family a year ago.)

I did not see problems in my parents relationships; they all loved each other very much!

Being an adult I now see that like any relationship there are struggles from time to time and there are misunderstandings, but show me any marriage that doesn’t have that.

The important thing is they work through them and don’t give up on each other.

I understand that when you see people such as Warren Jeffs it puts a bad taste in your mouth but just because there was a bad man who had more than one wife does not make every polygamist family bad.

To say that is like saying that because one dog bites you all dogs are wicked. It’s simply not true.

We are not brainwashed.

My parents love education and free thinking.

They have taught me to be full of questions and to observe all ways of living, to choose for myself what I believe and how I choose to live.

Never once have I been told to live that way simply because they do.

They’ve taught me to look at what each lifestyle produces and then to choose my path according to the outcome I desire.

Now I do not believe that plural marriage is for everyone. But this is America, “the land of the free.” Can we not be free to choose that way of life if we want it?

You take away our right to speak, our right to live and believe as we choose, then I ask you, what is so great about America?

If consenting adults choose to live that way why must they be persecuted?

I will fight against opposition!!

I will speak out for the ones who don’t have a voice.

And I will fight for our rights and for our freedom.

Can we please break down the walls that divide us?

We are families, not felons.

My thoughts on plural marriage:

Someone once asked me, “Why would you want to live plural marriage?”

Up to that point I had never really thought of why I would WANT to live the principle of plural marriage, so it caused me to reflect and to ask myself that very question. “Why?”
After thinking about it for some time I came to a conclusion that surprised me: I realized that I wanted to live plural marriage because it would bring out the worst in me.

I know you might be thinking, well why on earth would you want the worst in you brought out?

I’ll tell you…because only when the worst is brought out can I overcome it!

Sure I could live my whole life putting on the act of perfection, allowing people to believe that I’m just a saint of a person but in the eternal run what good would that truly do me?

If I do not face my insecurities and jealousies but instead I bury them, then I will go through life still carrying them. Closing your eyes to a problem may make it disappear temporarily, but as soon as you open your eyes it will still be there.

Face it, solve it, overcome it.

As Henry Drummond said, “This world is not a playground; it is a school room. Life is not a holiday but an education. And the one eternal question for us all is, how better can I love.”

Which brings us to love itself.

This small four letter word that means so much.

I believe that in order to know how better to love you must first understand love itself. I could go on about that but I will leave that topic for another time.

So for now ask yourself what is love? And, How better may I love God, others and myself?

If we go back to what Henry Drummond said and we believe that he is correct, that “life is a school room” then should we not take every opportunity to learn and grow?

At some point in our lives we will learn the simple things, the ABCs if you will, which are wonderful, but as we go through life we are meant to progress, to then take those ABCs and compile them into words, and then string those words into sentences and so on.
Moving from a kindergarten level on and on until you reach a college level.

Now if you want, you are free to choose to stay in kindergarten; however, if you want more you must be willing to apply yourself, take steps forward and go through tests that challenge your mind.

I believe that the same is true in every area of life.

I enjoy analogies so allow me to paint one up for you…we are, each of us these pieces of coal. God loves us just the way we are and if we choose to live our whole lives as the coal that we are that’s all right, but if we want more than that there are certain principles that we can choose to live by, which will push you to become something more.

It’s like asking God to place a mountain on your shoulders, while at the same time asking him to give the strength to withhold the weight.

It will be heavy and difficult but if we stay strong in the Lord then the very pressure that could crush us can also change us from coal to a diamond.

It is choosing to walk through the fire knowing that the purest of gold must first go through the hottest of fire before it can be refined.

I believe that the same goes for plural marriage, along with many other higher principles.

Marriage in my mind is choosing a companion to share in life’s journey with, having a partner to face the hard times with and to cherish the moments with, just choosing to do life together!

My dad has told me my whole life, “Marry your best friend.”

I plan on doing that. And your best friend should be the one who brings out the best in you.

If marriage is choosing a person who you love to share life with then plural marriage is just choose to share life with yet another person.

I once asked my Mom, “Why did you choose to live this way?”

She told me this: “Because your dad is such an amazing husband, father and friend! I wanted to be able to bless another woman with the blessing I have.”

My parents were happily married for eight years before ever even talking about the principle of plural marriage, and when they did it was my mother who brought it up.

She is a strong, kind, incredible woman!

As are each of my moms.

I aspire to be like them.

Seeing how happy and successful my parents are makes me want what they have.

There is a right and a wrong way to do everything.

I think that my parents have got something right that’s for sure!

I have many more thought but for now my time for writing is up.

My hope is that I have brought a new piece to the puzzle, given some new perspective, that I have shed some light and given some understanding.

I hope these thoughts and principles will bless your life!

Are polygamists creeps?

When I first heard about Joe Darger and his 3 wives, my immediate reaction was, “He has 3 wives? What a creep!”

That reaction seems comical now. At the time, I didn’t know any polygamists in person. I assumed if a man has several wives that he must be a controlling jerk who likes to get served by lots of women.

At some point I realized how illogical that thinking was.

If several independent, intelligent, free-thinking women all choose to get married and stay married to the same man, that should actually make me think, “Wow! He must be an amazing man for so many women to want to be married to him! He must be a remarkable husband to be able to keep that many women happy!”

I’m not speaking of institutionalized underage marriages that are compelled by the cult leadership. I’m talking about the situation in which a single woman who has freedom makes the decision to marry and stay married to a man with plural wives.

Nowadays my thinking is very different than it used to be. Why would multiple women choose to be married to a creep? No, if a man successfully keeps more than one woman satisfied, he must be an extraordinary man, and he very likely works hard to serve his wives.

Welcoming a sister wife: Two different ways

Note from the blog owner: minnearminne is a new contributor to the blog, and this is her first post.

Since this article is specific to the two different ways things worked out for bringing and welcoming a new wife into the family, I will try to leave out too many details even though it will be hard.

Before I get started please keep in mind that, from a 1st wife’s perspective (well, mine I guess), we are giving part of our lives not just our stuff.  Yes.  I said giving.  Some may seem expected and small while others rather significant depending on your point of view.

I feel like I should mention that the 2nd wife and I were going to welcome the 3rd wife in together but just a few weeks before, she bailed.  I love her dearly and it was really hard.   I think I know it was because of the pressures of bringing a new wife in, the teens were not happy and I think she caved.  She would not give a reason so I don’t know for sure.  No. I don’t have resentment toward the new wife because… if she wouldn’t have come then the other one would have stayed.  People have asked that so I thought I would just mention it now.  Another thing that might be important is that both were mainstream LDS but had gained a testimony of plural marriage.  This was helpful because we all came from similar backgrounds.

Pre-discussions and Time Before

The FIRST time we spent some time talking and discussed the “27 Rules of Celestial Marriage” by Orson Pratt and seemed to agree on most things.  We spent a lot of time together as a family rather than one-on-one time.  Maybe that’s because we had kids that were about the same age so it was easier and more fun.  When we went to these activities, we had to take two cars and she insisted to ride with me and explained that she didn’t want anything to do with the relationship if she didn’t have one with me.  I liked that and it made me feel relieved, of course.  It’s important for a 1st wife to know the new wife is giving some thought to the existing wife or wives.

With the SECOND, I had a few discussions with her but mostly testimony and personality traits etc.  No logistics whatsoever were discussed.  However, we did talk about how, if the husband has the final say, there will be fewer problems.  While I agree with this idea wholeheartedly, I have seen it be used as a tool for one wife to actually rule the family through her persuasive (others would use the word manipulative) power over the husband—unbeknownst to the husband.

We didn’t spend much time all together.  The husband spent the most time with her while I held down the fort.   This was not because the husband and I didn’t try.  I tried to instigate outings but there just wasn’t the interest.  In fact, I invited her to come to the ice cream shop because I had a buy-one-get-one-free coupon and I was glad she accepted.  But, when it came right down to it (the husband arrived), she decided to stay and asked me to bring hers back.  Well, that was a devastating and blow and I realized she was what I call a “multiple monogamist” at heart.

Recap:  The FIRST time was good because we got to know each other as a family but also as individuals.  That was also bad because she expressed feelings that the husband didn’t really get to know her and she him.  I took it at face value so when the SECOND time came around, I went overboard the other way—even with living space and time after marriage.  I can see how that would trade new problems for the old but I couldn’t see it at the time.  The FIRST definitely had more value for the whole.  We had figured out how to talk to each other and made decisions together and then brought them to the husband to add and/or take away.  It worked out very nicely and saved time and grief for him.

Living Space

In the FIRST experience we were not in a position to pay for an apartment and neither was she.  She didn’t have a job or a car and had two little kids.  So, we had a mother-in-law outbuilding that we refinanced our house to fix up.  It added about seven years and $250 per month to our mortgage but we ALL felt it was the best arrangement.  It worked well as the husband got to spend time with all the kids and wives when he got home from work.  We were able to eat together, etc.   We just alternated nights and it worked out great.  It wasn’t but a couple of months, though, that her ex found out about her lifestyle and was threatening custody so she had to get an apartment.  This caused some rifts and it didn’t help that the time and money was stretched thin.  After she moved, she felt that the husband didn’t feel at home at her place, so she started moving some of his things that he cherished over to her apartment; things like books and camping stuff.   He was uncomfortable with this.  He DID indeed feel the family’s home was where we had originally talked about and that was all together.  We still alternated nights but it was really hard because I couldn’t get a hold of him sometimes and had to drive 20 minutes when there was something pressing to talk to him about and vice versa. Ugh…living that far from each other definitely put a strain on things.

The SECOND time we didn’t really discuss living arrangements because the plan was she was going to live in the apartment below the second wife but, of course that fell through at the last minute, so I decided to move a few of my things out to the mother-in-law apartment while they were gone for a week on their honeymoon.  This was as a gesture so it would be known I was willing to move out there and also because there wouldn’t be much time when they got back. It had been winterized so it would only be a bedroom until summer.  When they got home, the husband said he thought it would be best if she had her own space without the kids running around but she refused to have her room out there so she took the master bedroom in the house and I went out there.  We shared a kitchen and the rest of the living space.  Some of my children moved out with me when summer came.

Time

I was still feeling bad about the statement the first one said about feeling like she didn’t get to know the husband and he didn’t feel at home with her so I thought maybe I would take less time with the husband.  Instead of alternating equally and every night, I offered to have ¼ of the time.  She accepted without hesitation.  We shared dinner responsibilities every other day but soon changed to trading off every week.  We suddenly got new rules for our home and new places for things. I don’t know what that tells you, but it tells me that my husband was being influenced by and trying to please her or something because he never imposed new rules on the family like that before.  This did not go over very well with me or the kids.  If you read the Daniel and the Lion’s Den story, you will see this same type of thing.

Recap

The FIRST time was very good as we had our own space but also had closeness.  There were a few changes to the place she did that I thought were stepping over the bounds but we always worked them out.  The real problems didn’t start until she had to move away.  The SECOND time was okay but there was a constant overstepping of bounds, at least from my perspective.  No matter how good an idea or change is, if it’s too soon or too overbearing, it’s not going to go over very well.  The main problem was that she kept telling me that she already talked to the husband and he gave his approval and, to her, that’s all that mattered.  All she had to do was talk to him and I was forced.  I think a detail is necessary to fully understand the 1st wife’s point of view. The detail I have chosen (because it was one that didn’t affect the kids and is sort of petty) to share is about the placement of the spatulas and ladles, etc.  You know…some people have them in a canister on the counter near the stove for convenience and others keep them in a drawer.  I could see how convenient it was to have them on the counter and didn’t mind the clutter look.  But, I had tried many ways to do things in the house over the years and found, in this instance, keeping them in the drawer was best because living in the country brought more flies than living in the city.  The utensils would often have fly specks on them so I it was cleaner and less gross if we kept them in the drawer.  I explained this and voiced my disappointment that she took it upon herself to go buy a canister:  First, because I already had one and Second, because there was no discussion or asking about whether I had tried it before and if I had, why I didn’t do it or like it.  Anyway, the resolve was that she promised to wash, with soap, the utensils before using them on any food that we would be eating.  This caused problems because I and the kids saw many instances that this was not happening.  It may seem like a petty thing but it’s not necessarily about the placement.  It’s more about…if the respect is not there to talk about something like that, what other things can happen due to lack of respect?  Having respect and interest in the wife as much as the husband is so important but sometimes, the husband and some wives get it in their heads that if every decision and problem goes through the husband and he has the only say then all will be well.  Unfortunately, this is not the case most of the time because the squeaky wheel gets the grease and sometimes the husband feels he has to cater to one or the other for various reasons.  If decisions are based on logic and right vs. wrong and not by the fear of consequences (typically a wife being upset), then the wives will have more respect for the husband and be more obedient.

Sympathetic Biological Envy in Polygamy

Note from the blog owner: Natali Dilts is a new contributor to the blog and this is her first post.

The first memory I have concerning my “bonus-mom” plays back in my mind as follows: being excited to see her and then running towards her but then stopping at the tip of her left ring finger. “Your father asked me to marry him”, I perfectly recall her enthusiastic inflection as she urged me to admire her engagement ring. I looked at it in disbelief, I remember thinking “What about my mom?”. Before I could fully articulate my original reaction, I saw my biological mom embrace my soon-to-be mom, and as any seven year old would, I followed my mother’s example and began to welcome this new woman into my life.

Ten years later, I informed my birth mother of this memory. She then asked me several questions, her questions were questions that I already had. One of the questions being: Most of the people I knew as a child were directly involved in a polygamous relationship; why was my initial reaction negative?

Perhaps the engagement simply caught me off guard because of my expectations of what a romantic relationship looked like.  The courtship process in polygamy is strict and similar to that of a Christian Baptist dating ritual. No physical intimacy before marriage, apparent family involvement, and the purpose of the relationship to be “to the glory of the one and only God”. To the untrained or youthful eye, such a relationship could easily be determined as a close friendship.

I was homeschooled; my two social groups were family and church so the idea of polygamy was not foreign, in fact, it was incredibly common. I was actually more familiar with the polygamous way of life than the typical monogamous way of life. Though I had mentally understood the concept of polygamy fully and I had seen polygamy my entire life, I think I was surprised at my own family’s involvement. However, I do not think that fully explains why I reacted negatively to my bonus-mom’s engagement.

When I was seven, monogamy and polygamy to me was just a difference between two families. Refrigerating bread versus not refrigerating bread was a more prevalent difference between family beliefs than polygamy was. I would talk openly about my two mothers whenever I came into contact with children my age who were not acquainted with polygamy. I continued on that way until I was told not to do so.

“You shouldn’t tell other children that you have two moms; they might get jealous. You get two moms but they only one. You get a bonus-mom.”

Obviously, this was not the real reason I was not to tell “outside children” of my way of life but it’s the reason I believed. I do not think that the general public’s negative view of polygamy influenced my thoughts that day either. However, the majority of the world is mono-normative, meaning, monogamy is the ideal, typical relationship. This is similar to the idea of a physical relationship defining a romantic relationship. People’s certainty of normality speaks so much louder than people’s active disagreeance in regards to your lifestyle.  This concept of normality likely had an effect on me; the effect was not drastic but probably influential.

To be completely honest, I am not exactly sure what prompted me to think this way, there is likely a combination of several things both seen and unseen. I recognize that trying to understand my seven-year-old psyche in order to explain the immediate, sympathetic jealousy that many children of polygamy have felt in defense of their biological mother, will not provide many if any concrete answers. However, opening the discussion may lead to more concrete or evident answers and it may inspire “plyglets” to come forward and tell of their experience in polygamy. I do not claim to speak for all children of polygamy, I also know many “plyglets” who have formed a closer bond to a bonus-mom and felt jealous for her instead of automatically empathizing with their bio-mom. Nor do I claim to be an expert in psychology. These are mere theories of why some children of polygamy may feel jealous in the name of their biological mother.

Transition to siblinghood is similar to the transition into polygamy.

A common explanation describing how one man can love many women is described through how one woman can love many children. Psychoanalytic theorists such as Freud have emphasized the stressful nature of this transition for firstborn children, often citing it as one of the most traumatic experiences of early childhood (Adler, 1957; A. Freud, 1946; Winicott, 1964). Parental attention, once the sole province of the firstborn, must now be shared with a sibling rival. Winicott (1964) considered the distress of first borns during this time to be normative; “it is so usual as to be called normal when a child is upset at a new one” (p. 133). Since several children experience this, they are likely to relate to their mother and be empathetic. I personally experienced this with my mother. I am the oldest and I remember how I felt at the birth of my younger sister, not incredibly positive, I projected the emotions I felt towards my sister onto my mother and how she may have felt about her sister wife. Whether or not my predictions were correct, it caused me to empathise with my bio-mom and her struggle to accept a new wife.

Fetal Bias

Many neonates demonstrate a stronger connection to their biological mothers in contrast to their additional caretaker (father). It has been concluded that the main reason for this phenomenon is the physical dependence of early life. Emotional bonds are created and called “womb bonds” while there is a physical growth of the fetus. Then following the birth of the child, the first moral development stage of life is termed “trust vs mistrust”, where the child learns to trust their mother through physical care or where the child learns mistrust through neglect. The intimacy of this relationship does not extend to the additional caretaker until around the age three. To extend this trust to even more caretakers it could take an additional amount of time and it is not guaranteed to have the same intensity.

Egocentric Sympathy

It is estimated that until around the age of eight children are completely egocentric. Many interpret this as “a lack of sympathy until the age of eight years old” but this is not the case. Children are able to comprehend the difference between positive and negative emotion by the age of twelve months and they typically respond accordingly but they do not see the emotion felt by others as important as their personal emotions because it is not a central part of their world. It would be fair to assume that their biological mother’s emotion is of more importance to them than the emotion of their additional mother.  Simply because, their bio-mom typically plays a more central role in their lives, thus she is more important and her emotional state trumps the emotional state of her sister wife.

Conclusion

In what I have observed in my personal experience and through the basic childhood psychology that I have studied, I conclude that it is likely for a child to feel jealousy out of empathy for their biological mother when the possibility of polygamy is proposed. It is likely for the following reasons: societal influence and expectations help to dictate which ways a child may think of polygamy, there is a closeness to a biological mother that cannot be recreated, and the child is more likely to know of the emotional effects of their biological mother than of their additional mother.

This topic is important to present to the general public and the polygamist public because it highlights an important emotional process that “plyglets” experience. Further psychological speculation or anecdotal information from children of polygamy could be useful in defining polygamy’s place in the modern world.

References and Bibliography

Adler A. The progress of mankind. Journal of Individual Psychology. 1957;13:9–13.

Affonso DD, Mayberry LJ, Sheptak S. Multiparity and stressful events. Journal of Perinatology. 1988;8:312–317. [PubMed]

Alter JK. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Columbia University; New York: The relationship between language maturity and the adjustment to the birth of a sibling.

“Biomental Child Development: Perspectives on Psychology and Parenting” (2013).

“Envy Theory: Perspectives on the Psychology of Envy” (2010).