There is a certain sort of person that is just so self-absorbed and generally unaware that it just doesn’t feel wrong to gossip about them, they’d just enjoy the extra attention. In my childhood ward it was Brother L.- in that ward people traded gossip about Brother L. like baseball cards. In fact it feels so normal to gossip about him that I’m having a tough time not filling this post with endless stories about stupid things he’s done. He was, in short, a tough person to get along with, and take seriously (I think it was his Dracula hairdo, but that’s neither here nor there). I eventually came to think of him as an egotistical-yet-harmless old bachelor. A man that, despite his annoying ways, had probably gone through his fair share of disadvantage and heartache. He was still a child of God who deserved all the respect, love and compassion the ward could muster.
This past Christmas I heard something that shook my resolve to not think poorly of him to its core: he was taking a trip to Russia for just about the only thing an egotistical lonely old man would go to Russia for, a mail-order bride.
There are some (many?) who would call such an arrangement a marriage of convenience. A man wants companionship, affection, someone to do the housework and (let’s not kid ourselves) sex. A woman wants out of an oppressive nation, US citizenship, and some luxuries too. Some will even point out situations where cold, heartless women, once they are US citizens, summarily divorce the men they married to get here, leaving him alone, heartbroken, and publicly humiliated.
When thought of that way, the situation seems practically harmless because everyone gets what they want, and both parties are vulnerable to abuse of some sort. Then I remember that the abuse of getting your feelings hurt, and being publicly humiliated pale in comparison to the potential abuse that the bride subjects herself to. (Also, I find myself asking, what does such a man expect? When the major selling point of marrying you is your citizenship and money, why be surprised to learn that the woman who took you up on the offer doesn’t care about your feelings at all?)
Is it really fair for a wealthy American man to take advantage of a woman’s lower order needs (Physiological & Safety) to satisfy his own higher order needs (Love & Esteem), especially considering how common it is for the man to keep his bride dependent on him while he ignores her higher order needs altogether. Such a situation is a marriage of convenience on one end and marriage of desperation on the other. Also, while everyone may need love, companionship, and compassion, isn’t the best way to go about it to earn it by being a nice person rather than buying it from someone desperate enough to fake it?
How do we, as a church, deal with such relationships? The idea that romantic love be central to a marriage is a very modern and western concept, as is the idea that a woman is not her husband’s property. The majority of marriages in our own church were like this in the past, and in other cultures many still are like this. It must be compatible with our doctrine to some extent, so why does it still feel so wrong? Does the fact that a legally binding marriage is involved make the strong undercurrent of prostitution okay?
Lastly how do you deal with the real people involved? How do you respond to the young woman he’ll bring with him to church, especially considering that this is probably the first time she’s even heard of the LDS Church at all? What could someone do to ensure that her interaction with the church is positive regardless of what her marriage is like? If you get involved at all what should your goals be? Break them up? Keep them together? Make it into a wholesome arrangement? Send them to the Temple?
Update: Through poor writing on my part I failed to make clear what the main goal of this post is. I want to discuss why or why not the absence of western-style love in a marriage relationship is acceptable among members of the church. What are doctrinally acceptable reasons to marry someone, and how do you treat someone who has entered into an acceptable marriage even if you personally disapprove of it for social or cultural reasons.
I do not really want to discuss the specific brother involved. I mention him and his situation as an illustrative case of a marriage arrangement that makes me uncomfortable. I also want to make it clear that the international nature of this marriage is not what makes me uncomfortable, what does make me uncomfortable is the intrinsic power imbalance in the relationship and the potential for abuse.