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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. Vic

    I am not an expert on the subject matter, but I believe this is highly publicized as a motion for legal benefits. Imagine what it would take to adjust the legal system to accommodate for polygamy, I believe it would be a nightmare!

    December 18, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
    • Alias

      Exactly.
      You stole my earlier post and made it clear, didn't you?

      December 18, 2013 at 3:21 pm |
      • Vic

        I've never seen it! I am not here all the time, and I had this in mind ever since the article went on.

        December 18, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
  2. Doc Vestibule

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFkeKKszXTw

    December 18, 2013 at 3:17 pm |
    • Mopery

      Perfect video for this discussion, spot on.

      December 18, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
  3. lilsnicklefritzy

    Hmmm How come I can't reply on some posts? I remembered it wrong... Billy Graham didn't say Mormons were Christians. What I was thinking about was back in October 2012 when he removed Mormons from the list of cults. http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/10/19/billy-graham-no-longer-thinks-mormonism-is-a-cult/

    December 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • Mopery

      Mormon...the second "m" is silent.

      December 18, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        plagiarizing that...

        December 18, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
        • Mopery

          I've been saying it for decades, but I hereby grant permission for any and all to use the phrase anytime, anywhere, anyhow.

          December 18, 2013 at 3:39 pm |
    • Science Works

      It was for the voting block – but does it matter they are BOTH cults.

      December 18, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
      • Vic

        "bloc"

        December 18, 2013 at 3:24 pm |
        • Science Works

          Thanks Vic

          I was thinking about the – block heads of both groups

          Did you hear about the 1.4 million year old human hand bone that closes the gap for human evolution ?

          December 18, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  4. lol??

    With the Beast in charge of marriage the thin blue line between a wife and a prosti*tute has blurred a bunch.

    December 18, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Shaweet

      We know who you frequent. Who'd marry you??

      December 18, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
  5. jalearner

    If there are approximately the same number of males born as females, and eventually one male marries five females, what happens to the other four males? Polygamy always reminds me of the 'wild animal' social arrangements where one dominant male has the exclusive rights to all the females. Could it be that lions, etc have had it right all along?

    December 18, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Andrey

      Well, I guess they marry each other: it's all legal now, so what's the problem!

      December 18, 2013 at 3:20 pm |
      • jalearner

        Oh, of course – thank you Andrey. This arrangement also has the benefit of preventing the weaker males of the species from procreating! Wow, I never before thought of polygamy as being Darwinian.

        December 18, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
    • Bobo

      The other 4 males simply subscribe to Sirius XM and become O@A fans

      December 18, 2013 at 3:25 pm |
  6. traveller

    Theirs is a lifestyle I wouldn't care for – but I think they have done a great job with raising their kids to be intelligent thinking individuals. In the end it is how they have raised their kids that matters most.

    December 18, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
  7. OC girl

    Polygamy...does that mean women can have multiple partners too? If one's goals is to get to heaven than both women and men should be equal.

    December 18, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      'Fraid not.
      The original Mormon church taught that women can be bound only to one man while the dude can have as many wives as he is able.
      Even in the modern LDS world, they still teach the same thing regarding "spirit wives".

      December 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  8. Joseph

    As for this so-called priest, another Episcopal priest expressed it well in a letter to his bishop when it wrote, "we got into this mess because twenty years ago we entered into conversation with these people when the Bible says to not even eat with them (i.e., the immoral; those who reject the age-old Biblical standards for marriage).

    December 18, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • Mopery

      The age-old biblical standard IS polygamy. What wonderful morals in that bronze-age book: genocide, infanticide, polygamy, slavery, etc...oh, but god LOVES you!

      December 18, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
      • Saraswati

        Even in most societies that allow polygamy, most men are either single or have one wife. The same would have been true in biblical times.

        December 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  9. Mopery

    Why stop at polygamy? Why not let men have entire harems at their disposal? If polygamy is going to be legalized, we certainly need to legalize prost itution too, because there's really no difference between them. To be a successful polygamist you must have enough money to support many wives and a large family, so how is that not paying for s e x? Look at the problems in northern Arizona with the orthodox LDS. As soon as the male children reach s e x u a l maturity they are banished from the community as they are now compet ition to the father, and many wind up homeless in Phoenix or Las Vegas. Daughters however are far too important at that age, they are little more than s e x u a l property to be traded to other polygamists so the pervert fathers can continue to have a fresh stock of young (meow) to abuse at his leisure.

    December 18, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      "young (meow)" I know it is probably inappropriate to laugh... but I did 🙁

      December 18, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
  10. SuZiecoyote

    This woman does not speak for me. She should be ashamed of herself for letting women women down throughout the world. Everywhere that polygamy is routinely practiced, younger and younger girls are married off to older and older men. How does she think the compounds and the abuses came to be? Polygamy may please a few western women who freely choose it, but that is not how polygamy works in the long run. It is a way to enslave women from childhood. Warren Jeffs and his community are not an abberation – they are the epidome of where polygamy leads. If this so-called priest wants to show me any long-term polygamist society where abuse and evenual enslavement of girl children is not the outcome, I would love to know about it.

    December 18, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      This is like saying that Jonestown is the inevitable end of all Christian sects.

      December 18, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
      • lol??

        They were the darlings of the libby media.

        December 18, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
        • Shaweet

          Wish you drank it.

          December 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        It's not?

        December 18, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
        • Doc Vestibule

          Absolutely not.
          Now shut up and drink your Kool-Aid.

          December 18, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
        • Lucifer's Evil Twin

          I could never be a good cultist/Christian... Kool-aid always give me bad heartburn/reflux

          December 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm |
      • Saraswati

        Do you compare Jonestown to the Sister Wives family or countries where polygyny has been bad for women? What happened at Jonestown is the exception just as so far polygynous societies have been bad for women. That's not to say a success can't happen, but so far, like Jonestown, it is the exception.

        December 18, 2013 at 3:13 pm |
      • Mopery

        Christianity is a cult of human sacrifice, so why would Jonestown register as shocking to christians? Their symbol of "salvation" is an instrument of torture, their rituals invoke cannibalism, and martyrdom is seen as the greatest of human actions. Plus they are taught to accept the apocalypse as a good thing.

        December 18, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • bigboxes

      Well said. Letting consenting adults choose their relationship of their choice seems like a good idea. However, it's with succeeding generations that creates a cult-like atmosphere to perpetuate these arrangements.

      December 18, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
  11. Philm

    First, we need to recognize the broken nature of our societies. One thing vs. another all the time, with neither working well.
    Marriage, as for most things, needs to know the intention of the creator. If there is no creator, then anything goes, and that should be easy to accept. (But why isn't it?)
    If there is a creator, then what was the creator's intention for the creation and for man-women relationships? The Biblical system of thought gives sufficient and reasonable explanations for the brokenness and presents a God who intended one-man one-women relationships to be the scheme for creation. Our rebelion from God and his desires for us is what has messed everything up.
    Yes, he gives us freedom to wander around trying whatever we want, but the system of truth presented in the Bible (old and new testaments) tells us there is forgiveness through Jesus the Messiah and it is possible by God the Holy Spirit and this forgiveness to have a relationship and real life in relationship with the living God.
    Consider this God; consider this book, the Bible and its teachings; yield / give yourself to Jesus and watch him show you how things can make sense.
    Perhaps he will do many good things in your life.

    December 18, 2013 at 2:59 pm |
  12. Jonathan

    Not sure I understand how, if the bible mentions something, that it automatically condones it. The bible is filled with examples of people behaving in sinful ways and that doesn't mean it is condoned. The bible, a good portion of it anway, is supposed to be a historical account. Can't hide the ugly stuff and still call it truth.

    Other than this, I really don't have any opinion on anything else the author wrote about. I just hate to see logic used to tell people "you should be for this if you are for that" when the whole premise is based on ignorance. Logic can say anything if you don't start on the right (correct) line.

    December 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      There are examples in the Bible of God condoning abhorrent behaviour.
      To wit: The only person deemed righteous enough to be spared a fiery death in Sodom was Lot. The angels of the Lord deemed him especially righteous becuase he was willing to toss his virgin daughters over to a ravenous mob to be ra/ped.

      December 18, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
      • Shaweet

        And then he drunkenly porked them later. Real "righteous".

        December 18, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
        • Jonathan

          I think you two might have a real misunderstanding about what biblical righteousness means when said in context with sinful man. No man, aside from one, was wholly perfect. No man is good as defined by God.

          Using your example, Lot 'drunkenly porked' his daughters after Sod-om was burned. You leave out a lot of details, mostly how his daughters got him drunk and did the deed while he was unable to react. Lot's 'righteousness' is not dimished by the actions of others, even his own children.

          As for his offering of his own daughters to the mob instead of angels, it very well could be that a 'ra-pe' of that kind would be wholly different than that one of a hom-ose-xual one. The angels could have smote the whole of the mob and Lot showed concern for the mob's own well being despite the wrong they were planning to do.

          David was a 'man after God's own heart'. David was still a man and prone to sin. God is also something of a unimaginable magnitude greater than David and who's heart David's could never truly compare to.

          Why hold every man to perfection?

          December 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  13. Edaf

    Its interesting that the article the minister is specifically in favor of polygamy; multiple wives, one husband, but does not mention polyandry; multiple husbands, one wife. Same with group homes of many people who switch around as the mood strikes. All these combinations could create a big community to meet in heaven–which is the stated reason for the practice. In nature, makes that have big harems of females get them through shows of dominance and combat. Why anyone thinks that inequality caused by one Alpha Male looking to increase his harem would not apply if polygamous relationships were common, I cannot say. What I can say is that I think that experience over many, many years and many, many cultures, shows that a one to one ratio of man and woman is the most stable, most likely to result in supported children, and least likely to result in problems down the road.

    December 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Saraswati

      The author is talking about polgyny but using the generic polygamy.

      December 18, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • lol??

      Alpha male is a myth, if you discount all the corporate women trying to marry up. Joe Dirt, where are you??

      December 18, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
      • Shaweet

        Mysogynist pig.

        December 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
  14. Joseph

    "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." No. THAT'S the lie propogated by Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to deceive women into satisfying their lust for a Playboy lifestyle. (I think Hugh Heffner learned it from them.) In this article, the author provides a classic example of why the scripture – the Word of God – which she professes to believe, but shows by her actions and position that she doesn't, tells us that only men are to be pastors (i.e., qualified men at that). It's because, as both Saint Peter and Saint Paul tell us, the woman was first deceived, yes very deceived. Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is both incompetent and unqualified for her "pastorate" in the Episcopal Church.

    December 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Misogyny: Part of a complete Bible.

      December 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      @Joseph – my but you spew a lot of venom... how very christiany of you... BTW ALL religious clerics are useless frauds... by virtue of them being religious clerics...

      December 18, 2013 at 3:06 pm |
  15. Steve P

    To really understand the downside of polygamy, try Googling "Mormon lost boys." When older males start building harems, there's no place for the boys and young men.

    December 18, 2013 at 2:54 pm |
    • Doc Vestibule

      That's more of an indictment of their particular cult's practices than polygamy itself.

      December 18, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
      • Saraswati

        Do you think there would be an equal amount of polygyny and polygamy or even mixed groups? That seems unlikely to me.

        December 18, 2013 at 3:03 pm |
  16. Lisa

    The Browns participate in polygyny – one man + multiple wives.

    I dare say if one of the women brought home another man it would be acceptable. If there were true equality and true polygamy, this would not be the case.

    I support their legal right to do this. No adults should be told how to live their lives or who they can marry.

    However, our welfare laws need to account properly for this. Those extra wives are *not* single un-married women and should not be eligible for the same public assistance.

    Do the sister wives have real jobs and bring home paychecks for these children?

    December 18, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • Joseph

      Lisa, you're WRONG! You are espousing the typical mindless liberal mindset of our day and you are WRONG. Our fathers and grandfathers gave us laws to govern what "consenting adults" do because none of us are isolated from others. Our lives affect others. There are many more impacts of this grossly perverse view of marriage. The economic impacts are only one of them, but they are perhaps the most visible. There is no way that those wives, with their many children, can earn enough income to support all of those people, and there's no way that perverse creep could do it either. They ARE impacting the rest of us. And if their kids grow up to do the same thing, they'll multiply like rabbits and the impacts will be devastating on an already stressed economy.

      As for this so-called priest, another Episcopal priest expressed it well in a letter to his bishop when it wrote, "we got into this mess because twenty years ago we entered into conversation with these people when the Bible says to not even eat with them (i.e., the immoral; those who reject the age-old Biblical standards for marriage).

      December 18, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        I agree with you... religion is stupid...

        December 18, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Saraswati

      If there is an identified father he is legally responsible for his children regardless of marital status. The problem is that there is simply less money to go around when you have more children per working parent.

      December 18, 2013 at 3:05 pm |
    • Pop-pop Papa

      Your post makes a lot of sense. I don't know why it's so hard for people to think rationally like this. It probably has something to do with the fact that we are constantly being bombarded in the media with rhetoric from either the far left or far right and rarely ever from the center.

      December 18, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • lilsnicklefritzy

      I've wondered about that. Do the "extra wives" count as single? So, could they collect public assistance? Seems they could, and the gov wouldn't know about it.

      December 18, 2013 at 3:23 pm |
  17. Joseph

    I would like to know how that Tom Cat takes care of all of those children. He doesn't, DOES HE? They're supported by welfare, which means that you and I are paying for his irresponsibility and his over-charged libido. I'll tell you what. Any so-called Episcopal priest who says that this is anything but what it truly is (i.e., wicked) is a false profit and MUST be defrocked immediately; period, end of story, there is NO debate.

    December 18, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Joseph

      I meant false prophet. The "profit" was intended to be a play on words, albeit obscure, about how this guy is profiting from this arrangement – at OUR expense.

      December 18, 2013 at 2:50 pm |
    • lol??

      The social workers won't give up their jobs without a fight, so you can't stop it. Socies are the biggest voting block ever. Public Servants forever!!

      December 18, 2013 at 3:01 pm |
    • Lucifer's Evil Twin

      Kody Brown is an advertising executive according to the internet (I looked it up since I don't watch the show, amazing how I could do that on the internet, huh?)... they also get paid by TLC... I don't think you need to worry about your redneck paycheck having to support their family...

      December 18, 2013 at 3:02 pm |
  18. Doc Vestibule

    I wonder how the FLDS feel about the old LDS racist doctrines.
    As recently as the mid 20th century, mainstream mormons were officially and unabashedly racist.
    Is it OK for FLDS to have mulitple wives so long as they're all white?

    "From the days of the Prophet Joseph Smith even until now, it is has been the doctrine of the Church, never questioned by any of the Church leaders, that the Neg.roes are not ent.itled to the full blessings of the Gospel.
    "Furthermore your ideas, as we understand them, appear to contemplate the intermarriage of the Neg.ro and White races, a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient partiarchs till now. God's rule for Israel, His Chosen People, has been endogamous."
    – George Albert Smith J. Reuben Clark, Jr. David O. McKay (C. 1947)

    December 18, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Saraswati

      Aren't these guys AUB and not FLDS?

      December 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm |
      • Doc Vestibule

        Same stink, different pile. 😉
        But I still wonder – are they OK with interracial marriage?

        December 18, 2013 at 3:12 pm |
        • Saraswati

          I would guess the producers checked that out first...nightmare for them if the church turned out to be racist, but I don't know for sure. I assume it shares the same racist history as its relatives.

          December 18, 2013 at 3:18 pm |
  19. Dyslexic doG

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gELzYupzXs

    December 18, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
    • Mulehead

      Simply awesome explanation!

      December 18, 2013 at 3:07 pm |
  20. lol??

    Those Russian or American brides?? Washington, DC, noooooooooooooo! They'll never learn to count!!

    December 18, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
    • Shaweet

      Are you dim? Can't you read?

      December 18, 2013 at 3:00 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.