A couple of missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have been serving in the Rostov-na-Donu, Russia mission have been cooling their heels in detention for the past three weeks. The two young men, Kole Brodowski and David Udo Gaag, were “called” to serve in Russia, even though Russia no longer permits religious proselytizers. To get around the ban, church officials referred to the missionaries as “volunteers”.
There was a time when Russia hosted Peace Corps Volunteers. In fact, I have a friend who served in Russia with the Peace Corps. However, the Peace Corps was kicked out of Russia back in 2002 after Russian officials accused Volunteers of spying. Wisely, the government agency packed up and left the country. The Peace Corps only sends people to where they’ve been invited.
Somehow, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lost out on that wisdom and keeps sending people to Russia to serve religious missions, even though in 2016, President Vladimir Putin signed into law an anti-terrorism measure that restricts religious proselytizing. One would hope that religious organizations would respect the law, if not because it’s the right thing to do, then out of a regard for the safety of its members. The church did reduce the number of missions in Russia, but continued to send missionaries there, under the guise of being “volunteers”. But in the news article I linked, there’s a picture of David Gaag holding up his letter. The letter reads:
This is not the first or only time the LDS church has ignored laws, rules, or just plain common decency and respect. On my old blog, I wrote about how church members have a habit of “dead dunking” people— performing baptisms for the dead so that dead people’s spirits can go to one of the three levels of Mormon Heaven and/or know the “vastly superior LDS gospel”. This is supposed to only be done for family members who died before the LDS church existed, but some members have done baptisms for famous people, people who died in the Holocaust, and even criminals. When officials from other churches have complained, the standard response is that the baptisms for the dead are done out of “compassion” and that if a person doesn’t believe in Mormonism, the “dead dunking” means nothing.
Ah… but it DOES mean something. I think if any other religious group did this to LDS church members, the Mormons would be totally up in arms about it, complaining about disrespect. And yet, they don’t respect other people’s religious choices, alternative lifestyles, or the laws of other nations. I have a hard time believing that the Russian “volunteers” from the LDS church were really just teaching English. The two men I read about this morning are going to be deported for teaching English without a license. I would be very, very surprised if those men were teaching lessons that weren’t eventually religion based.
It seems that in church members’ minds, this is all okay, because of God. God wants these young men in Russia, spreading their religious beliefs, even if it puts them in harm’s way. To faithful church members, it probably sounds very noble and impressive, when really it’s just massive disrespect for another country’s laws. I would also not be surprised if these two guys end up being treated like heroes for bravely teaching religion where it’s not allowed. They aren’t heroes; they’ve done something very foolish. They should not have gone to Russia to “preach the gospel”, even if they were also teaching English. Now they’re locked up, and there’s no telling when they will be deported.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t understand why people insist on going to places where they aren’t wanted. Why do Americans continue to visit places that are hostile to us, especially when they break the law? Sadly, I think before too much longer, most of the world will be hostile to Americans, thanks to our feckless president.
Anyway, I do hope Elders Brodowski and Gaag are released soon. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, although on the positive side, they’ll probably come home having learned a lot of Russian swear words.
Edited to add: As of today, the two men have been released. As I suspected, Gaag, will be going to another mission, while Brodowski is going home, because he was almost finished anyway. The comments on the news article I linked are pretty funny, as it’s Deseret News and most anyone reading that paper is a devout Mormon and Trump lover.