Editor’s Note: The article has been updated with a statement from the Orthodox Church in America.
As Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian Russia continues to wage war against its democratic neighbor, Ukraine, many individuals have wondered if or how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would respond. The Kyiv Ukraine Temple is already closed due to the violence, and now, the First Presidency of the Church has released a statement regarding the crisis:
We are heartbroken and deeply concerned by the armed conflict now raging. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has members in each of the affected areas and throughout the world. Our minds and hearts have been turned toward them and all our brothers and sisters.
We continue to pray for peace. We know that enduring peace can be found through Jesus Christ. He can calm and comfort our souls even in the midst of terrible conflicts. He taught us to love God and our neighbors.
We pray that this armed conflict will end quickly, that the controversies will end peacefully and that peace will prevail among nations and within our own hearts. We plead with world leaders to seek for such resolutions and peace.
The First Presidency
Interestingly, the First Presidency does not name either Russia or Ukraine, just “the armed conflict” – a phrase used twice. Obviously, the Church’s greatest desire is to spread the gospel to all nations and help people come unto Christ, regardless of the government or culture where one lives. Peace through Christ is first priority, not deciding who’s right and who’s wrong in an armed conflict.
Still, does Salt Lake think that saying, “We are heartbroken and deeply concerned about an unprovoked assault on a peaceful, sovereign nation” might lead to Russia expelling its “volunteers“? Could saying flatly, even without embellishment, that Russia invaded Ukraine jeopardize the long-gestating temple announced for the country? Yes, the Church has “members in each of the affected areas,” but only one of those “areas” is under assault, unless we’ve missed news reports about Ukrainian military activity in Kazan.
The Church does not operate solely in robust democracies, after all. It has members in outright authoritarian states, monarchies, and democracies in name only. (For all of the Church’s growth in the continent, Freedom House only rates five African countries—South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Cape Verde, and Ghana—as “free.”) It must find a delicate balance between preaching the fundamental agency of God’s children and not getting kicked out of a country altogether, which would delay others finding the gospel.
But if Ukraine falls, the Church could be looking at trying to function under a puppet regime that espouses Moscow’s unique style of ultra nationalism – one that has been less than ideal for our missionary endeavors in Russia. President Nelson announced Russia’s temple nearly four years ago, but there has been little public movement on it since then. One has to wonder if it is increasingly difficult to build and staff a temple in the country (how would you even have an open house under the anti-terror law?), and what a similar regime in Ukraine would mean for the existing temple there, as well as everyday worship for Ukrainian saints.
For its part, the Orthodox Church in America, an autocephalous church in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, released a statement condemning the violence. Tikhon, Archbishop of Washington, asked that “hostilities be ceased immediately and that President Putin put an end to the military operations.”
Pray for the end to the armed conflict, everyone. May peace prevail.