Sunday, March 12, 2006

Big Love

Stanley Kurtz dispproves:

We can't licence polygamy without also promoting polyamory. Traditional polygamy, by its nature, will have limited appeal in America (as Tierney correctly notes). But polyamory has much greater potential appeal, and poses a much deeper danger to the American family (which Tierney ignores).

Take away the stigma against multiple-partner marriage, and our larger family system will be profoundly weakened. It's the stigma and the resulting secrecy that limit the social effects of multi-partner unions now. Change that, and you will see deep systemic consequences.

The weakness of the libertarian position is the illusion that the effects of legalization and destigmatization would be limited to what Tierney calls "a few consenting adults."
This is the problem that arises out of the government licencing marriage in the first place. Rick Santorum was raked over the coals for saying that allowance of gay marriage would eventually mean allowance of polygamy and polyamory; his only mistake was that he probably didn't mean "eventually" to mean "within a few short years." The gays, of course, recoiled at the accusation, yet there's no logical reason to stop at any given point once the dike is breached. But is that a weakness in the libertarian position? What's wrong with the government simply letting anyone marry whom they choose?

The question for the Christian when it comes to polygamy is twofold: "is the practice immoral" (in other words, should Christians take part in it?) and "should the government enforce a certain kind of marriage through licencing?"

The first question is easy to answer. While single marriage is probably preferred, plural marriage was practiced by men of God and implemented by God on occasion. Therefore it is not, in and of itself, immoral.

In fact, when God was chewing out David for adultery and murder, he spoke through the prophet Nathan:

And Nathan said to David, "You are that man. The LORD God of Israel says this: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul; And I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given you even more.'"
-- 2Sam 12:7-8
In short, God gave David multiple wives. Abraham had several wives, as did Jacob (the father of the Israelites). The scriptures show that this caused severe family problems - or at least contributed to them; the patriarchs weren't always the best parents anyway - but that does not make the practice universally immoral, merely unwise on occasion.

For the Christian in church leadership, however, the question is closed:

Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
-- 1Tim 3:12
I wonder, at times, at how the church imposes the "one wife" rule so consistently, but not the "have your kids under control" rule. PKs are legendary for their troublemaking, yet I have never seen a Christian booted from leadership for failing the second part of God's leadership rule.

But on the second question, the libertarian and the Christian have some common ground: marriage is not a creation of government; it is a creation of God. It stands before the state and is above the state, and if the state were, for example, to only recognize gay marriages, it would still be the duty of the Christian to act as God intended, that is to marry someone of the opposite sex, for life, no matter the consequences.

National Review and the conservatives state that widespread polygamous or polyamoric marriage would tend to weaken society, and I agree - or rather I would if the state was as fond of enforcing marriage contracts as it is of licencing the act in the first place. Yet what is the difference, as far as the strength of the family is concerned - between polyamory and what happens at most bars every Friday night? What is the difference - as far as the strength of the family is concerned - between a man who has 3 wives and a woman who has kids by 3 different men, none of whom she has married?

Polygamy would weaken the family if the family today was made up solely of couples who had kids solely in marriage. But it is not, and so polygamy would probably strengthen certain families while at the same time undermining others.

Marriage arrangements arise through culture, which is driven over the long-term by survival needs. In a land where many men die young and women have no ability to care for themselves, polygamy acts as something of a Social Security system. In some agrarian societies it's necessary, which is why it survives. In modern societies where everyone can learn and earn and take care of themselves, it is not necessary. But then neither is single marriage.

Which is precisely why I think the government ought to simply butt out. If anyone can have sex with whom they wish (and they can and do) what is the problem with people who wish to make a commitment of that?

I don't think it will survive or at least be widespread. Call me selfish, but I have no desire to share my wife, nor she any desire to share me. Our marriage, no matter what government says, will remain single and heterosexual. I suspect that feeling is nearly universal.

What it would do is give the church a chance to show how its marriage (whether defined as single universally or only in church leadership) is more stable and creates better families than polyamory, polygamy, or no marriage at all. If we're correct that this is what God wants, then that should have real effects in our lives when compared to the lives of those doing what God doesn't want.

We currently have the ability to demonstrate that though we as an organization have failed, for the most part, to create better families than those outside the church. That, to me, is the real issue.

As Paul said:

For it is no business of mine to be judging those who are outside; but it is yours to be judging those who are among you.
-- 1Cor 5:12
What the world does is its own business, and it not a concern of the church nor the Christians in it. If our way is better, that will be shown through our actions, our marriages, our families. If it's not shown there, then that is a far greater problem for us than polygamy.

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