Summarized by Kent Larsen
LDS Missionary Work Faces Government Opposition in Russia, Far East
NEW YORK, NEW YORK -- A number of recent news reports indicate that the LDS
Church continues to face significant opposition from governments in Russia
and the Far East. While the difficulties are not new, they demonstrate that
the political difficulties that the LDS Church faces in these cases is due
at least in part to a dominant religion.
The most frequently covered case is Russia, where in recent years LDS
missionaries have been harassed and even kidnapped and murdered. Local
governments in Russia have sometimes taken action themselves, using the law
to try and keep churches they don't like, usually minority western religions
like the LDS Church that came into Russia after the fall of communism.
Of course, the Russian Orthodox Church is stepping up evangelical efforts to
combat the influx of new faiths. For example, it has created a new church in
a train car, which it plans to have tour the country to provide services to
parishioners deprived of local churches under communism. But the Orthodox
Church is also using government to further its efforts. It recently
persuaded the national government to include a course in theology in the
state-run higher education system. The course will qualify students for the
priesthood in the Orthodox Church.
The Russian Orthodox Church is also using government to directly fight the
influx of western religions. It regularly calls for governmental bans or
limitations on minority religions, including the LDS Church. A
well-publicized case in Moscow, supported by Russian Orthodox Church
'experts' who testified, would determine whether the Jehovah's Witnesses
constitute a "threat" to Russian society and should be banned. Should the
Jehovah's Witnesses lose the case, the precedent might be used by the
Orthodox hierarchy against other western religions, including the LDS Church.
The Russian Orthodox Church's influence also induces the government to
ignore or neglect actions it should take. Earlier this month, after a
Jehovah's Witness congregation and an LDS congregation were interrupted in
their services and a couple of LDS missionaries were harassed and beaten,
the US State Department urged Russia to investigate. But last week Russia's
Foreign Ministry discounted the complaint, saying that the State Department
only made the request because it was during the US presidential elections.
Unfortunately, Russia isn't the only country where such complaints are made
by dominant religions. An article in the Far Eastern Economic Review last
week called the Far East "God's Battleground," and said that traditional,
majority religions in countries from India to South Korea have complained
about what they call "aggressive tactics" by missionaries from a variety of
Christian churches, including the LDS Church. "Not a month goes by without a
complaint," says a Malaysian official. "I just got one from the Sikhs. I
also have a complaint from the Buddhists. This is the one thing that takes
up all my time."
The Far Eastern Economic Review estimates that the number of missionary
groups at 4,800, up 20% over the past year, and says that perhaps a third of
them are in Asia. While the LDS Church's efforts haven't grown that fast,
the Church's efforts are probably grouped with those of other Christian
churches in the minds of the public and of officials that don't understand
The increasing missionary efforts in the area are leading to conflicts.
Attacks of Christians in India, where the LDS Church's nascent efforts have
been restricted to native missionaries, have grown sharply, with close to
200 attacks on various Christian denominations since 1998, in cluding a
horrific attack in January of this year in which an Australian missionary
for another Christian sect was burned to death with his two sons.
Governments in the area have noticed the issue and taken action, not always
to protect the 'foreign' religions. Malaysia's Home Affairs Ministry has
started surveillance of "extremist" Christian groups. The Gujarat state in
India considered legislation recently that would prohibit religious
conversions, and the Indian state of Orissa already has such a law. The
Jehovah's Witnesses are banned in Singapore, and the LDS Church has had
trouble in Thailand, according to the report.
Russian Crusaders Take to the Railways
Manchester UK Guardian 20Oct00 N6
By Amelia Gentleman
Orthodox Church battles influx of western missionaries by launching prayer train to take its faith to remote areas.
The Orthodox Church Will Battle Atheism at Russian Universities
Chronicle of Higher Education 13Oct00 N1
By Byron MacWilliams
Far Eastern Economic Review 12Oct00 N6
By Alkman Granitsas
Russia Rejects US Complaint Over Religion
BBC News 13Oct00 N1