A few months ago, the B.C.Supreme Court upheld Canada's polygamy laws. While acknowledging that the law forbidding polygamy infringes on religious freedom, Chief Justice Bauman ruled that this is reasonable because of the harm caused by polygamy. Understandably, he focused on the harm to women and children in polygamous religious communities like the one in Bountiful BC which has been the catalyst for the case. But interestingly, he also noted the harm caused "to society and to the institution of monogamous marriage."

Christians agree about the harm done by polygamy. Certainly many famous Bible characters had many wives. Without explicitly telling us that each of them was wrong, the stories of their lives are filled with accounts of the resulting pain experienced in their sadly dis-functional families. The fact that the Bible tells us that David had many wives is not telling us that he was right to have many wives, any more than it is suggesting that the fact that he committed adultery with Bathsheba demonstrates that he was right to do so. The unfolding stories give adequate proof that Chief Justice Bauman's concerns about harm are valid.

In fact, the Bible is clear: "A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). We have here the institution and definition of marriage: one man, one woman, one marriage. On that basis Christians defend marriage and oppose polygamy. We take our stand for monogamy. Or do we?

It depends how we define the mono in monogamy. Mono means one, but we have our ways of turning it into many. Mostly by making it mean "one at a time". We frown upon polygamous communities not so much because the men have multiple wives as because they have them all at the same time. That is undoubtedly harmful, but it is not the only form of harmful polygamy. The biblical view of monogamy  is "one partner for life" (note the phrase "hold fast" in Genesis). The modern version, sadly common in Christian circles, is not true monogamy, but serial monogamy: one partner at a time. That's more poly than mono.

Serial monogamy is seen in divorce patterns that reflect a serious departure from the stringency with which the Bible treats that subject. However, even in the church we are training our young people to pursue a course of serial monogamy in dating patterns which reflect those of the world. As we explain in an on-line seminar, dating sets a trajectory of multiple partners and teaches the practicalities of how to break-up. It is an apprenticeship course preparing not for marriage but for divorce.

We must put the mono back in monogamy. One partner for life. Holding fast to one's own partner for life after marriage. Not holding somebody else's partner either before or after they are married to that partner. Monogamy. Not polygamy spread out over time. One bride. Not many brides - whether they are grouped in a cluster or spaced out in a line.