Legalizing Group Marriage

Elizabeth Marquardt notes that three different strands are coming together to legalize group marriage:  the far left, the far right, and the new reproductive technology:

From the fringy left: Polyamory

Polyamory describes relationships of three or more people — it literally means “many loves.” Polyamorists say they practice “ethical non-monogamy,” or relationships that emphasize open communication, respect, and fair treatment of one another.

The debate about legal recognition of polyamorous relationships is already well underway. A major report issued in 2001 by the Law Commission of Canada asked whether marriages should be “limited to two people.” Its conclusion: probably not. A British law professor wrote in an Oxford-published textbook that the idea that marriage meaning two people is a “traditional” and perhaps outdated way of thinking. Elizabeth Emens of the University of Chicago Law School published a substantial legal defense of polyamory in a legal journal. She suggested that “we view this historical moment, when same-sex couples begin to enter the institution of marriage, as a unique opportunity to question the mandate of compulsory monogamy.”

Mainstream cultural leaders have also hinted at or actively campaigned for polyamory. Roger Rubin, former vice-president of the National Council on Family Relations–one of the main organizations for family therapists and scholars in the United States–believes the debate about same-sex marriage has “set the stage for broader discussion over which relationships should be legally recognized.” The Alternatives to Marriage Project, whose leaders are featured by national news organizations in stories on cohabitation and same-sex marriage, includes polyamory among its important “hot topics” for advocacy. The Unitarian Universalists for Polyamorous Awareness hope to make their faith tradition the first to recognize and bless polyamorous relationships. Meanwhile, a July 2009 Newsweek story estimates that there are more than half a million “open polyamorous families” living in America. Nearly every major city in the U.S. has a polyamory social group of some kind. . . .

From the radical right: Polygamy

Coming from a very different direction, another challenge to the two-person understanding of marriage is resurging–polygamy, a marriage form with deep roots in human history and still in evidence in many parts of the world.

The debut in spring 2006 of HBO’s television series, Big Love, which featured a fictional and in some ways likeable polygamous family in Utah, propelled polygamy to the front pages of American newspapers and put the idea of legalized polygamy “in play” in some surprising quarters. That March, a Newsweek article with the title “Polygamists Unite!” quoted an activist saying, “Polygamy is the next civil rights battle.” “If Heather can have two mommies,” he argued, “she should also be able to have two mommies and a daddy.” That month the New York Times devoted much attention to the subject of polygamy. One economist snickered that polygamy is illegal mainly because it threatens male lawmakers who fear they would not get wives in such a system. In an opinion piece, then-columnist John Tierney argued that “polygamy isn’t necessarily worse than the current American alternative: serial monogamy.” He concluded, “If the specter of legalized polygamy is the best argument against gay marriage, let the wedding bells ring.” . . .

Back home, a pending court case is offering a defense of polygamy, with lead counsel and noted legal scholar Jonathan Turley of George Washington University arguing this summer in the New York Times that the Lawrence vs. Texas Supreme Court decision in 2003 should protect the private choices of polygamists.

From the labs: Three-person reproduction

Another route to legalized group marriage could evolve via new court decisions and expert proposals that recognize group-parenting arrangements. Judges in the U.S. and Canada have already given legal parental status to a sperm donor father whose offspring had two legal mothers — resulting in the first instances ever in which a child has three legal parents. In New Zealand and Australia, commissions have recommended allowing egg and sperm donors to “opt in” as children’s third legal parents. Meanwhile, scientists in the U.K. have received state permission to create embryos that have the DNA of three persons. It will not be long before group marriage proponents ask: How can children with three legal parents be denied the same marriage rights and protections for their families that children with only two parents have?

via Elizabeth Marquardt: Get Ready for Group Marriage.

Do you see any legal obstacles to this, now that the door has been opened to define marriage in any way we want?  (What’s best for children and women won’t carry any weight, if recent rulings are a guide.  It has to be about “rights.”)

HT: Joe Carter

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • SKPeterson

    Bring on the temple prostitution!

  • SKPeterson

    Bring on the temple prostitution!

  • Michael B.

    I personally don’t have a problem with group marriage, as long as it’s consensual and the participants are old enough. One hears of polygamist cults forcing young girls to marry, which is another issue.

    It is also condescending to not allow a type of marriage because one think it’s not what’s best for women. Can’t women decide that for themselves? Incidentally, that was an argument used to not allow women the right the vote, as it was often said that “politics is a rough place, and no place for a woman”.

    The Bible has diverse view on marriage. In Genesis, a major figure and highly respected one has 12 wives. In Leviticus, we are told that a man may select a wife who is a prisoner of war. In the New Testament, Paul tells us he prefers that people wouldn’t get married at all, but it’s better to be married than to burn in desires for one another.

  • Michael B.

    I personally don’t have a problem with group marriage, as long as it’s consensual and the participants are old enough. One hears of polygamist cults forcing young girls to marry, which is another issue.

    It is also condescending to not allow a type of marriage because one think it’s not what’s best for women. Can’t women decide that for themselves? Incidentally, that was an argument used to not allow women the right the vote, as it was often said that “politics is a rough place, and no place for a woman”.

    The Bible has diverse view on marriage. In Genesis, a major figure and highly respected one has 12 wives. In Leviticus, we are told that a man may select a wife who is a prisoner of war. In the New Testament, Paul tells us he prefers that people wouldn’t get married at all, but it’s better to be married than to burn in desires for one another.

  • Eric Brown

    Legally I think the door is open for it… I don’t know how quickly it will come, simply because the legalities involved in writing multi-party marriage law would be difficult… but if you untie marriage from one man and one woman — well, “man/woman” wasn’t the only potential variable there… so was “one”.

  • Eric Brown

    Legally I think the door is open for it… I don’t know how quickly it will come, simply because the legalities involved in writing multi-party marriage law would be difficult… but if you untie marriage from one man and one woman — well, “man/woman” wasn’t the only potential variable there… so was “one”.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Maybe, it is the ick factor. Maybe, it is the fact polyamory and polygamy seem mundane, but the idea of a genetically manufactured individual with three gene sources is the scariest idea covered.

    @Michael, scripture has only one view of marriage and that is marriage is the image of God in the one flesh union of a man and a woman. Do not confuse historical accounts with acceptance.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    Maybe, it is the ick factor. Maybe, it is the fact polyamory and polygamy seem mundane, but the idea of a genetically manufactured individual with three gene sources is the scariest idea covered.

    @Michael, scripture has only one view of marriage and that is marriage is the image of God in the one flesh union of a man and a woman. Do not confuse historical accounts with acceptance.

  • SKPeterson

    If we do allow plural marriage, we may also need to adjust our justifiable homicide laws if all the old men snap up the young, marriageable women and eliminate the homesteading rights of young men to claim good breeding stock. That would be monopolistic and anti-competitive behavior and rightly condemned.

  • SKPeterson

    If we do allow plural marriage, we may also need to adjust our justifiable homicide laws if all the old men snap up the young, marriageable women and eliminate the homesteading rights of young men to claim good breeding stock. That would be monopolistic and anti-competitive behavior and rightly condemned.

  • Dave

    @Michael B.: You claim the Bible is unclear on what marriage is. To which the Lord Jesus Christ says to you,

    “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?”

    Have YOU not read? The historical recording of man’s deviation from God’s creation is /not/ an endorsement, or a “diverse” opinion.

  • Dave

    @Michael B.: You claim the Bible is unclear on what marriage is. To which the Lord Jesus Christ says to you,

    “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?”

    Have YOU not read? The historical recording of man’s deviation from God’s creation is /not/ an endorsement, or a “diverse” opinion.

  • Michael B.

    The problem is you try to force all the Bible authors agree with each other. They no more agree than today’s Christians agree. Trying to make the authors of the Bible all line up is as frustrating a task as trying to make Al Mohler, Jim Wallis, Joel Osteen, Al Sharpton, and Fred Phelps line up.

    It is true that one can find support for monogamy is the Bible. In the New Testament pastorial epistles, we are told that a pastor should be the husband of one wife. Presumably this excludes single men and polygamists as pastors. Some Christians think this precludes divorced and remarried men.

    On the other end of the spectrum, Paul actually states that he would prefer people not get married. (1 Cor. 7)

    Some of this forum claim that Jacob’s multiple wives was a horrible sin in the eyes of the Lord, and presumably Jacob lived his entire life sin and never repented. One finds difficulty finding where it says this in the Bible. I suspect if Jacob married men or non-Jews, the Bible would have a few negative things to say about it. This is not the only time polygamy is blessed in the Bible. Second Samuel 12 talks about the Lord giving a man “wives”.

    Polygamy, although strange to modern readers, isn’t the strangest concept of marriage advocated in the Bible. As just one example, we are told that rapists should marry their victims (Deu 22).

  • Michael B.

    The problem is you try to force all the Bible authors agree with each other. They no more agree than today’s Christians agree. Trying to make the authors of the Bible all line up is as frustrating a task as trying to make Al Mohler, Jim Wallis, Joel Osteen, Al Sharpton, and Fred Phelps line up.

    It is true that one can find support for monogamy is the Bible. In the New Testament pastorial epistles, we are told that a pastor should be the husband of one wife. Presumably this excludes single men and polygamists as pastors. Some Christians think this precludes divorced and remarried men.

    On the other end of the spectrum, Paul actually states that he would prefer people not get married. (1 Cor. 7)

    Some of this forum claim that Jacob’s multiple wives was a horrible sin in the eyes of the Lord, and presumably Jacob lived his entire life sin and never repented. One finds difficulty finding where it says this in the Bible. I suspect if Jacob married men or non-Jews, the Bible would have a few negative things to say about it. This is not the only time polygamy is blessed in the Bible. Second Samuel 12 talks about the Lord giving a man “wives”.

    Polygamy, although strange to modern readers, isn’t the strangest concept of marriage advocated in the Bible. As just one example, we are told that rapists should marry their victims (Deu 22).

  • rlewer

    It is not now illegal to have multiple sex partners either sequentially or even all at once. It is portrayed on TV on almost all the dramas and shown on all the “Judge Judy” type programs. It is common practice in real life. Even the Moslems have “temporary marriages.”

    Legal does not equal moral. Calling having multiple sex partners a marriage puts the stamp of societal approval on it. Is that what we really want?

  • rlewer

    It is not now illegal to have multiple sex partners either sequentially or even all at once. It is portrayed on TV on almost all the dramas and shown on all the “Judge Judy” type programs. It is common practice in real life. Even the Moslems have “temporary marriages.”

    Legal does not equal moral. Calling having multiple sex partners a marriage puts the stamp of societal approval on it. Is that what we really want?

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “One economist snickered that polygamy is illegal mainly because it threatens male lawmakers who fear they would not get wives in such a system.”

    The economist snickers that his political enemies would be without wives.

    But do we really think it would be funny to have a system that would mean that many men couldn’t marry?

    These same men would be taxed to provide social benefits to the children and wives of the few men who are the most attractive.

    Now maybe this economist is a real playa and gets lots of chicks, but do the rest of you guys really want to pick up the tab?

    In a social welfare environment a lot of guys would financially cuckolded.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “One economist snickered that polygamy is illegal mainly because it threatens male lawmakers who fear they would not get wives in such a system.”

    The economist snickers that his political enemies would be without wives.

    But do we really think it would be funny to have a system that would mean that many men couldn’t marry?

    These same men would be taxed to provide social benefits to the children and wives of the few men who are the most attractive.

    Now maybe this economist is a real playa and gets lots of chicks, but do the rest of you guys really want to pick up the tab?

    In a social welfare environment a lot of guys would financially cuckolded.

  • DonS

    Back to the question of the post:

    Do you see any legal obstacles to this, now that the door has been opened to define marriage in any way we want? (What’s best for children and women won’t carry any weight, if recent rulings are a guide. It has to be about “rights.”)

    Well said. If the federal case proceeding in the Ninth Circuit, regarding California’s Proposition 8, is finally decided to confirm Judge Walker’s judgment, then there will be no legal obstacle to polygamy. Judge Walker decided that the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution requires that all people be free to marry the partner of their choice, regardless of sex. He found, in fact, that the state had no rational basis for its one man/one woman marriage law, despite its centuries of practice, and despite the fact that only heterosexual couples can procreate. So protecting women and children was not a sufficient rational basis under his ruling. Using that logic, there is no rational basis for limiting civil marriage to a single partner, that I can see.

  • DonS

    Back to the question of the post:

    Do you see any legal obstacles to this, now that the door has been opened to define marriage in any way we want? (What’s best for children and women won’t carry any weight, if recent rulings are a guide. It has to be about “rights.”)

    Well said. If the federal case proceeding in the Ninth Circuit, regarding California’s Proposition 8, is finally decided to confirm Judge Walker’s judgment, then there will be no legal obstacle to polygamy. Judge Walker decided that the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution requires that all people be free to marry the partner of their choice, regardless of sex. He found, in fact, that the state had no rational basis for its one man/one woman marriage law, despite its centuries of practice, and despite the fact that only heterosexual couples can procreate. So protecting women and children was not a sufficient rational basis under his ruling. Using that logic, there is no rational basis for limiting civil marriage to a single partner, that I can see.

  • Les

    I struggle to know where the Bible gives a positive example of polygamy. Every family that is described as polygamous such as Jacobs, David’s or Solomon’s was deeply dysfunctional. There was constant strife, brothers contemplating murder, brothers selling a brother into slavery, fratricide, incestuous rape, attempted patricide, more incest, when Absolam slept with David’s wives, and oh goody, civil war and idolatry. Yep, God approves of polygamy because it’s in the Bible! Men who had more that one wife were not fit to called leaders. Paul only said singleness was better considering the times and the economic hardships that married couple faced.

  • Les

    I struggle to know where the Bible gives a positive example of polygamy. Every family that is described as polygamous such as Jacobs, David’s or Solomon’s was deeply dysfunctional. There was constant strife, brothers contemplating murder, brothers selling a brother into slavery, fratricide, incestuous rape, attempted patricide, more incest, when Absolam slept with David’s wives, and oh goody, civil war and idolatry. Yep, God approves of polygamy because it’s in the Bible! Men who had more that one wife were not fit to called leaders. Paul only said singleness was better considering the times and the economic hardships that married couple faced.

  • anon

    @sg

    You’re post made me wonder how beta males would fare in a polygamist society. However, there’s no reason that a society that promotes polygamy has to promote social welfare. In fact, in ancient times when polygamy was more widespread, there were far fewer government programs that would help children in need. On the other hand, societies with monogamy often promote socialism, in which people are forced to support other people’s children. Do you have a better solution? If a child is born to a dead beat dad, should the government not intervene and help pay for the child even if he is going to starve to death? I suppose if you wanted a more “survival of the fittest” society, one would allow polygamy, but the father can’t support the kid financially, the kid starves.

  • anon

    @sg

    You’re post made me wonder how beta males would fare in a polygamist society. However, there’s no reason that a society that promotes polygamy has to promote social welfare. In fact, in ancient times when polygamy was more widespread, there were far fewer government programs that would help children in need. On the other hand, societies with monogamy often promote socialism, in which people are forced to support other people’s children. Do you have a better solution? If a child is born to a dead beat dad, should the government not intervene and help pay for the child even if he is going to starve to death? I suppose if you wanted a more “survival of the fittest” society, one would allow polygamy, but the father can’t support the kid financially, the kid starves.

  • anon

    @sg

    You have to watch the movie “Idiocracy”. At least watch the opening 3 minutes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXRjmyJFzrU

  • anon

    @sg

    You have to watch the movie “Idiocracy”. At least watch the opening 3 minutes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXRjmyJFzrU

  • Gary

    I think the really interesting question is, when some state is the first to legally recognize polygamy, what will happen when some members of an LCMS congregation in that state enter into such a legal union? In other words, don’t worry so much about whether it can be stopped, start considering what will be the response when this happens and it touches us directly. Will this automatically be grounds for excommunication? Will there need to be repentance? If a man has two wives, will either of them be considered his actual wife? If his pastor tells him he must have only one wife, will the husband be pressured to get a divorce from one of them? THESE are the questions we should be thinking about, NOT “what will we do about THOSE folks out there?”

  • Gary

    I think the really interesting question is, when some state is the first to legally recognize polygamy, what will happen when some members of an LCMS congregation in that state enter into such a legal union? In other words, don’t worry so much about whether it can be stopped, start considering what will be the response when this happens and it touches us directly. Will this automatically be grounds for excommunication? Will there need to be repentance? If a man has two wives, will either of them be considered his actual wife? If his pastor tells him he must have only one wife, will the husband be pressured to get a divorce from one of them? THESE are the questions we should be thinking about, NOT “what will we do about THOSE folks out there?”

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael B said (@7):

    The problem is you try to force all the Bible authors agree with each other. They no more agree than today’s Christians agree. Trying to make the authors of the Bible all line up is as frustrating a task as trying to make Al Mohler, Jim Wallis, Joel Osteen, Al Sharpton, and Fred Phelps line up.

    Michael, you don’t get out much, do you? There are lots of people who find it quite easy to say that all the Bible authors agree with each other — and they honestly believe it. They don’t find it “frustrating” to “try to make” them line up, because they don’t have to try.

    Of course, you are convinced that they don’t line up, so anything that, in your understanding, doesn’t seem to “line up”, must necessarily be a problem with the original authors, and not your understanding. But I don’t think facts should be limited by your — or anyone else’s — understanding.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael B said (@7):

    The problem is you try to force all the Bible authors agree with each other. They no more agree than today’s Christians agree. Trying to make the authors of the Bible all line up is as frustrating a task as trying to make Al Mohler, Jim Wallis, Joel Osteen, Al Sharpton, and Fred Phelps line up.

    Michael, you don’t get out much, do you? There are lots of people who find it quite easy to say that all the Bible authors agree with each other — and they honestly believe it. They don’t find it “frustrating” to “try to make” them line up, because they don’t have to try.

    Of course, you are convinced that they don’t line up, so anything that, in your understanding, doesn’t seem to “line up”, must necessarily be a problem with the original authors, and not your understanding. But I don’t think facts should be limited by your — or anyone else’s — understanding.

  • James

    Polygamy is in the Bible (as an indicative, not imperative), and seems to be tolerated by God, but in the same way that divorce is tolerated – because of the hardness of hearts, and the fact that a nations constantly at war with her neighbours will have a significant imbalance between the genders. If a woman was unable to find a husband, that would often mean disgrace, and destitution. Polygamy at least provided for the welfare of women.

    Even if this one cultural concession was valid, it no longer applies today in our society where the genders are balanced.

  • James

    Polygamy is in the Bible (as an indicative, not imperative), and seems to be tolerated by God, but in the same way that divorce is tolerated – because of the hardness of hearts, and the fact that a nations constantly at war with her neighbours will have a significant imbalance between the genders. If a woman was unable to find a husband, that would often mean disgrace, and destitution. Polygamy at least provided for the welfare of women.

    Even if this one cultural concession was valid, it no longer applies today in our society where the genders are balanced.

  • Michael B.

    “There are lots of people who find it quite easy to say that all the Bible authors agree with each other ”

    But that’s just the thing — it isn’t easy for them. They have to do these convoluted textual gymnastics to try to force the authors to agree. Read some dissertations at conservative seminaries to see some real masochism. And this isn’t just conservative Christians that do this. Liberals do the same thing when they try to say that Leviticus doesn’t really condemn homosexuality, or that women can be preachers — in this case, they’re trying to force the Bible to agree with their political liberalism.

  • Michael B.

    “There are lots of people who find it quite easy to say that all the Bible authors agree with each other ”

    But that’s just the thing — it isn’t easy for them. They have to do these convoluted textual gymnastics to try to force the authors to agree. Read some dissertations at conservative seminaries to see some real masochism. And this isn’t just conservative Christians that do this. Liberals do the same thing when they try to say that Leviticus doesn’t really condemn homosexuality, or that women can be preachers — in this case, they’re trying to force the Bible to agree with their political liberalism.

  • Paul

    Michael B. wrote: “all the Bible authors.” That’s the thing. I believe that the Bible has one Author, though various writers. So if there appears to be contradiction, I begin with the assumption that there is something that I don’t understand rather than assuming that God botched the job of giving us His Word. Of course, there’s the initial sin once again: the temptation to make one’s self the arbiter of Truth. The alternative is to believe that Truth is unknowable which, of course, would fly in the face of what Jesus said: “I am . . . the Truth.”

    As to the original question, I like what rlewer points out @8. That there is a distinction between legal and moral. I also think that this answers Gary’s issue @8. We should preach and teach that “legal” ≠ moral per God’s instructions.

  • Paul

    Michael B. wrote: “all the Bible authors.” That’s the thing. I believe that the Bible has one Author, though various writers. So if there appears to be contradiction, I begin with the assumption that there is something that I don’t understand rather than assuming that God botched the job of giving us His Word. Of course, there’s the initial sin once again: the temptation to make one’s self the arbiter of Truth. The alternative is to believe that Truth is unknowable which, of course, would fly in the face of what Jesus said: “I am . . . the Truth.”

    As to the original question, I like what rlewer points out @8. That there is a distinction between legal and moral. I also think that this answers Gary’s issue @8. We should preach and teach that “legal” ≠ moral per God’s instructions.

  • helen

    It is true that one can find support for monogamy is the Bible. In the New Testament pastorial epistles, we are told that a pastor should be the husband of one wife. Presumably this excludes single men and polygamists as pastors. Some Christians think this precludes divorced and remarried men.

    On the other end of the spectrum, Paul actually states that he would prefer people not get married. (1 Cor. 7)

    If we follow the Lutheran instruction to “let the clear passages explain the less clear ones” you will not exclude ‘single men’ from the pastoral office. Paul was clearly single (though likely a widower) and he speaks of the advantages of remaining single. The Lutheran confessions also comment on singleness as a higher gift than marriage, (if it is a gift, and freely chosen) as Christ spoke of some who remained single “for the kingdom of God”. The bias against single Pastors is unwarranted.

    [Christ also said that a divorced and remarried man was an adulterer.] That is a fairly clear statement, though not widely accepted these days….

  • helen

    It is true that one can find support for monogamy is the Bible. In the New Testament pastorial epistles, we are told that a pastor should be the husband of one wife. Presumably this excludes single men and polygamists as pastors. Some Christians think this precludes divorced and remarried men.

    On the other end of the spectrum, Paul actually states that he would prefer people not get married. (1 Cor. 7)

    If we follow the Lutheran instruction to “let the clear passages explain the less clear ones” you will not exclude ‘single men’ from the pastoral office. Paul was clearly single (though likely a widower) and he speaks of the advantages of remaining single. The Lutheran confessions also comment on singleness as a higher gift than marriage, (if it is a gift, and freely chosen) as Christ spoke of some who remained single “for the kingdom of God”. The bias against single Pastors is unwarranted.

    [Christ also said that a divorced and remarried man was an adulterer.] That is a fairly clear statement, though not widely accepted these days….

  • Quinn M

    Just thought that this latest ruling from the Great White North might be of interest if anyone is still foloowing this thread:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/11/23/bc-polygamy-ruling-supreme-court.html

  • Quinn M

    Just thought that this latest ruling from the Great White North might be of interest if anyone is still foloowing this thread:

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/story/2011/11/23/bc-polygamy-ruling-supreme-court.html

  • Gary

    Paul (@18), we all understand legal ≠ moral, irrespective of God’s commands. (Even atheists I think will agree that legal ≠ moral.) Your point barely begins to address my question(s).

    Let me make one observation of my own, and then lay out a hypothetical case, which is actually quite likely given enough time.

    Officially, the LCMS is “pro-life.” Leaving aside exceptional circumstances, such as risk to the mother’s life, incest, etc., the church body’s position is that abortion is considered murder, even though we have to acknowledge that in this country it is legal. Our position on this issue is commonly known, both in our own circles and outside them. Yet we would be naive to believe no women in our congregations ever have abortions, or that no pastors know about them. And yet I can make this observation: We do not excommunicate women who have had abortions.

    Not that I think we should start doing that–putting women who’ve had abortions under discipline–although many will doubtless say that’s EXACTLY what’s wrong with the LCMS. But I’ve never heard of any congregation anywhere that took the official position of the synod and then put someone out of the church because she wouldn’t repent of having an abortion. I know of none.

    Likewise, I believe we won’t know what to do in a situation where church members have entered into a polygamous union. Do we do nothing (which is probably what we’ll end up doing)? Do we bring church discipline to bear on the case because they are openly “living in sin”? Then they will need to be shown their sin from Scripture before any action can be taken, and that’s just the problem! What Scripture can be used that unambiguously teaches it IS, in fact, a sin?

    Do you see why I’m doing this? We ask these questions NOW, and get to thinking about them so that later on we’re not trying to pull answers out of the thin air when we’re confronted with the real-life situations.

    So now here’s my not-so-far-fetched case: Suppose Utah is the first state in the Union to legalize polygamy. Not much of a stretch there, is it? Now a Mormon man adds a second wife under the law, and legally his second marriage is just as real as his first–meaning to get out of the second marriage would require divorce proceedings, including possibly alimony, child custody, etc. Now enter into this picture the faithful LCMS pastor in Utah, who preaches Law and Gospel and the errors of LDS heresy, and somehow manages to convert all three of the marriage partners. Now they all want to become Lutheran. And they want to join his church. What does this faithful pastor do? Does he not let them join? Does he send them to the ELCA church across town? Does he tell the man he must divorce one (probably the second) of his wives, even though in other circumstances this same pastor has called divorce a sin? Or does the pastor and congregation overlook this sin and rejoice in the new converts, instructing the family and then baptizing all three parents and all their collective kids? (Yes, there’s bound to be kids involved. Or are we going to dictate that they must split up the siblings? Some will get to live with their father and some won’t?)

    This scenario not only could really happen some day, I’d say it’s inevitable that it will happen. I wasn’t confused about the distinction between morality and legality, I want to us think about real situations we will have to address.

  • Gary

    Paul (@18), we all understand legal ≠ moral, irrespective of God’s commands. (Even atheists I think will agree that legal ≠ moral.) Your point barely begins to address my question(s).

    Let me make one observation of my own, and then lay out a hypothetical case, which is actually quite likely given enough time.

    Officially, the LCMS is “pro-life.” Leaving aside exceptional circumstances, such as risk to the mother’s life, incest, etc., the church body’s position is that abortion is considered murder, even though we have to acknowledge that in this country it is legal. Our position on this issue is commonly known, both in our own circles and outside them. Yet we would be naive to believe no women in our congregations ever have abortions, or that no pastors know about them. And yet I can make this observation: We do not excommunicate women who have had abortions.

    Not that I think we should start doing that–putting women who’ve had abortions under discipline–although many will doubtless say that’s EXACTLY what’s wrong with the LCMS. But I’ve never heard of any congregation anywhere that took the official position of the synod and then put someone out of the church because she wouldn’t repent of having an abortion. I know of none.

    Likewise, I believe we won’t know what to do in a situation where church members have entered into a polygamous union. Do we do nothing (which is probably what we’ll end up doing)? Do we bring church discipline to bear on the case because they are openly “living in sin”? Then they will need to be shown their sin from Scripture before any action can be taken, and that’s just the problem! What Scripture can be used that unambiguously teaches it IS, in fact, a sin?

    Do you see why I’m doing this? We ask these questions NOW, and get to thinking about them so that later on we’re not trying to pull answers out of the thin air when we’re confronted with the real-life situations.

    So now here’s my not-so-far-fetched case: Suppose Utah is the first state in the Union to legalize polygamy. Not much of a stretch there, is it? Now a Mormon man adds a second wife under the law, and legally his second marriage is just as real as his first–meaning to get out of the second marriage would require divorce proceedings, including possibly alimony, child custody, etc. Now enter into this picture the faithful LCMS pastor in Utah, who preaches Law and Gospel and the errors of LDS heresy, and somehow manages to convert all three of the marriage partners. Now they all want to become Lutheran. And they want to join his church. What does this faithful pastor do? Does he not let them join? Does he send them to the ELCA church across town? Does he tell the man he must divorce one (probably the second) of his wives, even though in other circumstances this same pastor has called divorce a sin? Or does the pastor and congregation overlook this sin and rejoice in the new converts, instructing the family and then baptizing all three parents and all their collective kids? (Yes, there’s bound to be kids involved. Or are we going to dictate that they must split up the siblings? Some will get to live with their father and some won’t?)

    This scenario not only could really happen some day, I’d say it’s inevitable that it will happen. I wasn’t confused about the distinction between morality and legality, I want to us think about real situations we will have to address.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Gary (@21), your questions are good, but I think you’ve largely touched on the eventual answer: Scripture is far more explicit in condemning divorce than it is with polygamy. Best I can tell, all we really can say is that Scripture pictures one man and one woman as the ideal, and likely contains some warnings about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of polygamous marriages. But we dare not, as a church, excommunicate (or whatever) someone on the basis of lacking wisdom!

    Anyhow, these questions are only hypothetical in some parts of the world. In other parts of the world, our Lutheran — certainly our Christian — brothers are already dealing with the question of polygamous families joining the church. From what I have read, at least some of the churches have wisely decided to allow the polygamous marriages to remain intact, while counseling the men involved not to marry any more women. After all, in such situations, were the man to divorce Wife #2 (et al.), she would almost certainly be in a much worse situation, unsupported, perhaps shunned, maybe even worse, if the community suspected adultery was behind the divorce. How could you call such a thing showing love to her?

    Of course, this really only raises the question about gay marriages that I think most Christians have given, at best, cursory thought to. But I’ll leave that for another day.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Gary (@21), your questions are good, but I think you’ve largely touched on the eventual answer: Scripture is far more explicit in condemning divorce than it is with polygamy. Best I can tell, all we really can say is that Scripture pictures one man and one woman as the ideal, and likely contains some warnings about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of polygamous marriages. But we dare not, as a church, excommunicate (or whatever) someone on the basis of lacking wisdom!

    Anyhow, these questions are only hypothetical in some parts of the world. In other parts of the world, our Lutheran — certainly our Christian — brothers are already dealing with the question of polygamous families joining the church. From what I have read, at least some of the churches have wisely decided to allow the polygamous marriages to remain intact, while counseling the men involved not to marry any more women. After all, in such situations, were the man to divorce Wife #2 (et al.), she would almost certainly be in a much worse situation, unsupported, perhaps shunned, maybe even worse, if the community suspected adultery was behind the divorce. How could you call such a thing showing love to her?

    Of course, this really only raises the question about gay marriages that I think most Christians have given, at best, cursory thought to. But I’ll leave that for another day.

  • Paul

    So for the sake of love we are to allow our brothers and sisters to continue in an amoral relationship? Such parsing of the Law does not honor Christ. We preach and teach what the Word says, including the Law in all its uses. Surely we are all sinful in regard to the sixth commandment. There is no ‘pass’ on that commandment for those who are faithful in a one-wife, lifetime marriage for even the man who so much as looks at a woman with lust in his heart commits adultery. And leading one to confess their sins and amend their sinful ways, including sexual sins, is not the goal of the ultimate goal of the Law; it is to lead us to seek the Gospel. Can the Gospel be apprehended by faith when one willfully and persistently continues in amoral behavior? I’m not talking about the sins of weakness, but the sins of intent.

    Here’s a scenario for you. A man and woman are both widowed and living on small pensions. Together, their pensions give them a more comfortable living, but if they marry then the rules of their pensions will decrease their annual income. Should they be able to continue living as married when they are not married and while defrauding their pensions and the government?

    The answer is that the church should not only speak against the immoral behavior, but also seek to support the one who is divorced. Or perhaps, since in your scenario all three were converted, the two that remain together can continue to support the one who no longer has sexual relations with the other two.

    Refusing to preach the Law is not love. But neither does love stop once the amoral behavior is ceased. For example: It is still loving to preach against abortion. But it is not loving to abandon the single mother and fatherless child when the baby has been delivered. Love compels us to both speak the truth and continue to care for one another.

    But some will say that polygamy or polyamore is not sinful according to the Scriptures. I submit that they take this opinion because they have already arrived at an answer that seems good to them, not searching for the Answer from God, but for reasons why an answer cannot be found. “Did God really say…?” is already known to be a dangerous, dangerous question. It would be safer and wiser to ask “What has God said?” without an answer already in mind.

    Again, some will say, “Then show me where the Scriptures say this” and I will point you to the Word from Moses, repeated by Christ, and repeated also by Paul that a man shall leave his mother and cleave unto his wife (singular). That is the clear reading. The burden of proof to show that another more difficult reading is better belongs to those who wish something other than the clear reading.

    Furthermore, I would point to the sections of Scripture which would be stripped of their meaning if this foundational text is meant to mean something other than its plain meaning of marriage instituted by God for one man and one woman only for as long as they shall both live.

    What then about the polygamy of Solomon and others? Others here have already pointed out the trouble with taking those individuals as examples. Jesus even explains that such thing may have been allowed due to the hardness of heart. But quickly He adds that “it was not so from the beginning.” Indeed, much of what we now have and hold as Scripture was not yet written in the time of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob; even at the time of Solomon. But having the rest of the Old Testament as well as the New, and especially having the Gospels and the incarnate Word we have been given much more information concerning the design of the creation and the intent of much which God built-into the Creation as was already received by God’s people by the time of Jesus’ birth since polygamy was already prohibited; was it not?

    Finally, it seems quite dangerous also to expect that the Apostolic Fathers and so many centuries of church theologians have had it wrong. Yes, it is possible that they were wrong. But once again the burden of proof lies on the one who intends to correct as even it was for Luther – and Luther stood with the first millenium Christians whereas this new view of marriage in the New Testament stands apart from the belief of two millenia. Tell me when and where literate Christians have allowed the continuance of polygamy and have not wept over its practice among believers?

    The argument that God hates divorce does not stand up to scrutiny when Christians deal with one another in love. And where one party is not Christian, the Church continues to work in love for those in need. It simply cannot be that we must continue to sin because the alternative is too much to consider.

  • Paul

    So for the sake of love we are to allow our brothers and sisters to continue in an amoral relationship? Such parsing of the Law does not honor Christ. We preach and teach what the Word says, including the Law in all its uses. Surely we are all sinful in regard to the sixth commandment. There is no ‘pass’ on that commandment for those who are faithful in a one-wife, lifetime marriage for even the man who so much as looks at a woman with lust in his heart commits adultery. And leading one to confess their sins and amend their sinful ways, including sexual sins, is not the goal of the ultimate goal of the Law; it is to lead us to seek the Gospel. Can the Gospel be apprehended by faith when one willfully and persistently continues in amoral behavior? I’m not talking about the sins of weakness, but the sins of intent.

    Here’s a scenario for you. A man and woman are both widowed and living on small pensions. Together, their pensions give them a more comfortable living, but if they marry then the rules of their pensions will decrease their annual income. Should they be able to continue living as married when they are not married and while defrauding their pensions and the government?

    The answer is that the church should not only speak against the immoral behavior, but also seek to support the one who is divorced. Or perhaps, since in your scenario all three were converted, the two that remain together can continue to support the one who no longer has sexual relations with the other two.

    Refusing to preach the Law is not love. But neither does love stop once the amoral behavior is ceased. For example: It is still loving to preach against abortion. But it is not loving to abandon the single mother and fatherless child when the baby has been delivered. Love compels us to both speak the truth and continue to care for one another.

    But some will say that polygamy or polyamore is not sinful according to the Scriptures. I submit that they take this opinion because they have already arrived at an answer that seems good to them, not searching for the Answer from God, but for reasons why an answer cannot be found. “Did God really say…?” is already known to be a dangerous, dangerous question. It would be safer and wiser to ask “What has God said?” without an answer already in mind.

    Again, some will say, “Then show me where the Scriptures say this” and I will point you to the Word from Moses, repeated by Christ, and repeated also by Paul that a man shall leave his mother and cleave unto his wife (singular). That is the clear reading. The burden of proof to show that another more difficult reading is better belongs to those who wish something other than the clear reading.

    Furthermore, I would point to the sections of Scripture which would be stripped of their meaning if this foundational text is meant to mean something other than its plain meaning of marriage instituted by God for one man and one woman only for as long as they shall both live.

    What then about the polygamy of Solomon and others? Others here have already pointed out the trouble with taking those individuals as examples. Jesus even explains that such thing may have been allowed due to the hardness of heart. But quickly He adds that “it was not so from the beginning.” Indeed, much of what we now have and hold as Scripture was not yet written in the time of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob; even at the time of Solomon. But having the rest of the Old Testament as well as the New, and especially having the Gospels and the incarnate Word we have been given much more information concerning the design of the creation and the intent of much which God built-into the Creation as was already received by God’s people by the time of Jesus’ birth since polygamy was already prohibited; was it not?

    Finally, it seems quite dangerous also to expect that the Apostolic Fathers and so many centuries of church theologians have had it wrong. Yes, it is possible that they were wrong. But once again the burden of proof lies on the one who intends to correct as even it was for Luther – and Luther stood with the first millenium Christians whereas this new view of marriage in the New Testament stands apart from the belief of two millenia. Tell me when and where literate Christians have allowed the continuance of polygamy and have not wept over its practice among believers?

    The argument that God hates divorce does not stand up to scrutiny when Christians deal with one another in love. And where one party is not Christian, the Church continues to work in love for those in need. It simply cannot be that we must continue to sin because the alternative is too much to consider.

  • Gary

    Paul, first of all, thank you for your serious and considered response. I wanted to drive the discussion down this path, not because I have all the answers, but because otherwise I fear it would have revolved around what we can do to stop the culture from taking this step, and I honestly don’t believe there is ANYTHING we can do to more than delay the inevitable. That’s just my opinion, but it results in me being more concerned about the church’s response than about hand-wringing how terrible it would be if it came to pass. It probably will come to pass, so let’s figure out how we might deal with it, and your’s is one response.

    You have misread me; I am not advocating for an accept-anything-to-be-loving response. I fully agree that when a church becomes the Church of Anything Goes, it becomes worse than useless. IF polygamy is morally wrong, then Christians must speak out against it. But it can be a complicated issue, and some Christians (including myself) will not find your argument compelling. Just saying. But I would wish for just this kind of discussion to continue.

  • Gary

    Paul, first of all, thank you for your serious and considered response. I wanted to drive the discussion down this path, not because I have all the answers, but because otherwise I fear it would have revolved around what we can do to stop the culture from taking this step, and I honestly don’t believe there is ANYTHING we can do to more than delay the inevitable. That’s just my opinion, but it results in me being more concerned about the church’s response than about hand-wringing how terrible it would be if it came to pass. It probably will come to pass, so let’s figure out how we might deal with it, and your’s is one response.

    You have misread me; I am not advocating for an accept-anything-to-be-loving response. I fully agree that when a church becomes the Church of Anything Goes, it becomes worse than useless. IF polygamy is morally wrong, then Christians must speak out against it. But it can be a complicated issue, and some Christians (including myself) will not find your argument compelling. Just saying. But I would wish for just this kind of discussion to continue.

  • kerner

    Paul:

    As tODD pointed out, Gary’s hypothetical is not unheard of in many parts of the world. We see it in Africa where missionaries convert polygamous families. Sometimes the 2nd or 3rd wife has been married to her husband for many years and has children by him.

    So, does the Law require that the husband send his 2nd (or 3rd) spouse(s), and their children, away?

    I’m not sure how we handle that situation in Africa, although it may be that we just tell the man not to take any more wives and go from there.

    But I think it’s a fair question, and a very good one, to ask what we will do if this scenario confronts us in Utah. Because Gary’s right. We could easily see it there in the not too distant future.

  • kerner

    Paul:

    As tODD pointed out, Gary’s hypothetical is not unheard of in many parts of the world. We see it in Africa where missionaries convert polygamous families. Sometimes the 2nd or 3rd wife has been married to her husband for many years and has children by him.

    So, does the Law require that the husband send his 2nd (or 3rd) spouse(s), and their children, away?

    I’m not sure how we handle that situation in Africa, although it may be that we just tell the man not to take any more wives and go from there.

    But I think it’s a fair question, and a very good one, to ask what we will do if this scenario confronts us in Utah. Because Gary’s right. We could easily see it there in the not too distant future.


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