Happily married Born Again Christian living in Washington but soon to be living in the Philippines. I'm pleasant to look at and pleasant to be with and seek same in a second wife. If you have a dear sister in Christ from which you do not wish to part I would consider marrying a second and third wife at the same time…I will treat you with much tenderness. Please be in agreement with 1 Corinthians 11:3 as I believe in establishing the proper relationships in a godly household.
When I first saw the ad, I shook my head and thought that I'd certainly misread. A born-again Christian advertising for a second wife? Couldn't be.
But it was, and what I haphazardly stumbled across while searching for --- actually, never mind what I was searching for -- turned out to be no mere isolated incident, but a full-fledged movement: Christian polygamy. That's right, garden-variety Christians who have multiple wives. Pretty sweet, huh?
Christian polygamists claim that theirs is a movement in reaction to the disintegration of the American family. With one-third of our nation's children born out of wedlock, while half of all marriages end in divorce, the polygamists make a strong point. However, is polygamy really about responsible men returning to the old ways of the church, as they claim, or is it just about living out that most common of male fantasies? I needed to know. And I was lonely and needed to talk to somebody.
So I called up Stephen John Butt (or Pastor Steve as he prefers to be called), a practicing Christian polygamist and minister who launched bfree.org, the first Christian polygamy site on the Internet.
GETTINGIT: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and your background?
PASTOR STEVE: I started exit counseling [for cult members] in 1981. Our work was to aid victims of groups that use mind control -- use people's emotions to trap them into a certain group. That would be things like fear, guilt, shame, and so on. Any organization that uses that kind of manipulation on people is a cult. So it's not really based on the belief structure of a group, but on the behavior -- the tactics and techniques that they use.
GI: How did that lead to your becoming interested in Christian polygamy?
PS:Well, a strange occurrence happened. You can imagine that during my career exit counseling I've counseled a lot of people. I was often used by pastors of different churches and different denominations to help particular people that were kind of hard cases.
So, a pastor referred a woman to me [whose] case was extremely severe -- she suffered from multiple personality disorder and she had been through therapy with multiple counselors and had been institutionalized a number of times. None of that had really helped her. In seeking to counsel her, I found that the root of her problem was so intimate and personal that it really wasn't possible for a normal kind of counseling to help her. No one but a husband would be able to help her. I believe that the Lord was actually telling me that in order to help her, I needed to marry her. I know that sounds radical, but I'm a radical guy.
GI: Let me clarify something: you were already married at this point?
PS: Yes I was, and let me add something. When I say "marry her," that would mean something different to me than to you or somebody else. Because most people when they hear the words "marry somebody," they think about legal marriage with a marriage certificate and so on, and that really is a whole different type of relationship than biblical marriage. Biblical marriage was a covenant between individuals before God.
GI: When you first decided to marry your second wife, how did your first wife react, and did you know that there was a like-minded community of people out there?
PS: At that time there was no definable like-minded community of people. And so it seemed that we were very much on our own. Of course, it was difficult for my wife to deal with. We were basically pioneering a whole new direction in terms of Christianity. However, what happened over the course of time with this was that my first wife came to a place of not only tolerating plural marriage, but preferring it over our previous lifestyle. In fact, she preferred that so much that she's primarily responsible for another woman coming into our family.
GI: And how long after that did you launch the Web site, bfree.org?
PS: I launched the Web site in 1995. At that time, in doing extensive searches on the Internet, there was no other site that dealt with our topic.
GI: It seems to have grown. I know yours was first, but there seem to be a lot of sites devoted to Christian polygamy now. It's a growing trend. How has that happened?
PS: This is a grassroots type of movement. By that I mean that there are Christians, people that are in every way from a mainstream Christian background, most of them born-again Christians, who have had the same experience that I have. They have been confronted with a certain situation in their life where a plural marriage seemed to be the only answer. And then they have entered into it, or considered entering into it, and that's when they go to the Internet to look for information, and they find our Web site. And then they're greatly relieved because they think that they're the only Christians in the world that feel that way and they find that there is a community.
GI: Do you have any idea how many practicing Christian polygamists there are in the U.S., or could you make a guess at that?
PS: It's still unknown. We are getting media coverage from time to time, and every time that happens we'll have an influx of more people. We've only scratched the surface. I have to say that there's probably a Christian minority in the thousands.
GI: Do you think some of this is a reaction to the breakup of the American family?
PS: I find that to be an extremely insightful question, because that's exactly right. You see, in biblical culture, what polygamy was all about was to meet social needs. So for instance, let's say your brother died, then you would take his wife and children into your family. They dealt, through family, with social problems instead of just giving somebody a welfare check. Well, our country today is coming apart because of these problems. We have an overwhelming number of single-parent families, mostly with women running the family. And most of these ladies are knocking themselves out to make it. And they're doing a fabulous job, really, to be able to work and take care of their kids and do everything they're doing. But no matter how hard they work, their kids need a dad. Their kids, especially the male kids, need a role model in their life. When people see the shooting in schools and they see all the drug abuse and all of this stuff, well why is this happening? It's because of the breakdown in the family. There are less and less and less responsible men who are really family men. And so a real viable solution for our culture if we could get our head on straight, would be through polygamy. Men who have the capability to be good fathers, good husbands, good family heads could take some of these single-parent families into their family. And then those children would have parents, those single mothers would have support and help. And they would have a husband that loves them and a family to be part of. That's a real solution to people's lives.
GI: How would you describe the advantages of a plural relationship?
PS: This isn't for everyone. But in a family where people are in the right frame of mind to do this, it offers a lot of advantages for the women. For one thing it gives them more free time, it makes them able to pursue a career, or different interests, because the childcare can be spread out between wives. And the children benefit because they don't ever have to be in daycare, they don't ever have to be latchkey kids. They always have an adult who loves them to watch over them. It just brings more resources into the family. My kids are honor students and I think this is part of the reason they are.
GI: Could you tell me a little bit about the legal status of [people practicing] Christian polygamy? Is it illegal everywhere in the U.S. to be a practicing bigamist?
PS: Generally speaking, under the law bigamy is having more than one legal mate at the same time. If we started making it illegal for people to have more than one partner in cohabitation, well then we would have to probably jail half the population. In other words, just because people might characterize their relationship with a second partner as biblical marriage, someone else might have a partner that they see as a mistress. So for all practical purposes the kind of plural marriage that we're talking about, biblical plural marriage, which is a certain status or relationship before God, is not illegal. It's not something that the law deals with.
GI: What would you say to people who think polygamy is essentially an Old Testament idea that doesn't have any foundation in the New Testament?
PS: They don't have a very good foundation in biblical Christianity because biblical Christianity is based primarily upon the Old Testament. Jesus and the apostles quoted frequently from the Old Testament. The moral base that is in the Old Testament is continued on in the New Testament. The law continued to be the standard for Christians of what is right and wrong. Nowhere in the New Testament is the allowance for polygamy, which is found in the law, overruled or changed. So Christians would really have a problem making that argument, because the scriptures say of God that God does not change and his moral standards don't change.
GI: So can you explain how it became taboo for most Christians?
PS: Sure, what happened is that when Christianity began, it sprung out of the Jewish religion, the Old Testament religion, and the first Christians were all Israelites. But then Christianity was opened up to the non-Israelite population and, of course, the dominant culture of that day was the Roman culture. As more people came into the Christian church from the Roman culture, they brought the Roman ideas with them. Monogamy is actually a Roman idea, it's not a biblical idea. And so that cultural norm of Romanism got adopted into the Christian church as time went by. What we are doing as patriarchal Christians is we are returning to our roots as Christians. We are accepting the biblical morality rather than sticking with this Romanized brand of Christianity.
GI: How do the wives interact? I would assume there has to be a certain degree of jealousy. How do you deal with that, or how do they deal with that?
PS: You know, you'd almost have to meet them to really believe my answer. But my wives are not jealous of each other and it's a non-problem with us. And it's because my wives all think about each other like sisters. So instead of being jealous of each other, they want their sister to be happy
GI: How do you handle the bedroom situation? Does everyone have separate rooms?
PS: Yes, we all have our own rooms. I'm an equal opportunity husband!
GI: Do you ever have to do things like devote a certain amount of time with just this wife or that one, just the two of you?
PS:Oh yeah I do. You see, within the family I have a personal relationship with [each member]. And it's not only with my wives but with my children as well. So I spend a lot of time to keep up with each individual relationship with each person in my family. And this is a requirement for a patriarchal man. To be a patriarchal man you must be willing to give a lot of yourself. And of course if you're doing that, you're not going to have a lot of personal time because there is always someone in the family that needs your time and attention. That's the real reason I say it's not for everybody.
GI: So when you say that, it's not for everybody, you're talking more about men than women?
PS: Oh yeah, this is much harder for men than it is [for] women.
GI: [laughs] I don't mean to make light of it, but I think most guys would say you're in an enviable role.
PS: Well they ought to try it sometime.
GI: I'm sure.
PS: I'll tell you, I love my life. I have such richness in my life most people couldn't possibly imagine it. But if what they're thinking this is all about is sex, well they're living in a fairy tale. What this is really about is family. The other part of it is a part of any marriage, but it certainly is not the main focus of what this life is about.
Mat Honan is a Senior Editor at GettingIt.