Thursday, September 27, 2007

what should Christians do politically (if anything) about polygamy?

From the first half of Marvin Olasky's most recent effort at
and related to a recent posting at Veritas Rex...

No one tolerates everything. Some who tolerate the murder of unborn children abhor the killing of some animals. One man's Mede is another man's Persian.

Should we tolerate the leader of a Utah polygamous sect convicted on Tuesday as an accomplice to rape for forcing a 14-year-old follower to marry her 19-year-old cousin? The New York Times, under the headline "In Polygamy Country, Old Divisions Are Fading," recently reported that at the scene of the crime, "an intermingling of cultures has begun to bubble up opening hearts and minds in greater understanding."

One example: "Amber Clark, 28 said she thought polygamists should be left alone, so long as no one was under age or coerced into marriage. 'I'm liberal in that respect,' Ms. Clark said. 'If it's legal in some states for people of the same sex to get married, why is it not legal to marry more than one wife?'"

And why not? Two years ago, I spoke with a Princeton political philosopher who supported same-sex marriage but opposed polygamy on grounds of decorum. I kidded him about his being a two-ist: If any combination of two is fine "as long as they love each other," why not be a three-ist or a ten-ist?

Well, pragmatic reasons to oppose polygamy do exist. Utah has numerous "lost boys," who have been thrown out of polygamous communities. About a half dozen have sued the Mormon denomination that broke away from the main Mormon body because of polygamy. The plaintiffs allege that they were expelled so that older men wouldn't face competition in their drive to grab more wives.

A partial settlement of the suit earlier this year created a $250,000 fund that will help boys who leave the denomination to gain an education and have decent housing. But the real cost is far higher when selfish men take multiple wives. The civilizing force in the lives of many "naked nomads," to use George Gilder's term for rootless young men, disappears.

Olasky mentions "pragmatic reasons". But his concerns seem overstated. How are the older men "grabbing" wives (aside from the coercion used on those under 18)? And why are "the lost boys" unable to leave and find wives outside a community that seems to treat them so poorly?

Beyond that, in certain contexts, there can be good ethical and practical reasons for polygamy (e.g., when many of the men in a society have been lost to war). And from a Christian perspective, polygamy was actually a requirement under "levirate marriage"-- when a man was supposed to marry his dead brother's wife. Although these circumstances are not relevant to contemporary America, they would seem to caution us against a universal application of some political solution to this issue.

Olasky cites a Princeton philosopher who seems to have arbitrary standards on this (although the reasons for his conclusions are left unstated). And although Olasky is a Christian, he seems to be speaking as a secular conservative in this piece. To note, where is the biblical and practical case for Christians expending resources on the issue of adults consensually entering into a polygamous relationship. Assuming it's wrong, it does not follow that it should be made illegal-- any more than Christians should, presumably, seek laws against those who are Jehovah's Witnesses or eat too much pie.

Because Olasky leaves a portion of his worldview behind in this piece, he seems to be as arbitrary as his Princeton friend. Christians must do better-- to construct a coherent political philosophy and a set of consistent political practices...


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