Courtship is the process by which we win the affections of a member of the opposite sex with a view to marriage. It varies according to tradition and time. Indeed, it is such a fluid thing that defining it precisely is almost impossible. It involves, moreover, a complex of thoughts, feelings and bodily impulses set within the constraints of conscience and the social paramaters we find ourselves in. I think it is true to say that courtship patterns vary as much in polygamy as they do in monogamy. My purpose in this article is not to review all these different forms but to give my own perspective and the expectations of the Chavurah Bekorot of which I am a member. And the best way, I feel, I can do this, is by sharing the experiences of my own life.
I was brought up in a strictly monogamous culture and taught all the virtues of that holy estate. From the time I was a teenager I entertained my own dream-fantasy of the ideal monogamous marriage. Like all youth I imagined how the perfect wife would be, how I could be the perfect husband, and what steps I would take to raise perfect children. I had little idea, in common with all youth, of the realities of this world's imperfections. I have subsequently learned that there is no such thing as a perfect family though I have seen some which I would certainly mark down as being nearly perfect and which I would wish to emulate. I have to admit that my own personal values were strongly at variance with those of contemporary society which, by the time I was a young man, had already become highly promiscuous, and which thought little of breaking the now already disappearing family taboos of the sanctity of marriage. Like the youth of my time I was fully exposed to the sexual permissiveness of the times and whilst I had the occasional mental lapse from my high ideals, such were but the fleeting impulses of the weakness of the flesh and little influenced my overall values. I can truthfully say that, inspite of temptations, I kept celibate until my first marriage night.
I first became exposed to the ideas of polygamy when I was in my early 20's. Though briefly exposed to the monogamous ideals of the national church, I was never a believer in the proper sense of the world, nor was my conscience trained to view with disdain the anti-polygamous orthodox Christian paradigm which had forcibly posited itself in the European conscience. Thus when I first read about polygamy my feelings were neither hostile nor positive, simply accepting. The more I thought about it, the more I concluded (despite my naïve thoughts about human nature) that as a principle it would be as workable as monogamy.
Very few polygamists outside of Poland are aware that Poland has its own tradition of polygamy, and that within a militantly anti-polygamous Catholic Church. It began at the end of the last century when Poland was still a part of the Russian Empire and had its heyday during the earlier part of the Polish Republic. The Mariavite Order was formed by ex-Catholic priest, John Kowalski, who broke his vows of celibacy and, like Luther, married a nun called Maria. Both were mystics and the latter claimed divine revelations. After her death in 1921 Kowalski instituted 'mystical marriages' between priests and nuns who sired children, and then, according to his original design, ordained women to the priesthood. Moving by increments in the direction of Protestantism, Kowalski finally admitted a Priesthood of All Believers.
Predictably, these activities caused a scandal in conservatively Catholic Poland, made worse when Kowalski instituted polygamy. He was tried in 1928 for sexual offences and briefly imprisoned. The Mariavites survived the nazi holocaust and communism.
I wish to state before I continue that I am not a Mariavite and never have been. The Mariavites were a polygamous sect of Catholicism. I am a Bible-believing Christian with no connection or roots in the Catholic Church -- I was brought up a nominal Protestant. I insert this historical curio simply to make people aware that polygamy has existed and survived in most parts of Europe at one time or another. Poland furnishes us with an interesting example. For those interested in the Mariavites, I recommend the book, The Third Adam by Jerzy Peterkiewicz (Oxford University Press, London, 1975, ISBN 0-19-212198-7).
The Mariavites, though polygamists, were far from being what one might be called "New Testament Polygamists" and have more in common with the occultism that is at Catholicism's roots. A more interesting example would be the Anabaptists of Münster in western Germany who were, in that age (and they pre-dated the Mariavites by several centuries), the nearest Europe has come to having a true Christian polygamous tradition. They emerged in the wake of the Reformation and were persecuted (and eventually massacred) by the combined forced of the Catholics and Lutherans. I am not an Anabaptist either, I hasten to add. But I shall be returning to them in another article because they are a good illustration of the tensions and intolerance that exists in Europe concerning polygamy.
My first marriage, as is true of all first generation polygamists, began in the monogamous tradition. Though we openly discussed the question of polygamy her reaction was quite typical of women raised in an exclusively monogamous culture: raw hostility. We agreed to disagree and let the matter rest. We settled down to mongamous life and raised up a family. During this time I underwent profound religious changes as I re-aligned by beliefs and thinking to the biblical revelation, changing my church affiliation twice before finally breaking out of the denominational mould. Whilst my wife Suszana followed in my footsteps for the sake of family unity, we were in reality moving in different spiritual directions, which tragically ended up in divorce and much sadness. Though I fought to keep the marriage in tact according to the biblical injunctions of its sacredness, she had by this time adopted a new paradigm that rejected the biblical law.
My first marriage ended with my being even more determined to fight for, and protect, the holiness of marriage. I have always detested promiscuity of any kind not so much because of the written law of Scripture but because of a deep inner sense of what was right and wrong. I have always listened closely to the still small voice of Christ within and followed a very keen moral sense. My passion for the sanctity of marriage, repeatedly confirmed by deeper studies of God's Word, has increased over the years, and I have come to understand why our Lord used it as a type of our relationship to Him.
Tragedy has a way of creating new possibilities that are not always immediately perceived or understood. My second marriage to Isabel, though beginning monogamously, began on the assumption that it would evolve into a polygamous one, for by this time my calling to live this principle was crystal clear. Though I had suppressed it in my first marriage, the call was undeniable. Ironically Suszana had once said (for reasons best known to herself), towards the end of our marriage, that had I insisted on taking a second wife, she would have gone along with it, inspite of the suffering it would have caused here. I'm glad I never did for I would never have wished to impose something on my wife if she did not believe in it, knowing that it would have caused her considerable suffering.
Even more ironically, it was Isabel who initiated the idea of polygamous marriage and readily agreed that if we became wed I should be permitted to take more wives. She had obtained a clear command from God in a prophetic word, without any influence from me, to be received as a polygamous wife, and this before I had even entertained any ideas of proposing marriage to her. I took this to be a great blessing for it is not often (from what I have gleaned from talking to polygamists) that their wives get such a clear word from the Lord.
I entered the principle with few guidlines as to how the principle was to be lived. I had no idea as to the existence of contemporary polygamous evangelical Christian families and assumed that I was going to enter polygamy as a pioneer. In fact, it was not until 1996 that I first became aware that there were evangelical Christians sympathetic to the principle. I had at hand, therefore, no rôle models apart from some historical ones like the Mormons, Muslims, Anabaptists, and others. I had no one to discuss how to live the principle, how to overcome problems, and how to avoid making the commonly made mistakes that new polygamists make. That this was the divine intention I have no doubt because I and my family have an archive of the spiritual notes of experience to fall back on. I was forced to fall back back on the Word of God and an intensive prayer life that resulted in my receiving many revelations on the subject which have since proven their spiritual and practical worth.
Isabel was quite sincere in desiring to enter the practice but had many cultural problems to overcome, not least was the myth of the feministic ideas espoused by liberals and communists alike with which she was raised as an almost staple diet. Theory and practice are not the same, and neither are good intentions and decision-making. The obstacles we had to overcome were far from what we had imagined for we had not reckoned with human nature. We soon learned that the mind and the heart do not respond in quite the same way as one another. Worse, the heart takes ten times longer to educate than the mind.
When Kryztina entered our life Isabel and I had been living as husband and wife for a couple of years. Though I had prepared her mentally for polygamy, and though she had been accepting of the fact that we would live it, though God had personally called her into it, the reality of the immediacy of polygamy proved profoundly disturbing for her. I had even gone to the effort of only sleeping in the same room as her three or four nights a week in anticipation of the new cycle we would have to initiate with the arrival of a second wife, and whilst this was helpful it did not solve the raw emotional struggles that would follow.
Time revealed that whilst Isabel had been converted to polygamy in her mind, it had never fully percolated down to her heart. She was to engage in an emotional battle which she was to eventually lose as she was confronted with the ugliness of fallen human nature -- jealosy being that great evil which repeatedly surfaced. Once it became clear that Kryztina was going to be a part of our family, Isabel played the 'postponment game'. "I need more time," or "I'm not ready", delaying the second marriage as long as she could. Having had me to herself for some time she was not willing to put aside the "sole ownership" contract which, though never in fact a part of our covenant/agreement, had gradually filtered its way in unconsciously.
Polygamy is the great exposer of human nature. It reveals, often in embarrassing clarity, the depravity of the human soul. People we once supposed were angels, spiritual giants, holy and pure, born-again and in Christ, revealed in the fire of polygamy the dark side of humanity. If there is one thing that polygamy has taught me is that we are only a hair-breath away from being devils. It has revealed to me in stark clarity that human nature is something we dare not trifle with - it is the very mark of the devil in human flesh. I would even go as far as to say that Calvin was, on the whole, right -- we are basically depraved inspite of our best efforts conceal and whitewash over that truth. I discovered that the Bible is 100% right in its condemnation of this flesh nature as being devilish, for it absolutely is. Liberal Christianity has attempted to "minimise" carnality, to make it seem to be of little consequence, and has fed us the lie, aided and abetted by occultists and New Agers, that man is "basically good". The truth, I discovered, is that we have two natures that are mutually opposite and antagonistic: a devilish nature (which Paul calls the "natural man" and the "flesh") and a Christ-like nature, which the apostle John informs us in the opening chapter of his Gospel is given to every man who is born into the world: the Light of Christ.
Polygamy brings into sharp focus the difference between the two. I have seen a woman one minute a devil and the next minute an angel. I have seen how it is utterly impossible to live polygamy in your heart unless you have renounced the carnal nature of the flesh and made Christ the absolute centre of your life. I would even go as far as to say that any polygamy which is not centred in the pure love of Christ is either a living hell or a sham. Polygamy has taught me and my wives the truth behind THE great cardinal sin called pride: it is the root of ALL evil, and from it springs jealosy which is the spirit of murder.
The success of polygamy lies in two things: (1) Building upon sacrificial love; and (2) exposing and renouncing Pride. Any Gospel of Jesus Christ that does not have as its focus these two loci will never be the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Polygamy forces you to confront these two realities and is one of the greatest catalysts I have ever come across for propelling Christian disciples into the depths and riches of the Spirit of Christ.
Sadly, we are all proud. But some are more proud than others. Humility, the antithesis of Pride, is an obligatory requirement in a polygamous relationship. Without it, there is only spiritual warfare and suffering. This applies as much to the men (patriarchs) as to the women.
Isabel reluctantly accepted Kryztina into the family and the honeymoon of our relationship ended. The battle for her soul was on. She had highs and lows -- sometimes deep in the joys of the light, and sometimes deep in the darkness of jealosy and hatred. Many long hours of counselling and prayer were spent as she confronted the reality of herself -- the desire to be "No.1 wife" and have a special status (in our family all are regarded as equal) - having a public marriage only reinforced that mind-frame and I have since refused to be formally married under a state licence (my reasons are explained elsewhere). During these years of struggle we discovered the devilish influence of the doctrine of "rights" and understood that the Bible teaches no such ego-centric ethic -- rather, we are all given responsibilies toward one another. We discovered that pride lay at the root of jealosy and that jealosy is illusionary. The sister- wives discovered that one wife was never loved more than another (the husband must be scrupulously fair and honest and never show favouritism) and that jealosy nearly always stemmed from doubting the impartial love of her husband. The husband, in his turn, therefore had to invest considerable time and effort in the conduct of his life to demonstrate by example that he was impartial, and the wives had to implicity have faith in that.
We were, as I said, pioneers in the sense that we had no-one to guide us but the Lord. Over the years the theology of the Chavurah Bekorot evolved out of these invaluable experiences, the principles which we learned having now been formally instituted in our program of dicipleship.
When my fourth wife, Kasia, entered the family, it was Kryztina's turn to start a close inner examination of her soul. Isabel never found victory in Christ and hung on to many worldly paradigms for comfort which served only to exaccerbate her struggle. In the end she finally left, leaving the three of us.
Kryztina and Kasia hit it off from the beginning and though they have had their struggles they have discovered what it is to walk a life in Christ. By this time we had much experience behind us and had understood that matters of the heart had to be resolved by the Word first and foremost. We have discovered that the only real solution to inner conflicts is the truth. The truth must be faced by us all one day, but better to face it in this life rather than at the Judgment Seat.
We now have a very peaceful and happy polygamous family life. There are only two wives at present but we have been told prophetically that others will come. So long as we are walking in Christ POLYGAMY IS A JOY AND A BLESSING. Once we allow our centre to become anything or anybody else, that joy begins to ebb. True, we have been sanctified for a long time by the Spirit of Christ now and none of us would ever dream of abandoning our marriage. I have chidlren from both wives and we plan on having more. We have discovered what really matters in life, and that is Jesus Christ. Both my wives know that Jesus is No.1 in my life, and they are No.2. And I know that both my wives expect me to place Jesus as No.1, and vice versa.
The going was hard in the beginning largely because we were inexperienced and had not learned to trust in the Word as much as we do now. Polygamy has sharpened our Christian life in a way that I think is difficult if not impossible in a monogamous one. In most monogamous relationships a couple adjusts to one another's way of being and more often than not settle down to a spiritually mediocre life. That is not to say that plural marriage is superior to monogamy, only that it is much easier to live the full Christian life in polygamy, because one is forced to. To this we might add that we have the benefit of being forced to challenge false traditions and work against the prevailing social current. This has the added affect of bonding the family more tightly together, especially when one is persecuted, as we were (very badly) for one year.
As a man polygamy has taught me to rise above my own fallen tendencies to have favourites or to trust my own carnal judgments. I have been forced to turn to Christ for guidance repeatedly and to rely on His grace. I have been forced to bring my libido under control, to examine my heart critically, and to become a leader or patriarch in my house. Here I must say in all candour that without a proper understanding of biblical patriarchy and leadership polygamy would not have worked for us.
I know several polygamists and have seen the problems they have. They are all pretty similar but some are too liberal and some are too strict, leading to major problems. To be a patriarch you must be firm in the truth and never allow a woman's feelings to move you away from it. At the same time you must give her space to work things out and not crush her spirit. Patriarchal marriage (polygamy + patriarchy) is a fine balance of strictness and overflowing love. Unless a patriarch is tough on human nature he will bring anarchy to his household; and unless his heart is like a river of flowing love, he will being coldness and spiritual death.
There are many forms of Christian polygamy today. We are New Covenant Christian polygamists belonging to the Chavurah Bekorot. Ours is a little different to the others because we do not come out of a particular denominational background and have had to be taught by the Lord not only how to live polygamy but also how to live the theocratic order which is yet to come.
So how does a woman actually come into a polygamous relationship? Well, I can only comment on how we do it. And each wife came in rather differently.
Let's take Isabel first. She was called by God personally in a revelation. She was also a family friend. There was no romance before this or even the thought that we would be married. I was, in any case, within the monogamous paradigm at that time. Once we had both agreed this was the Lord's will, the romantic side developed afterwards, for we did not allow it beforehand. It was very gradual for me personally, a little faster for her. In the Chavurah Bekorot we especially prize the "growing in love" concept over the "falling in love" one as they tend to come from different roots -- the first being spiritual, the latter more physical and emotional. But you cannot force the river in these areas and must be prepared for different scenarios.
Kryztina came in to the family on a fairly similar basis. As with Isabel, there was no courtship of any kind. It was decided by prayer. I invited Kryztina into the family once Isabel had agreed and she was given several months to pray about it. If after that time she did not feel it was right, she would be free to say 'no' and the matter would be closed from our side. If subsequently she wanted to come in she would be free to approach us.
Kryztina was very shocked at the invitation (she was a Christian and a member of our fellowship) because of her cultural unbringing) to live polygamously, and whilst she knew about the doctrine, had never really seriously thought about it, though she had received positive input from her sister. "I was helped by being invited to be around the family more often so that I could see how they lived relative to Church life. As I got to know Stan better I fell in love with him, and wouldn't have accepted his invitation if that hadn't happened. I consider in retrospect that this was not the best way in, but it was the way it happened with me. Since then I have been both in love and it has deepened as time has passed, both in times of difficulty and in good times," Kryztina writes. "My relationship to God has matured. Polygamy requires great purity of life if you want to be happy."
By the time Kasia came into the family the family had matured considerably. She was much younger than the other wives and had been brought up in our Christian fellowship. From that point-of-view she was better doctrinally prepared. As a young girl she had been taught by her family that polygamy was a valid alternative to monogamy. But with few living the principle she had pretty well decided on a monogamous way of life.
Once she had become an adult Kasia was asked whether she had thought about whether she would follow a monogamous or polygamous way of life. After prayerfully contemplating this question she discovered, to her surprise, that she wanted to live polygamously and be a part of my family. "In the beginning, before we were dedicated (engaged) I had no particular feelings towards Stan. In our community we get "engaged" to better know one another before we make a spiritual committment called Betrothal. This can be broken off if it doesn't work out. There's no physical relationship at any time during Dedication (or during Betrothal, for that matter). During that period I fell in love and we were then betrothed. I have never regretted getting married polygamously and at this point, several years on, I am still deeply in love. And am very grateful to the Lord who has made our relationship to grow, even in this anti-polygamous world. My relationship to Kryztina is like to a dear sister."
There was one other who was invited into our family at about the same time as Kryztina. She accepted the invitation and we were dedicated (engaged). After staying with us for some months she decided that this was not the lifestyle she wanted and left.
This is how polygamy began in our family. We have now been living this principle for 10 years (1988-1998) and would never return to monogamy. In the articles that follow I shall describe more of the practical elements of everyday life and how our household is organised. As members of the Chavurah Bekorot we believe in having our families under one roof where there can be close interaction and sharing. Whilst many polygamists believe in having separate households in order to minimise conflicts and over-zealous scrutiny from the public, this is not our view, for there is little spiritual benefit to be gained from such -- this is, in my view, just a form of "multiple monogamy". Moreover, many polygamous families are quite public about their polygamy -- we are not. The reasons for this will be discussed in another article but are based largely on the society in which we live: liberal Protestant America and conservative Catholic Poland are two different worlds.
This, then, is the story of how polygamy started in our family. It is now a well-established practice in our Church. In the articles that follow we will share more details of how it works in practice.