The practice of consecutive polygamy is based on the individual partners within the marriage. Concerns ranging from infidelity and abuse, through a loss of love as defined by the culture are the most common issues. Seldom is the concern of the extended family a factor in divorce and remarriage, which are a significant aspect of both polygyny and polyandry. As the cultural view is egalitarian, both husbands and wives share the responsibilities for determining their roles. The generic rationale given for consecutive polygamy is that of irreconcilable differences. The Mormon and Christian view on polygamy differs.
Mormon Doctrine on Polygamy
According to Mormon doctrine, the restoration of all things depends on the progressive cleansing of society and the enforcement of the fundamental law of moral purity from the Old Testament. The leaders of the Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints taught about a modern day polygamy. By mid-1850s, Mormon leaders developed powerful arguments on the relationship of polygamy to the American law. As a territorial chaplain, Parley Pratt put it in an address to the legislature in 1856. According to Pratt, monogamy was the essence of corruption in contemporary society, dooming America to destruction for the violation of God’s law of marriage. This was proven not only by the revelation on celestial marriage but also by the Old Testament itself.
Polygamy was urged on Mormons with a vehemence that convinced outsiders that plural marriage could not be a matter of real choice. In its most extreme formulation, men were assured not only that their degree of exaltation in the afterlife was enhanced by having several wives, but also that their membership in the church depended on plural marriage. Women believed that their refusal to consent to their husbands’ plural marriage would condemn them both in this world and the next. Indeed, refusal to practice the Principle was the cause for excommunication. Polygamy was tied not only to personal exaltation in the celestial kingdom, but also to the earthly Millennium. Jesus is anticipated to come and preside as king over the perfected race of men produced by vigorous and virtuous polygamists. The salvation of the world depended on the sacrifice of the fathers and mothers of Israel.
The doctrine of polygamy was a distinctly one-sided phenomenon where women were not allowed to possess multiple husbands. Even an ordinary Mormon man was not allowed to have more than one wife. Ideally, only those who were able to demonstrate high levels of economic and spiritual worthiness were allowed to marry more than one wife. However, the church recommended that for an individual to practice polygamy, the first wife should consent to the idea. Due to these regulations, Mormon men find it difficult to marry more than one woman. Number of men having more than two wives has increased to 15 percent of the total Mormon population. Though there is only a minority of Mormons practicing polygamy, many of the church leaders refused to abandon the practice citing that it would have a negative effect on the way of life of a Mormon.
Polygamy was frequently a precursor to the political responsibility and economic advancement of the Mormon men, as well as their increased stature in the church. As one Mormon put it, a man who obeys monogamy is not entitled to preside over the polygamists. Consequently, for wives, the reflected glory of their husbands’ accomplishment was a gauge of their own future reward. Both husbands and wives, bearing up gracefully under the difficulties and moral discipline of life in polygamy were both a duty and the mark of spiritual achievement. Romantic attachments and the lustful behavior that they encouraged between husband and wife were consistent with the reproductive ethic of a marital form.
Thus, consent by the faithful of participation in celestial marriage did to replicate the concept of choice contemplated by non-Mormon legal and political theory. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made their most important choice when they testified to the truth of the New Dispensation. The struggle to accept polygamy was understood as a trial, to be sure, but one that every man and the woman were capable of enduring. Free consent of marriage was essential and evidence of the faith necessary to assure exaltation in the celestial worlds. However, the consent occurred within the faith; the capacity to affirm the doctrines central to the faith, including plural marriage, was the core freedom granted to all Saints.
Mormon’s response towards polygamy was deeply reliant on democratic processes and the idea that the will of the people was central to all church doctrine. Democracy was the opportunity provided by an inspired government of humankind according to the New Dispensation. The rule of law in such system meant the rule of divine law, as manifested by those invested with priestly authority. The God’s covenant empowered the new Israel to know the will of the Lord. Their embrace of religious percepts as the basis of government action galvanized Mormons’ opponents of polygamy. They frequently preferred the precise relationship between the church and state remain ambiguous.
Christian Doctrine on Polygamy
Polygamy has never been culturally or religiously permissible for Christians. In most Western countries with predominantly Christian populations, secular law does not recognize a polygamous marriage. Few such countries have any laws directly banning living a polygamous lifestyle. However, polygamy was, indeed, practiced by some Christians at various times throughout the centuries. One of the most prominent proponents of Christian polygamy was Martin Luther who joined other theologians of his time in accepting, albeit reluctantly, the desire of the social and political elite to practice polygamy. This was aimed at retaining their support and ensuring success of the reformation.
Monogamy is God’s ideal for marriage. God created only one wife for Adam (Gen 1:28; 24). Had he wanted polygamy to be the norm, he would have made more than one woman. Marriage, according to Genesis 2:24, is an exclusive heterosexual covenant between one man and one woman. It is ordained and sealed by God, and heralded by a public leaving of parents in exchange for a permanent mutually supportive partnership. Normally, it is crowned by the gift of children. This is the relationship that Jesus endorsed in Mathew 19:4-6. The church must stand by this position.
In addition, as the monogamous and indissoluble union of one man and one woman is God’s ideal, it follows that polygamy, like divorce, is a deviation from this norm. The polygamous marriage is, therefore, a form of marriage that is less satisfactory that the monogamous marriage. It cannot do justice to the full spirit of the Christian marriage. However, in certain circumstances, individual Christians can still put up with it, as they put up with slavery, and dictatorial government.
Today, the Christian church clearly condemns polygamy, not least as a result of the last 200 years of colonial history, where there was an intercultural confrontation. It was experienced between the colonizer and the colonized, which often took the form of religious confrontation. Faced with polygamous, animistic people, the missionaries made polygamy one of the main issues in forcing their way of life upon their new subjects. It was assumed that the subjects would convert to Christianity by banning its practice as religiously illegitimate. To most Western Christians, polygamy is wrong and unacceptable from all points of view: religious, moral, legal, and social. People who have practiced polygamy for generations may find that it can be combined with being a practicing Christian.
In conclusion, the generic rationale given for consecutive polygamy is that of irreconcilable differences, which in itself underscores the emphasis on the rights and actualization of the individual. The issues of consecutive polygamy are more commonly dealt with under the heading of divorce and remarriage rather than as a form of generalized polygamy. Mormon doctrine does not condemn polygamy but supports it. It purports that polygamy depends on an individual’s decision. On the other hand, Christianity doctrine condemns polygamy and views it as a sin in the eyes of God.