“Extremism” Update: Police Search in Vladivostok Branch

I think I have some fessing up to do. I didn’t think either the Church or the Russian government would move so fast. I have been guilty of telling people to calm down, as well as telling people to wake up.

Frankly, I am humbled by having misread some of the evidence here.

First, the Church has not been staying quiet and is actually moving faster than I would have guessed. As you are probably aware, the Church announced last week that it’s not going to be sending 30 missionaries currently assigned to Russia, instead sending them to Russian-speaking areas in other countries. This is not the first time the Church has made such a choice — actually, in 2008 and 2009, the number of missionaries sent to Russia was sharply reduced in response to increased requirements for missionaries to get visas. (In fact, when I was applying to get a teaching job at the MTC in those years, they were reducing Russian-speaking staff.) The numbers of missionaries eventually went back up before the lowering of missionary ages, but didn’t move much during the missionary surplus.

This, however, is different. While missionaries have technically been registered as “volunteers” for several years (about a decade!), earlier this year, the Church’s request that family members to refer to them as such was new recognition of the need to bow to cultural realities. And furthermore, the moves toward totalitarian policing going on are not business as usual.

Which brings me to the second point: the political climate is deteriorating very quickly, and the situation is probably even worse that it looks. Last week, I wrote about Pokémon and playgrounds. This week, I read about a truly astounding addition: pornography, this time allegedly found in a Mormon branch library in Vladivostok. No, really. During a search inspired by an anonymous tip, local police supposedly found three discs containing child pornography in the branch library. This “search” had two effects: first, it lays the foundation for serious criminal prosecution of the Church or Church members. But perhaps more importantly, even if the charges are dropped, the case has been covered widely and negatively in the media. In other words, at best, the objective of the search was simply to do a hatchet job on the Church’s reputation, even if justice is eventually done. (Don’t expect that, but if it does, all credit to the Church’s Moscow lawyers.)

The Church fought in court the deportation of the missionaries from Samara, which (it turns out) was based on a novel reading of Russian immigration law that caught the Church by total surprise — because it was unwarranted, based on years of practice.[1] The Church is fighting the Vladivostok issue in court. It probably will not succeed, but it is important to use what mechanisms remain to protect the well-being of the Church and especially its members. The question of establishing a “test case” to protect the Church in Russia has been floated. If I had to guess, I would say that a test case will come to us without any need to seek it out.

That is not to mention (as I will later) the very aggressive moves being taken against Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, against Adventists and Baptists, and Russian Orthodox splinter groups.

I knew this kind of thing was coming, but I am (again) taken aback at how quickly it has arrived. Worse than this was always going to come, and still will.  It will probably come sooner rather than later.

So, as usual, remember to pray for Russia.

[1] Civil law, as practiced in Europe, is quite different than US-style common law. “Precedent” does not bind in civil law systems like it does here; the text (and meaning) of statute is the only controlling authority. The effect here is to create a shocking divergence from established practice, but that’s not a good argument in civil law courts.



2 thoughts on ““Extremism” Update: Police Search in Vladivostok Branch

  1. Clearly a hatchet job, as you stated. When I was serving on my mission in Russia, one of the branch presidents was publicly accused of assaulting a child on a playground, and it took like a year for that story to die down in the area. It really put a damper on the work. Of course, accompanying that story were crazy exaggerations about polygamy, treasure hunting, and using weird stones to predict the future.


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