Latest Stories

  • Norine Rae

Polygamy In Africa

Family In Africa


Professor Bill Such, PhD

A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary

In Partial Fulfillment

of the Requirements for the Course

Leadership Strategies for Cultural Transformation (IM 6500)


Norine Rae




                         African Families  

                         African Church   


                        Educating the African Church       

                        Victory through Christ: The Gospel Message           





There is an issue rarely spoken of in the Western Church that is a growing problem especially for those on the mission field and it is Polygamy. Polygamy according to the Greek is defined as many marriages at the same time regardless of whether the relationship is legally recognized by the state or not.[1] It can also be referred to as polygyny, polyandry or plural marriage.[2]  Even though polygamy is illegal in most of the Western world it is still practiced within several faiths including Mormon, Hyde, and Islam. The third world countries on the other hand not only practice polygamy, but it is legal throughout the Middle East and most of Africa. Studies indicate that there are currently over 2 billion polygamist[3] with a global population of 7.2 billion.[4]  Current reports indicate that polygamy is on the decline.  However, it appears to be culturally prevalent in countries where there are Muslim communities.[5]  Especially were Socio economic impact is influenced particularly in areas where there is subsistence farming thus polygamy is commonly practiced.[6]

            Although Polygamy is a global problem,[7] the objective of this paper is to successfully analyze the problem within African countries as it pertains to Christianity while expressing creative measures for evoking change within the church. With proper education, love and grace, the church can effectively influence and facilitate change in society. The gospel message is true for today, as missionaries continue to demonstrate the life of Christ there is hope that lives can be transformed and culture mended. Scripture teaches, “… hope in the LORD; For with the LORD there is loving kindness, And with Him is abundant redemption” (Psa 130:7).[8]


African Families

 According to a 1960s and 1970s study official figures suggest 1.8 percent of men in Algeria and 36.0 percent of the men in Togo are polygamous. Nigerian studies found that 98 percent of the polygamous wives were Muslim. [9]  Economic productivity, labor and emotional support are considered valued for a family’s success.  Sociologists have seen polygamy as ‘‘a reproductive strategy by which men maximize the number of their offspring but minimize investment in each child.”[10] It is not only a religiously accepted practice, but according to a native African, Akua Djanie, in Sins of Our Father she feels that the strength of manhood is judged according to the number of women he can provide for.[11] There are those who feel Christian ideology has been intrusive within the traditional framework of the African social heritage and violates moral code of the African extended family obligations.[12]

The social norms and traditional survival instincts of families within African culture have been identified by Westerners as uncivilized and at times thought of as barbaric.[13]  Spread of HIV within the African continent is also of grave concern regarding the practice of polygamy. An article in Newsweek magazine stated, In sub-Saharan Africa, 60 percent of people with AIDS are women.”It is a shocking fact," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said recently, "and one of which I, as an African man, feel ashamed." Polygamy, sexual coercion and violence against women all contribute to this distressing fact. Girls are frequently pressured into sex with older men in exchange for food, clothing or school tuition. [14]

Therefore, polygamy is having adverse consequences and influence on the African families regardless of religious affiliation.

African Church

Religious culture values for many years have been measured by Western standards and philosophy. Historically Western Christian thinking was that African practices were deplorable and debased.[15] Although many faithful servants gave their lives to promote the gospel message there were others who had perverted mind-sets which unfortunately caused rifts within the church. Current missionaries are trying desperately to mend these gaps and bring harmony within the African and Western church institutions. Western missionaries are faced with the dilemma as revivalists to work within the structure of African churches with their major concern being that of saving souls over the issues of church politics.[16]

Polygamy and slavery were both thought to be poor practices according to the Church Missionary Society, yet they held stronger convictions regarding polygamy as it was biblically ‘condemned.’ Social responsibility within the church appeared to be undermined. Missionaries felt that it was more effective to have black Africans who were scripturally versed preach the gospel rather than trained Anglo’s.[17]  There was a growing tension between African culture and the gospel.[18] Meanwhile the practice of polygamy was essentially ignored. The myth of Africans having a superhuman sexual drive and not being able to maintain monogamous relationships is also a problem. In his work Christianity in Africa Bediako shared, “Western society’s coupling of legal monogamy with ease of divorce and remarriage, as well as the various other forms of cohabitation, in effect amounts to the practice and legitimization of plural marriage.”[19]

Many African’s have said that they preferred monogamy, but have chosen the alternative because of the importance of bearing children.  Dele Adeleru said, “The modern African church has the responsibility to come up with a solution based on its own experience of the gospel of grace. The resolution to the question will never come from the West.”[20]  Perhaps, the question will not be answered from the West, but through the love and transformation of the new man. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”[21]


Educating the African Church

Western missionaries must see themselves as servants of God bringing forth the gospel message through education and discipleship of the indigenous people (Mt 28:18-20). Walter Wink shares in his theological work The Powers That Be, just as apartheid was dismantled, “People can and do change, and their change can make a fundamental difference.”[22] He continues to encourage us to pray for our enemies as God, through Christ, has already done the work. Yet, within the depths of humanity is still a desire for justice. In the mid-twentieth century the African church was frustrated with Western teaching and felt the gospel needed to be taught indigenously.[23]   

It is by the power of God that people are transformed. Through proper instruction and prayer, hearts will be won to the truth and ethical and moral standards will naturally comply touching the next generation.

There are those of Western Christian thought who have purposed that African’s were not intellectual enough to interpret Scripture which is simply appalling.[24]  We see in Proverbs 2: 3-5, “If you indeed cry out for insight and raise your voice for understanding and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.”[25] The knowledge and mysteries of God are available for all who believe regardless of race or gender (1 Cr 4:1; Gal 3:28).

Michael Cook wrote in his article The African Experience of Jesus that the theological training on Christology since mid-1980 is enormous.[26]  Cook goes on to share the complication of the African church due to a ‘triple heritage’ of Christian, Islam and traditional tribal religions.[27]  Today’s missionaries and those native trained theologians have an amazing opportunity to expand the kingdom through sound biblical teaching as they link arms evangelizing the continent into full truth of the gospel. This includes the teaching of monogamy within the church while walking in grace for those whose social economic situation would be destroyed.

 There are greater issues of breaking up families and the decision of which spouse to choose. Training for future generations in biblical principles is the best logical course of action.  Black theologians, though grateful for the valued resources of education, medication, and goods brought by missionary's at the same time wonder at the lack of empathy displayed by past European ministries. Past missionary behavior is illustrated in The Poisonwood Bible a science fiction work by Barbra Kingsolver. It gripped the heart of the nation as to the atrocities done in the name of Christianity.[28] Missionaries’ today move forward with greater insight into the cultural issue of polygamy determined to fulfill the cause of Christ.

Victory through Christ: The Gospel Message

There is victory in Christ for every issue common to man and that includes the precarious issue of polygamy in the African churches. While in some churches polygamy is accepted or at least not spoken of as a moral sin it is a dualistic situation of people within the church actually living in two worlds according to Bediako’s argument in Theology, Identity and the Pre-Christian Past.[29] The church is called to a higher standard or morality as seen in 1 Corinthians…to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus, that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge, even as the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you, so that you are not lacking in any gift, awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.[30]

Jesus is the only universal and true answer to humanities spiritual and physical longings as the true sacrificial Savior. The priest of believers should look to him for identity and religious tradition concerning global and cultural issues.[31] It is through Christ’s divine vulnerability, reconciling love and redemptive suffering that humanity is given an opportunity for grace.[32]

Cultures can be changed in time as individuals are transformed through the power of the blood of Christ shed for our sins (Rom 7:4). In Rethinking Tradition by Lauer,

Polygamy should be understood as an institutional arrangement that illustrates respectful recognition of co-dependency as a capacity rather than a weakness of adulthood, whose ideal fulfillment is a mark of maturity and success in traditional African societies. Economically, polygamy has been analyzed as a rational response to conditions of uncertainty and economic fragility.[33]

Lauer’s thinking leaves out the possibilities with Christ of long term significance on cultural change.  It is conceivable with Christ that future generations can be transformed and societies norms altered as economic environments prosper. Whether or not cultural tradition allows for polygamist lifestyle, Christ’s teaches monogamy (Mt 19:5). A divinely designed marriage is one man for one woman as seen in Matthew 19:4. To the end of time monogamy is God’s sanctioned plan for marriage.[34]

Even though polygamy continues to be practiced with Islam allowing men to have up to four wives (Qur’an, Sura 4.3)[35] Christian’s must teach the truth in love to all converts. Divine moral changes begin in the heart of individuals and in time change culture. The power of Christian truth, conveyed in a spirit of meekness according to Stowe can evoke change within the polygamist societies.  Thus proving, the biblical method of dealing with social sins through tolerance, while establishing principles and education which will eventually bring converts to a decision for sanctification through grace.[36]  Statistics prove people are happiest in monogamist relationships despite the fact that societies tolerate polygamy.[37]

Failure to hold meaningful monogamous relationships based on love has historically caused people to look elsewhere for satisfaction that can only be found in Jesus Christ. Humanity is in search of happiness and fulfillment that will not be found in polygamy.[38] Truly, individuals who grow in their Christian faith and inner peace with Christ recognize that it is only Christ who can fill that void.[39] We see the love of God in the Song of Solomon, the ultimate love poem, between Christ and the church. Monogamist marriage is a divine institution established by God and missionaries have a tremendous responsibility to teach the truth of the gospel in love to the world with the hope of influencing culture through kingdom living (Mt 5:16).[40]


Jesus gave his life so that all humanity could live yoked to Christ outside of the bonds of sin. Freedom through Christ offers strength through the power of the Holy Spirit to resist temptation and change even within the confines of cultural pull and obligation. Countries within Africa have suffered greatly due to the cultural social economic influence of polygamy.  So what’s the problem with polygamy? There is a better way in monogamy as it is divine in nature. Missionaries who travel to Africa can educate leaders and facilitate global awareness with love regarding the issue of polygamy. Supporting theologians and pastors as they build their ministries within their countries can be quite effective rather than usurping their authority and tradition.

Ideally, speaking the truth in love, missionaries teach Scripture and build church community by empowering people to train the next generation in the gospel message. Converts to Christianity will learn of the great reward of knowing the truth, and walking a sanctified life with Christ. Mature African Christian believers who desire to abide in the divine covenant with their Creator will choose to adhere to sound biblical teaching of monogamy. Cultural change is facilitated through love and harmony that can only be cultivated by a successful relationship with God. While polygamy may always be part of the cultural equation in Africa, causing tension and challenges, the position of missionaries should be to educate, bringing the good news with support, love, and grace to those they are serving.


“1 Corinthians 10 (Blue Letter Bible: NASB - New American Standard Bible)”, n.d. (accessed March 6, 2012).

“2 Corinthians 5 (Blue Letter Bible: NASB - New American Standard Bible)”, n.d. (accessed March 22, 2012).

Ade Ajayi, J F. “From Mission to Church: The Heritage of the Church Mission Society.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 23, no. 2 (April 1999): 50–55.

Adeleru, J Dele. “African Culture and the Gospel: Contextualization in the Making.” Fides et Historia 31, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 61.

Cook, Michael L. “The African Experience of Jesus.” Theological Studies 70, no. 3 (September 2009): 668–692.

Djanie, Akua. “The Sins of Our Fathers.” New African, July 2009.

“Ed Stetzer - The Effects of Pornography”, n.d. (accessed March 2, 2012).

Hamdan, Sami, Judy Auerbach, and Alan Apter. “Polygamy and Mental Health of Adolescents.” European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 18, no. 12 (December 2009): 755–60.

Lauer, Helen. “Rethinking ‘tradition Vs. Modernity’: The Social Construction of the ‘hiv/Aids Crisis’ in Africa.” Journal of Cultural Studies 7, no. 1 (2006): 1–20.

LeMarquand, Grant. “African Responses to New Hampshire and New Westminster: An Address*.” Anglican and Episcopal History 75, no. 1 (March 2006): 13–36.

Marton, Kati. “A Worldwide Gender Gap.” Newsweek, May 10, 2004.

Oshatz, Molly. “No Ordinary Sin: Antislavery Protestants and the Discovery of the Social Nature of Morality.” Church History 79, no. 2 (June 2010): 334–358.

“Pastor’s Weekly Reflection”, n.d. (accessed March 22, 2012).

“Polygamy - New World Encyclopedia”, n.d. (accessed March 21, 2012).

“Polygamy Stop: History”, n.d. (accessed March 21, 2012).

“Proverbs 2 (Blue Letter Bible: NASB - New American Standard Bible)”, n.d. (accessed March 22, 2012).

“Psalms 130 (Blue Letter Bible: NASB - New American Standard Bible)”, n.d. (accessed March 21, 2012).

“The Institution of Marriage”, n.d. (accessed March 22, 2012).

Wagenaar, Hinne. “Theology, Identity and the Pre-Christian Past.” International Review of Mission, October 1999.

“What About Polygamy? :”, n.d. (accessed March 19, 2012).

Wink, Walter. The powers that be : theology for a new millennium. 1st Galilee trade pbk. ed. New York: Doubleday, 1999.

“World population hits 7 billion –”, n.d. (accessed March 21, 2012).

[1] “Polygamy - New World Encyclopedia”, n.d.,, (accessed March 21, 2012).

[2] “Polygamy Stop: History”, n.d.,, (accessed March 21, 2012).

[4] “World population hits 7 billion –”, n.d.,, (accessed March 21, 2012).

[5] Sami Hamdan, Judy Auerbach, and Alan Apter, “Polygamy and Mental Health of Adolescents,” European Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 18, no. 12 (December 2009): 755–60.

[7] J Dele Adeleru, “African Culture and the Gospel: Contextualization in the Making,” Fides et Historia 31, no. 2 (Summer 1999): 66.

[8] “Psalms 130 (Blue Letter Bible: NASB - New American Standard Bible)”, n.d.,, (accessed March 21, 2012).

[11] Akua Djanie, “The Sins of Our Fathers,” New African, July 2009.

[12] Helen Lauer, “Rethinking ‘tradition Vs. Modernity’: The Social Construction of the ‘hiv/Aids Crisis’ in Africa,” Journal of Cultural Studies 7, no. 1 (2006): 1–20.

[14] Kati Marton, “A Worldwide Gender Gap,” Newsweek, May 10, 2004.

[15] Adeleru, “African Culture and the Gospel.”

[16] J F Ade Ajayi, “From Mission to Church: The Heritage of the Church Mission Society,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 23, no. 2 (April 1999): 50–55.

[18] Adeleru, “African Culture and the Gospel,” 62.

[21] “2 Corinthians 5 (Blue Letter Bible: NASB - New American Standard Bible)”, n.d.,, (accessed March 22, 2012).

[22] Walter Wink, The powers that be : theology for a new millennium, 1st Galilee trade pbk. ed. (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 179.

[23] Grant LeMarquand, “African Responses to New Hampshire and New Westminster: An Address*,” Anglican and Episcopal History 75, no. 1 (March 2006): 26.

[25] “Proverbs 2 (Blue Letter Bible: NASB - New American Standard Bible)”, n.d.,, (accessed March 22, 2012).

[26] Michael L Cook, “The African Experience of Jesus,” Theological Studies 70, no. 3 (September 2009): 670.

[29] Hinne Wagenaar, “Theology, Identity and the Pre-Christian Past,” International Review of Mission, October 1999, 369.

[30] “1 Corinthians 1 (Blue Letter Bible: NASB - New American Standard Bible)”, n.d.,, (accessed March 6, 2012).

[31] Wagenaar, “Theology, Identity and the Pre-Christian Past,” 371.

[33] Lauer, “Rethinking ‘tradition Vs. Modernity’.”

[34] “What About Polygamy? :”, n.d.,, (accessed March 19, 2012).

[36] Molly Oshatz, “No Ordinary Sin: Antislavery Protestants and the Discovery of the Social Nature of Morality,” Church History 79, no. 2 (June 2010): 334–358.

[37] “Ed Stetzer - The Effects of Pornography”, n.d., 26,, (accessed March 2, 2012).

[38] “Polygamy - New World Encyclopedia.”

[39] “Pastor’s Weekly Reflection”, n.d.,, (accessed March 22, 2012).

[40] “The Institution of Marriage”, n.d.,, (accessed March 22, 2012).


Recent Posts

See All

Thank you for your support!

Established 2002 - Aflame International Ministries