How I learned to love polygamy
The Browns of reality TV show fame practice polygamy, which they call "plural marriage," for religious reasons.
December 18th, 2013
09:34 AM ET

How I learned to love polygamy

Opinion by Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, Special to CNN

(CNN) - When I heard a federal judge struck down part of Utah’s polygamy law last week, I gave a little squeal of delight.

To be clear, I'm an Episcopal priest, not a polygamist.  But I've met the family who brought the suit, and these people changed how I think about plural marriage.

Before I met the Browns - made famous by the reality television show “Sister Wives” - I had the kind of reaction most modern-day Christians would have to their lifestyle: Polygamy hurts women. It offers girls a skewed perspective of who they can be. It happens on cultish compounds. It’s abusive.

Yet when the Browns' show debuted, I began to question some of those assumptions, and when I had the opportunity to meet them a few years ago, I questioned them further.

In getting to know Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn, and their children, I saw that these parents were extremely invested in raising girls and boys who were empowered to get an education, become independent thinkers and have a moral compass.

Indeed, children were so important to them not because they wanted to create more young polygamists - the Browns want their children to choose their own beliefs - but because their children were the people who would join them in heaven, and they wanted to raise a family kind enough, good enough, to achieve that goal.

The result is four parents equally invested in their children, and a gaggle of young people who are neither spoiled nor timid, entitled nor brainwashed.

The result is also four parents who strive to model what being empowered people of faith looks like in contemporary America.

Since meeting the Browns, I have become a supporter of them and their lifestyle, though I certainly can understand why others remain opposed.

So much negative publicity has been generated - and rightly so - by fundamentalist Mormon Warren Jeffs and his followers that it leaves little room in the American imagination to think that polygamy could be something different.

When I talk about the Browns with my friends and colleagues, most are opposed to my position, believing that the women could not possibly be respected, that the children could not possibly receive the attention they deserve.

MORE: Judge strikes down part of Utah polygamy law in 'Sister Wives' case

But it’s crucial to remember that, when done well, polygamy works because the participants have a different goal for marriage than monogamous couples: Most Americans believe that marriage is for the purpose of cultivating intimacy between two people, both sexual and emotional.

But for the Browns that takes a distant second to the goal of cultivating a community that together can reach heaven. It’s a different way of thinking about marriage and family, but it’s not inherently an abusive one.

Ultimately, I support the decision to loosen restrictions on polygamy because families such as the Browns exist who endeavor every day to live kind, healthy lives that are not harmful, not abusive.

I also believe there are theoretical reasons why, as a Christian, it makes sense to support healthy polygamous practices. It’s a natural extension for those Christians who support same-sex marriage on theological grounds. But even for those opposed to same-sex marriage, polygamy is documented in the Bible, thereby giving its existence warrant.

Some might say that supporting polygamy means supporting the abuse of women. But saying that it is OK for Christians to support plural marriage is not the same as saying that they should condone its abusive practices. Indeed, Christians should not, and cannot, do this.

MORE ON CNN: It's time to reconsider polygamy

It does mean, though, that there is room for Christians to support the right of consenting adults to make choices about marriage that align with their religious beliefs in a country that prides itself on religious freedom.

Through their television show, the Browns helped America learn that polygamists are just like the rest of us - they dress like us, go to public school like us, eat at Olive Garden like us - they just have more people committed to one another than the rest of our families do.

Finally, like us, they want to practice their faith. And as long as that practice is in the service of cultivating loving, healthy relationships that strive to honor God and neighbor, I believe it is possible for even nonpolygamous Christians such as myself to support their calling.

Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is an Episcopal priest and author of  "God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom." The views expressed in this column belong to Tumminio. 

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Bigamy • Christianity • Ethics • Faith • Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints • gender issues • Opinion • Religious liberty • Sexuality • Women

soundoff (1,215 Responses)
  1. sam stone

    Merrie x mass tards! Grab a 12 gauge and complete our joy! Huury!

    December 25, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Pssst

      If you take away their weapons they can't.

      December 26, 2013 at 7:30 pm |
  2. Dyslexic doG

    At this time of the year, I send out a reminder to all my friends:

    Jesus wasn't born, he was written!

    December 23, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • The truth is out there

      If I were your friend I would respect your opinion but take it as a joke.

      December 23, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • Histories Mysteries

      I've spent so much time finding disinformation on that subject I'm not sure what is accurate anymore.

      December 25, 2013 at 5:56 am |
    • SweetSugarmama

      Jesus was too born but we not so sure about you Jackal

      December 26, 2013 at 5:21 pm |
  3. neved

    what is permanent is change,evolution means change for the better,At the present some religion tolerates polygamy and others dont.God for a reason gives freedom of choice .For whatever reason that this happening thats His will,because all re
    igion is His.no one can question that.

    December 22, 2013 at 9:59 pm |
  4. A permanent fix

    You know what would end the marriage debate? Anarchy. Legalize pot? No laws no problem. Don't want your church taxed? No government, no problem. Don't want the Christians making laws? End laws.

    If you are worried about people taking advantage of people guess what the government is made out of...people.
    The good people don't need laws and the bad people don't follow them anyway.

    December 22, 2013 at 8:27 am |
    • Reality # 2

      Might want to reconsider your commentary as you drive your car on law-controlled roads.

      December 22, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  5. The Lord of the Rings

    I could think of nine guys I'd like to be marry. That would be sweet.

    December 22, 2013 at 7:27 am |
    • Reality # 2

      Good point or is it points 🙂

      December 22, 2013 at 9:09 am |
  6. DestroyerKahn

    People oughtta stop chewing on what other people do, and get comfortable with themselves. All the talk belittling others only reflects your own discomfort.

    December 22, 2013 at 7:01 am |
    • susan

      Why is "discomfort" such a bad thing?

      December 22, 2013 at 7:58 am |
      • Discomfort

        I take it you've never worn a thong.

        December 22, 2013 at 8:31 am |
  7. I love the Browns

    They look so happy. I'd marry into that family just for the company.

    December 22, 2013 at 6:08 am |
  8. Writing Wall

    Polygamy, polygyny, and polyandry are all welcomed into the conciousness of love and expression.

    December 21, 2013 at 9:40 pm |
    • Hip to B2

      What about polygons?

      December 21, 2013 at 10:38 pm |
    • Rick

      Or polygots?

      December 23, 2013 at 3:40 pm |
  9. Douglas

    Polygamy is a sin.

    In Matthew 19 Jesus defines marriage as the union of ONE man and ONE woman.

    This polygamous offshoot sect of LDS is emblematic of the false gospel of LDS
    which is NOT Christian. LDS and polgamy are NOT Christian.

    Don't be duped.

    December 21, 2013 at 9:15 pm |
    • Gumby

      The bible is full of contradictions, old testament to new testament. You cannot cherry pick your bible facts. Most xtians make that mistake. A book is not authoritative because it claims to be.

      December 21, 2013 at 9:29 pm |
      • Contradiction

        If the whole thing is hopelessly flawed why the heck can't you cherry pick?

        December 21, 2013 at 10:35 pm |
    • Don

      You wouldn't know that a true. Christian is one came up and plugged you, Douglas. You are the LAST person to be giving religious instruction.

      December 22, 2013 at 7:21 pm |
    • advizor54

      Who made you the expert on who is and isn't a Christian? There are over 3,000 "christian" churches, all who believe in a different version of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirt. Are they one? three? physcial? imaginary? spiritual? Take your pick. The LDS church believes in Jesus as the Atoning Savior of all mankind and that by him and through him all mankind may be saved. Sounds pretty christian to me. And, if you don't believe that Polygamy is a "christian" tradition, your really don't understand the Old Testament. Look at the house of Isreal, 12 kids, 4 moms, a few concubines thrown in for sport. Your misconstrued and narrow definitions allow you to feel superior and self-righteous, but they are flawed and factually incorrect.

      December 31, 2013 at 11:58 am |
  10. Gus

    Oh man, religious people are so mentally brainwashed, it's incredible...

    December 21, 2013 at 8:55 pm |
    • bibletruth

      Its really nice to be brainwashed by the Holy Spirit...its His job description.....to put it plainly, it is the job of the Holy Spirit to impart into a receptive human being (that is, a human being who desires to live by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of god) the righteousness of Christ...that is, the divine love of God.

      December 22, 2013 at 6:23 pm |
  11. Gumby

    If polygamy is good for King David, or Abraham, or Gideon, then it's good enough for me.

    December 21, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
  12. Haime52

    Ooh! Ooh! Mr. Cotter, Mr. Cotter!!! If a man can have multiple wives, can a woman have multiple husbands? And if each can have multiples of each and with Gay marriage in the mix, does that mean group marriage is possible?

    December 21, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • Writing Wall


      December 21, 2013 at 8:42 pm |
    • John

      Finally some one hits on the real problem with polygamy. Even if it can be practiced without abuse it can only be practiced in a society where one gender takes precedence over the other so that members of that gender may have multiple spouses and be the "head of the household". Otherwise, if a man has multiple wives and those wives are allowed multiple husbands in turn, as in Haime's question, we open the door to everyone being married to everyone with varying degrees of seperation. And at that point doesn't the whole thing become meaningless?

      December 23, 2013 at 12:48 am |
      • myweightinwords

        Not if it is done well. I know several polyamorous families that have worked it out quite well.

        It isn't a free for all at all. The relationships are defined by those who enter them. Which is the way it should be anyway.

        December 23, 2013 at 11:33 am |
        • Haime52

          Just have the president declare everyone husband and wife, husband and husband, wife and wife and be done with it. We could be Sodom and Gomorrah all over again! Oh, boy, oh, boy! Free love with anyone and everyone!
          Yah, ok.

          January 3, 2014 at 9:57 pm |
        • myweightinwords

          That's a serious misconception.

          It isn't free love with anyone. There are still rules and guidelines in place. But the people defining the rules of their relationship are the people IN the relationship.

          Why is that such a threat to you?

          January 4, 2014 at 10:30 am |
  13. Mike

    How sickening and sad to see people losing touch with reality, not seeing anymore what's wrong and what's right, being on the wrong path and obstinately and insanely crying out loud that they're on the right path!!!
    How sad these people will never know God!
    God made Adam and Eve only, one single man for a woman and one single woman for a man, that's God's law, that's NORMALITY! Stop showing abnormality as something normal, or else you're as lost and heretic as these people who live in a sick crazy dark world of their own!
    Lord have mercy!!

    December 21, 2013 at 7:52 am |
    • Reality # 2

      As per National Geographic's Genographic project:


      " DNA studies suggest that all humans today descend from a group of African ancestors who about 60,000 years ago began a remarkable journey. Follow the journey from them to you as written in your genes”.

      "Adam" is the common male ancestor of every living man. He lived in Africa some 60,000 years ago, which means that all humans lived in Africa at least at that time.

      Unlike his Biblical namesake, this Adam was not the only man alive in his era. Rather, he is unique because his descendents are the only ones to survive.

      It is important to note that Adam does not literally represent the first human. He is the coalescence point of all the genetic diversity."

      o More details from National Geographic's Genographic project: https://genographic.nationalgeographic.com/

      "Our spe-cies is an African one: Africa is where we first ev-olved, and where we have spent the majority of our time on Earth. The earliest fos-sils of recognizably modern Ho-mo sapiens appear in the fossil record at Omo Kibish in Ethiopia, around 200,000 years ago. Although earlier fossils may be found over the coming years, this is our best understanding of when and approximately where we originated.

      According to the genetic and paleontological record, we only started to leave Africa between 60,000 and 70,000 years ago. What set this in motion is uncertain, but we think it has something to do with major climatic shifts that were happening around that time—a sudden cooling in the Earth’s climate driven by the onset of one of the worst parts of the last Ice Age. This cold snap would have made life difficult for our African ancestors, and the genetic evidence points to a sharp reduction in population size around this time. In fact, the human population likely dropped to fewer than 10,000. We were holding on by a thread.

      Once the climate started to improve, after 70,000 years ago, we came back from this near-extinction event. The population expanded, and some intrepid explorers ventured beyond Africa. The earliest people to colonize the Eurasian landma-ss likely did so across the Bab-al-Mandab Strait separating present-day Yemen from Djibouti. These early beachcombers expanded rapidly along the coast to India, and reached Southeast Asia and Australia by 50,000 years ago. The first great foray of our species beyond Africa had led us all the way across the globe."

      December 21, 2013 at 8:12 am |
    • Gumby

      The bible promotes polygamy through the stories of King David, Abraham, and Gideon, among others.

      December 21, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        origin: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F20E1EFE35540C7A8CDDAA0894DA404482 NY Times review and important enough to reiterate.

        New Torah For Modern Minds

        “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. (prob•a•bly
        Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell).

        The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

        Such startling propositions - the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years - have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity - until now.

        The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called "Etz Hayim" ("Tree of Life" in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

        The notion that the Bible is not literally true "is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis," observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to "Etz Hayim." But some congregants, he said, "may not like the stark airing of it." Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that "virtually every modern archaeologist" agrees "that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all." The rabbi offered what he called a "LITANY OF DISILLUSION”' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have "found no trace of the tribes of Israel - not one shard of pottery."

        December 22, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • bibletruth

      Normality? What is the normality of Sunday keeping when the Bible from Genesis to Revelation says "remember, keep holy the Sabbath day.................." What is the normality of having statues of "saints" and "Jesus" when the Bible from Genesis to Revelation says "no idols in any form.................." What is the normality of baby baptism when the Bible from Genesis to Revelation says that one who receives Jesus is baptized and that by immersion. What is the normality of the idea of an immortal soul when the Bible from Genesis to Revelation says that the dead know not anything and there will be no life once one dies, until the resurrection. And I could go on and on as to what the bible teaches which is not the teaching of most "Christian" religions. We are to follow God..his word, not the ideas of men who have been inspired not by the Holy Spirit. Get into his word and believe what He has said. This post is obviously for believers.

      December 22, 2013 at 8:49 pm |
      • Reality # 2

        "Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll branded Revelation "the insanest of all books".[30] Thomas Jefferson omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he "considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams." [31]

        Martin Luther once "found it an offensive piece of work" and John Calvin "had grave doubts about its value."[32]

        Regarding Genesis: Recommend that you scroll up the page to see the comments on the New Torah/OT for Modern Minds and also the comments on the real Adam.

        December 23, 2013 at 7:27 am |
  14. 00 00

    He knew what was in mans heart
    He knew what was in mans heart

    December 21, 2013 at 5:13 am |
  15. 00 00

    He knew what was in mans heart

    December 21, 2013 at 5:02 am |
  16. 00 00

    On my death bed, I will achieve total conscioousness. So I have that going for me.

    December 21, 2013 at 4:57 am |
    • bibletruth

      The living know that they shall die, but the dead know not anything.

      December 22, 2013 at 6:33 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.