movies, nostalgia, YouTube

Watching Gulag– anti Soviet propaganda thirty-six years later…

Yesterday’s post about “The Red Scare” inspired me to watch a movie I haven’t seen in years. I grew up at a time when everyone talked about the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. That fear was referenced in a lot of pop culture in the 80s.

In early 1985, the Cold War was in full swing.  I was twelve years old and acutely aware of the threat of nuclear war.  There were many books, TV plots, and movies about the hostilities between the United States and the former Soviet Union.  I was fascinated by it, though I lacked the ability to do a lot of reading about the Soviet Union.  I didn’t have Internet, nor did I have a library card until I was about fourteen.  What I did have in those days was HBO.  When I was growing up, a lot of my world centered around what was on HBO.

Back in the 80s, there was no shortage of films depicting how nasty the Soviet people were.  We had Red Dawn, which was about the United States being invaded by Russians and Cubans.  I watched film that I don’t know how many times.  It thrilled twelve year old me, even to the point at which I felt pretty strongly that I would join the military if the Russians ever invaded.  I think that was also one of the very first movies to have a PG-13 rating.  Since I was twelve, I thought it was “neato” that I got to see Red Dawn, even if I’d been watching R rated movies on HBO since I was about eight.

We had Born American,  a strange film by Renny Harlin that came out in 1986.  It was about three foolish guys on vacation in Finland who decide to cross into the Soviet Union just as some village girl is being raped and slaughtered by a local priest.  The guys get blamed for her rape and murder and end up in a hellish prison where humans are playing a bizarre chess game.

There was 1985’s White Nights, a film notably starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines.  Baryshnikov’s character was a famous ballet dancer who had defected to the United States and ended up back in Russia after a plane crash.  There, he meets Hines’ character, an American who grew disenchanted with the United States after Vietnam and ended up marrying a Russian.  They form an unlikely partnership, dance a lot, and escape to the West.

And there was also Gulag, a film that was made for Home Box Office.  It starred David Keith (of An Officer and a Gentleman and The Lords of Discipline fame) and Malcom McDowell, a Brit who has been in a shitload of films.  I remember seeing Gulag on HBO not long after it premiered.  I was probably too young to be watching it.  Having seen it on YouTube yesterday, I know I was too young.  It was actually a pretty scary film.

Gulag is the fictional story of Mickey Almon, a track star and Olympian who has been hired by a television network to cover sports in Moscow.  He and his wife are enjoying Soviet hospitality, although Mickey is a bit of an ugly American.  He’s loud, obnoxious, arrogant, and has a false sense of superiority for being from the United States.

At the beginning of the film, Almon runs into a Russian man who claims to be a scientist and asks him to take his story back to the United States.  The man promises that if Almon helps him, he’ll win the Nobel Peace Prize.  Almon is perplexed.  He’s not in the Soviet Union to help anyone.  He’s there to do a job.  But the guy’s request is compelling and as an American with a hero complex, Almon feels compelled to take action.  Naturally, he soon finds himself in serious trouble with the police.  Turns out the “scientist” is really a member of the KGB who has set Almon up to be a political pawn.

Next thing Mickey Almon knows, he’s locked in a filthy cell reeking of raw sewage.  The Russians demand that he sign a confession to spying.  Almon refuses for months and keeps going back to the rotten cell.  He’s forced to wear the same uniform for months, not allowed to shower, and grows a heavy beard.  One day, the guards tell him his wife has come.  They let him shower and give him fresh clothes.  Just when he thinks he’s going to see his wife, they bring back the putrid uniform and demand that he put it back on.

The prospect of wearing the filthy uniform and going back to the disgusting cell is too much for Mickey.   He finally breaks.  He’s been promised that if he confesses and makes a video for the Soviets, he’ll be deported back to the United States.  Of course, the promise of going home turns out to be a lie.  Pretty soon, Mickey is wrestled onto a crowded train with a bunch of other prisoners.  That’s when Almon learns he’s not going to the airport.  He’s destined for a ten year sentence at a gulag in Siberia.  Almon puts on a brave show, swearing at the guards and refusing to cower.  But eventually, Mickey Almon determines that he must take things into his own hands.  No one is going to rescue him.  He either has to stand the brutal, inhuman conditions, or find some way to escape.

As I was watching this film yesterday, I couldn’t help but realize that if Mickey Almon had actually been arrested in Moscow in the 80s, he would not have done ten years in a Soviet gulag.  The Soviet Union fell apart in 1991.  But in the 80s, we had no idea that it was going to fall apart.   In those days, the Soviet Union was a massive superpower and it was perceived to be a huge threat to the United States.  There was a lot of talk about who was going to “push the red button”.

Since I remember the 80s so clearly and they don’t seem like they were really that long ago, this film still gave me the willies.  And yet, just ten years after Gulag was released, I went to the former Soviet Union to live for two years.  I quickly found out that Soviets… Armenians, anyway… were just normal folks like everybody else.  Yes, the lifestyle there was different than what I was used to, but at their core, people living in what used to be Soviet Armenia were just people who wanted the best for themselves and their loved ones.  And I happened to be there at a time when their country was going through extreme turmoil due to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Another thing I noticed was that the film looked “old”.  I mean, I remember watching movies from the 60s and 70s when I was a child and thinking they looked dated.  I had that same experience yesterday.  1985 really was 36 years ago!  To put that in perspective, it would be the same as me watching a film in 1985 that was made in 1949.  1949 in the 1980s sure did seem like it was ages ago.  Hell, that was back before my parents were married.  The upshot is that now I feel ancient.

Actually, I’ve been going through a bit of a mid life crisis lately, so it probably wasn’t the best idea to watch this film.  It really does seem like yesterday that I was a teenager.  Now I’m about to turn 49 and I feel like there’s a lot I haven’t yet done.  I have never had a “real” career.  I don’t have children.  I have a great marriage and I’m grateful for that, but I think it’s mainly because I found an unusually patient guy who has already survived the wife from hell.  Anything I do seems to be very small potatoes to him.

I still have a few Armenian friends.  I wonder what they would think of Gulag and the other American made propaganda films.  I am sure they’ve seen their share of anti-American propaganda, too.  I kind of wish I’d had the chance to talk to some of them in person about it back when I saw them on a daily basis.

Anyway, if you’re curious, here’s a link to Gulag, which also has helpful Polish subtitles.  Enjoy!

Here’s the film, Gulag, which aired on HBO all the time in the 80s! It’s the only film, besides An Officer and a Gentleman I have ever seen David Keith in. What’s weird is that I have twin cousins who look a lot like David Keith. Every time I see him, I think of them.
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book reviews, LDS, religion

Repost: A review of Harvest: Memoir of a Mormon Missionary by Jacob Young…

Here’s another repost of a book review I wrote for my original Blogspot blog. This one was posted October 6, 2013, and reappears here as/is.

 I just finished Harvest: Memoir of a Mormon Missionary, an interesting book written by returned Mormon missionary Jacob Young, who spent two years serving the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia.  Young was a missionary at the tail end of the 1990s.  I was especially interested in reading about his experience because I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia in the mid 1990s.  Although Russia and Armenia are different places, they were both once part of the Soviet Union.  In the 1990s, there were still some things going on in both countries that made the experiences of living there somewhat similar.

Young’s job as a Mormon missionary was to convince Russians to join the LDS church.  Given the culture in Russia– especially given that during Soviet times, religion was pretty much discouraged or even outlawed– being a missionary in Russia must have been tough.  Russians are notoriously fond of tea, alcohol (especially vodka), and cigarettes.  Convincing locals to give up these things so that they could be Mormons must have been very difficult.  And Young does confess that he and his ever changing companions did have challenges in getting potential converts past the first discussions, even if they managed those.  However, I was surprised to read that Young was a reasonably effective missionary who did baptize a number of people, a few of whom stuck with the church.

Despite his successes, Young suffered through some annoying and eccentric companions.  He had one companion who sang and hummed incessantly, annoying Young to no end.  He had another who would use a mirror to spy on Young when he used the toilet, checking to make sure he didn’t masturbate during the few minutes he was alone.  The companion would aim the mirror at a small, high window in the bathroom.  Having lived in Armenia, I am very familiar with the type of window Young writes of.  My first apartment in Yerevan had one.  Since missionaries are supposed to be with their companions at all times, dealing with the very hard core ones was a real challenge for Young.

Young also suffered a crisis of faith.  He writes of missing music that wasn’t church approved, reading books that weren’t religious in nature, and not having to spend all his time knocking on doors, pestering people who weren’t interested in Mormonism.   Young wrote to his parents about his sliding faith and talked to his mission president, who seemed to be a good guy.  He also confesses to “cheating” on a few rules.

As I finished reading this book, I wondered where Young stands on Mormonism today.  I got the sense that he might have left the church or at least gone inactive.  I did not get the impression that he got a big sense that Mormonism is “true”.  He does, however, concede that while the mission was not really the best two years of his life, he did gain a lot from the experience.  Having had my own tough trials over the 27 months I spent in Armenia, I could definitely relate to that sentiment.  There were many days when I wanted to escape Armenia… and I didn’t even have to deal with the constraints that Mormon missionaries have to deal with.  I lived alone for most of my time as a Volunteer and could drink all the liquor, coffee, and tea I wanted.  If I had wanted to smoke, I was welcome to do that, too.  Masturbation was also not forbidden to me and I was allowed to dress pretty much as I saw fit.  Armenia in the 90s was just a tough place to be, though; and I think Young’s time in Russia was similarly difficult.

And yet, there’s not a day that passes that I don’t think of those days in Armenia.  They changed my life.  I came away from the experience with more than I put into it.  While Young may not have appreciated the job he was there to do, he does write about all the things he did take from his mission experience.  He apparently became quite proficient in Russian and was able to read, write, and speak it.  While I was able to speak and understand passable Armenian (smattered with a few Russian words), I could never write it and reading it was always a painfully slow exercise.  There were times when it was actually easier for me to read Russian, which is a language I have never formally studied but sort of rubbed off on me.

I admire Jacob Young’s writing, which is personal, confessional, and very fluent.  His book does have a few comic moments, but it’s mostly very introspective and revealing.  Young puts a human face on Mormon missionaries, who probably aren’t looked at as humans by the masses trying to avoid being hooked into a conversation with them.  Young concedes that he didn’t enjoy pestering people for the Mormon church, even though there were a few people who joined the LDS church and appreciated it.  Young admits that as a missionary, he pressured people who weren’t sure.  He and his companions targeted people who were lonely and vulnerable.  He baptized married women, even if their spouses didn’t want to join the church.  He sowed dissension within families when he baptized single people whose families weren’t interested in being LDS.  There were also times when he was “schooled” by Russians who had spent a couple of hours on the Internet and learned more about Joseph Smith than he knew, just by reading sites that weren’t “church approved”.  Young admits he was embarrassed when a Russian told him about Joseph Smith’s habit of bedding and marrying teenagers and women who already had husbands. 

I am impressed that Young realizes and admits to doing these things in the name of scoring more baptisms and being a more successful missionary.  I am especially impressed that he realizes that doing these things may have caused problems for the converts.

I don’t know what Elder Jacob Young is up to now, but I did really like his book, Harvest: Memoir of a Mormon Missionary.  I would certainly recommend it.  Four and a half stars from me…

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book reviews, family

Reviewing In My Mother’s House by Kim Chernin…

I just took a lovely nap. It commenced after I finished reading Kim Chernin’s book, In My Mother’s House. Kim Chernin, born Elaine Kusnitz, died recently, which is probably how this book came on my radar. She was 80 years old. She was a lesbian, a feminist, a much regarded author with a doctorate, and the daughter of a famously communist mother, Rose Chernin. She was survived by her daughter, Larissa, who was her only child, born in 1963 while Kim was studying at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. Married and divorced twice, Kim took her mother’s surname after the second divorce, as did her daughter. She is also survived by her wife, Renate Stendhal.

Kim Chernin died in December of COVID-19. Her only sister, Nina, had died when Kim was four years old. Kim owed her life to Nina, because when her mother got pregnant with her, she reportedly told Nina, then an adolescent, that she wasn’t sure she should have the baby. At the time of her pregnancy, Kim’s famous mother, Rose, was thirty-nine years old and very busy with her career as a left-wing activist. Nina reportedly promised their mother that if she would have the baby, Nina would take care of it. Sure enough, Kim was born in May 1940, and Nina took care of her. Of course, no one knew at the time that Nina would get very sick with Hodgkins lymphoma, which would kill her in 1944.

At the beginning of her book, In My Mother’s House, Rose is visiting Kim and Larissa, who was a young girl at the time. She’s asked her daughter to write a book about her life as a labor organizer and Communist Party. Kim Chernin, who was nationally known as an expert on body dysmorphia and eating disorders, agreed. It took her seven years to finish the book, which was originally published in 1983. The result is a multi-faceted book about one woman’s unusual and riveting history between two super powers, Russia and the United States. Rose told Kim about her life– quite a lot of which had already been lived before Kim was born.

Rose Chernin and Paul Kusnitz, Kim’s parents, were Russian Jews. They were born at the beginning of the twentieth century. When Rose was about thirteen, her mother moved her and her sisters from Russia to Waterbury, Connecticut. Rose became politically active as a young woman, dedicated to the idea of communism. She joined the Communist Party in 1932, three years after officially becoming a United States citizen. That year, the family moved to Moscow for a couple of years before returning to the United States. Kim’s father was an engineer educated at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, so he helped develop the Moscow Metro (subway) system. The family returned to the United States in 1934, six years before Kim was born.

In the ensuing years, Rose Chernin was very active in promoting communism in the United States. Kim Chernin grew up hearing about the wonders of the Soviet Union, which her mother promoted as a more humane society. Kim read works by Marx and Lenin from a very young age.

In 1951, Rose Chernin was arrested for conspiracy to overthrow the government under the Smith Act of 1940. The Smith Act of 1940 set criminal penalties for advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government by force or violence, and required all non-citizen adult residents to register with the federal government. Rose spent a year in jail, in part because her bail was set at $100,000, which she could never hope to raise. The Immigration and Naturalization Service tried to deport Rose, but were unsuccessful because of a 1957 ruling that the Smith Act was unconstitutional.

I was initially drawn into the story about four generations of women in Kim Chernin’s family because of the richness in which the story was written. Kim was a very intelligent and expressive writer, and I got the sense that she and her mother had a complicated yet loving relationship. Kim grew up attending communist rallies with her mother, who was very much a supporter of worker’s rights and tenant advocacy and an opponent of racism. Naturally, Rose’s ideas ran contrary to the ideas promoted by the U.S. government. But there was a time when Russia and the United States were allies, as both powers fought against Hitler’s regime.

Kim also went to Yiddish school, although she rebelled against the teachings there. And yet, in reading her book about her mother, I can tell that the experience in Yiddish school left its mark on her as she weaves her mother’s voice in to story. Kim had a complicated relationship with her mother, and they are said to have fought “bitterly”. However, Kim also clearly adored her, and that loving quality is liberally injected In My Mother’s House. Rose Chernin lived a very long and productive life. She died in 1995 of Alzheimer’s Disease. She had just turned 94.

I’m glad I read this book. I promise, it’s not the book that sent me into afternoon slumber. Rather, I think it was because Arran woke me up at 4:30am and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I have always found the Soviet Union and Russian history very interesting. I also find Kim Chernin interesting because of her work as a feminist and expertise in the subject of eating disorders. Her trilogy about eating disorders, Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of SlendernessThe Hungry Self: Women, Eating and Identity, and Reinventing Eve: Modern Woman in Search of Herself, put her on the map as a writer. However, In My Mother’s House, is a loving and fascinating tribute to her mother, who was quite an amazing woman. It also offers a glimpse at Kim’s grandmother, a woman who never could adapt to life in the United States and was later sent to an institution, where she wrote beautiful letters.

Kim Chernin managed to impart her mother’s wisdom as she wrote in Rose Chernin’s voice, “You want to fly? Grow wings. You don’t like the way things are? Tell a story.” Words to live by… although I’m not sure I’m as good at following Rose’s advice as Kim was. May she rest in peace.

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book reviews

Repost: A review of With God in Russia, by Walter Ciszek and Daniel Flaherty

I thought about this book review recently and decided it was time it was added to the new blog. I am reposting it as/is, the way I wrote it on June 23, 2018.

Sometimes Facebook can be a great place to find books, even from memes posted by long, lost co-workers from twenty years ago.  That’s how I happened to read Father Walter Ciszek’s harrowing story of being held prisoner the Soviet Union for twenty years.  My friend, Courtney, is a devout Catholic and she shared a meme featuring one of Ciszek’s quotes.  Not being Catholic myself, I had never heard of the man.  I do find books about the Soviet Union and the prison experience fascinating, though, so I decided to download Father Ciszek’s book, With God in Russia: The Inspiring Classic Account of a Catholic Priest’s Twenty-three Years in Soviet Prisons and Labor Camps

With God in Russia was originally published in 1964, but it has been republished several times.  I read the version that was released in June 2017.  The price was right at just $1.99.  The book is Father Ciszek’s story written by ghostwriter Daniel Flaherty.  It includes an afterword by James Martin. Father Ciszek, who died in 1984, has been considered for possible beatification or canonization since 1990.  His current title is Servant of God.  

Who was Walter Ciszek?

Walter Ciszek was born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania in November 1904.  His parents were Polish immigrants who had come to the United States in the 1890s.  When he was a young man, Ciszek belonged to a gang.  He later surprised his family when he decided to become a priest.  At age 24, Ciszek entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Poughkeepsie, New York.  

In 1929, Ciszek volunteered to serve as a missionary to Russia, which had become part of the Soviet Union in 1917.  At that time in Russia, there was a real need for Ciszek’s services.  Religious rights for most citizens were curtailed and those who were religious suffered from persecution.  There weren’t many priests around to offer religious services to believers.    

In 1934, Ciszek went to Rome to study the Russian language, history, and liturgy, as well as theology.  He was ordained a priest in the Byzantine Rite and took the name Vladimir.  Just as an aside, not being Catholic myself, I don’t understand the practice of taking different names for religious reasons. I was a little confused as I was reading the book and Ciszek was referred to as Vladimir.

In 1938, Ciszek went to eastern Poland to do his missionary work.  The following year, the Soviet Union invaded Poland and forced Ciszek to close his mission.  At that point, Ciszek decided to go east, into the Soviet Union, under the assumed name Władymyr Łypynski.  He and two others journeyed 1500 miles to the logging town of Chusovoy, where he worked as a logger and provided religious services on the side.  

In 1941, Ciszek was arrested and accused of spying for the Vatican.  He was sent to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow, where he spent five years, most of which were in solitary confinement.  During his time at Lubyanka Prison, Ciszek was drugged and tortured.  After enduring severe torture, he signed a confession.  Convicted of espionage, Ciszek was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor in the GULAG.  He spent four more years at Lubyanka, then was sent to Siberia, where he worked in mines.  Throughout his many years imprisoned in the Soviet Union, Ciszek maintained his deep faith in God and provided religious services to other prisoners.

In 1955, Ciszek was released from prison and was finally able to write to his family, who had assumed he was dead.  He lived in the city of Norilsk with restrictions.  He wrote of how local authorities tried to get him to take a permanent Russian passport, which he refused to do.  Three years after his initial release, the KGB forced Ciszek to move to Krasnoyarsk, where he secretly established missionary parishes.  When the KGB learned of what he was doing, they required Ciszek to move again, this time to Abakan, a town about 100 miles south.  There, he worked as an auto mechanic for four more years.  

In 1963, he received his first letter from his sisters.  A few months later, the Soviet Union exchanged Ciszek for two Soviet agents who had been held by the United States.  He did not know he was going to be exchanged until he was handed over to a State Department representative, who told him that he was still an American citizen.  He left Russia in October 1963.

From 1965 onwards, Father Ciszek continued his missionary work in the United States, working and lecturing at Fordham University and providing counseling and spiritual guidance until he died in December 1984.  He published two more books, one of which was released posthumously, and has left an impressive legacy to Catholics.

My thoughts

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m not Catholic and I don’t know that much about Catholicism.  I didn’t read this book because of who Ciszek was in a religious sense.  I read it because I am interested in the Soviet Union and what life was like for people who were imprisoned there.  I spent two years in the former Soviet Union just after it fell apart.

Although Armenia isn’t Russia and it wasn’t part of the Soviet Union when I was there, the Soviet Union had only just fallen.  Some aspects of Ciszek’s descriptions of life there rang very familiar to me.  I’m sure Armenia still maintains some remnants of that time even now, although I can see from pictures and Facebook posts from Armenian friends that the country has changed since I knew it.

Ciszek’s story is very engaging.  Flaherty did a good job making it read as if it came directly from Father Ciszek himself.  He describes the monotony of daily prison life, particularly when he was in Lubyanka and basically sat in solitary confinement for years.  He writes of the struggles of staying nourished while he was at hard labor.  I was particularly fascinated by his descriptions of meal times, when prisoners would bring out a large pot of soup and dish it out to all the prisoners.  The ones who were served first got the thinnest and least satisfying helpings and would demand that the soup be stirred before it was served to them.

In Ciszek’s voice, Flaherty wrote of special duties that would score prisoners extra rations.  For instance, the prisoner that would dump the bucket used for toileting would get another bowl of soup.  The prisoners would be so hungry that some were eager to take on that duty.  Naturally, because it was a prison, a lot of the people Ciszek did time with were actual criminals.  He wrote a lot about the “thieves” who would try to trick other prisoners out of their rations in Machiavellian ways.  

I was impressed by Ciszek’s devotion to God, even when it seemed like he couldn’t get a fair shake.  Make no mistake about it, Ciszek’s time in prison wasn’t fun.  I remember how Ciszek was given extra rations one day, not told that it was to last him for two days he’d spend riding on a train to another prison.  There he sat with his Russian handlers, who had plenty to eat and didn’t share with him.  When a piece of buttered bread fell to the floor on the train, he tried to get it with his foot without attracting the attention of one of his guards.  The guard eventually did catch him in the act, but Ciszek pleaded with him to let him eat the dirty piece of buttered bread.  The guard was indifferent, so he got the bread.  There is something about the desperation of that story that sticks with me.  Ciszek appealed to the guard’s humanity to ease his suffering just a tiny bit and it worked.

Although I am not a very religious person, I am fascinated by people who are committed to their faith, particularly when their commitment is genuine and not motivated by greed or a desire for power (although those people are also interesting for other reasons).  Father Ciszek was able to maintain faith, hope, and courage in extraordinarily difficult circumstances.  He did not become a bitter shell of a man who hated God or blamed God for the twenty plus years he spent incarcerated in Russia.  Instead, he turned that situation into an incredible life story, full of adventure and hope.  He sets an example of a man who did not give up or give in to self-pity or doubt.  A lot of religious people, particularly the leaders, could learn from Father Ciszek’s example.

In any case, I highly recommend With God in Russia, particularly to Catholics who aren’t already familiar with his story.  I found it a very interesting and inspiring book.  I suppose the very fact that I read it proves that not all Facebook memes are useless.

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LDS

Detained in Russia…

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:

If Gaag was going to be a “volunteer”, why does his letter read that he will “preach the gospel”? This is a clear violation of Russia’s law.

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.

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