Last week one of Malawi’s Paramount Chiefs, Chief M’Bwelwa V was quoted by the country’s media warning the Presbyterian church in northern Malawi to stop preaching against polygamy and drunkenness. The chief’s warning has received mixed reactions. However, one reaction I have found interesting is the one that argues for “decolonization of theology.” In case of polygamy, proponents of decolonization of theology argue that polygamy is a Ngoni culture or African culture hence African theologians and pastors should develop a theology that doesn’t condemn it because, the proponents further argue, the teaching against polygamy was imposed upon Africans by Western missionaries.
There is a lot that can be said about this fallacious argument; however, I would like to briefly point out two things: First, looking at the history of Christianity in Africa we know that even African theologians like Tertullian in 2nd and 3rd Century AD and St. Augustine in 4th Century AD condemned polygamy.
Tertulian wrote,”We do not indeed forbid the union of man and woman, blest by God as the seminary of the human race, and devised for the replenishment of the earth and the furnishing of the world and therefore permitted, yet singly. For Adam was the one husband of Eve, and Eve his one wife, one woman, one rib,” (Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Writings of the Fathers Down to AD 325 Vol. IV by Alexander Roberts).
St. Augustine in his treatise, On Marriage and Concupiscence, argued: “That the good purpose of marriage, however, is better promoted by one husband with one wife, than by a husband with several wives, is shown plainly enough by the very first union of a married pair, which was made by the Divine Being Himself” (Book 1, Chapter 10).
So, it is misleading to argue that preaching against polygamy is a Western theology. It is NOT! Our own forefathers taught against polygamy long way before Western missionaries stepped their foot on African soil because our forefathers were faithful to God’s word and not their culture.
Second, the proponents of decolonization of theology point to the fact that no where in the Bible is polygamy explicitly condemned except in the case of office bearers in the church (1 Tim. 3:2, 12). However, we know that when God the designer of marriage first established it married one man and one woman. More importantly human marriage is a reflection of the perfect marriage of Christ and his bride the Church. Christ has only one bride so should also those who say they follow Christ.
We should not forget that the first person to have a polygamous marriage was Lamech from the ungodly line of Cain (Gen. 4:19). In case of the patriarchs like Jacob or David we should note that theirs were not the ideal situations. Although they were God’s people what they did was not right and never reflected what their God had initially intended. So although proponents of decolonization of theology will cite these examples, they know that they are not good examples. So why dwell on bad examples when the Bible tells us to, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8)?