2016-11-12 / Religion

Mormon missionaries adapt to new Russian regulations

ASSOCIATED PRESS

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Mormon missionaries in Russia will now be known as “volunteers” to comply with a new anti-terrorism law that puts restrictions on religious practices.

Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said that the change is the first step as leaders determine how to keep several hundred missionaries there while obeying a law Russian President Vladimir Putin signed earlier this year.

Hawkins says an email is being sent to parents and relatives of missionaries in Russia informing them of the change.

In a statement issued by the LDS Church,  Mormon missionaries will respect the measure that Putin signed into law.

“The church will honor, sustain and obey the law,” the statement reads. “The church will further study and analyze the law and its impact as it goes into effect.”

The rules dictate that religious work can only be done in houses of worship and other related religious sites. Critics say this aspect is way too restrictive. It would mean no Mormons could share their faith online or in a home to which they have been invited, both common practices for LDS missionaries worldwide.

Missionary workers in Russia will now be working under more stringent rules. They include a requirement that missionary work be done by people affiliated with registered organizations. Missionaries and organizations caught praying and disseminating materials in private residences could be subject to fines. They range from $780 per missionary and $15,500 for an organization.

Julie Emmons, 20, came back to her Elk Grove, California, home recently after finishing her mission in the church’s Russia Moscow Mission. According to her, Russian Mormons regularly assist missionaries and have them over to their homes to teach people about the faith.

While in Russia, she and other missionaries carried “a testimony” at all times. A testimony is paperwork that includes a copy of a passport and information about what the missionary is doing.

More than 22,700 members of the Mormon church reside in Russia, according to the LDS’ news website. Matt Martinich, an independent LDS researcher and project manager of The Cumorah Foundation, said Russia has historically put up obstacles for missionaries since the church gained recognition in 1991. They include making it difficult to get building permits, bring in missionaries and get visas.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has condemned the new law, saying it is a way to enact “sweeping powers to curtail civil liberties.”

Groups in other religious communities such as Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses also must register to do religious work. The law calls for heightened telephone and social media surveillance.

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