The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines polygamy
as a "marriage in which a spouse of either sex may have more than one mate at the same time "
as "the act of entering into a marriage with one person while still legally married to another"
In most countries, bigamy is illegal. However, in some countries - including America and Canada - the practice of polygamy is tolerated largely because it is done
- as a religious practice (and thus involves issues of religious freedom), and
- the people involved do not actually marry before the law. Rather, a man will marry one woman, and 'marry' additional wives in what they consider to be the 'spiritual' sense
Some polygamists use this construction to then obtain social security benefits, in a practice they refer to as "bleeding the beast."
[T]he American taxpayer pays for much of this lifestyle. Recent records show in one year residents here collected more than $8-million from social services — including food stamps, welfare, health care — but the entire town paid less than $100,000 in income taxes.
"They are told to go on welfare," Jessop said. "It's called, "bleeding the beast." They find it amusing that Satan is supporting God's work."
This is one reason the practice is now under scrutiny in America - particularly in Colorado and Utah, states with significant polygamist communities.
Other reasons why polygamy has come under fire:
- Some polygamists 'marry' underage girls
- In some religious polygamist sects, women are treated as property, and are subject to arranged marriages
Recently, one polygamous religious group, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
(FLDS), has been in the news. In what some consider to be muscle-flexing of its leader, Warren Jeffs, the group in January, 2004, excommunicated a number of men
. In the process, they not only lost their homes, but their wives and children were re-assigned to other men
Note: theologically the FLDS is a sect
, which in turn is (again theologically) considered to be a cult of Christianity
Which groups practice polygamy?
- 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 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).
- While the Mormon Church no longer openly advocates polygamy - and excommunicates those who do practice it, various fundementalist sects of Mormonism hold on to early Mormon teachings that made polygamy a central part of the Mormon faith.
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."
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.
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
, 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.
, Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 29, 2000 (Letters to the Editor)
» The Polygamy Dilemma - Is Plural Marriage a Dead Issue in Mormonism?
» Chapter 9 in "The Changing World of Mormonism" deals with the Mormon Church's views on Polygamy
What the Bible says
From the very beginning God
created one woman for one man (see Genesis 1:27
). Deuteronomy 17:17 explicitly instructed the king not to "multiply wives."
Moses' law said, the king "shall not multiply horses to himself... Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away: neither shall he greatly multiply to himself silver and gold" (Deuteronomy 17:16-17
Polygamy’s origins and consequences
A very important point to remember is that not everything
in the Bible is approved
in the Bible. Consider where polygamy originated — first in the line of the murderer Cain, not the godly line of Seth. The first recorded polygamist was the murderer Lamech (Gen. 4:23–24
). Then Esau, who despised his birthright, also
caused much grief to his parents by marrying two pagan wives (Gen. 26:34
God also forbade the kings of Israel to be polygamous (Deut. 17:17
). Look at the trouble when they disobeyed,
including deadly sibling rivalry between David’s sons from his different wives;
and Solomon’s hundreds of wives helped lead Solomon to idolatry (1 Kings 11:1–3
). Also, Hannah, Samuel’s mother, was humiliated
by her husband Elkanah’s other wife Peninnah (1 Sam. 1:1–7
What about godly men who were polygamous?
Abraham and Sarah would have been monogamous apart from a low
point in their faith when Hagar became a second wife — note how much strife this
caused later. Jacob only wanted Rachel, but was tricked into marrying her older
sister Leah, and later he took their slave girls at the sisters’ urging, due to
the rivalry between the sisters. Jacob was hardly at a spiritual high point at
those times, and neither was David when he added Abigail and Ahinoam (1 Sam. 25:42–43
Why did God seem to allow it, then?
It is more like the case of divorce, which God tolerated for a
while under certain conditions because of the hardness of their hearts, but was
not the way it was intended from the beginning (Matt. 19:8
). But whenever the Mosaic law had provisions for
polygamy, it was always the conditional ‘If he
takes another wife to himself …’
never an encouragement. God put a number of obligations of the husband towards
the additional wives which would discourage polygamy. It is no wonder that
polygamy was unknown among the Jews after the Babylonian exile, and monogamy was
the rule even among the Greeks and Romans by New Testament times.
Polygamy is illegal in Utah and forbidden by the Arizona constitution. However, law enforcement agencies in both states have decided to focus on crimes within polygamous communities that involve child abuse, domestic violence and fraud. The Utah Attorney General's Office and the Arizona Attorney General's Office also worked together to produce "The Primer---Helping Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse in Polygamous Communities." This manual provides basic information about various polygamous communities that will assist human services professionals, law enforcement officers and others in helping victims from these communities. The Primer will be updated regularly to reflect modifications in the law and changes in each organization's beliefs and practices. Click here to read or print the latest PDF version of The Primer
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Polygamy on the Border
Extensive Special Report by The Salt Lake Tribune, Mar. 15, 2004
» Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
(polygamous sect of Mormonism)
» Nave's Topical Index - Polygamy
A collection of Bible verses dealing with the topic of polygamy.
(Pro) Argues that polygamy is Biblical.
Hope for the Child Brides
Hope for the Child Brides is a St. George, Utah based non-profit organization. We work with Help the Child Brides, a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to ending abuses in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) communities. ChildBrides.org provides information on the background of the Utah/Arizona and the Canadian FLDS polygamous communities, true stories of some of the victims of abuse, current events in the news regarding the issues surrounding these communities, and a portal to contact elected officials to voice your opinions about these issues.
(Contra) This extensive site by a Mormon
skeptic includes a number of articles regarding Mormon polygamy.
(Contra) Extensive anti-polygamy site, operated by an ex-mormon (formerly married to a polygamist)
Tapestry against Polygamy
(Contra) A non-profit organization led by ex-polygamous wives and family members. It's stated purpose is to assist others in making ''the transition from polygamy to mainstream society.''
Principle Voices of Polygamy
(Pro) "[A]n advocacy organization committed to educating others about polygamous families and their culture, and to encouraging empowerment of individuals and families from the polygamous culture to secure for themselves equal representation and civil rights."