26 January 2013

And so what would you do if _____________ ?

Tim and I had one of those provoking lots of thinking questions detonate out of rather inconsequential conversation the other day...

...and so I decided to bring up the questions here, to ask you what you would do in a very "different-to-most-western-Christians" circumstance.

But first - a bit of context. 

In general, every 2-4 years, missionaries tend to return to their home countries for a year of home assignment and packing up your belongings, selling or storing them, deciding what to take and what to leave, etc., etc., etc., It tends to be a rather long, drawn out process done in bits and pieces all throughout the last 4-6 months on the field and often starts with the purchase of plane tickets.

We recently bought ours and we've started telling friends, colleagues and neighbors that we will be leaving after Brendan's graduation for some time back in the States. Last Sunday, Tim shared this with our local church family and reminded them to continue praying for all of us and the security situation in this part of the world. 

Our pastor started to tease Tim a little, asking "What people who couldn't leave should do if the situation in our immediate locale deteriorated." 

Tim mentioned one of the older men in the church, a man who has worked much with Tim at the studio recording the Bible on audio tape, and commented: "we'll have room in one of our suitcases." 

Then the pastor replied, "But what about your friend's two wives?" 

Tim jokingly answered that we probably had enough suitcases....

And that was the end of the exchange at church, but when Tim told me about it later that day (I wasn't at the service... home with sick kids, AGAIN), I started trying to picture what it would like to take our friends to our home church (not literally in suitcases), introduce them to our friends in Midland, and wondered how both they and our western friends would respond to each other. Questions rifled through my mind.

"Tim, what do you think people from our church and community would do if we showed up with this family, brothers and sisters in Christ, but also in a polygamous relationship?"

"How do you think our friends and families back in the States would respond to this couple? To us as friends of this unique to Michigan sort of family?" 

"Would we [Tim and myself] change how we act towards them removed from this situation where their lives aren't so unusual and placed back into a world where their family is not even recognized as a legal, valid choice?"
This leaves me with two questions for you: 

1) What do you think your initial and then longer-term responses to a family such as this might be... and how does thinking about your response make you feel?

2) What do you think such a family, immigrating or moving to North America and seeking a local church family, would need to do? 
What would you encourage them to do?

One additional note and one additional question: 
Our friend had married two women many, many years before he decided to follow Jesus. Now both his wives and most of his children also know the Lord. In some senses, that detail is an important part of this discussion. But in other ways, it is not - if the question is simply one of learning to be hospitable to those seeking to follow Jesus, wanting to know Him more and better and be a part of a church family even though they may live in a way or engage in behaviors about which we feel very strongly... about which we are convinced of their wrongness. How do we encourage and build up others, entering into dialogue and  fellowship with people whose Christianity looks different because their culture and world looks so very different? 


  1. What an intriguing conversation, Richelle. I don't know that I have ever thought about it in a Western context. I've only ever considered it in a setting where these practices are culturally accepted.

    The immigration of any person to a new land requires learning a new way of living. We have to follow the laws of that place. That would be one thing to consider. Are there any States in the U.S. where polygamy is legal? Do the laws in the U.S. make provision for immigrants in already established marital relationships? These are the first things that come to mind.

    As a church I think the best response is to help them assimilate to a new culture by serving them. Helping with language, school enrollment, a place to stay, orientation about the supermarkets and transportation. That kind of stuff. Then take the other issues as they come on a case-by-case basis in a mentor / friendship setting.

    Any immigrating family needs to find friends. Plain and simple. That's the advice I would give your dear precious African loved ones.

    Good food for thought :)

    1. i had never considered it outside of this context before, either. and that question of immigration - like you, i wonder how it is handled.

      my wondering was more - how would my michigan friends react if some of my african friends where transported to that world... and perhaps even scarier to answer... how would i react? i hope i would still be the same person - and maybe not everyone struggles with this - but i find i'm a bit of a chameleon, depending on my environment... and back there is a lot different than right here.

  2. As for the legality of the man having two wives, I know local laws here do not allow a man to MARRY a second wife, but I don't know about HAVING a second wife. I've never bothered to look into whether there are provisions for a man who has already legally married two wives in his former home country. It's not as if an American citizen ran off to another country to intentionally circumvent the law.

    As for how I would personally react, I think that's one of those superficial details that I would ignore. On one hand, the Bible says that a bishop or a deacon must be "the husband of one wife," so it would pose an issue if he wanted to take on a position of leadership in the church; but on the other hand, Solomon was the wisest man ever, and he had more than one wife. In my mind, it's not something that is crucial to a man's ability to be saved. And since I know that he comes from a culture where having two wives is perfectly normal, I doubt it would even occur to me to think it strange.

    1. just out of curiosity, adam - here, where many of the men who become followers of Jesus have two wives when they do - how do you find leadership for the church, especially in young, first generation churches?

      for the record - we don't tell the local church what we think they should do. we leave it up to their leadership as the ones with the cultural know-how and also the indwelling Spirit to lead and guide them.

  3. Well, Paul was writing to Timothy and Titus when he talked about bishops, deacons, and elders being the "husbands of one wife." He didn't mention it in his letters to the individual churches. But he also gave several other criteria for choosing leaders. In a setting like yours, it may be nigh impossible to find leaders who fit every single one of the criteria. I won't pretend to be an expert, but I think the parts about "ruling their children and their own houses well," and about being "given to hospitality, apt to teach," are more important to choosing a good leader than whether he has only one wife.

    1. i think we tend to lead the same way ourselves... some men keep however many wives and continue to care for them and their children, but only live with one of them as their wife.

      i also wonder if it is given as an ideal list... we want our leaders to be as much like this as possible, but we are still dealing with fallen man... and because it is easy in our world, we make that one wife criteria a complete deal breaker, whereas inhospitable isn't nearly such a big deal, you know?

  4. Thanks for a great topic for family discussion. We ran into this same situation in the church in Togo. It opened the door for me to being thinking of these cultural issues in relation to the Bible. Here is my off-the-top-of-my-brain answer before I read any others!
    Not every church could handle this situation. Because real life is much messier than the little Christian box I was raised in. It would be very important to determine this before the family was introduced into a congregation. Love for the family would include recognizing their needs as refugees and as a polygamist family. Love for the church congregation would include an open discussion determining if they could support this lifestyle or would it cause division amongst the church? Gossip would only hurt the church and the family. I think this could bring up the issue of homosexual marriages and adoptions now that they are becoming legal in the states. What do we do with these people after they have become Christians?
    I think this would be a wonderful opportunity to open some teaching and discussion in various areas if the church. Sunday night a class could be open where each week a different ethical dilemma could be presented that we face in the everyday, secular world. The youth group could do a similar series.

    1. i was also thinking about how it might apply to those other cultural issues that have now become mainstream in the states.

      i really appreciated how you considered, not only love for the family, but also love for the existing congregation. so often we don't consider that. we are either all against one and all for the other... or vice versa. and what did the angel of the Lord say to joshua... i'm for neither side.

      we need to be able to lay aside our personal feelings and preferences as to what we think either the church, our friends or the family should do and how they should respond so that we can love both...

      thanks for commenting!


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