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Should a Christian man, who was a Muslim married to several wives, divorce his wives after he becomes a Christian?
Answers to a Question from Nigeria

3. ANSWER 1 (from England)

Let us look at the different parts of this complex series of points and questions one part at a time:

a) From the doctrines of the Bible and Christianity, there's no room for polygamy. The doctrine states clearly that it is one man with one wife.

This is true! So I think we need not spend any time proving this doctrine from the Bible, as we agree on the issue.

b) I have one of my Muslim converts, who is an elderly man, and he has 2 wives from the time, when he was a Muslim before his conversion, with children from both women and he is legally married to them under the Islamic law, which permits up to 4 wives for a Muslim man.

1. Let us look at the presuppositions in your description of this situation. What you are assuming is actually the truthfulness of the statement “legally married” based on Islamic doctrine. Would you have said the same thing, if the family involved came from a secular background and they were two men married to each other or two women married to each other, which both are legally accepted marriages in many countries today? -- Would you have said the same thing, if it were a convert from Nepal or Northern India, who is engaged in “fraternal polyandry” (one woman married to two brothers), even though it is legal in their religion? -- Would we have said the same thing if the convert were from the polyandrous Irigwe people, who live in Plateau and Kaduna states of Nigeria, and who in their legal culture and system allow men and women to be married to several spouses in differing tribal sections during the course of their adult lives, precluding any divorce, with women shifting residence from one husband to another several times in their lives? -- I don’t think you would, because you would never consider any one of these marriage types to be Biblically “legal” in the first place. So why are we making a difference with Islam here?

2. Your convert comes from an Islamic background, which means that he considered the Islamic marriage system to be legal and lawful for quite sometime in his life. Let us suppose for argument's sake that this marriage were legal and lawful. The question then would be: What difference does it make? Consider this: In many, many cases converts have to leave their families, including father, mother, brother etc. They have to do this even though this is hard on them. I myself had to go through this too. But according to the legal system of Islam these family-ties are a stronger bond than the bond of marriage. So why would giving up polygamy be considered an exception?

3. Also, if you regard such a polygamous marriage as legal in Islam, why not also accept as "legal" the divorce of any one or even all of these wives? This is clearly allowed in the legal system of Islam. Why did you leave this one out in your considerations, if you give weight to the legal system of Islam?

I am not yet telling you what to do here. I am just pointing out the assumptions of your question.

c) This man after his conversion has become a very faithful follower of Jesus and ministers to others to come to Christ. But he's feeling very guilty and uncomfortable with his status as a polygamist …

Again your assumptions here are a little bit flawed. You are assuming we can be faithful followers and ministers of Christ, while at the same time we intentionally ignore His teachings. Christ said to his disciples: "Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46) Yes, we all are sinners, as ministers or otherwise. But that is not what I get from the question. What I got is: you are talking of a person, who doesn’t even think that what he is doing is a sin. It is exactly like what we have in Europe, when a homosexual person becomes a Christian and says: “I am faithful and love the Lord, but I am going to remain an active homosexual!” I believe you see the problem with your assumption right away. Basically, the person that is feeling guilty and uncomfortable is setting his own moral standards to be the measure and judge over the standard of God.

d) … and some other fellow Christians do also see him as a sinner or unqualified to hold any important position in the church where he worships.

Here my answer is: we all are sinners and that is not questionable, as even the apostle Paul called himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). So it is not a question, if we could have sinners in ministry or not, because we have always sinned. Rather it is a question, if the sinner recognizes what he is doing as being a sin or not. Does the convert want to change and become Christ-like, or does he want Christ to change and become like him? Does he want to follow the law of God or does he want God to change his law to suit him? Paul is very clear about ministers in the church that they must be above reproach and husband to one wife only (1 Timothy 3:1-13)

e) They are insisting that he should divorce one of his 2 wives before they will grant him recognition in that church and be fully accepted as a true Christian.

Now we come to the heart of the question. And again there are a few presuppositions that are taken for granted in your formulation of the problem:

1. The polygamous marriage is regarded as legal and as recognized by the Church; otherwise he would not be asked to divorce one of his wives.

2. Divorce is allowed; otherwise the convert would not be asked to divorce one of his wives. And finally:

3. It is the husband, who has to make a choice about what to do, and not the church. As we argued before: It is not that some sort of marriage was recognized as legal by the abandoned belief system of a convert, which makes it automatically legal in the church. There are many kinds of marriages in the world today, which the Bible considers to be an abomination.

Now the Bible does gives an advice about what to do in a case of someone converting while still being married to someone who is not a convert. "But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15). The Bible says the unbeliever here has the choice to stay or leave. But that concerns the marriage of one husband and one wife.

f) This issue is very confusing and complicated. Please kindly let us know the view of brother Khoury. This brother is very sad and worried and this is weakening his faith.

In my view there are different ways to deal with this situation:

1. If only the husband is a convert, he could give his wives the choice to stay or to leave him (I will answer later, what to do, if they stay). If they chose to leave him, because he left Islam and because a Muslim woman is not allowed to be married to someone who isn’t a Muslim, then that is the end of the problem.

2. If they choose to stay with him, he should make it very clear, he would look after them and care for them, but that he could only have one of them as his conjugal wife.

3. Whatever the wives chose, he is under obligation to support and look after his children from both wives. -- Although I perfectly understand the sadness of the brother, it is the same sadness every convert has, when they leave their family or are betrayed by them. It is the same sadness the apostle Paul talked about: "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” (Romans 9:2-3).

4. What if they all are converts, the man and his wives? That would make the problem easier Biblically, but harder emotionally. Now they are all believers and should know that they can’t break the law of God or ignore it, but that they as believers have to faithfully follow the commandments of Christ. So the brother can be only with one wife. The other would either chose to marry again or not. If she doesn’t marry again, then her financial wellbeing is the responsibility of her former husband.

I don’t believe we could please God by breaking his commandment, and in this case the commandment of God is quite clear. God never told us that life with him is going to be easy. In fact he said about Paul when he converted: "I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16). And that wasn’t something special about the apostle Paul, but rather about all believers. "It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). We must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). These hardships are not always physical. Sometimes they are emotional, like the feeling we all have about the members of our families who are not believers yet, or about our parents, or in this case about women someone was married to.

I know this is a very hard, complicated, and emotional question. But I also know that God, who has called us into holy fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9). He will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. And when we are tempted, He will also

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