Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Polygamy in the Service of Feminism

Here are some comments on a section of Rachel Held Evans’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood. I don’t know if I’ll make it through the whole book, but I’ve read enough to know that Evans is a capable writer. She tells entertaining stories, and can be quite funny at times. But these qualities can’t make her message any less frustrating.

On pp. 58-61, Evans writes about her interaction with a woman involved in a “Christian” polygamous marriage. This marriage began monogamously, but after the husband got hot for another woman (during his wife’s pregnancy), he “re-examined” the Bible and came to the conclusion that polygamy was fine by God. He then convinced his wife to abide his new convictions and the marriage took on a third member. The two wives initially shared the same house, but now live separately. The husband has one family with his first wife, and another family with his second wife. He alternates between houses each night of the week.

I had to pause and reflect. This wicked distortion of marriage provides a clear picture of human depravity. Only scaly eyes can see justification for polygamy in the Bible. Here is a man who is utterly blinded by his lusts and has duped two women into going along with him. He needs repentance. The story is disturbing on multiple levels.

But what also disturbed me were Evans’s motives for telling the story. She showcases this polygamous family, not so that she might speak to the manifest sin of the adults involved, but rather so that she might attempt to convince Christians that they need to get over the word ‘biblical.1 In effect, what she’s trying to say is, “See? These kinds of families claim to be biblical too. And you know what? They kind of are biblical, because polygamy is regulated in the Bible.”

Aside from the patently simplistic hermeneutics required to make an argument like that2, I think it’s telling of Evans’s priorities that this is the way she chooses to capitalize on this polygamous family. She expresses no repudiation of the arrangement, and provides no discussion of God’s creational design. All she’s concerned with is persuading her readers that the Bible is unable to give us a consistent message. And this is what she has to do in order to keep promoting feminism from an “evangelical” perspective. Ignatius said of early heretics, “They speak of the law, not that they may establish the law, but that they may proclaim things contrary to it.”

Given her rejection of the inerrancy of Scripture, I can’t help but wonder what basis Evans would have for constructing a Christian case for monogamy as opposed to polygamy. After all, if the Bible, being an ancient collection of texts written by various authors, is unable to give a consistent vision of womanhood (as Evans suggests), then what makes anyone think that it could possibly give us a consistent vision of marriage? Or sexuality? Or even salvation?


1. Evans writes, “Now, we evangelicals have a nasty habit of throwing the word biblical around like it’s Martin Luther’s middle name. We especially like to stick it in front of other loaded words, like economics, sexuality, politics, and marriage to create the impression that God has definitive opinions about such things, opinions that just so happen to correspond with our own.” (xix-xx)

2. Divorce is regulated in the Bible too. Does that mean God is cool with divorce?

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