If you know me and my work (admittedly unlikely, I'm hardly a big deal!), you probably know that I have been frequently vocal about my support for same-sex marriage equality (especially so during the last election cycle, when it was on the ballot in my home state of Washington and successfully passed).
Let's start at the end of the paragraph and work our way backwards.
First, documentation in Scripture is hardly justification to do something. Slavery is documented at great length in Scripture. Genocide is documented in Scripture. So are numerous instances of rape and murder. As one of my colleagues said to me once, if the Bible really were made into a movie, it would receive a strong R, if not an NC-17, rating. So let's nip that line of reasoning right in the bud: just because the Bible depicts it doesn't mean we should endorse it.
In other words: yes, polygamy existed in Biblical times, but that is not warrant enough to endorse it today.
Why? Because one of the biggest arguments in favor of marriage equality puts to lie the notion that if it is Scriptural, it is warranted, and that is the acknowledgement of what marriage truly was in Old Testament Israel: a commercial transaction. Here are a couple of different passages by way of example (I am using the TNIV translation here):
"If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins." (Exodus 22:16-17)
"If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, he shall pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives." (Deuteronomy 22:28-29)
Simply put: by separating the institution of marriage from the bestowal of a bride-price, we in modernity have already begun to redefine Biblical marriage. We have also begun to redefine marriage when we do not require rape victims to marry their rapists, or when we do not require people to marry whoever took their v-card. The "redefining marriage" ship has sailed, and clearly for the better.
And in a sentence, that is why I had (and have) no problem at all reconciling my support for same-sex marriage equality with my belief in Scripture as the inspired Word of God. The institution of marriage today is not the same institution of marriage in Scripture, and so I do not believe that I am violating God's Word by insisting that my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters be treated as equals. In fact, I see it as fulfilling God's Word in so many ways (treating others the way I want to be treated, the last being first, and much, much more), so I view my identity as an ally as not just political but theological as well.
Here's the rub, then: when talking about marriage, endorsing polygamy by saying that it is Scriptural is cognitively dissonant with the argument that marriage as it exists today is not the institution of marriage that existed in Biblical Israel, and so I cannot believe that it is a natural extension of my theological and political support of same-sex marriage equality.
And yes, in a vacuum, I do get the logic behind the argument: "If you don't care what two men or two women do together, why should you care about what one man + X-number of women do together?" I get that. But we don't live in a vacuum. Unlike same-sex marriage, which is very much in its infancy on the stage of world history, polygamy comes with so much patriarchal and objectifying baggage in its history that I am far more skeptical of it than I am of same-sex marriage. And when you consider the Biblical verses cited here, I ultimately think that such skepticism is warranted.
What do you think about marriage today compared to marriage in the Bible? What do you think will happen with the recent federal court decision to strike down part of Utah's polygamy law? Do you think a Christian argument can be made for polygamy? Considering the subject matter, please keep your comments civil and respectful!
Yours in Christ,