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The social problems caused by polygamy

Photo: Sierra Leone -- 37% of the women of Sierra Leone are involved in a polygamous marriage. Credit: Lindsay Stark/Wikipedia

Photo: Sierra Leone — 37% of the women of Sierra Leone are involved in a polygamous marriage. Credit: Lindsay Stark/Wikipedia

According to an article in the National Post, last July two men from Bountiful, British Columbia, Canada were found guilty of polygamy. Both were members of an offshoot of the Mormon church called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Winston Blackmore was found guilty of having 24 wives and James Oler, five. Both appealed their case arguing it infringed on their religious freedom. They recently lost their appeal and will soon be sentenced.

I was glad the government acted on this case, because polygamy can cause serious social problems and unrest in a country, and it is not just for the women involved in these marriages.

Though historical Christianized societies do not allow polygamy, other religions and cultures do.

I was recently reading an article on Sierra Leone and came across this interesting fact published by Sierra Leone, Demographics and Health Survey 2008 that stated 37% of Sierra Leone women are involved in a polygamous marriage.

Sierra Leone has a population of just over 7.1 million people. If half of them are women, it means that 1.3 million women are involved in a polygamous marriage.

If the polygamous marriages involved just two women, then half (650,000 women in total) fill the role of the second wife. If the polygamous marriages averaged four wives, then three of the women (950,000 in total) are extra wives.

So what is the social problem?

Well that means at the very least there are 650,000 single men in Sierra Leone who will not be able to marry and raise a family and have absolutely no hope of doing so. If the average is closer to four wives, then you have nearly a million single men, most of them frustrated and angry.

Can you see the potential for social unrest brewing here? Perhaps it is not surprising that Sierra Leone has been involved in civil wars for decades.

Though Christianity disallows polygamous marriage, Islam allows polygamy but the Koran sets the limit at four wives. Muslims make up 78% of the population (5.5 million) in Sierra Leone and Christians 21% (1.5 million). There are probably a few Christians involved in polygamous marriages, but the bulk would be Muslim.

Though polygamous marriages are illegal in Sierra Leone, the government basically turns a blind eye to the practice. Now some Muslim countries such as Tunisia, Turkey and Azerbaijan forbid polygamy and actually enforce it, but others fall into the Sierra Leone category and if they do ban it, only give it lip service.

It is difficult to find stats for the number of polygamous marriages in other countries.

But if you want evidence that polygamy is causing problems in other nations, you only have to check the news.

Over the last couple of months there have been several cases of Christian girls being kidnapped by Muslim extremists in Nigeria.

In early March, 12 Christians were killed and 20 injured after a group attempted to rescue a number of Christians girls who were being forced to convert to Islam.

In mid-February, the Muslim extremist group Boko Haram kidnapped 100 Christian girls from a school in Northeastern Nigeria. Of course, many remember the story of the 300 plus Nigerian Christian girls that were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014.

So what is the reason for these kidnappings?

Could the problem be polygamy? Are these Muslim men looking for wives and the only viable source is Christian girls?

According to a UN report, in January 2017 nearly 69% of the refugees flooding into Europe that month were men, not women and children. Why is the percentage so disproportionately high for men?

Of course, some will counter this by saying that the Bible allowed polygamy and certainly it did.

Some of the early patriarchs and kings had multiple wives including Abraham, Jacob, King David and King Solomon. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). But it is interesting to note that most of them were foreign women who turned his heart after other gods (1 Kings 11:4).

Did Solomon marry foreign women because he recognized the social problems multiple wives would cause in his country if he married just Jewish women?

We also see the problem that multiple wives had in another ancient society. When David’s army went to Ziklag, the Amalekites raided David’s camp capturing all the women, including David’s two wives:

and they took captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great, without killing anyone, and carried them off and went their way.(1 Samuel 30:2 NASV)

It is obvious the Amalekites were after the women. Though David and his men were able to recapture them, it resulted in a very tense stand-off with David’s men ready to stone their leader over what had happened (verse 6).

But the Amalekite raiding party was undoubtedly made up of single men looking for wives, because polygamy was rampant in the countries surrounding Israel.

If a country had too many angry, single men, one of the obvious solutions was to send them to war against other nations instead of having them take out their frustration on their own society. In most countries, it was the rich and political élites who had the harems, and they didn’t want hordes of frustrated, young men enviously looking their way.

The first recorded polygamous marriage in the Bible involved a man by the name of Lamech who took two wives, Adah and Zillah (Genesis 4:19). Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but Lamech also wrote a little song about his violent actions that resulted in the death of two people (Genesis 4:23-24). We are specifically told that one of them was a young man.

Did this confrontation involve a father looking for a wife for his son?

Polygamy and unrest seem to go hand in hand. It is of course compounded by some societies that prefer male children over female ones, further reducing the number of eligible women.

So did God approve of polygamy?

I don’t believe He did. It is true there are Biblical laws regulating polygamous marriages, but there are also laws that regulated divorce and Jesus said that God only allowed divorce because of the hardness of the people’s hearts:

He *said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. (Matthew 19:8 NASV)

Notice how Jesus adds from the beginning (at creation) it was not that way.

I believe the same is true about polygamy. God allowed it, but did not approve of it.

At creation, God set out how marriage would work, a man would leave his family and cleave to his wife (singular) not wives and become “one” flesh:

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 NASV)

When Israel wanted a King, God also explicitly warned future kings against accumulating wealth and taking multiple wives (Deuteronomy 7:14-20).

17 He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself. (Deuteronomy 17:17 NASV)

Polygamy was never God’s will, but because people hardened their hearts, God instituted laws to regulate it, like He did divorce.

After Jesus came, God corrected this problem and Paul wrote going forward that the leaders of God’s kingdom could only have one wife:

2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (1 Timothy 3:2 NASV)

With the leadership of the church forbidden from being polygamous, it quickly became the accepted standard for all of Christianity.




  1. James T Foster says

    For the United States Polygamy has been a path for much older men to marry young girls in their early Teens making them more or less pedofiles. Almost all of the time young men are driven out of the clans so there is no competition for these young girls. The world’s largest problem with single male population is in current China where the one child law has decimated the young females. By far the majority of these single males have entered a military life. They now number in the millions.


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