Christian attitudes toward polygamy are more controversial today than they have been for many years. As Euro-American churches debate the issue of same-sex unions, African Christians attack Westerners for their moral laxity and for caving in to secular hedonism. In response, some Western liberals retort that Africans themselves need to put their own house in order. Do African churches define marriage as a sacrosanct union between one man and one woman? If so, then why do their leaders tolerate polygamous unions?
Such an argument seems to convict the most visible Christian conservatives of hypocrisy, of failing to pluck the beam from their own collective eye. Yet far from convincing Africans, such an argument illustrates a continuing global gulf on issues of sexual morality.
Philip Jenkins is professor of history at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion and author of The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade and The Many Faces of Christ: The Thousand-Year Story of the Survival and Influence of the Lost Gospels.