For the church in Russia, sustaining doesn’t mean agreeing

russia2

His wife, Kristen

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Her husband, Blair

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.

 

Comments

  1. BHodges says:

    *h/t to KUTV 2News’s Daniel Woodruff, whose Tweet alerted me to this story: http://bit.ly/29vAPmm

  2. Anne Chovies says:

    Far better to be able to remain though with the restrictions than to have to pull the missionaries out completely. There’s still so very much good they can do.

  3. Well said, Blair. This law is terrible, but it’s still better to work within the limits of the law than to chuck it.

  4. jstricklan says:

    I appreciate the sentiment of “sustaining but not agreeing,” but you guys really don’t understand what this law means. This is not a law that can be “sustained” without dire consequences. The Church is being circumspect because it has no choice and the other shoe hasn’t (quite) dropped yet. It will matter some how the law is applied, but given the recent trends in Russian criminal law, it will be applied selectively against people who are “non-desirable” to the authorities, among whom Mormons will fit very, very well given Russian attitudes. (We are consistently portrayed in the media — which has deteriorated dramatically in the last few years — as an “authoritarian cult.”)

    As a lawyer (OK, an aspiring lawyer — I should be studying for the bar instead of replying to this) who specializes in post-Soviet comparative law, I can say with some confidence that there is a high likelihood that this law is the end of member missionary work in Russia. The missionaries themselves are fine, because they are specially-designated representatives of the Church, which is scrupulous in ensuring that it is duly registered in every area where it operates. I’m sure they’ll stay in Russia for the foreseeable future, but they won’t have anything to do, because under the law, Russian Mormons WILL NOT BE ABLE TO TALK TO THEIR FRIENDS ABOUT THE CHURCH. PERIOD. That could be classified as missionary work, and such activity requires a special permit, the number of which will be restricted in any given area.

    I repeat, Mormons will not be able to talk about the Church in public or EVEN IN PRIVATE without severe fines or even JAIL TIME. Not at home, not at school, not at work.

    First they came for the gays, then they came for the journalists, then they came for the liberals and the Ukrainians, and then they came for us, but by then there was no one to speak for us. Expect scapegoats.

    I won’t afflict you with a whole blog-post length diatribe here, but the “sustain but don’t agree” line doesn’t work here. This is a really, really big deal.

  5. BHodges says:

    jstricklan, I’m in no way suggesting the law is a good thing. I imagine church leaders are quite pained over it. I imagine it could have terrible repercussions for minority faiths in Russia. My heart goes out to Russian church members who can’t express themselves freely, who have to sometimes hide their deepest beliefs as a result of the requirements of law around them. It will be excruciating for some of them, no question. I also try to be circumspect, as the church is being, with regard to talking about the new Russian law. I agree that the church’s sustaining it is done out of existential necessity and that sustaining it entails, in some respects, great pain. And yet there it is. For now, that’s how it has to be.

  6. Loursat says:

    Since this post is appearing on a Friday night, it might not get the exposure it deserves. I’m sure there will be opportunities in the future to refer to it in other contexts where the principle it teaches is relevant.

  7. Sister Chris says:

    Our family lived in Russia for 4 years as expatriates. My daughter served a mission in the Russian Far East and my son-in-law served in the South. Our small group of expat friends has been buzzing about this–there is no question this is devastating. This is a step back into the days of informants and neighbors spying on neighbors (see Orlando Figes _The Whisperers_ for context). Anyone who isn’t Russian Orthodox is going to suffer–selective prosecutions will begin as the enforcers make examples of the defiant. Putin has linked Russian Orthodoxy and the Russian national identity. This law codifies that connection, suggesting that affiliation with other Christian sects should be seen with suspicion. He is doing to churches what was done to NGOs with the “foreign agent” law: if you aren’t Orthodox, it insinuates that at best you’re disloyal, at worst you’re a spy. Mormons are already seen as CIA operatives.

    There have always been regions where our missionaries are regularly harassed by the police–being thrown in jail for trumped up charges is routine. This law gives the police an actual statute that empowers them to prosecute members and missionaries. From what I read, violators can be fined–but churches can also be fined by the acts of their members. Everything is targeted–from interpersonal conversations to posts on social media. The church *will* obey the law and they will do everything they can to continue the work in Russia. However I suspect that it may be more about supporting members and retaining them than finding new converts. There may be more need for couples and service missionaries. As long as they can, I know the church will hold on. When the visa laws changed and the missionary numbers diminished, no one knew how it could be worked around. A work around was found and the work went on. But that was during the Medvedev time, before Ukraine, before Nemtsov.

    A few months ago, I told a friend that I could forsee a day within the next five years where the non-Russian missionaries and church employees could be forced to leave Russia–not unlike what happened in Ghana in 1989. Today I think that time could arrive sooner. Of course we honor, obey, and sustain the law. This may be a law that is unworkable. I am confident Putin will do his best to make compliance as exquisitely painful and costly as he possibly can.

  8. BHodges says:

    Dark times, Sister Chris.

  9. Kristine A says:

    I also believe that Blair is well aware of the devastating consequences. They find this both morally repugnant and an affront to freedom than damages the lives of many people. The only two choices are to stay and sustain the law (even if it turns their stomachs and is against everything they believe to be right) or to leave. It’s devastating. It’s even more insightful knowing that’s exactly how the church is using that word.

    I appreciate the post, Blair. Thanks.

  10. jstricklan says:

    As always, BHodges, you are seeking the quiet and thoughtful response. Hats off, and of course all of your points came through in your original post (at least to me.) I greatly admire the way that you consistently seek the quiet answer which will turn away wrath. Blessed are the peacemakers.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that a circumspect, quiet answer is sufficient in this kind of a situation. I also worry that it would be misinterpreted to suggest that no forceful answer should ever be brought. When AoF 12 is interpreted as a blanket recommendation to sustain whatever law is passed (whatever sustaining is defined to mean) we have a large cultural problem: will we act to defend others in solidarity, or only when oppression directly concerns us?

    If Mormons had been taught that an assault on anyone’s freedom is an assault on their own freedom, perhaps Russian Mormons would have been quicker to heed the warning signs: the removal of the right to speak out loud about homosexual relationships, the prosecution of people for posting political opinions on social media, the liquidation of the Church of Scientology in Russia. By now, perhaps it’s too late to preserve religious liberty in Russia, but four or five years ago, that was not the case.

    Now there is a very real possibility that bearing your testimony in public (or on the internet) will be a crime. Take a moment to let that sink in before we move too quickly to “sustain” this law. This is not a situation in which we can “disagree and still get along.” It’s a warning shot, given after a variety of other groups in Russian society have been attacked.

    Of course the Church will continue to obey Russian law as it always has, which is to say with scrupulous rigor. That is as it should be, particularly because there is nothing else the Church can do. Of course foreign missionaries will be kept safe by the institutional Church and its phalanx of marvelous lawyers. (They really are quite good in Russia.) But Russian Mormons are looking at a very real possibility of actual persecution by the state. Hopefully that’s not how it shakes out, but the idea that we should “sustain” a law that might cause some number of Mormons to go to prison for being Mormon should surely give us, as a culture, serious pause.

    Perhaps there is no other choice, practically speaking, other than to begrudgingly accept this unjust and unconstitutional law for now. But the question of resisting in some effective way should probably have crossed our minds first.

    (If this all sounds alarmist, go along with me for now. I am putting together a legal analysis of the situation and will post it on a blog as soon as I can, which I hope will explain why I am so alarmed.)

  11. BHodges says:

    I look forward to reading it.

  12. What Jstricklan and Sister Chris said. In fact, I’ll go farther. This means the severe curtailing of any religious activity, even in the home, and I do mean any religious activity. Even things as basic as prayer at mealtime, and scripture study as long as there is someone present who is not a formal member. Following broader demographic trends, more members than not likely live in the same apartment with a non-member parent, spouse, or adult child. To give just one cause, apartments are not affordable or easy to obtain, so people live with their parents and grandparents, pooling resources and taking advantage (I do not mean this negatively) of slight benefits awarded pensioners. Walls are thin, neighbours are nosey if not often spiteful, so what if one of them hears you reading the BoM to your children, and know that the grandmother living there is not a member, and so reports it to the police? All it takes is the local prosecutor’s decision to proceed. Under the new law, the church is responsible for the actions of its members! Russia applies its laws selectively and frequently vindictively. This new law is defined so broadly and legitimate activity allowed so narrowly that members (and the church itself) can be harassed and repressed in ways that were not possible before. People can lose their jobs, be denied promotion, and have their own businesses destroyed. It is too alarming and malevolent to be used for making the sustain but disagree point. I personally know of several legal cases from my own mission in southern Russia which we narrowly won, but would have lost were this law in effect. One involved a branch president who was accused of everything imaginable by an ex-member, including trying to kill her as blood atonement. It was all nonsense, but he was a minority ethnically as well as religiously, and owned his own business. The church brought in lawyers to fight tooth and nail not only to save him, but also the church as this could easily have impacted all members in the Southern Federal District. No defense would be enough today if missionary activity could be shown. Now, picture another scenario.

  13. Sorry, posted too soon. Picture another scenario. An Orthodox priest goes on local TV accusing Mormons of baptism corpses. Some classmates in college watch that, know you are a Mormon, and harass you for it. You cannot tell anyone what baptism for the dead is because that is proselytizing.

  14. Sustain, but disagree. That works for me. Thanks, Blair.

  15. Blair, I think this is great and have not much to contribute except this slightly subsidiary note —

    This week in Sunday School our ward are on lesson 26, which includes Alma 23 & 24. The first two verses provide a contrast of sorts to this Russian policy, and read in part —

    “the king of the Lamanites sent a proclamation among all his people, that they should not lay their hands on Ammon, or Aaron, or Omner, or Himni, nor either of their brethren who should go forth preaching the word of God, in whatsoever place they should be, in any part of their land. Yea, he sent a decree among them…that they should have free access to their houses, and also their temples, and their sanctuaries…that the word of God might have no obstruction”.

    There’s a certain amount of irony in the first line of the chapter heading reading “Religious freedom is proclaimed”, and I wonder what influence that policy might have had on the Lamanites in 24:20 who “made preparations for war, and came up to the land of Nephi for the purpose of destroying the king, and to place another in his stead” resulting in the massacre of over a thousand.

    For those in a position to effect the conversation there might be a good one to be had regarding the interplay between religious plurality, religious freedom and possessing “something we believe is important to share”.

  16. I don’t think Putin is linking Orthodoxy to Russian identity. That link was already there. He’s just making it legally explicit that other religions are not welcome. Again, it’s a terrible law, but I would think it’s the product of forces that have been in place for a long time, not something that Putin came up with out of nowhere (though he is certainly to blame).

    And Kristine is right: sustaining the law does not mean that you don’t think it is repugnant and will do anything within the bounds of the law to change it it limit it’s impact.

    There may come a time where it is no longer possible to sustain the law, and we enter a situation where the applicable precedent is no longer article of faith 12, but Daniel and the the Hebrew children, or Helmeth Hubner. But what the church is showing us, I think, is that that point does not come immediately when you disagree with the law, but only when it is no longer morally possible to comply with it.

  17. When they did the same thing to Gay people in Russia, few people cared. The Olympics went on as normal and other activities moved forward. Now Russia is applying the same tactics to religion (and other forms of freedom). They will brutally force the people back into the dark days of the past. Yet some Americans like Putin. I personally believe he is nothing but a thug and a dictator. He should be despised on all levels.

    It has been my opinion for the last several years that all ties should be cut with Russia. We should not trade with them. We should not visit. We certainly should boycott any sporting events in Russia (they cheat anyway). We used to stand up against countries that deny basic freedom to their citizens. We do not seem to do that anymore.

    And the Church should bring all its missionaries home before they start getting murdered.

  18. There are (at least) two topics here. What to do in Russia and more generally how to respond to repressive laws and regimes. And what does it mean to “sustain.” (There’s a third that I would find worthwhile for discussion, which has to do with how religion-denominated actions motivated by opposing terrorists who claim Muslim affiliation may affect minority religions of all stripes.)
    Regarding the meaning of “sustain” I see the OP making a case for the loyal opposition type of sustaining. Now I happen to agree with loyal opposition in general, but this is thin gruel for making that case. You infer opposition (and you’re probably right) but it is not stated or explicit. That’s important. The Church’s statement is “honor, sustain and obey the law.” If there is opposition or even reservations (as I suppose there is) it is private. I find it a very strongly typed example of what it might mean to “sustain.” In a political sense, it seems the right thing to do and consistent with the Mormon Church’s general approach to law and government. Turning back to the how to respond theme, I find it disturbing that the Church didn’t say something stronger in opposition, something more like “this is wrong and we urge Russia to reverse course, but in the meantime we will comply.”

  19. G. M. Kearney says:

    Interesting, what would be the response if members were to apply this same approach to say the policy on children of same sex couples? Saying in effect that they sustain it but do not agree with it?

  20. Stir Fry says:

    “honor, obey, and sustain the law” –

    This is mostly verbiage. The church means that it will *obey* the law. To “honor” an unjust law like this (in any sense of the normal meaning of the word “honor” outside of simply obeying – such as to esteem it or respect it) would make the church complicit in persecution To “sustain” this law – to strengthen or support an unjust law – would do the same.

  21. Argimus says:

    GM, the church did not display public disagreement. So you might say the church is showing more loyalty and deference to the Russian government than some members show to the church.

    Further the ruling is targeting the church specifically, so it’s appropriate for the church to publicly signal how it will respond. It’s not necessary for people to publish their opinions on how the church should govern or administer baptism policy.

    And even if the church did voice public opposition, as they should in a free country where issues of morality and freedom are concerned, the church has not covenanted with God to give everything it has to the building up of the Russian state.

    So the parallel is striking, but not in the way the OP thinks.

    And in general, this kind of totalitarianism is already taking root in America and will ratchet down more over time unless we can follow the teachings of the Lord’s servants and not undermine them.

  22. Sister Chris says:

    I actually found out that this law had passed from a Facebook link posted by one my Russian friends in the “diaspora.” She has married a European and is a place where this law will have little impact on her day to day life. It may, however, impact her mother, a member, who is married to a non-member and still lives in Russia.

    For what it’s worth–and I can’t speak for others in our situation–we have become very careful about what we say and do with regards to our Russian friends in social media. Employees my husband formerly supervised are being actively harassed by family members, friends, and neighbors for working for a multi-national company; they are being told they are “anti-Russia” and betraying their country. Many of them have approached him to ask for help obtaining positions in the company’s offices outside Russia.

    I say that as a preface to why I think the church’s statement was so bland. Everything the church says in an official capacity will be scrutinized down to the last comma to ascertain whether it is advocating law-breaking behavior. The church has to protect the members the best they can–they can’t risk making a stand, especially without knowing how this law may be enforced, when what they say or do could be used as justification for persecution or prosecution. Signaling disobedience or disapproval of Russian law by the institutional church could put the church’s legal status at risk. The church can’t risk giving the Russian government a reason to kick them out. At this point in time, this seems like the smart thing to do. The law most likely violates the Russian constitution–which may be a moot point–but nonetheless may allow some Russian organizations to contest the law on Russian terms which is where the opposition should start. Will it matter? Probably not. But it needs to play out.

    I recall another bloggernacle conversation about when Mormons should or shouldn’t defy the law, specifically as things happened in Nazi Germany. Does it come down to conscience? In this case, I suspect it will be a matter of how individual Russian members determine how to live their faith. I believe this will be particularly hard for the millennial members who were born either at the end of or after the Soviet period. They have never known the Russia of their parents and grandparents, without the personal freedoms of travel, association, religion, and speech that they have become accustomed to having.

    One of my Russian friends talked to me about what it was like to be a Christian during the Soviet era. She told us how she knew Christians who gathered in some of the forested areas–particularly in the old aristocratic estates–to conduct baptisms or marriages–even funerals, in defiance of cremation. This country has a history of figuring out how to endure in the face of unbelievable repression. I had hoped these days were behind them.

    I look forward to your blog post, jstricklan.

  23. maestrofdissent says:

    The Russian law is awful as many have already described. It is vague enough to allow a lot of prosecutorial ambiguity, but there is perhaps hope of at least some clarification by the Russian Constitutional Court. For instance, as mentioned, the law can be read to bar sharing gospel principles in your own home or online, but that is a broad reading that may not be sustained by the Russian Constitutional Court. The law may sill have broad negative impact, but I hope some of its aspects that encroach on the ability of members to speak and teach in the privacy of their own homes will be construed narrowly.

    One interesting question is whether obeying and sustaining the law means being willing to selectively break it in order to generate a test case that can be taken to the European Court of Human Rights. Russia is a signatory and I feel certain that some of the odious aspects of this law would be declared incompatible with the religious freedom guarantees of the European Convention. So can/should members break the law in order to generate a case? In this instance there are other groups that are likely to be much quicker to flaunt the law and so I suspect a test case will arise even without our involvement. But it raises interesting question about what it means to honor and sustain a law.

  24. Mark B. says:

    Despicable!

  25. Hedgehog says:

    jstricklan: “If Mormons had been taught that an assault on anyone’s freedom is an assault on their own freedom, perhaps Russian Mormons would have been quicker to heed the warning signs: the removal of the right to speak out loud about homosexual relationships, the prosecution of people for posting political opinions on social media, the liquidation of the Church of Scientology in Russia. By now, perhaps it’s too late to preserve religious liberty in Russia, but four or five years ago, that was not the case.”

    Couldn’t agree more. It has been disheartening and disturbing for me to see some UK members who have so taken on board the rhetoric of US church leaders positioning SSM as “the” big threat to religious freedom turn to support UKIP as the political party opposing SSM…. I don’t suppose there were enough of them in number, church membership in this country being small to begin with, individually had a massive effect on the recent referendum result, but on the other hand as supporters they tended to be very vocal and out there campaigning to leave…

    Apologies to the OP that this comment isn’t directly about Russia, but Russia does pose an indirect threat stability in Europe which has been weakened by the referendum result which in turn has encouraged other far right parties in other European countries… It appears to me ironic in the extreme that it is listening to church leaders without question that is sending otherwise good members into the arms of those least likely to defend religious freedoms.

  26. There have been several excellent points made here. I very much appreciate the OPs example of sustaining disagreeable policies.

    jstricklan makes several excellent legal points, and he’s correct that the Church’s legal representation in Russia is excellent and the Church is being well advised.

    Which leads to Sister Chris’ point: Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Having spent a significant portion of my life as an American expat in countries where basic freedoms are not taken for granted, I recognize that the Church’s circumspect response can have great value. Those who are steeped in Western cultures tend to be naive at best, and more so tend to be self-indulgently entitled with regards to human rights in other lands.

    Protest and complaint are frequently counter productive in repressive regimes. When the perceived “enemy” protests, it only confirms their assumed guilt and facilitates their punishment. Sometimes you render unto Ceasar for the longer term good.

    Additionally, the personal but public valor of a Helmuth Hübener can have the collateral effect of putting at risk dozens, hundreds or thousands of others. It is very much an American value (with ironic hat tip to Helmuth) to elevate the fulfillment of the individual over the welfare of the community.

    Fortunately, as an ecclesiastical leader in such circumstances it was the Church’s practice to sustain me in sacrificing the orthodoxy of the “Handbook” in favor of tending to the needs of the flock in very challenging circumstances. By taking the very politic stance that they did, the Church avoided “poking the bear” in counterproductive ways while creating space for local members.

  27. jstricklan says:

    Now that the topic is past its expiration date for most people, I do have an analysis available on the actual content of the law at https://motabredsquare.wordpress.com/ . I’m not much of a blogger yet (boy, BHodges, how do you crank these out and yet simultaneously stay concise?) so the analysis is a bit heavy, but I’ve tried to divide it up into three parts so the legal part is clearly separated from the normal human being part.

    I am heartened that there are as many people reading BCC that care about Russian law and Russian Mormons. I kind of thought I was the only such nutter! Thanks, BHodges, for breaking the ice, and thanks to all of you for the thoughtful and emotional responses on this thread. May they be accepted as prayers in heaven.

  28. jstricklan says:

    For anyone still following this thread: a note on the deportations of six missionaries from Samara. It’s early yet, we’ll see what the reporting says later. https://motabredsquare.wordpress.com/2016/08/26/deportations-of-mormon-missionaries-from-russia-begin/

  29. I think it is very foolish that the brethren have not pulled all the missionaries out of Russia. It is obvious that the missionaries there could possibly be in very serious danger.

    Calling them “volunteers” instead of “missionaries” will accomplish nothing. The Russian government isn’t stupid. They know what we’re trying to do over there.

    It’s obvious that the Russians don’t want us there and that they mean business. If there was any doubt of this before there shouldn’t be now. The Russians just detained and deported six of our missionaries. The hand writing is on the wall. If our missionaries aren’t pulled out something terrible might happen to them, like being thrown into a KGB prison or even executed.

    Russian policy is clearly moving towards the old Soviet Union way of doing things. In fact it looks very plausible that they may be trying to recreat the USSR very soon. They have troops situated along the Ukraine, Lativia, Lithuania, and Estonia borders in preparation for an invasion. If they do invade and set up a new USSR our missionaries are toast.

    I know we want to spread the gospel to all the world and that they new church emphasis is on “hastening the work of salvation”. If we pull the missionaries out and close the missions down it will look bad in light of the recent lowering of the age of the missionaries. Public opinion shouldn’t matter though. They should pull everyone out and wait for things to clear up. If things settle down send them back.

  30. MC,

    Thanks for your concern! The situation, as I’ve mentioned, is worse than many might wish to think, but it is not yet as bad as all that. While I share several of your concerns, I think it’s very important to have a good sense of what’s actually happening so as to react appropriately. For example, there is no KGB in modern Russia (and therefore no KGB prison, let alone GULag), and the death penalty is not employed in Russia for any crime (including murder!), let alone proselytizing without a permit. While I am confident that the security forces are on their way to rebuilding an Andropov-type security apparatus, that’s more than a little different than the Stalin-era bloodiness that we might fear. (And, to boot, the ideological justifications for repression are far more brittle than even in the Brezhnev period and therefore less likely to work for the authorities as designed.)

    I belabor the point a bit because I worry when our instinctive reaction to problems in other countries becomes primary before we understand the nuances of the actual situation. For example, when Americans (particularly government officials) suggest that President Putin is building a new USSR, we build his macho mystique at home and abroad — but frankly, there’s not much there there when you actually consider it how hard it is for the Kremlin to run the country due to corruption, or to mount a proper insurgency in Ukraine, or to keep things going at a normal pace in Syria, or…

    For a less political but perhaps more pertinent example, Church members are going to have it hard enough in Russia in the next few years, so there’s no need to rush out the missionaries and leave them high and dry. (Let me reiterate that Russian Mormons deserve just as much support from American Mormons as do our next-door neighbors — otherwise, it is not Zion we are building.)

    I’m absolutely certain that Church leaders are very sensitive to the situation on the ground in Russia, as in other countries, and that they will move the missionaries out if the situation deteriorates to the point where it’s actually dangerous. But I pray fervently that time never comes.

  31. jstricklan,

    You are correct that there are currently no KGB prisons in Russia. I probably shouldn’t have used that term. My point is that the Russian government is moving towards more Soviet policies. The truth is that even with the break up of the USSR in the early 90s the people in Russia are not truly free. The Russian government is very corrupt. Of course our’s is, too, but not to the level of Russia. Russian authorities can’t be trusted. Russia is also very secretive. It’s hard to know for sure what is really going on internally over there. The government has a lot of control over the press, especially what information is given to the west.

    I don’t think it’s beyond the realm of possibility for all of our missionaries to be rounded up one day and thrown in prison. In fact I think this is a distinct possibility. It’s a fact that there are those in the Russian government who look at Mormon missionaries as US spies. The charge of espionage could potentially result in execution.

    I agree with you that Russian members need our support and that pulling our missionaries out would be a blow to them. However I think the safety of our 18 year old young men and especially our 19 year old young women should come first. Why do we even have sister missionaries in that dangerous country to begin with? I wouldn’t want my 19 year old daughter over there. Especially now that missionaries can’t proselyte why leave them there? It’s not worth the risk. Why not call some more senior missionaries to go over there to help run the branches?

    As far as building up Zion is concerned that’s not currently happening anyway. Zion, the New Jerusalem, will be built in Missouri. It is there that the elect will gather to escape the scourages that precede the second coming, not in the current LDS wards and stakes. The righteous members of the church will have to gather there along with the and the lost 10 tribes (who haven’t been gathered yet). What the church is doing in regards to missionary work is a preliminary effort to the gathering of Israel and the elect to Zion.

  32. MC,

    Thanks for engaging with me on this. I appreciate your deep concern about what’s going on in Russia. So many people don’t even bother to care about what’s happening in countries other than their own, which I find a strangely unchristian point of view. As members of Christ’s church, it seems to me that we have an allegiance to every child of God.

    While a lot of your concerns have foundation, as someone who studies Russia for a living, I belabor these points, to set the record straight before I leave you alone (no one really needs an internet nag), but more importantly to illustrate a general point: countries are complicated, and so good information is really important when reacting to current events.

    I’ll pass over the points in your first paragraph without much comment, since it’s probably not that interesting to have me detail the nuances of each point. (Life is short, we’ve got a gospel to live.) I’ll just mention briefly that, unlike during Soviet times, the Russian government does not and cannot control what information is given out to outside world. (Thanks, internet.) The information blockade is mostly about what the government intends to do, not about the lives of ordinary Russians. Your next paragraph, though, requires a few mental leaps. Anything is possible, but some things are more likely than others. There is no reason to suspect that everyone would get rounded up, let alone executed for espionage. And, again, unlike the United States, the death penalty is not legal in any circumstance in Russia.

    As far as missionary safety, let’s remember how many of our young daughters and sons serve in much more dangerous countries such as Brazil and Mexico, whose violent crime rates are much higher than in Russia and corruption is at least in the same league. (For comparison, although violent crime is higher in Russia than the United States, the overall crime rate is about half in Russia than the U.S.)

    This thread started with me pushing against underreaction; my participation in it is ending with me trying to pull the conversation back from overreaction. In either case, whether I’m right or wrong on the response, I was doing so on the basis of current and detailed information. Before we decide what to do, we should (as the Church seems to do in Russia) find out what’s really happening and only then react accordingly.

    As for Zion, I see where you’re coming from. I completely disagree with your interpretation of scripture, but that’s a topic for another thread. :)

  33. jstricklan,

    I think there is a difference between the dangers of being a missionary in Brazil compared to Russia. In Brazil missionaries are allowed to proselyte and the members are not restricted from even discussing their beliefs with those not of their faith in any place besides a recognized church building. What are our missionaries even suppose to do in Russia now?

    They can’t proselyte at all. Not on the street, not on the internet, and not in members or investigators homes. The only place they can preach is inside an LDS church building. Unless someone happens to walk in to church all on their own the missionaries can’t do any missionary work. They can’t preach repentance as they are commissioned in the D&C. They can’t seek out anyone to invite them to be baptized. All they can do is provide service, help lead the branches, and sit around at church hoping someone walks in.

    So considering the already dangerous nature or being a missionary in Russia, and now the government’s clear intention to suppress them through detaining and deporting them, why keep them there? It doesn’t make any sense.

    It’s obvious you know way more about what is going on in Russia than I do, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the missionaries are in danger and that the government doesn’t want them there anymore. We can try to call them volunteers and just have them perform service and stuff, but that is not their calling. They are to preach, teach, and exhort all to repent and come unto Christ. For all intents and purposes this is no longer possible. They should be removed to an area where they can proselyte and be out of harms way. Let senior missionaries be sent to Russia to support the branches and sit around at the church to see if someone pops in.

    I agree that the topic of Zion and the gathering of Israel is a best discussed on another thread. I’ll just say that the scriptures are pretty clear that the true establishement of Zion, the New Jerusalem, and the gathering of Israel is a future event. Just look at the articles of faith.

    Good talking to you.

  34. jstricklan says:

    Real quick: Your general comments about the general atmosphere in Russia aren’t all that far from my understanding of them, but based on what the laws are (in practice and on paper) I think we just disagree what the upshot should be. One little detail that changes how I understand the situation (it may not be persuasive to you, and I would understand why!) is that, actually, missionaries CAN proselytize anywhere. It’s MEMBERS that are restricted. That difference, for me, means the Church should consider its options carefully before summarily pulling the missionaries. (Although if it does pull foreign missionaries, that might free up more “registered missionary” spots for actual Russians, which might be a net benefit.) However, the minor difference here might just be cold comfort because, in practice, the Russian government is making it clear that it doesn’t want Mormons (or any religious group, apparently, other than Orthodox priests) around. God bless!

  35. MC,
    Well, maybe the Church is thinking in your general direction after all! :) http://www.ksl.com/?sid=41355759&nid=148