There's a popular Facebook meme out these days: "You may want to sit down for this news: I have never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones. Ever."
Your correspondent hasn't viewed GoT either, and I've also skipped -- brace yourselves -- the TLC cable show Sister Wives, about a polygamous family.
But I do read the news, and thus Sister Wives appeared on the horizon when the Gallup Organization, which in recent years has examined various social attitudes along with its traditional political polling, revealed 17 percent of Americans surveyed now find polygamy "morally acceptable." That's up from 14 percent three years earlier.
Let the chattering begin, and, appropriately, let's start with the HuffPost (neé Huffington Post), which credits a change in wording with the greater acceptance, even if a Gallup official ducks somewhat:
Gallup initially attributed a 2011 bump in Americans’ acceptance of polygamy to a change in the wording of the question. Before 2011, Gallup defined polygamy as being when “a husband has more than one wife at the same time.” ...
In 2011, Gallup changed its definition to reflect the term’s gender-neutrality, identifying polygamy as when “a married person has more than one spouse at the same time.” ...
The growing moral acceptance of polygamy may be part of a “broader leftward shift on moral issues,” [Gallup analyst Andrew] Dugan wrote, as well as increased depictions of the marital practice in popular media.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling legalizing same sex marriage in all 50 states, scholar and cultural commentator Fredrik deBoer argued in article on Politico that polygamy would be “the next horizon of social liberalism.” DeBoer seemed to echo in positive terms what many social conservatives ominously warned: that legal changes to so-called “traditional marriage” could lead to anything ― even group marriage.
The article gives a quick survey of where and how polygamy is largely practiced in America these days: "conservative Muslim immigrants" hailing from "parts of Africa and Asia" as well as "the insular, isolated Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints," a splinter group long separate from the mainstream Mormon faith.
But the HuffPost is quick to add this bit of reporting/commentary:
Even with polygamy’s problems and traditionally religious associations, Gallup found that acceptance of the practice is highest among non-religious Americans. Thirty-two percent of Americans who aren’t affiliated with any religion or who aren’t religious at all said polygamy is “morally acceptable.”
Americans who identify as Christian were more likely than the overall same average to find the practice to be morally intolerable, even given the Biblical precedent for polygamy.
I'm sure there's a quote about not advertising one's ignorance out there somewhere online, but the HuffPost sped right by that, it seems. Even the most liberal of Christian scholars know there's a marked difference between the Old Testament -- wherein polygamy is tolerated in some circumstances -- and the New Testament, where Jesus and Paul both emphasize the importance of marriage being between one man and one woman. That the HuffPost leaves it at an RNS interview of an author writing about sex, love and marriage in the Old Testament shows it knows how to find information, but not that it knows how to interpret that information for readers.
Before you imagine, gentle reader, that I'm pushing against traditional journalistic standards, let me explain. I'm not suggesting journalists present opinion as fact, but there's no law that I know of prohibiting the placing of facts, even biblical ones, in context for readers. What was permissible in Old Testament times isn't always a good idea today, and it's frankly odd that the HuffPost would consider an unendorsed practice of ancient Israel as normative down through the ages.
Interestingly, it's not the number of Solomon's wives and concubines that is moving the polygamy acceptance needle as it might be television. What Will & Grace did for gay relationships Sister Wives may be doing for polygamy, according to U.S. News & World Report:
Gallup has seen U.S. support for polygamy rise by almost 10 percentage points over the time "Sister Wives" has been on the air, according to Dugan, though he cautions "it is impossible to establish any direct causality between the show and changing attitudes."
Neither article, however, reaches out for any religious voices for or against polygamy. Given all the hoo-hah over whether or not marriage is sacred, and the dwindling number of church-held nuptials, you'd think the media would seek one or two faith voices to speak on the practice. Nah. It's too easy to skip the hard work and just riff off of survey data.
For this reader, however, the story cries out for better reporting, I believe.