Which groups practice polygamy?

Though illegal in most countries, polygamy is practiced by a number of religious movements (and tends to be tolerated in deference to religious freedom):

  • According to the Koran, polygamy is allowed in Islam. However, Muslims tend to disagree on how to interpret their religion’s teachings on the subject. Overal, while the practice is allowed, it is subject to certain rules, and is not only discouraged by according to some, "the real intention of the Qur’an, is to ultimately abolish polygamy albeit gradually". Most Muslims do not practice polygamy.
  • There is a small group of people — mostly in the USA — who identify themselves as Christians and who promote and practice polygamy, claiming that the Bible allows them to do so. They base their views on incorrect interpretations of the Bible, ignoring even the most basic principles of hermeneutics. Their practices place this group outside the boundaries of orthodox Christianity.

    Christian polygamists, is there such a thing? Yes, they claim to have over 14,000 participants worldwide and many of them are moving to the western United States, particularly Utah.

    Their main purpose in coming to Utah and surrounding areas is to convert the Mormon polygamists to Christian polygamy (since they don’t believe Mormon fundamentalists to be Christians).
    Tapestry Against Polygamy – FAQ

  • Christian churches in — for the most part — African countries often have polygamist converts from other religions (e.g. Islam) among their members. Churches leaders has said that it is difficult to convert polygamous Muslims to Christianity unless they could keep their wives.

    Many such churches say polygamous converts are prevented from taking leadership positions in the church until they accept monogamy.

  • While the Mormon Church no longer openly advocates polygamy – and excommunicates those who do practice it, various fundamentalist sects of Mormonism hold on to early Mormon teachings that made polygamy a central part of the Mormon faith. [Example: Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS)]
    polygamous wives

    50 of the estimated 70-80 wives of Warren Jeffs, leader of the polygamous FLDS cult. In August, 2011, a Texas jury convicted polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs of child sexual assault Thursday in a case stemming from two young followers he took as brides in what his church calls “spiritual marriages.” He was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years. 1

    Despite a century of efforts to distance itself from polygamy, the notion of multiple wives clings to the LDS Church in the popular mind.

    That’s because it was once at the heart of Mormon identity — defended from the pulpit, in the courtroom and in Congress. Latter-day Saint leaders forsook the practice only after draconian anti-polygamy measures by the U.S. government left them believing their very survival was at risk.

    Today The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints excommunicates anyone who promotes or practices polygamy. Candidates for a temple recommend are asked whether they “support, affiliate with or agree with” any opposition groups, which is often seen as code for polygamists. And the church’s global missionaries cannot even begin to share the church’s message with African polygamists.

    “It’s behind us,” LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley said in 1998. “I condemn it as a practice. It is not doctrinal. It is not legal.”

    Still, it’s not so easy to disentangle the principle of plural marriage from Mormonism.

    It is still enshrined in Mormon scripture (Doctrine & Covenants 132) and some believe it will one day be re-established, if not on earth, at least in heaven. In his quasi-official 1966 book Mormon Doctrine, which remains in print, the late LDS Apostle Bruce R. McConkie wrote that “the holy practice will commence again after the Second Coming and the ushering in of the millennium.”
    Polygamy was rejected under the gun By Peggy Fletcher Stack, The Salt Lake Tribune, Mar. 14, 2004



    Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought the practice of polygamy to Utah in the 1840s when they settled the state.

    Church leaders taught that the practice was ordained by God, but they disavowed plural marriage some 50 years later under pressure from the federal government. LDS doctrine teaches that polygamy will be part of life after death.

    – Source: Polygamy Offensive Not Likely, Green case called an exception, Salt Lake Tribune, May 20, 2001



    I wanted to compliment you on your well-researched and even-handed treatment of polygamy in Utah and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (TribuneOff-site Link, Dec. 11). As a former LDS missionary (Argentina, 1966-68), I’ve seen far too much denial and distortion on the subject.

    The article is correct that Mormon families, like mine, are proud of our heritage and the courage of our ancestors. But it’s not absolutely correct that ”the [Mormon] church in 1890 disavowed polygamy.” Transformed might be a better word, since polygamy in some form has continued to be officially endorsed by the church to this day.

    LDS Church records reflect that church leaders authorized new polygamous weddings (often performed secretly in Mexico or Canada) for trusted members from 1890 up until 1904. After that, new marriages were forbidden but existing polygamous marriages continued to receive strong church support.

    Today the church teaches that those worthy elders of a century ago live with their polygamous families in the highest level of heaven. And polygamous weddings (or sealings, as we call them) are still performed in Mormon temples around the world today.

    – Source: Polygamy Facts, Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 29, 2000 (Letters to the Editor)


  1. This type of polygamy is unusual, and therefore not representative of how polygamy is usually practiced.
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This post was last updated: Nov. 10, 2015