The question that the title of this post answers is: what are all possible values of x when x = the biblical number of wives one can take? And you thought you’d never use anything you learned in that Algebra class.
Possibly the biggest obstacle to the growth of the church in Karamoja is the issue of polygamy. In a culture in which this practice is so completely ingrained, it becomes very difficult to find eligible men for leadership roles in the church. With much frustration at seeing one man after another who might have been an elder or a deacon decide to take a second wife, pastor Al has decided to make a more intense study of Ephesians chapter five a priority for the men who work on our compound, several of whom are also church members.
More or less daily for fifteen minutes after lunch, he is sitting with them and teaching through this passage. I was around after the first lesson and was able to witness the animated results. Aside from whatever great discussion had been going on in Ngakarimojong, I was presented with several observations in English. The teaching that day had been on the first portion of the passage—wives submit to your husbands—and the men of the group were very gratified at the prospect that they had been right all along about women being the source of marital problems in Karamoja. It will be, no doubt, a blow to them next week when the topic of husbands loving their wives is taken up.
Probably the most interesting thing I took away from the discussion was the total misperception that they had regarding marriage in America. They were eager to tell me that the problems stemmed not only from women but from their African heritage as juxtaposed to our Western ways. The problem of bad marriages was an African problem. It struck me that the only exposure most of these people have had to Americans is from the missionaries that live and work among them. Their perception of American life is mainly colored through their observances of us. Their views on Western marriages stem from the fact that the missionaries here are seeking to honor Christ in their marriages as in the other realms of life.
Admittedly, this created in me some conflict. There is a part of me that wants to congratulate myself on successfully hiding the more public manifestations of my sin from my neighbors. There is a part of me that wants them to think that if they are faithful to read the Scriptures and pray and attend prayers that they will some day achieve to the high level of sanctification they perceive in me. After all, why disillusion them?
In my better moments, putting away the pitchfork and picking up the nimbus, I know that the frank discussion will help all of us to better grow in grace. I try to explain that marriage in America is not in a much better state than it is in Karamoja. While we don’t have polygamy, the serial nature of many marriages in the West is only marginally different, practically speaking, and the temptation to it is every bit as strong (if statistics are to be believed) in the church as it is in the culture at large. This blows their minds. Further, while in Karamoja, a disagreement between a husband and wife is very much a public scene, even missionaries have these struggles; we just indulge in them behind closed doors.
In the midst of this discussion, I cannot help but acknowledge that we are again cut from the same cloth in that I am all too ready to identify conflict as originating from without. I tell them, even as I am forced to preach to myself, that you can’t wait around for your spouse to fulfill their end of the bargain. We are reminded in the next verses that God—who had every conceivable right to break his covenant—took the burden of its brokenness upon himself. And we, in marriage, are called to nothing less. While this is a high calling, we pray that the import of it will be impressed on these young men in whom we hope the Spirit of God will move, in whom we hope Christ’s kingdom in Karamoja will burst forth.