William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why We Should Not Bring Back The Practice Of Concubines

The question was put: "Whenever you hear defense of polygamy you'll invariably hear references to how Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon & Moses and how they all practiced polygamy. And because a prophet in the Bible did it it's supposed to be somehow sanctioned by God. I still remember speaking to JW on my mission -- when he brought up polygamy I disarmed his anti-polygamy stance by namedropping all those guys and asking him 'what did they all have in common?', as if the polygamy in common between them was a God-sanctioned, Biblical, holy principle. It worked, by the way, and we moved onto something else. So Abraham, David, Solomon, Gideon (others?) had concubines. Some of the same people had extra wives AND concubines. Seems like concubinage is exactly as Biblical as polygamy. (I suppose to a lesser extent invasion of a foreign country and annihilating the residents is a time-honored Biblical and Book-of-Mormon-ical tradition as well -- sometimes explicitly sanctioned by God, so it's not hard for me to fathom God approving of concubinage). Fast forward: near recent era. This is supposed to be the 'Fullness of Times'. According to the Church, this is the dispensation in which 'all things are to be restored in Christ'. I read that as basically all the Biblical stuff that was lost or no longer practiced is supposed to be brought back, their principles & ordinances practiced (you know how we LDS are sticklers on that sort of thing). We all know how Joseph, Brigham & the close inner circle practiced 'polygamy/plural wivery/polyandry/plural marriage'. When are we going to start practicing concubinage?
How is one supposed to be some sort of righteous principle and another is apparently quietly forgotten, tucked away and not really addressed? It's in the Bible isn't it? Prophets went about doing it didn't they?
How can the Restoration of the Gospel in Dispensation of the Fullness of Times be complete without checking the box next to 'restore and practice concubinage[]'?"

To which I responded:

If you reject, as I do, the notion that the Bible (or any other canonized LDS scripture) is the inerrant word of God, then there is not an issue with rejecting the notion of "concubinage". I strongly believe in the equal dignity of the genders, and believe that the true guiding primary principles of any sexually intimate relationship are:

1) Meaningful consent (including lack of coercion, whether spiritual or otherwise);
2) Capacity (i.e., maturity, lack of mental disability, etc.); and
3) The right to seek one's own happiness, tempered only by our duty to act responsibly (i.e., not engaging in risky behavior, not causing unnecessary objective harm to others, a reasonable level of commitment and self-sacrifice, etc.)

In the case of "concubinage," as far as I can tell, it appears the Biblical model of this violates the above principles and relegates women to an inferior status. For that matter, so does marriage to the extent it is coerced. For these reasons, I strenuously object to the return of "concubinage" in its traditional sense. I also reject polygyny (and polyandry) when it violates the above principles. By the same token, however, I must condone forms of marriage (including polygyny and polyandry) which conform to the above principles, and I believe that God does not generally interfere with or prohibit relationships which do so conform.

I realize that many LDS conservatives resolve the issues you have raised by a simple appeal to God's will as revealed to LDS prophets (i.e., God can command as he chooses, and we are not to question, and whatever God commanded or permitted in some other era is irrelevant so long as our current LDS president instructs otherwise). But I do not find this to be a satisfactory analysis. I cannot accept a capricious god. If I am to place my faith in God, then I must assume that he is a rational god, one who has valid and generally intuitive reasons for the commandments he gives. I do accept that God's ways are not always man's ways, and that there will once in a while be times when I simply will not understand some theological concept because I have not yet progressed far enough to grasp it. But I also believe that God will not punish us for our lack of ability to understand, and that we are morally permitted to act in accordance with the understanding we HAVE been given, so long as we do so in good faith and with an eye towards doing good.

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