Monogamy is a doctrine that the church has learnt to live with, but it stands to be challenged. This type of marriage has become a starting point of ecclesiastical faith among the missionary churches. It has perpetuated itself that both scholars and ordinary Christians have canonized monogamy as a rule of faith. Tracing the Bible, one of Jesus’ disciples Peter was a married man and most of the disciples were fathers, for examples, Peter, James and others (1 Corinthians 9:5). As Christianity spread across the Roman Empire, some of the Christians who later joined the disciples were married, for example Aquila and Priscilla. Some of the Christians were also mothers like Dorcas. Some were either married or widowed respectively like the Shunamite woman and the widow at Zarephath. Research has shown that monogamy is a Western practice bequeathed upon the locals by the missionaries as a Christian norm and value. It can be confusing to many Christians in general and scholars alike to hear from the writer, a clergy from the Methodist tradition, who became a Christian in the early 1950s that although monogamy is our rule of ecclesiastical ethics, it is a fallacy.
My experience from a polygamous family is that it is not easy to be received in a Christian family or in the clergy. When l was a candidate for the Christian ministry in 1977, one person posed a question as to whether a child from a polygamous family should be accepted into itinerant ministry. There were about 115 delegates to the traditional Methodist Quarterly meeting which met to deliberate on my candidacy at Kwenda Methodist Mission in Zimbabwe. My polygamous back ground had raised emotions in the meeting. Some leaders had reservations because l am a child from my father’s second wife. The question was: How could they accept such a candidate whose mother was a second wife and not married according to church standards?
After an hour of intense debate, the meeting decided to vote according to the Methodist practice. The vote was taken and l got 113 for and one against and one neutral. I was later called in and only told the voting pattern. I have been involved in the recruitment and training of ministers. A good number of our clergy do not know their fathers for various reasons.
I did not choose my parents. I was just born in this family which happened to be polygamous. And my parents were a gift to me like l was to them. How then can elderly men and women label me as a curse and not a blessing? Most characters in the Bible were born from polygamous families, for example, Joseph, Jesus was born in a polygamous family. His mother was sixth wife, records tell us. Perhaps, this is the news some Christians would not want to hear: l have listened to preachers who have said that Mary was betrothed to a young man/bachelor, Joseph. I have denied that fact because we have records that show otherwise.
When Jesus was asked whose child he was, l am sure the mother said to him you are begotten by the Father/Lord. Yet today this could have been taken as a child of no one. They say in my culture, a “child of the forest”. Such a child is given the surname of the mother, and adopts her totem. While most of these so called fatherless children carry the stigma of having “no father” for the rest of their lives, the father is somewhere in the community.
When we teach the subject called African Traditional Religion, we encourage everyone to try to know their parents. Because we know that once one is at peace with his parentage, then one can love others. If it were this time Jesus could have had Joseph as his legal guardian. Joseph would deny fatherhood to Jesus and that would have been proper. When we read the Bible, we are told that his parents were Joseph and Mary. Joseph had other children who became his brothers. There is elder brother James and others who were his brothers and sisters. So, Jesus was not born in an illegitimate family. He had normal family like all others even though he was Son of God. He knew from the beginning that he was a child of God.
Societies which deny their populace polygamous marriage are saddled with the modern phenomena of “small houses” or mistresses, meaning other girlfriends or wives. They have bought and developed houses in other parts of the town for the second and third wives. The worst part is that these men love their church and they would rather pretend that they only have one wife while they have several of them for as long as the church does not know. We have encouraged our members to pretend to be monogamous by denying them what they want. If the clergy are not in the picture, then the “offending” polygamists are very comfortable.
Rev Dr Levee Kadenge