An organization in Russia called the Young Guard has begun protesting the presence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia, gathering outside of Mormon meeting houses throughout the country with signs and slogans and the other trappings of political agitation. The Young Guard is, these days, the youth wing of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party.
This organization of Russian twenty-somethings exists to promote Putin, the perennial Russian president who has recently called on Russians to resist the spread of “totalitarian sects.” Identifying it as one such sect, the Young Guard has adopted a sharply anti-Mormon policy, explicitly demanding that Mormons go home, by way of picketing and public protests and publicity stunts such as printing a giant plane ticket to send Mormons back to the United States.
I confess, I don’t know whose side I’m on.
As a lifelong, literally card-carrying Mormon, I know very well how totalitarian the LDS Church is. Few organizations have been able to make a strictly top-down authority structure as palatable to its adherents as the LDS Church. With respect to being a “sect”, there’s little question that the LDS Church works very hard to keep itself distinct and apart from the various flavors of traditional Christianity.
On the other hand, this is Vladimir Putin we’re talking about. If anyone in post-Soviet Russia is wrapped up with a totalitarian sect, it’s a twenty-something who zealously gives himself (or herself) over to the dictates of a guy who routinely and aggressively suppresses dissent in his country and presents himself as a shirtless, gun-toting, scuba-diving, judo crane-savior.
To bolster their anti-Mormon argument, members of the Young Guard have, apparently, been surfing the Internet to discover the shocking news that Mormons are non-Christian, polytheistic polygamists who brainwash naive recruits so as to more easily steal all their money. To this, the Young Guard adds a rumor that has long circulated in Latin American countries that Mormon missionaries are CIA operatives, inviting the gullible Russian populace in to free English lessons in order to recruit them to act as spies against their homeland.
My own Internet surfing has discovered that Anna Chapman, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in the United States in 2010 and whom the United States, subsequently, deported in a spy-exchange with Russia, has joined the Young Guard.
Perhaps you can help me choose the most fitting idiom to describe this geo-religio-political dispute. Here’s my list:
•Pot calling the kettle black
•Takes one to know one
•People who live in glass houses
•He who is without sin
•Consider the beam in your own eye
•Takes two to tango
Maybe even “birds of a feather...” The LDS church and Putin’s Russian government might, actually, have a lot to teach each other about creating totalitarian states.
The whole dispute seems to have begun in that bleak period known in the United States as the Mormon Moment, during which time the Mormon candidate for president called Russia America’s “number one foe.” Russians, understandably, reacted with a spectrum of outcries, rejoinders, guffaws, and smirks, all of which signaled collective umbrage at being labeled anyone’s number one foe. The Young Guard began its protest of the Mormon presence in Russia at least two months ago, perhaps anticipating that Russia’s number one foe would be elected U.S. president in early November.
Maybe someone at the State Department should pick up the phone to inform Putin that Russia’s Internet is a bit out of date. Here in the land of the free we’ve known for three weeks that the Mormon lost. I’m happy to call SLC to make sure they understand that the Mormon Moment is over. And then we can put this insipid, cold-war-ish tit-for-tat away.
David Mason is an associate professor at Rhodes College in Memphis. He is the author of “Theatre and Religion on Krishna’s Stage” and “My Mormonism: a primer for non-Mormons and Mormons, alike.” Follow him on Twitter at @fatsodoctor .