Monday, June 21, 2021

Today on the Almanac, we go to the mailbag to answer a spiky question about Polygamy.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 21st of June 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at, I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Mail time!

Sarah in Illinois wrote:

I'm wondering about polygamy in Christian history. I've always (like most people in the US, I assume) written the practice off as a "weird Mormon thing." But, as I think more about how vague the Bible seems to be about condemning it and how many of the patriarchs had multiple wives, I'm much more sympathetic to the confusion.

So now I'm wondering, were there other movements in Christian history that promoted polygamy as the ideal lifestyle for believers? Or even allowed it as a Biblical option? It seems like there must have been, right?

Yes! And there are 10s of thousands of Christian polygamists in America! This makes them as numerous as… flat earthers? Charger fans?

But Why? Because they want to be and use the examples of the Old Testament patriarchs.

“But the arguments aren’t good at all” you may exclaim. To which I will respond “since when did good arguments change the will of someone who was determined not to hear it?”

So- some American Christians have been polygamists- but on the whole, most of the world has distanced itself from the practice of polygamy.

Why? That’s another mailbag, but quickly:

No longer a scarcity of males

Females can own property

Labor supply isn’t in shortage with machines and a growing population

But what if the center of Christianity in the world wasn’t America? Might this question take on a different urgency?

In Africa, there are over 600 million Christians. Polygamy is practiced by a quarter to a third of the population in a number of African countries.

And since the 16th century, the faith imported to Africa has been largely of a European white flavor. And you can bet polygamy was an issue with them.

Consider the would-be convert who had multiple children by different wives. Many foreign missionaries would refuse to baptize them or admit them to the Lord’s Supper. This lead to criticism from some in the church. Helmut Thielicke wrote, “The task of the mission is not to preach monogamy, but rather the gospel”.

Karl Barth wrote “Situations can and do arise in which the immediate abolition of polygamy as an institution (for example, the discharge of all but one man’s existing wives) would bring about not only a cruel but an ethically irresponsible confusion and dissolution of social relationships which may be highly problematical, yet are not senseless and wicked”

So, a few things:

It’s always helpful to think globally (though I’m not suggesting you are not!)

Particular societies and cultures are going to have certain contexts which are probably best addressed in love and by people trusted by the community.

And of course, while this is a question about Polygamy (and we found it best to see the African context) can you think of any other lifestyle, marriage type questions that are thorny in our context? You can think about it and have one of those non-internet conversations with other Christians of goodwill.

Thanks, Sarah, and as always please send your questions as a text or audio file to, or via our DMs @almanacpodcast on Twitter.

The last word for today takes us to the ministry of Jesus, already in progress, we start in the 5th chapter:

12 Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” 13 Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I do choose. Be made clean.” Immediately the leprosy left him.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 21st of June 2021 brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man proudly hailing from West Lafayette Indiana, where there is no shortage of men, he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by the polyvalent Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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