At the Latter-day Saint General Conference, Why so Hesitant on the War in Ukraine?

First, to be honest and straight forward, to be blunt and to the point, I am dumbfounded and greatly saddened that in the just completed General Conference there seemed to be so much hesitancy to discuss the situation in, or even use the word, Ukraine. In ten hours of talk and prayers, I heard the word Ukraine precisely once. Why? Am I not understanding what is going on there? Did I miss something?

Like many people throughout the world, including many Latter-day Saints, I have been distressed and moved, even rivetted, by the suffering of the people in Ukraine caused by the unprovoked and unjustified invasion by the Russian forces under the control of Vladmir Putin. I have been inspired by the heroic defenders of Ukraine against Putin’s forces, as I’m quite certain many who listened to this latest General Conference also have been. This suffering and destruction has gone on now for over four weeks and is likely to go on for much longer. Not a single person who spoke at Conference could be unaware of this suffering or likewise greatly concerned. I can’t believe that none of the speakers during General Conference wanted to explicitly discuss this man-made humanitarian tragedy.

This is one of the most destructive military actions since the end of World War II, if not they most destructive. Millions of people have been driven from their homes due to the fighting. But fighting is not really the most accurate term. A more accurate description of the cause of most of the damage and suffering would be the indiscriminate bombing and shelling of Ukrainian homes by Russian planes and artillery. Thousands have been injured and many thousands killed. Many thousands have been made widows and orphans, in Ukraine and in Russia, through no fault of their own. This is not to argue that the Ukrainians are without sin or that the Russians are all evil, but don’t we have the ability to determine who is on the right side and who is on the wrong side in this conflict? Don’t we have the ability to discern the difference between good and evil here?

If we are to follow the words of the Prophets and be obedient, isn’t it incumbent upon those Prophets and Seers to give a word of direction in this matter? Is simply “be obedient” and “follow the prophet” enough? Wouldn’t just a word of explicit support to the people of the Ukraine, as the victims of this unprovoked attack, be appropriate?

If the good Samaritan had walked past the man injured by the side of the road on the way to Jericho with the words, “Trust in God, be obedient, and all will be well with you,” and nothing more, would the good Samaritan be doing the will of Our Heavenly Father?

We are all aware of the Church sending humanitarian aid to help those in Ukraine and fleeing from Ukraine. Why not even mention explicitly that aid? Why not say Putin’s invasion was unjust, and an affront to Our Heavenly Father, as everyone knows it to be?

When our missionaries return to Ukraine, and if the citizens of Ukraine and their supporters are able to fight off the Russian aggression our missionaries likely will be able to return, what are they to tell those who have suffered so much about the shows of love and support the leaders of the Church have provided in their time of need at this world-wide Conference? Was a word of prayer naming the people of the Ukraine spoken during General Conference? Should our love for those in the greatest need just implied? As the peoples of Ukraine in a very real and literal sense fight for all of our freedoms against the forces of repression could we not have thanked them, by name?

Should we all remain virtually silent on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine? Is that what Our Heavenly Father would like us to do? Is that the faith inspiring and heroic actions the faithful members should take? Should we all just remain virtually silent in the face of this carnage and loss of life and freedoms, so as not to call evil evil? Do we want to maintain our relationships with the least of our brethren or their rulers? Who are we trying not to offend, Our Heavenly Father or those in power?

I looked for the words of past prophets in times of trouble and war. I found a talk from the Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley, called “War and Peace.” In it he quoted the Book of Mormon, Alma 43:45-50

Nevertheless, the Nephites were inspired by a better cause, for they were not fighting for monarchy nor power but they were fighting for their homes and their liberties, their wives and their children, and their all, yea, for their rites of worship and their church. And they were doing that which they felt was the duty which they owed to their God; for the Lord had said unto them, and also unto their fathers, that: Inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies. And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites contending with the Lamanites, to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion. And it came to pass that when the men of Moroni saw the fierceness and the anger of the Lamanites, they were about to shrink and flee from them. And Moroni, perceiving their intent, sent forth and inspired their hearts with these thoughts—yea, the thoughts of their lands, their liberty, yea, their freedom from bondage. And it came to pass that they turned upon the Lamanites, and they cried with one voice unto the Lord their God, for their liberty and their freedom from bondage. And they began to stand against the Lamanites with power; and in that selfsame hour that they cried unto the Lord for their freedom, the Lamanites began to flee before them; and they fled even to the waters of Sidon.

Does this not apply equally and expressly to those defending Ukraine as it did to the ancient Nephites? Doesn’t it apply to all those who value their freedoms? When the Church removed our missionaries from Ukraine a month or so before the Russian invasion and when we closed the Kyiv Ukraine Temple at the war’s outset, why? How often do we remove our missionaries from whole countries and close Temples dedicated to Our Heavenly Father? I’m quite sure the Church did so because something more serious than a mere conflict was going to engulf the peoples of Ukraine. Would it be wrong to explicitly state the peoples of Ukraine are the victims of a great evil?

My faith in Jesus Christ and the Book of Mormon, which I believe to be inspired, supports me in my words and actions at times like this and on behalf of the people of Ukraine. I hope that the day will come when I will look back and see the wisdom and the Lord’s hand in the Church’s approach to the Russian invasion of Ukraine during this General Conference. As of now I personally find it embarrassing and an incredible missed opportunity to choose and stand for the right.

5 thoughts on “At the Latter-day Saint General Conference, Why so Hesitant on the War in Ukraine?

  1. Hi, Chris. I enjoy and appreciate your Missives To The Abyss. This one is saddening to read. While I am not familiar with the Mormon religion (I do have the copy of The Book Of Mormon which once belonged to Uncle Norman though I have only glanced through it) what is striking is the closure of the temple and the withdrawal of the people. I wonder what other religious denominations may have done likewise. My daily morning readings include study from the King James version of the Bible. The concordance in the back defines faith as reliance, not merely belief. James 2: 14- 26, Faith without works is dead. As you indicated it seems only time will tell if these decisions and actions are profitable for all.

  2. Chris, I too feel angry and frustrated by Putin’s actions and the inability of the world to do much about it without creating a much more and involved greater conflict. I come in contact with a lot of negativity about our church on social media, and in great contrast, I find peace and comfort in listening to our church leaders via general conference and other talks they give. Our world is unfortunately ruled by Satan. We know the church cannot command the governments and world leaders to stop wars and to care for the people. I think there could have been more said about the conflict, but I’m glad the focus was on the Savior and finding peace and comfort through the gospel, as it should be. I do appreciate your thoughts on this subject though.

  3. Hi Chris,
    I wake up every morning and doom-scroll, hoping nothing worse has happened and praying for a glimmer of hope. It terrifies me on so many levels. And I’m constantly angry about it. I’m trying hard not to be vindictive. So I certainly empathize with your concern. But I wasn’t surprised or disappointed about Conference, for several reasons.
    1) Although it hits much closer to home, is the most covered war in history, and has terrifying global potential, Ukraine is just one of many ongoing wars. Several of them have been much longer and much worse on the citizens, with essentially no worldwide acknowledgement. They are all terrible. In fact, we’ve been dealing with essentially nonstop wars ‘somewhere’ throughout all of history. So while this is different…it’s not THAT different. Wars could have been brought up in every conference. Jesus Himself could have spent time talking about wars while He was here. But instead His message was on the gospel and how to maintain your own spiritual journey. The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, Make his paths straight. Or perhaps even better. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace; that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth. I think that’s the tone the speakers will try for, always.
    2) There are going to be more and more wars. I hope the message of peace stays strong, so we have a lighthouse to look for in the storm.
    3) How to respond to horrible things? Do we need long explanations listing evils? I don’t. I’ve heard enough already. I hear it every single day. It wears on my soul. Instead, state the message, renounce evil, then move on to uplifting words in troubled times. This conference was similar. I thought this statement was exactly what we needed. It left no doubt. It was also completely Christlike.
    4) In the Gospel way, it is really hard to love them that spitefully use you and persecute you, and pray for your enemies. This is exactly the message that was given. We have a temple in Russia and Ukraine. We have members in Russia and Ukraine. My cousin married a Russian from Ukraine (or was it vice versa…it really doesn’t matter). We do not believe Russians are evil people. The world does not need an “us” and “them” mentality that will lead to ongoing wars.
    5) I think of conference much like going to the temple. You may have serious inner turmoil or questions or problems. But what you want to get out of going there is to regain a spiritual sense of peace. And you want to learn things to make yourself better. I actually really appreciated being to think about things other than the war for almost all of those 8 hours.

    1. Bill. I’m not trying to argue but I will say this is not just another war and the consequences for silence and inaction are much higher for both Russians, Ukrainians, all their neighbors, and for the millions that rely on Ukrainian agricultural exports to feed their families, than for any conflict in the last 100 years. Most importantly, the Church’s virtual silence and lack of a clear moral judgment will cause the Church great difficulties moving forward in Eastern Europe, including Russia. Few in Russia want this war.

      1. Consider the consequences if an “American church” comes out directly against the Russian government. a) the words would have been censored so nobody in Russia would have heard anything anyway b) the Church would be put on the “bad list” of “puppets of Western governments”. Those are guaranteed consequences. Also likely is c) members subject to harassment or jail d) Church property confiscated, including temples e) no missionaries, no meetings, no worship. Those are likely (e.g. Jehovah’s Witnesses have been harassed/jailed for years there for far less). I can thus see many reasons to speak in moral rather than political terms. If you read between the lines, it’s pretty clear they are thinking of the people in Russia as much as Ukraine. They would have caused harm to the Russian Saints (possibly for years…) if they had said what you wanted them to say. I am certain of it.

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