Many insiders and outsiders have wondered why The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has yet to forcefully and unequivocally condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Soon after Moscow launched its widely criticized assault on its neighbor, the Utah-based faith pleaded for a speedy peace without naming either warring nation.
Of course, one reason for the guarded comments may have been that thousands of Latter-day Saints can be found in Russia and Ukraine. The February 2022 news release even noted that the church “has members in each of the affected areas.”
Another clue came Thursday with the church’s release of its newly updated statement on political neutrality.
“The church does not seek to elect government officials, support or oppose political parties, or, generally, take sides in global conflicts,” the guidelines state. It is “neutral in matters of politics within or between the world’s many nations, lands and peoples.”
That means the faith does not “typically issue statements regarding disputes in or between nations, lands or peoples, rather, it teaches the gospel of Jesus Christ, with the knowledge that living these principles limits contention and hostilities.”
Instead, the church does “provide humanitarian assistance around the world, including areas of international conflict,” the new statement explains. “While political strife may be a factor in causing the need for assistance, the church will generally not comment on the conflict itself.”
Indeed, within hours of the Russian incursion, Latter-day Saint Charities was harnessing resources to help Ukraine and has continued to do so to this day.
High-level church leaders have met with refugees from the war-scarred country. During the spring of 2022, for instance, apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf — twice a refugee himself in postwar Europe — visited Ukrainian refugees in Poland and urged them to keep their hopes centered on the Savior.
“Good things will happen for you,” he said. God “will make things right in the end, as he always does.” The popular church leader saluted the refugees as examples to the world “for goodness, for determination to follow the path of liberty and freedom, and to stand up for what is right.”
Latter-day Saints, the newly released guidelines add, seek “to love God and our neighbor — by alleviating suffering wherever it is found, regardless of the race, nationality, tribe, political persuasion or religious affiliation of those involved.”
In an important caveat, however, the church reaffirmed that it “reserves the right to address issues it believes have significant moral consequences or that directly affect the mission, teachings or operations of the church.”
Many points in the updated neutrality policy are holdovers from the previous version, and some are reinforced in the faith’s General Handbook.
Here are some highlights:
• The church does not “endorse, promote or oppose political parties and their platforms or candidates for political office.”
• It does not “advise its members on how to vote.”
• It does “encourage its members to engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting that fellow members of the church come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters.”
• The church also urges members to “keep all communications (including on social media) respectful and aligned with Christlike behavior.”
The statement explains that government officials and political representatives who are Latter-day Saints need not agree with one another nor with any publicly stated church positions.
Top church leaders will “continue to seek prophetic wisdom and revelation on these matters,” the guidelines conclude, as they “navigate the application of these principles of political neutrality and participation in an ever-changing and complex world.”