I distinctly remember the first time someone looked up to me for being a polygamist.
We had been invited by some polygamous friends to a Thanksgiving dinner that was attended by an eclectic group of fundamental Mormons (some were members of a sect of Mormonism, but many were independent). I knew almost no one there. (This was the first time I met Benjamin Shaffer, the attorney who purchased Drew Briney’s law firm when the Brineys moved away from Utah.) I was introduced to a married couple and I asked them if they were polygamists. The wife said, “No, not yet. I wish. Are you guys polygamists?” When I answered in the affirmative, she said with sincerity, “Oh, that’s so great. I hope I can be a plural wife someday.” (She’s a plural wife now and one of the best I know. As one example of how she’s so supportive: She has a huge picture of her husband and sisterwife on their wedding day on her living room wall.)
That was a very nice moment for me. Up to that point, people expressed many different feelings about my marital status, ranging from outright rejection to disgust to fascination to neutrality to supportive, but I had never met anyone who was actually jealous of me for being a polygamist.
I didn’t consider myself a fundamental Mormon, but after that Thanksgiving dinner I started to feel more and more comfortable hanging around Mormon fundamentalists because of their general belief that polygamy is acceptable, desirable, even preferred.
I still spend plenty of time with people who merely tolerate my polygamy. When I’m around those people, I will either hide my polygamy or at the very least I feel an overarching sense of embarrassment/shame about it, like the girl who keeps brushing her bangs in front of the zit on her forehead.
However, those feelings of shame or embarrassment are left over from when I cared what those people thought. I’m not ashamed to be a polygamist. I’m actually quite proud of my plural family and in particular of my husband. I’m proud of my husband for keeping two emotional women happy most of the time. I’m proud of him for financially supporting a large family. I’m proud of him for bearing the weight of a marred reputation caused by society’s feelings about plural marriage. I’m proud of him for always putting his family first and for being the most selfless person I have the privilege of knowing. I’m proud of him that God trusts him with such a great responsibility. I’m proud of him for keeping peace (and restoring it when it’s lost) between all the members of our family. I’m proud of him for his wisdom in difficult decisions. I’m proud of him for functioning on 2 hours of sleep when one of his wives needs to talk with him all night. I’m proud of him for never putting himself first but for always always serving God and his family and others around him. I’m proud of him for being stable when one or both of his wives are being crazy. I’m proud of Joshua for so many reasons. I think of him as a king and I feel it an honor to be married to him. I’m proud to be one of his queens.
The feeling of pride I have over our functional, beautiful plural family has grown and expanded almost imperceptibly until an event that happened yesterday. We went to a party for Joshua’s aunts, uncles, and cousins. This party is held annually, but it was our first time attending since becoming polygamists. We used to go every year (and to other events with these people as well), and Joshua and I have been married for 17 years, so I’ve known these people for a good long time.
The family is a pretty big group, I would say about 85 people, and almost all of them are active LDS. This is the kind of group I have historically felt awkward to be around. None of them are excited that we’re polygamists, and many of them openly disapprove (even writing letters and making phone calls to make sure we know how they feel).
And yet, yesterday when we walked into the party, I held my head high. I felt like a queen. I look at Joshua as a king and Melissa as a queen, and yesterday I felt no shame or embarrassment whatsoever. I greeted everyone with a confident hug and just acted like my old pre-polygamy self. If anyone felt awkward, it wasn’t me. If anyone wished I wasn’t there, it wasn’t me. I didn’t feel like I was inferior to any of the monogamists in the room. I didn’t feel like I had anything to apologize for. I didn’t feel like I had a zit on my forehead I was trying to hide. I just felt proud of my plural family and proud of my kingly husband. It was a wonderful experience and certainly made me feel as tho I have progressed in my journey as a plural wife.
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster
which doth mock the meat it feeds on.
(Othello, Act 3, Scene 3)
In the first episode of the second season of Seeking Sister Wife we are introduced to some new people. The lovely McGee family (Bernie and Paige). They seem like a very tightly-knit and loving family, and the interaction between their two boys brings an involuntary smile to my face. They are very likable people, and I’m looking forward to watching how things work out for them.
However, we do get several glimpses into their past attempts to add a wife to their family, and it seems that Paige’s jealousy is going to be a serious and recurring issue. And naturally so! There is nothing wrong with jealousy! After all, Jealousy is God’s middle name. Okay, okay, I’m not sure if that is entirely true, but it is one of his names at least:
For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
See! There you go, jealousy must not be such a bad thing after all!
To be clear, I believe, that none of our fundamental natural desires or impulses are, of themselves, bad things. The sin always comes from the perversion of our desires. The desires themselves are God-given and innate. Wrongs comes from the excesses and the misapplications. We want things at the wrong time, or in the wrong way, or in the wrong amounts, and don’t always consider how our efforts to achieve our desires appear to God or to our fellow beings.
For those who know the reference, our desires are like a red lizard sitting on our shoulder and whispering in our ears; arguing for us to give selfish and vile expression to our natural inclinations (for those who don’t know the reference, it is The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis). They are a serious hindrance if unbridled and allowed to run free. Appetites and passions are to be kept within the bounds the Lord has set. Food is good; we are even commanded to work for it (Gen 3:19, 2Thess 3:10), but too much of it and we are gluttons. Wine is something to look forward to (Isa 25:6), but drunkenness is a thing to be avoided. Human sexuality is a blessed and pleasurable thing, but is also the greatest snare and temptation of many people’s lives. Money has definite value, and using it facilitates our exchanges for goods and services, but making it the object of our affection is the root of many evils. You get the idea.
On the other hand, if bridled, trained, controlled, and allowed to give their proper vent, our natural inclinations can become our blessing, our strength, and our happiness. This transformation may not be an easy one, but will be well worth the trade for anyone concerned enough to make it!
Back to jealousy. It can be good. It has a purpose. The key is to find out what it is for and when it should be felt. If we can figure out our own selves, and our own emotions (even if it is an incremental process), we will simplify our lives and the lives of everyone around us.
First we must understand what jealousy is. Of course we all know what jealousy feels like, but I think it will be useful to discriminate between it and a very similar emotion, envy. In many cases these two words may be very close in their usage. They can both indicate a longing to posses something. However, the word jealous carries the particular sense of “vigilant (or zealous) in guarding a possession”. Jealousy also carries the connotation of a suspicious fear of losing something. In other words, properly applied, jealousy ought to be used to describe feelings of protectiveness for things that are our own; for things that already belong to us (our own advantages, attachments, relationships, and possessions). Thus, God is jealous for his people, for we are his!
We cross a line into envy when we begin to have similar emotions, but for things that are not ours. Another word for envy is covetousness. It is feeling possessive of things that we do not posses; it is feeling entitled to things to which we do not have a right. This of course, needs to be suppressed, and not allowed to take root.
Here then is the purpose of jealousy: it is one natural mechanism to preserve the romantic bond between spouses. It functions to encourage fidelity between parents (or potential parents). The jealous anger of one partner being both a deterrent to the infidelity of the other, and also a self-motivator for the person experiencing it to fight for the restoration of the bond. This (a strong bond between spouses) of course leads to a multitude of benefits for their children (or potential children), and their subsequent reproductive success.
Predictably, men and women feel jealousy in different ways, and for different (but significant!) reasons. To quote clinical psychologist, Dr. Vinita Mehta:
“Romantic jealously is widely understood to be different for men and women because each gender has a different level of investment in reproduction. For a man to provide for genetically distant children decreases his reproductive success—and because men are uncertain whether they really are the father of said children, they are most susceptible to [experiencing jealousy over] sexual infidelity. By contrast, women can rest assured that they are the mother of their own children; however, they are more dependent on men for resources, making them more sensitive to [experiencing jealousy over] emotional infidelity, since it could threaten the supply of resources for herself and her child.”
Generally speaking, women are concerned (on a basic, visceral level) that their partner’s affection for another woman will lead to a weaker emotional connection, and therefore less desire to care for them, or even that the emotional connection will be altogether severed, causing the man to abandon them for the other woman.
This all goes back to the scriptural, God-given roles and responsibilities for men and women in marriage. This is the Biblical marriage covenant in a nutshell. To quantify this difference, a large study, published in 2014 (this is not the only study confirming these results), reported that men were significantly more likely than women to be upset by sexual infidelity (54% vs. 35%), and significantly less likely than women to be upset by emotional infidelity (46% vs. 65%).
There are many things that could be said about the result of this study, but I want to mention two. First, this does not mean that women don’t feel jealousy over sexual infidelity, or that men don’t feel jealousy over emotional infidelity; rather, it means that their primary causes of jealousy are generally different, and this has significant effects on the way that men and women think and act. The other thing to mention about this finding is that it has nothing to do with age groups, income levels, history of being cheated on, history of being unfaithful, relationship type, relationship length, cultural differences, etc. Like it or not, this difference is an innate, biological difference.
So, how does knowing any of this help the Paige McGees of the world? I think there are at least two useful lessons that can be gleaned from the above.
1) Jealousy is natural, and can even be good, but care must be taken that it does not spill over into envy or covetousness. In order to keep jealousy within a righteous bound, we need to be certain of what is ours to be jealous over. In marriage, wives have a right to financial support for themselves and their children. They have full claim on their husband for that purpose. However, they do not have exclusive rights to him sexually. This is important to know because it can keep you from worrying over things that are not yours to worry about. To put it another way, you shouldn’t feel jealous over things that aren’t yours.
2) Understand that the source of your jealousy may largely (even unconsciously) come from a fear of being abandoned (emotional infidelity). This is certainly a rational fear, as we all know; this scenario has played out many times before. Many monogamous relationships have been broken by an unfaithful man tragically abandoning his wife and children for another woman. However, if you can realize that, in the case of polygamy, your husband is not at all interested in trading you for another woman, but rather wants to keep you both (or however many wives there may be), then that ought to restore your confidence that you are not being abandoned! At least it ought to increase the confidence in your mind – there may still be a battle with emotions, but what’s new about that? If he is a godly man, then he still wants you to be his wife just as much as ever, his emotions towards you are just as strong as ever, and he still wants to keep his commitment to you and your children just as much as ever.
So, to Paige, and to all the other plural (and potentially plural) wives out there I say: Have confidence in your husband and in your relationship, keep working on maintaining and improving your own relationship with your husband, and don’t worry too much about things that are not your business to worry about.
This post will be written primarily to those men who are contemplating becoming plurally married. However, those men (and women too) who are already part of a polygamous family may still find this post interesting and entertaining.
I hope that the comment section of this post will fill up with additional bits of wisdom from other plural husbands or wives – people who have lived within this type of family structure and have some insight to share. I know that some have had wonderful experiences with polygamy, and others have experienced heartbreak. I invite the wisdom from both in the comments below.
Also, I plan on doing several more advice posts, so save your advice for wives until then. I decided to start this series of advice posts because someone has reached out to my wife Charlotte asking for this type of advice. I apologize for the tardiness, the advice was asked for quite a while ago, but I just haven’t been able to get to it. Here then is the first thing to plan for:
1) Be prepared to have much less free time.
In fact, I should probably be doing something else right now other than working on this blog post. You will have nearly constant demands for your time from both wives and children, and rightly so. The demands, each in turn, will be physical, logistical, emotional, or spiritual, but each will require a slice of time. Each person will have to have their father or husband cup filled on a regular basis in order for the relationships to remain healthy and strong. Of course, no wife needs constant attention from a husband, nor does any child need constant attention from its father (or mother(s)), but when you have several, their needs tend to spread and overlap in such a way that will cause you to always be attending to someone. It could overwhelm you if you let it.
2) You don’t know anything.
Women are more emotional than men. This is true no matter the marital status of the woman whether single, monogamously married, or plurally married. This also makes women mysterious (as the poets and storytellers have noted since antiquity). Adding more women to your life will add more mystery, bewilderment, and confusion to your life. And the addition is not as straightforward as 1+1=2. No no, going from 1 woman to 2 will more than double the emotional complexity of your life. Be prepared to face utter cluelessness on a regular basis, where you are completely stupefied, and have no idea what to do to fix the problem at hand.
While the emotional burden will be draining (at times to the point of exhaustion), this is not to say that it isn’t worth the effort – far from it. Nothing worth anything comes without effort. And of course, it’s not all difficulties. There will be wonderful times as well. You will have the highest highs and the lowest lows of your life. It will bring you face to face with your greatest fear: failure.
3) Make friends with other plural families.
Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
– Proverbs 27:17
The detractors and critics will take care of themselves – you will probably have more of them than you would care to have. That being said, find a plurally married man who is respectable; someone you can look to for advice and support. Knowing another, well-functioning plural family will be a great support to your wife or wives and your children as well. Building or joining a network or community of supporting, like-minded people is one of the best things you can do for your own family, and you and your family will be a support for them as well. Win-win! I am so grateful for all of my supportive friends and neighbors.
And, while we are talking about supporters:
4) You should be your own family’s best supporter.
If you have a family already, then build them up and encourage them. If you are single, then seek to be optimistic, positive, helpful, and useful rather than negative and criticizing. Yes, there is a place for discipline, and sternness, and all that comes along with that, but you want to be like a benevolent king to your family, not like a tyrant. Your wife and children should desire your company. You should accentuate and notice the positive in them, and make your support and approval known to them. You should realize that a husband or father criticizing his family is really a criticism of himself. If there is something wrong with a wife or child, then a good husband or father will accept the fact that he has played a major part in creating his family. Take the moment to teach instead. And if you must correct and discipline, then you must always show afterwards an increase of love towards the person you have chastened – lest they consider you their enemy.
If you are ever called upon to chasten a person, never chasten beyond the balm you have within you to bind up. – Brigham Young, JoD 9:124-125
Not only should you be supportive of your own family, and encourage a general feeling and practice of mutual support among all the members of the family, but you should also discourage detractors from within as well.
5) Family members should not spread their views about the faults of current family members to the potential new spouse; thus tainting her views from the get go.
Orson Pratt had some excellent things to say about this idea in his essay entitled, The Equality andOneness of the Saints. In his essay, Elder Pratt is speaking about people joining the saints, but the principle applies just as well to people joining any family.
“Through faith, repentance, baptism, the forgiveness of sins, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, the imperfect sons and daughters of Adam become the sons and daughters of God; and being born of God, and all baptized with the same spirit into the same body, they begin to feel alike, think alike, and act alike, in many things: this is a first approximation towards a oneness: but being weak, and only having obeyed the first principles of the celestial law, they are tempted by the devil; divisions of feeling arise; each one sees the faults and imperfections of his brothers or sisters; and instead of trying to reclaim them in the spirit of meekness from their faults, he whispers them to others; prejudice rises; their love towards them begins to grow cold; this coldness is felt by others, and begets the same feeling in them. And thus the seeds of division are sown, and begin to sprout, and grow, and, if not checked, they speedily bring forth nauseous and bitter fruit, which, when ripened, contains the poison of death.
To counteract these divisions strict laws are given, and authorities ordained to strengthen and succour the weak; to root out all evil-speaking; and to check every sinful thing on its first appearance. Those who give diligent heed, will become habituated to keep the law of God, and will understand their duties, and perform them with cheerfulness and delight. Such will become more and more assimilated in their feelings; their love towards each other, and towards God, and His word, will grow stronger and stronger; and thus by habit they learn obedience to the law of oneness, until they are ready and willing to do anything which that law requires. While those, on the other hand, who do not give heed, find themselves more and more tempted, and their love growing colder and colder, and the faults and imperfections of their brethren and sisters still more magnified in their eyes; and at last, they become destitute of the spirit—destitute of good desires—destitute of the meekness and humility of the Gospel; and the devil takes possession of them, and leads them captive at his own will and pleasure. These do not abide a celestial law, therefore they cannot be made one.”
Orson Pratt, The Seer, Vol. II, No. 7, pg. 290
A husband should not speak ill of his current wife to a potential wife. He should not taint or influence her first impressions in a negative way. It will be detrimental to the family to gossip in such a way. The right way for a potential wife to form her own opinions of her future family members is to meet and spend time with them. The only reasonable exception I might imagine to this policy is in the case of serious physical or mental illness. Even then, it still might be better for the potential wife to find out these things by her own interaction. Either way, it will not be good to start a relationship with spouses on different “teams“.
6) Work on being the best man you can be first. Work on being the best husband you can be first. Work on having a good marriage first.
I call this the Jordan Peterson principle – clean your room. If you are single, getting married will not fix your problems. Fix yourself up before getting married. Make yourself a person that a woman would want to be married to.
If you are already married, getting married again will not fix your problems. Adding a second marriage will not fix your first marriage (nor will a third marriage fix a second, etc.). Have a good, loving, stable relationship first before adding another wife. If your current marriage is already unstable then you have got more than enough problems to deal with already, without adding further complexity to your lives. You may hear anecdotal occasions where this sort of thing may have helped, but don’t bet on it.
No man ever did, or ever will rule judiciously on this earth, with honor to himself and glory to his God unless he first learn to rule and control himself. A man must first learn to rightly rule himself, before his knowledge can be fully brought to bear for the correct government of a family, a neighborhood, or nation, over which it is his lot to preside. – Brigham Young, JoD 3:256
This idea is very similar to the common tragedy of a woman wanting to have a baby with her husband (or boyfriend) in order to get him to stay with her, or to love her, or to fix their relationship. It doesn’t work! And it is a terrible plan! Fix yourself and your relationships first.
Growing your family is important, but we should not run faster than we are able. Adding people brings chaos. Get your house in order before adding additional members (whether wives or children) and complexity to your family.
7) Take as much care in the additional wives as you did in the first. Don’t rush headlong into a second marriage (or third).
Additional marriages can, and often do, happen faster than the first. This is very understandable as the situation is quite different. People generally know how things work, are more mature, know what they are looking for, are in a better financial situation, aren’t waiting for their parents’ input/approval/funding etc., and yet there is much folly. It often happens that people rush into plural marriage without giving proper consideration to the personality, habits, beliefs, etc. of the new person they are wanting to add to the family. Go slow, and don’t be afraid to back out. There is so much at stake. People have often make a perfect wreck of their lives by jumping into something without looking. Of course, the very same things can and should be said about monogamy.
Here is a good example; if a potential wife already has children of her own (however that may have occurred), you should realize that you will be presented with more than an extra measure of drama. As Joe Darger once remarked, “It’s harder to add a stepkid than to add a wife.” It may take years to develop a good relationship with stepchildren, and it may never happen if there is resentment. Things to consider.
It is certainly true that sex is an important part of any good marriage (whether polygamous or monogamous), and I will have an entire post about this subject in the future. However, this is not a sound basis upon which to build any relationship. Sex is one dimension of a multidimensional thing called marriage. Sex alone is not enough to make anyone happy in marriage. Most of marriage is not sex.
However, I do believe this is a common mistake for men to make in both monogamous and polygamous situations. I have known monogamous men who told me they were looking forward to marriage just so they could have sex. No wonder the divorce rate is so high. It is particularly enticing bait that women hold out for us, and rightly so as it is intended to lead to marriage, but marriage is a long-term relationship. You want to find someone you can grow old with; someone you will be happy to share your life with; someone who will be happy to share their life with you, and this is based on much more than sex appeal.
9) Be upfront and above board in your communications about the possibility of having another woman join your family in the future.
If you are single, be upfront with your potential spouse about the possibility of having another woman join your family in the future. Clear, upfront expectations can make anything go more smoothly. No one likes to have the rules changed mid-game or the terms changed mid-contract. If you are already married it is the same story, but may be complicated if polygamy has not been a part of the plan from the beginning. As I just said, it’s not fair to change the rules mid-game. Having a wife united with you is heaven, having division between you is hell. If polygamy was not potentially a part of the game plan from the beginning, then you need to be sensitive, honorable, and respect that fact. Whatever happens, be patient (who knows, she might be the one to bring it up with you). Do not go around in secret courting and collecting wives. I know it has been done before, but I would never recommend it as a general course of action (I wouldn’t even recommend it on an individual basis – there is so much at stake). Don’t make it part of your plan. It will only lead to heartache and loss.
10) Know why you are doing it, and then stick to it.
Be committed thru thick and thin. It’s going to be rough sometimes (maybe oftentimes); you’ll need to be committed to get thru. Count the cost! Like Jesus said,
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.” – Luke 14:28-30
Consider the difficulties first. Polygamy will place financial, emotional, physical, spiritual, and social pressures on you and your family. Be sure that you are aware of the possible extent of these difficulties ahead of time, have a plan to deal with them, and be sure that your mental and emotional resolve is sufficient to meet the challenges in advance. Then, once you have started don’t look back. Remember Lot’s wife. Be all in, or not at all. Hot and cold both make pleasant drinks, but lukewarm gets spit out.
11) Get yourself into good financial shape.
The truth is, you may not be able to afford additional wives. Being welcomed into an impoverished family situation is not what women are looking for. Financial security is a particularly enticing piece of bait that men hold out for women, and rightly so as it is intended to lead to marriage. Financial difficulties are a major cause of marital problems, and even divorce, in monogamous couples. It is no different for polygamists. Polygamy itself can be more stressful than monogamy at times (and sometimes less stressful too); therefore, you will not want to add financial stress on top of other stresses that are already intrinsic to polygamy.
Closely related to financial preparations are the physical, logistical preparations such as lodging and transportation. Adding another master bedroom is good, but may not be enough. You might need another kitchen too, and maybe other space. This will depend on your wives. Maybe they can live together harmoniously in the same house, maybe they would even prefer it, and more happiness to you if they can, but it is not an unreasonable request if they want their own space – they are entitled to that much. Putting a wife in a regular room (while the other wife is in a master bedroom) is not good enough for a long-term arrangement. Don’t make this your plan. It may be fine initially, but will probably fail in the long run. If you can’t afford to do this, then you probably can’t afford to have another wife.
12) Women are afraid of being abandoned.
Your first wife must feel secure in her relationship with you, she must feel secure in your love for her, and feel secure in her financial support from you. You should be sensitive toward these natural and understandable fears. One area where you may want to be especially sensitive is in public displays of affection to a new or potential wife in front of established wives. You may want to limit this at first (and you will want to limit it both ways). Showing affection in public and in private is an important part of a marriage relationship, and it is something that a first wife is going to have to come to terms with, no doubt. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. However, it will become easier and more natural as time goes on.
There you have it. Take this advice for what it’s worth. Not all of these may apply to every situation, and some things you may disagree with. I openly invite your additional wisdom or counter advice in the comments below. Feel free to ask me to clarify my thoughts on anything that didn’t seem perfectly clear above. One more thing, after saying all of this you may get the impression that plural marriage has so many difficulties that it should be avoided all together. This may be true for some people, maybe even most people, but it is not true for all people. Even with all the difficulties, I am a fully converted polygamist. I find the rewards well worth the efforts, and I wouldn’t trade it back if I could. Thank you Charlotte and Melissa for making my life so full and blessed!
And when Jesus was come into the temple, the high priests and the elders of the church came unto him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority do you do these things?”, and, “who gave you this authority?”
Jesus answered them, “Tell me what you think? A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go find yourself a wife, and make an eternal family.’
The first son said, ‘I’m not interested.’ Nevertheless, he eventually did find a wife, but they were not married in the temple. And yet he loved and cherished her like a treasure, and worked hard to lead their growing family, and to provide for all her needs. She likewise loved and honored him as her husband, and was a devoted and supporting wife.
Then the man came to the second son, and told him likewise to, ‘find yourself a wife, and make an eternal family.’
And he answered and said, ‘I will sir.’ He found a woman, and married her in the temple – a fact that he was always very proud of. By and by he began to neglect and abuse her, and she him. They insulted rather than complimented one another, they were always on the lookout to find fault and to take offense, they never apologized or reconciled, and they were secretly glad when something bad happened to the other. They were miserable, but still took pride in the fact that they were married by the proper authority.”
When Jesus was finished he asked, “Which of the two did the will of his father?”
It was actually harder for them to answer than you might realize, but eventually one elder, who was a little wiser than the rest, replied, “The first.”
Then Jesus said unto them, “Truly I say unto you, that the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”
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.
This 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:
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…
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 20:10 “And the man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, even 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.
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 adulteryimplies 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:
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
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.
What do you think? How has your view of polygamy changed? What is your first thought when you learn someone is a polygamist? Share your comments below.
In the first episode of Seeking Sister Wife we are introduced to the Snowden family, Dimitri and Ashley. A little after 7 minutes in Dimitri tells us that after dating for 2 years they, “Committed [themselves] to each other.” Additionally, on TLC’s, Meet The Families of Seeking Sister Wife, page we learn they have purposefully abstained from a legal marriage under the eyes of the law in order to ensure equality with their future wife. They consider one another spouses, they have 3 children together, they share finances and many other things, and they also let us know that they have no marriage license from the state of Georgia (or any other state).
In light of the several comments and questions my posts have generated (see here and here) about the nature of marriage – especially in the Snowden family, but also in the Alldredge and Briney families as well (and all other plural families too), I have decided to write a post on my views about what constitutes a marriage.
A few years ago (November 2015) some friends of mine decided to rededicate their marriage. They threw a big party and asked if I would “officiate” at their ceremony. It was a relatively informal event; I said a few words, and they renewed their vows with each other. It was a beautiful thing, but the reason they were doing it was a bit disappointing. You see, they had just left the LDS Church (the reason why is unimportant to this post), and the validity of their Church marriage (specifically their sealing – more about this later) was being called into question by some of their acquaintances. This is sadly not an uncommon occurrence. When the Church kicked us out we had the same experience. Concerns were expressed to us that we had broken our covenants and now we were adulterers, had lost all our blessings, no longer had the Holy Ghost with us, etc.
This post, and my future post about the Mormon concept of Sealing, are adaptations of the words I prepared for that marriage rededication ceremony. Here it goes:
In 1774, Thomas Jefferson said these words, “A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.” This was two years before the Declaration of Independence. At the time these were radical words – treasonous words even.
The common model of government at the time was that no rights existed for the common people – except those granted to them by the King. The King owned all the land, the people were subject to his mandates, and any privileges the people had were granted to them by their Sovereign Lord. He in turn received all his power from God by virtue of the Divine Right of Kings. Alas, there are many unfortunate parallels between government and religious authorities.
As powerful as they think they may be, governments are run by men – mortals all. Governments do not possess any powers unless those powers have been delegated to it by the people who are governed.
The preamble to the Declaration of Independence correctly proclaims this fact. It reads in part:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Eleven years later these ideas were crystallized in the Constitution of the United States of America. It was the fulfillment of the promise made in the Declaration of Independence. And yet, despite the Constitution being the founding document of our nation’s government, our Constitution is widely misunderstood; and here is the misunderstanding:
The Constitution does not grant you the right to free speech. It does not give you the right to print what you please, or to choose your own religion. The Constitution does not grant you the right to carry arms for your defense, to assemble or associate with whom you please, or any of the other things we have imagined it to grant to us.
If you will take the Bill of Rights, and actually read it, you will discover that in every case, the rights mentioned are not granted. It does not say anything to the effect that, “the citizens of the United States are hereby granted the right to worship as they choose…” No, No! On the contrary, it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” It does not say anything like, “you may carry arms for your defense.” Rather it says, “the right shall not be infringed”, and on and on.
Indeed, the government cannot grant us anything we do not already have – we, in fact, are the ones that have granted powers to the government – the government does not have anything the people have not given to it. Rather than being granted, all the rights mentioned are protected. They are not extensions of our privileges, they are limits and restraints upon the government!
Well, what does all this talk about government and rights have to do with marriage?
The truth is: if the government has any authority at all, to marry anyone, then they have received that power from the people, and their receiving of that power from the people in no way diminishes the rights of the people (unless we let it). The powers are delegated, yet still retained by the people – because they are inalienable. They cannot be separated from us. They are inherent both to our being and to our existence.
The sanctity of marriage is reduced by getting the government to protect it. Orthodox Christian theologian Davd J. Dunn writes,
“Today’s Christian conservatives seem to be worshiping America, or at least a certain idea of it, when they ask the government to protect the ‘sanctity’ of marriage. In doing this, they have vested the state with the power to sanctify…Christians who demand the state take up the task of defending marital sanctity are effectively making the state their god. They seem to think that their local capitol can perform miracles when [in reality] only the Holy Spirit has the power to sanctify.”
Well, there are some, no doubt, who do not feel the same way about things. They are upset with anyone who does something out of the ordinary. And in particular with anyone who exercises their rights while ignoring the religious or civil authorities. There are many who feel that marriages are illegitimate without the approval of the government, or the Church, or both.
But it has not always been that way.
Marriage in the scriptures, and for most of human history, has simply consisted of a man and woman (usually with the consent of the woman’s father), living together and attempting procreation. No priest, no license, and no registration. These are all recent innovations within the last 500 years. The Catholic Church did not require marriages to be officiated by a priest until 1563. The Anglican Church did not get around to making this requirement until 1753. For most of human history, marriage has simply been an agreement (contract), recognized or arranged by the immediate families, for a man and woman to live together.
He calls her wife, she calls him husband. They share a home, they share a bed. They have and raise children together, and they have cast their lots together for good or ill. They are married. Are the Snowdens married? Absolutely yes!
Does that mean that any two people can just live together and call it marriage? The answer is no; that’s just called shacking up. The other elements are required also, namely the commitment to live as husband and wife – with all the duties and privileges that are connected thereto. Shacking up, without commitment – without the man taking the woman as wife, is sin.
You could classify marriages into three sorts: social marriage, religious marriage, and civil (or government) marriage. Social marriage is rooted in the ideas of Common Law and Natural Rights, which I have discussed somewhat above. It has probably been the most common type of marriage thruout the history of mankind, and perhaps the oldest as well (tho this is debatable I am sure). Either way, it is certain that of the three, civil marriage is by far the late comer to the party.
What about all this business with government issued marriage licenses then? When did that become a thing, and why? First, let us take a look at the legal definition of the word “License”. From Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition, published in 1910) we have:
“A permission, accorded by a competent authority, conferring the right to do some act which without such authorization would be illegal.”
In other words, a license is permission to do something which would otherwise be illegal. The problem is that the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that marriage is a fundamental right for all. And even without the Court’s decisions, marriage (both monogamous and polygamous) has existed for thousands of years as a fundamental aspect of human life and society which stems from our rights to associate and to contract. Marriage predates all our modern laws, governments, and licensing requirements. How then can getting married be illegal? Of course the answer to this question has everything to do with polygamy. Licensing of marriage by governments had its origins in efforts to stamp out plural marriage among the early Mormon people (and also to prevent interracial marriage – which is beyond the scope of this post).
In closing, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself (or your friends and family – if you like those stimulating sort of conversations).
If my right to marry is fundamental, why do I need permission from the government before I can get married?
If I get a marriage license, what does that marriage license give me permission to do that I could not do before I got the marriage license?
Who is giving me that permission?
Where did they get the power to give me that permission?
And perhaps the most important question,
If I get married without a marriage license, is my marriage still lawful?
When there is no structure available to you, then make your own. There is no approval needed from any man, or government, or religious institution to get married. And despite the disapproval that may be shown by some, it is our God-given, and natural right to do so.
For another post about the Snowden family and common law marriage see here.