You have indicated that you would favor laws that outlaw polygamy, so let me reword my earlier question. Let’s say I live in a state that has a referendum on the ballot that states something like “Under the laws of this state, marriage shall be construed as being exclusively monogamous in nature.”
If I vote in the affirmative for such a referendum:
1. Have I necessarily violated 1 Corinthians 5: 12-13?
2. Have I been mean-spirited, placed myself in a morally superior position or in some way ungraciously judged/condemned those who disagree and would like the state to affirm that their own polygamous relationship(s) is/are a marriage?
I am not really asking whether such a referendum ought to be passed, or whether a Christian person ought to vote “Yes” on such a referendum. I am just asking if necessarily they have done something not in keeping with being a follower of Christ.
You ask a fair question, but I remind you that I began the series promising only principles and not answers. I’ve not sorted this out to the point of creating a decision tree or algorithmic answer. But good questions help with the sorting out process.
Let me offer some questions to reflect on, rather than answers regarding polygamy.
1. First, what does the Bible say about polygamy? I think the NT teaches monogamy, but plenty of people disagree with me.
2. Second, what does the Bible say about polygamy for non-Christians? Does the Bible address how many wives a non-believer should have?
3. Third, what impact does polygamy have on those who engage in the practice in today’s world? Does it treat women well? Does it tend to demean or objectivize women or men? One thing the Sermon on the Mount teaches is that we may not use people or treat them as less then fully human or of less than equal value to all.
4. Fourth, what impact does polygamy have on a society? Recent studies have shown that polygamy has declined largely due to its inability to successfully compete against monogamous cultures, although the reasons for this are debated. Monogamous cultures historically defeat polygamous cultures — in war, in commerce, etc. Polygamous cultures tend to disappear.
We see something of this in the history of Judah or the Southern Kingdom of Israel. Each good king that opposed idolatry and honored God was followed by his oldest son — a bad king. Why didn’t the good kings of Judah do a better job of raising their children? Well, the king was busy with his harem and didn’t bother with child rearing duties — or something like that. Obviously, if the king had worked hard as a parent, at least some of the good kings would have been followed by good king sons. But the polygamous culture seems to have kept that from happening.
In suppressing intrasexual competition and reducing the size of the pool of unmarried men, normative monogamy reduces crime rates, including rape, murder, assault, robbery and fraud, as well as decreasing personal abuses. By assuaging the competition for younger brides, normative monogamy decreases (i) the spousal age gap, (ii) fertility, and (iii) gender inequality. By shifting male efforts from seeking wives to paternal investment, normative monogamy increases savings, child investment and economic productivity. By increasing the relatedness within households, normative monogamy reduces intra-household conflict, leading to lower rates of child neglect, abuse, accidental death and homicide.
5. Fifth, the law is largely irrelevant to those in the church if we believe God calls us to monogamy (as I do). But if we expect to enjoy First Amendment protections for our own religious beliefs, shouldn’t we be careful not to infringe the religious beliefs of others? The Golden Rule applies here, as anywhere else. The First Amendment only benefits those who lack political power to protect their practices through the ballot box. Are we at risk of setting a dangerous anti-religious practice precedent if we push a law against polygamy? Of course, this would require that polygamy be taught by some religion as a mandate, not merely permissive.
So, you see, to me it’s not as easy as “God is against polygamy and so I must vote to outlaw it.” While I believe God has rejected polygamy, I know that my view is not universally held even by Christians. And even I would concede that, for example, in a mission field we should not be destroying polygamous marriages as a condition to salvation. God wants monogamy but he has not declared polygamy sinful — and obviously the OT does not make polygamy intolerable to God. So it’s not an easy black/white issue.
On the other hand, there is the Bob Jones University holding of the US Supreme Court, which basically rules that a law doesn’t violate the First Amendment even if it requires someone to violate his religious beliefs so long as it’s broadly targeted and not enacted for anti-religious reasons. In the Bob Jones U case, the IRS threatened to take away their tax exemption because they opposed inter-racial marriage — based on a peculiar reading of Genesis. The courts upheld the ruling because the IRS position on race wasn’t targeting religion.
Now, this is already the law. But the more the church cooperates in suppressing competing religions through the laws, the more precedents exist for suppressing Christianity. And the gay rights issue will be how it’s done. So acquiescing in banning polygamy may set the precedent that later is used against Christian teachings on homosexuality. Hence, the lawyer in me says to stay away from the polygamy issue. It’ll be used against us.
On the other hand, if I were convinced that polygamy truly is bad for women (and I am) and/or society (that, too), I think principle overrides prudence — if the risks to society are real. Love for women would compel me to vote against any law that threatens their mistreatment. I think Deuteronomy and the prophets are quite clear on this sort of question. If the church can’t stand for the oppressed, we have no business existing, much less claiming tax privileges.
I realize that there are a lot of “ifs” in what I just said, but that’s how I’d approach the question. But my thinking is very much a work in progress.
Ultimately, “love your neighbor” rules the day, and so voting to protect those who cannot protect themselves is right. It’s what Christians ought to do. Rather than seeing ourselves as sex or morality police, we should think of ourselves as caring for those without political power and subject to abuse — sometimes even by the government. By thinking of others, we’ll both be doing what we’ve been commanded to do and also we’ll be perceived as caring people. Both would be very good things.