My wife served in the Russia, St. Petersburg mission. Her body left Russia but her heart stayed there. We had the chance to visit a few years ago and it was an amazing trip. Without her connection to Russia through the church I’m sure I never would have visited, and I never would have experienced the heft of that incredible country.
Now our missionaries in Russia are facing new restrictions due to a new anti-terrorism law Vladimir Putin recently signed. From the Deseret News:
“The law creates a broad definition for missionary work, and will restrict any such activity if it is not undertaken by individuals who are affiliated with registered organizations. Additionally, the locations where such work can unfold would be restricted to houses of worship and other related religious sites, critics claim.“
The LDS church is an officially recognized religion in Russia, so we’re mostly impacted in terms of where missionaries can teach. Church leaders have been especially concerned lately about religious freedom, so I’m sure they didn’t greet this news with enthusiasm. In response, the church released a brief official statement:
“The Church recognizes a new law will take effect in Russia on July 20, 2016 that will have an impact on missionary work. The Church will honor, sustain and obey the law. Missionaries will remain in Russia and will work within the requirements of these changes. The Church will further study and analyze the law and its impact as it goes into effect.“
This statement is especially interesting because the church doesn’t say it agrees with the law or that it is a good law. Given the church’s concerns about religious freedom, I’m sure it has serious reservations about the fairness of the law. At the same time and drawing on the 12th Article of Faith, the church affirms its willingness to honor, obey, and sustain the law. It recognizes Russia’s right to make the law and will thereby sustain it—to abide by it because it’s the law.
In this way, the church exemplifies the possibility of both sustaining and ostensibly disagreeing with a law. To “sustain” does not mean to “agree with.”
As Mormons, we possess something we believe is important to share with Russia, so we decide to stay and work within the allowed parameters, perhaps hoping that someday those parameters will change, that they will become more equitable according to our view of equitability. Until then, we’ll go about doing the good we can do, waiting for a brighter day.
We can sustain, we disagree, and we can still get along.