Polygamous and Proud, Kings and Queens, Schedules, Wives in Different Countries, and Some Polygamy Grammar

Did you know that polygamy doesn’t always mean a man with more than one wife?

The new season of Seeking Sister Wife is here! The Snowdens and Winders are back on Season 3, and a few new families have joined the cast.

One of the new families is from North Carolina and currently has 2 wives. The husband’s name is Jarod Clark, and in Episode 1, he brought up some of the vocabulary surrounding polygamy:

We practice polygamy; specifically, polygyny. Polygamy is the umbrella term for a multi-person relationship. And in polygyny … the male [has] separate wives.

Jarod Clark

The distinction he makes is correct. Polygamy means basically “many marriages” and can refer to a man with multiple wives or a woman with multiple husbands. The former is called polygyny, and the latter is called polyandry.

So why is polygamy the word used in so many contexts when referring to polygyny?

One reason must be the fact that one man with multiple wives is far more common than a woman with multiple husbands. Someday, I may write about why this is the case, but for now I’ll just point it out as a fact that thruout history and across cultures, polygamy almost universally means the husband has more than one spouse.

It’s universal enough that Dictionary.com acknowledges it in its definition of polygamy: “the practice or condition of having more than one spouse, especially wife, at one time.”

I admit I perpetuate the lack of distinction on this blog by using “polygamy” instead of the more specific “polygyny” most of the time. The simple reason I use “polygamy” is that it’s a much more familiar word.

I should mention that most fundamental Mormons prefer the phrase “plural marriage”. I think that’s the terminology used in Sister Wives most of the time.

Now let’s discuss the title of the episode: “Polygamist and Proud!” along with some grammar.

Polygamist is a noun. A polygamist is “a person who practices or favors polygamy.”

Polygamous is an adjective. (Quick review: Adjectives describe nouns. In the sentence “handsome man”, “handsome” is the adjective and “man” is the noun.) “Polygamous” is an adjective that describes something or someone as being “of, pertaining to, characterized by, or practicing polygamy” and is synonymous with the less-commonly used adjective polygamic.

Used in a sentence, you would correctly say:

  • “Garrick Merrifield is polygamous.”
  • “Sidian Jones is a polygamist.”
  • “Jarod Clark is a polygamous man.”
  • “I know a polygamist who writes a fascinating blog called ‘Speaking of Polygamy’.”
  • “I know the polygamous family who lives in Kody Brown’s old house.”
  • “I know a bunch of polygamists.”
  • “I am polygamous.”
  • “We are polygamists.”

You wouldn’t say:

  • “Dimitri Snowden is a polygamous.”
  • “Colton Winder is a polygamist man.”
  • “I am polygamist.”

I’ll bet the person/people who titled Episode 1 meant to pair the adjective “Polygamous” with the adjective “Proud”, rather than awkwardly pairing the noun “Polygamist” with the adjective “Proud”. I asked my teenaged daughter what she thought of the title, and she caught the presumed error as well. In other words, I think title should have been “Polygamous and Proud!” instead of “Polygamist and Proud!”

I’m not nitpicking with the intention of criticizing the show. I enjoy watching it and I’m sure my own writing has plenty of grammar mistakes for someone who cares to look. My goal here is simply to educate the reader about some of the vocabulary and grammar in the world of polygamy, clear up any confusion about those words, and provide a little help on correctly using them.

Here’s an example of the usefulness of knowing the proper vocabulary and grammar: In writing this post, I discovered that, according to Dictionary.com, polygamists include people who simply believe in polygamy, no matter whether they are practicing it or not.

From time-to-time I come across someone who is unmarried or monogamous but who calls himself or herself a “polygamist”. This has always bugged me, because I thought their marital status was incompatible with the category “polygamists”. I did not realize that the actual dictionary definition of polygamist really does include a person who simply “favors polygamy”. I stand corrected.

I have hesitated in the past to call myself a “polygamist” because I’m only married to one man, so technically my husband, and not me, is the one with multiple marriages. Realizing what the full definition of “polygamist” is gives me more confidence in calling myself a polygamist.

Getting back to S3E1, what is the deal with not having a schedule? Two of the families said something similar in E1.

Here, one of the couples that is new on SSW, Sidian and Tosha Jones, say that back when they were polygamists, they didn’t have a schedule:

Mostly at night, we would sort of switch off time.

Sidian Jones

Yeah, it wasn’t really scheduled.

Tosha Jones

And here, Jarod Clark says it’s “natural” and “fluid” to switch between wives without having a schedule.

It feels very natural to spend some nights with Kaleh and some nights with Vanessa. No schedules, no rules. We just keep it completely fluid.

Jarod Clark

My sisterwife Melissa, our husband Joshua, and I like to watch Seeking Sister Wife together, but they were both out of town when this episode aired, so we watched it separately and then discussed it later. When I asked Melissa what she thought of the episode, the very first thing she brought up was the lack of scheduling.

Not having a schedule honestly makes no sense to me. I wrote about this in “I don’t want to have a chart on the refrigerator“, a post about a conversation between Dimitri Snowden and Joselyn in SSW Season 1, Episode 4. In that post, I included a tweet from @TheBrineyFamily saying, “Good luck with no schedule for time in plural marriage!” I won’t repeat all my arguments here.

A major factor at play is whether the wives share a home. When I wrote that post, Melissa and I didn’t live together, so whether Joshua was coming to my house or to hers vastly changed the evening’s plans and the home’s atmosphere. Nowadays, we are under the same roof, so it matters a lot less. However, we still do certain things separately. If we shared a kitchen and shared every meal, shared the living spaces, and never did anything separately, maybe the small detail of which bedroom Joshua went to at bedtime would matter even less.

But how does a husband choose who to sleep with, if it’s not based on a schedule? Does it depend on which wife is more/less demanding? Does it depend on the husband’s mood? Does it depend on the moods of the wives? The whole concept simply does not compute for me.

I don’t want to think that my husband will only come to my house if he feels like it. He has duties to me and I have duties to him. Marriage is important enough that sometimes spouses need to spend time together whether they both want to or not; otherwise it might become all too easy to avoid working out problems and just go with the easier route of avoiding each other.

I don’t care what the schedule is, and there are plenty of forms it can take (I give several real-life examples in the Refrigerator post), but the logistics of polygamy are already complicated. I say, let’s not make them more complicated by going without a plan.

I completely understand basing the schedule on what is going on with every family member on any given week. Maybe that’s what is meant by the people on SSW? Rather than having a schedule that is repeating and predictable, perhaps it’s simply flexible, depends on the week, and is based on the needs of the husband, wives, and even children. That sounds fine, and from time-to-time Joshua has adjusted his schedule depending on all those things. I guess “no schedule” just sounds to me like the husband waiting until 9:00 p.m. to announce which bedroom he’s sleeping in, or in the case of wives living in separate homes, waiting until 6:00 p.m. to decide at which house he’ll be spending his evening, eating dinner, and going to bed.

I admit that my personality type may be to blame for my strong preference for a predictable schedule. I like to plan. I like to visualize what my day/week/month looks like. I make time for myself and my projects and tasks, I have one-on-one time with each my children every day, I make time for my husband and for the entire family; for me, all that requires scheduling.

My entire life, I have always been frustrated at changes of plans, even when the change is potentially for the better. I admit this is a personality flaw, and maybe if I was better at going with the flow, I wouldn’t care so much about knowing when my husband is going to be with me versus not. Maybe the wives on SSW are different enough in that respect that it really does work for them.

The more I comment on it, the more I think I should write a whole post about the plural husband’s schedule when his wives live together versus separately, since we’ve now experienced several years of both situations.

As a homeschooling mom, I was interested to learn that another one of the new families on SSW, the Merrifields, also homeschools. We’ll see if that comes up again in a future episode.

We have two boys… We homeschool them… [to their two sons] All right, do you guys wanna get your books and stuff ready?

Dannielle Merrifield

I liked hearing Garrick and Dannielle Merrifield’s story about not coming from a polygamist background but being Christian, reading the Bible, and realizing plural marriage was practiced by godly people that were loved by God.

The way I see it is living a plural lifestyle is a great way to follow Christ and be like him.

Garrick Merrifield

I do not envy this family for courting and becoming engaged to a woman in a different country who speaks a different language! We have several friends with at least one wife in a different country, and they all have definitely chosen a hard way to live. The sisterwives don’t get the benefits that come from living together, and they end up living alone and almost like single mothers for weeks or months at a time. Melissa and I used to live only 1 hour apart, and that was difficult enough.

She [Roberta] lives in Brazil … so she speaks Portuguese, and only Portuguese.

Dannielle Merrifield

Here’s what my preteen son has to say about it: “It seems like such a dumb idea to marry someone who lives in a different country and you don’t even know each other’s languages. They should probably know the same language!”

One last thought about the episode. I like the comments Jarod Clark made about polygamy and kings and queens.

[Polygamy] was something that I [came] across in some research on how tribes and kingdoms were built, where a king had multiple queens, and each wife played an intricate part in that king’s life and in building and growing the kingdom.

Jarod Clark

In my home I present myself as a king. … Same thing with Vanessa and Kaleh: they present themselves as queens.

Jarod Clark

The blog’s header image is a castle I designed with the Mars and Venus symbols, meant to symbolize the husband in a plural family being a king and his wives being queens.

I wrote briefly about the king/queen idea in this post about SSW S1E2 and this post about SSW S2E1.

And, finally, I wrote some about the king/queen concept in this post about being proud to be a polygamist. In that post, I talk about how wonderful I think my family and my husband are, how I consider Joshua a king and Melissa and I his queens, and especially about how being polygamous used to be embarrassing for me but now I hold my head up high.

I guess you could say I’m “Polygamist and Proud!” … or should I say “Polygamous and Proud!” ?

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)

This is especially true perhaps in the case of polygamists, who are accused of committing Mormon Doctrinethis 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! Whoever eyeth a wife!

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