Ask Pastor Roger Barrier - Church Leadership

Serial Polygamy: Multiple Wives, One at a Time

Serial Polygamy: Multiple Wives, One at a Time

Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at

"Don't look now," said Steve, our associate pastor of counseling. "I see You-Know-Who sitting with his fourth wife. Wives one and three just walked up the aisle and sat down right behind them.

In the interim wives numbers one and three had become good friends. Their friendship certainly centered around their comparative misadventures marriages with Don. I don't know what happened to wife number two.

I couldn't help myself. I looked. I stared. It was obvious that You-Know-Who now realized that his two earlier wives were sitting behind him. He began to blush, probably because wives one and three were making comments loud enough for the people around them to hear.

I didn't catch it at the time, but I was seeing serial polygamy played out before my very eyes.

Serial polygamy is having more than one wife/husband, but just one at a time. Polygamy, having multiple marriage partners at the same time, is taboo in our society. In fact, in most all states it is a crime. However, having a series of monogamous marriage relationships is a way of life for many. This is serial polygamy.

I receive a lot of questions from husbands in cultures that allow or encourage polygamy. Their problem is that they recently became Christians and face the fact that the Bible defines marriage as one man and one woman for a life time. They want to do the Christian thing; unfortunately, they already have two or more wives, and two or more families and several children from different mothers.

Their questions usually sound something like this:

"Should I pick one wife and family over the others?" That is how the Bible says we are to live. But, I am the sole support for all of my wives and their children. If I pick one above the rest then the others will have no means of support and be reduced to begging in abject poverty. Most will likely starve before too long. Help!"

I received a letter like that this week from a man in India who is caught up in serial polygamy. Be sure to notice his question at the end of his letter, "Is it a sin to have two families or abandon one?"

Pastor, am 44-year-old male from India, married for 14 years & have one boy of 15 years & girl of 13 years. My wife had affair after 4 years of our marriage. However, we finally decided to carry on our marriage for the sake of the parenthood, society & family commitments.

After 2 years she started another relationship & I lost my mind. Now the problem is, I'm without guilt having a relationship with wife of another impotent man for 5 years & have a three-year-old girl of mine still living with the same man. Now she's guilty living with her husband with my child & wants to come out of her marriage.

Now my responsibility on both ends is confusing & stressing me. How do I put a stop to my problem? I still love my 1st wife but also the 2nd. I want my 3rd kid also. I don't want to hurt all my 3 kids, my wife as well as my 2nd too. Is there any Christian way to find a solution for my problem? I want to live without guilt of abandoning my 2nd & the child. Is it sin to have 2 families or to abandon one? I'm involved in ministry & church activities also.

Name Withheld

Dear Name Withheld,

I am sorry for all the pain and hurt and you and both of your wives and both of your families are enduring. There are consequences to sin. You have two families and children from two mothers. You can't fix it and make it all OK. You have to do what will cause the least pain and bring the most benefit for everyone involved.

As I begin, I want you to remember that God is on your side. Certainly, He wishes that all of this had never happened. But, it has. So, He makes it clear in the Bible that He is in the business of "picking up the pieces and starting over again." You can see what His attitude toward you looks like by reading in the gospel of John 8:1-12.

What do you do? Here are my thoughts about your choices.

First, it is obvious you are struggling in agony about the spiritual factors that are driving you "crazy." Your confession and repentance are obvious. So, be at peace. God is on your side and will guide you to the best solutions.

Second, the Bible says that God hates divorce. Stop thinking about the divorce option. Your first wife may want out of her present marriage but God's intention is for her to fix the problems in that marriage and stay together with her current husband.

Third, in the same way, you are not to divorce your second wife.

Fourth, it is wrong for you and your first wife to both get divorced and then remarry each other. According to the Bible, you are to remain married to wife number two.

Fifth, one of the biggest issues is how to decide and do what is in the best interests of your children. Many divorced couples reach agreements on what is best for the children. Usually that means shared time for the children with both parents. Let me recommend that you search the internet for the term, "blended families" in order to find good ideas on how best to integrate the children into one family or the other--and usually both.

Sixth, spend as much time with your children as you can. They need you and they need to remember as they grow older that while mom and dad may not live in the same house, you both always tried to do what was best for them. You want to have a good relationship with them when they are adults.

Seventh, however all of this works out, it will not be perfect, so keep you expectations in line with reality.

Whenever I had problems to solve, my dad used to say to me, "Roger, when life hands you a lemon, make lemonade."

Name Withheld, life has handed you a lemon. Now, go make some lemonade.

Footnote: My answer to polygamous men, who, as new Christians learn that both Jesus and Paul teach monogamy has changed since I began my "Ask Roger" column. When I began I was rather legalistic in telling the husband/father that he had to follow the Bible's teaching of monogamous marriage to be right with God. He had to choose one wife and let the other ones go.

As I began to receive more and more letters with this same question I soon realized what awful counsel I was peddling. I couldn't get past the "choose one wife and abandon the others" issue.

I now tell the husband/father not to change a thing. He has a lot of people depending on him and the worst thing he could do is break relationships and bring intense anger, bitterness, hate and impoverishment by casting some of them out.

I encourage him to begin to develop--over time-- a more Christian approach to marriage among the people of his society. One man and one woman for a lifetime is in the best interests of all and is in keeping with the principles of the Bible.

We need to do all we can to stamp out serial polygamy in our society. I see the pain and suffering as Christians go from one marriage to another in serial polygamy.

Many people in our culture counsel us, "If your marriage is not working out, go ahead and get divorced. And, don't worry about the children. Children are resilient. They'll bounce back.”

They lied to us. Children aren't that resilient. They don't bounce back. They suffer the loss and grief of the destruction of their families as well as what they could have had with a mom and dad committed to each other. Who gave their children the love and support they needed to grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults.

Christians yelling, "Stop it" is not the way to move our society away from the pain of serial polygamy and down the road to Biblical monogamy. As Christians, we must remember 1 Peter 4:17  "For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household…” When we have our own house in order our society may well stand up and take notice.

Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

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