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09.01.2009 Feature Article

Of Men, Polygamy and the Good Book.

Of Men, Polygamy and the Good Book.
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“Mate, I don't see it as cheating at all”, Lawrence, confidently clarified. “To the contrary I see it as a panacea to cheating. You go verify”, he defiantly continued, “where in the bible or in the other religious books was it ever said: a man shall have one wife. Do give me a call if you find any such phrase” and with that we bid each other farewell. As I mused over the preceding chinwag I had had with Lawrence, a childhood chum, I was rather rudely hurled back to reality by the bellow from the Numark loudspeakers: “A man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his one wife and they shall be one flesh” to thunderous applause and shrieks from the mostly female amen corner of the church hall, akin to those that characterize the lyrics of Michael Jackson. I managed a belated “AMEN” after a piercing glare from the missus which clearly conveyed the message “pay attention or I'll strangle you”.

On our way home from church I couldn't help musing over what my chum Lawrence had posited earlier. Did the bible really oblige a man to have one wife? Being the persevering Christian that I considered myself to be I had read the bible back-to-back on several occasions. Disconcertingly I could remember nothing that required men to be monogamous. Was this the devil whispering to my mind or my own mind playing tricks on me? Could Lawrence be right? Raring to go I reached for the Bible. But alas I couldn't read it as I was driving! “Damn”, I muttered under my breath and flung it to one side and hit the gas pedal in haste to get home. “Are you OK” the missus asked searchingly, “Oh yes” I replied with a forced smile and all the gusto I could muster. The sound of my own voice reminded me of Churchill; the star hound of Churchill Insurance's TV commercials.

At home I swiftly reached for the solitude of my bedsit cum study, reached for my Parallel Amplified/King James Bible as well as my humongous fifteen thousand page Bible commentary. It was 1430 hours. I devoured the pages. I compared my notes, referenced and cross-referenced and shuttled to and fro between the mountain of books that had by now piled up on my desk. Surely I would find a phrase that repudiated Lawrence's postulate. As discursive as my thought patterns were any truth in what Lawrence had put forward had the possibility to throw the delicate balance of my entire matrimonial life off balance. This was a grave matter indeed! I, perforce, had to find something that unequivocally denounced polygamy and demanded monogamy. By 2000 hours I had found nothing concrete. Indeed no passage in the Good Book required monogamy. The closest it came to it was the passage that said “a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife”, but the polygamous and, dare I say, incestuous marriage of Abram to Sara clearly showed that this verse referred to a man sticking to his legally acquired wife or wives rather than remaining monogamous. This was also the case of Jacob, Solomon and David, the latter being the man after God's own heart. In the case of David he was only chastened when he was accosted by Nathan for stealing someone's wife in addition to his own harem. David was never queried for marrying more than one wife but for stealing someone's wife. I quickly fast-forwarded to the New Testament and to the book of 1 Thessalonians 4:4 which required everyman to have his own wife (legally acquired or de-rigueur)- a much touted verse quoted amiss by many Christians in defense of monogamy. Here again this verse connotatively sought to dissuade men from adultery rather than polygamy. It appeared that the thrust of this verse was towards pin-pointing the sinfulness of adultery rather than being against polygamy. If anything Paul's instructions for would-be bishops summed it all up and clarified the issue for me. According to 1Timothy 3:2 “bishops and elders should be the husband of one wife". It was therefore clear that monogamy is a holier way and spiritual leaders should be exemplary in this. Polygamy thus is the permissive and not the perfect will of God. Taken that the translation of the passage regarding bishops, elders and deacons having only one wife is right, it does imply that it is acceptable in the scriptures for other men in the congregation to be polygamous. When something is not the perfect will of God for a particular person, but it is also not sinful and thus permitted by God, it becomes the permissive will of God. God will never accept anything sinful to be permissible. Thus if something is permissible, it cannot be sinful. Polygamy thus cannot be considered sinful. Just like monogamy and celibacy, polygamy may be God's permissive will for some while it may be the perfect will of God for others. Each will have to seek God for what applies to his life. If polygamy were sinful, then the Bible would, as with other sins, have constantly warned and reminded all men to be strictly monogamous, but the warning against polygamy is never addressed anywhere in the Scriptures.

It is clear that if having one wife was the new all- encompassing canon of virtuous Christian living then the apostle would have taken it for granted and not emphatically required that the much higher office of a bishop be required to adhere to monogamy. It was clear that overseers and leaders in the house of God were held to a much devout standard of chastity vis-à-vis the multitude of the rest of the congregants much in the same way Nazarites (like Sampson ) in the Old Testament were required to specifically abstain from wine or shaving. Put simply, the modern day bias towards monogamy has no biblical basis and was only reserved for a select few including bishops, deacons and those purported to be leaders of the church who were held to a higher standard of piety.

As I mused over these new revelations I subconsciously tried to locate the cusp at which tolerated and often encouraged polygamy (often by Yahweh himself an example being when he accented to Abraham's marriage to Hagar) which dominated the Old testament era came to be replaced by a rigid form of pious monogamy which is largely divorced from any solid theological foundation even in the New Testament. I could find none to my utter dismay! Could this arbitrary church imposed regime of Polygamy For All be the cause of the rampant extra-marital relationships and the increasing occurrence of divorce in Ghanaian society today? Could a man really be allowed to marry as many as he wanted subject only the limitation of his income and his potency?

Armed with this new revelation I walked out of my study/cum bedsit with new found virility. My testosterone-flooded mind raced back to the annals of the few lasses I had befriended whiles in St.Augustine's College in Cape Coast and who, now in their late 20s and early 30s, had managed to establish contact with me over Hi5, Facebook or from my corpus on Ghanaweb as well as forth into the huge array of potential concubines that had been suddenly exposed to me. “Which of these could be my next wife or concubine” I quizzed myself? No, I couldn't be thinking this way, I thought! “Oh my God help me”, I humbly requested, “please deliver me from the valley of the shadow of sin”! With that I dashed down the stairs for a glass of cognac to steady my nerves. I, however, decided against it. Alcohol was the worst panacea for one's problems, I roundly reminded myself. As I made my way upstairs practically a nervous wreck, I bumped into the missus and with the loveliest of smiles and with her lovely dimpled cheeks she held me ever so softly and lovingly said “darling are you OK”? At this juncture all my anxiety seemed to evaporate and as I gently clung to her, I whispered thusly “I love you darling and there'll be no one else but you” in a desperate attempt to persuade myself first then her of the veracity of the confession. The look on her face was one of bewilderment at the final part of what I had just uttered but then she gave me one of her magical smiles and replied “I know darling, I know”.

Albeit this revelation is clearly revolutionary in proportions I must warn the reader that it not a matter to be taken lightly. I would venture to emphasize that we would have to use the instructions as a guide only. Rigid adherence to this entire passage without using an intelligent discernment of cultural and contextual application can be disastrous.

I wondered what the leadership of my church would say if I ever shared this with the congregation or-even more disturbing still- if my missus were to read this memoire on Ghanaweb!(God help me if she does)

As far as I was concerned one had to adhere to the tenets of their particular fellowship or church. Albeit praxes such as the polygamy and drinking of alcohol (NOTE: Not Drunkenness or Alcoholism. The reader must not confuse drinking with Drunkenness) have never been ecumenically and unequivocally deemed sinful, the bible sagaciously gives the practicing Christian a reasonable amount of leeway within which to operate. Where the particular church or fellowship collectively decides against polygamy or drinking alcohol then congregants must abstain but where it doesn't then by all means members are free to practice these all the while making sure that moderate practice does not degenerate into blatant license for debauchery for it is altogether better to abstain than to over-indulge which then becomes sinful.

Most importantly, adherents to polygamy must not condemn non-adherents and vice versa. Each must be fully persuaded in their own beliefs and must in no way be fickle for according to the Good Book where one's conscience condemns them not then their actions are deemed right.

With time I discarded all my new found fantasies. I must say the rush of testosterone at the vast possibilities that presented themselves with the above revelations were endless and akin to those of a bull elephant in must. Basic instinct suddenly set in and I was momentarily transported back albeit mentally to the hunter-gatherer era of man when men were “MEN” and could pick and choose from a harem of willing women. Without wishing to offend our dignified women I must say the thought was not as repulsive as I thought it would be.

Bernard Asher is a lecturer of Business Management & Economics @ the Guildford College of Higher Education, Guildford, England & an External Tutor with the University if Reading. Contact: [email protected]

Bernie d'Angelo Asher
Bernie d'Angelo Asher, © 2009

The author has 30 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: BernardAsher

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