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Leaked videos show Mormon apostles discussing political influence, gay marriage, marijuana and more

First Published      Last Updated Dec 29 2016 08:18 pm


Religion » Mormon apostles are shown discussing topics like political influence, gay marriage, marijuana and more.

More than a dozen leaked videos posted online Sunday show high-level LDS Church leaders privately discussing hot-button issues ranging from politics to pot, the "homosexual agenda" to the housing crisis, marriage to morality, Muslims to Kurds.

Released anonymously on YouTube under the name "Mormon Leaks" — and on the final day of the faith's fall General Conference — many of the 15 videos appear to show presentations made to members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the second-highest governing body of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One, from 2011, raises the possibility that internal Mormon documents or information could be exposed.




"Could WikiLeaks or a group like WikiLeaks embarrass or damage the church?" asks LDS general authority Gerrit W. Gong, who is now a member of the presidency of the Seventy.

The answer certainly is yes.

"Frankly, I didn't even know these meetings were recorded," said Patrick Mason, head of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California. "Clearly, whoever is leaking this is trying to embarrass the church. That is the only value at this point."

'Homosexual agenda' • The most consistent theme running through the videos is the Mormon hierarchy's wariness of the gay-rights movement.

The WikiLeaks video, which focuses on documents released by Chelsea Manning, shows the apostles far more interested in Manning's sexuality than on the issue of cybersecurity Gong was trying to address.

"I'm suspicious that the news media cover up anything involving homosexuals when it would work to the disadvantage of the homosexual agenda and so on," LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks says, "and I was just wondering if there was some of that in this."

Gong says he believed Manning was spurred to disclose hundreds of thousands of sensitive military and diplomatic communications, some of which were classified, because a gay partner broke off their relationship.

Manning was court-martialed and is now incarcerated.

In the video, an unidentified general authority asks Gong if Julian Assange, the leader of WikiLeaks, is gay.

Gong, who appears in many of the videos offering presentations to the apostles, says no, but describes Assange as "more of the anarchist than the freedom fighter."

The LDS Church said "most of these videos appear to be from briefings received by senior church leaders between 2007 and 2012."

"In these committee meetings, presentations are routinely received from various religious, political and subject matter experts on a variety of topics," church spokesman Eric Hawkins said Sunday afternoon. "The purpose is to understand issues that may face the church, and is in pursuit of the obligation church leaders feel to be informed on and have open discussion about current issues. This is an informational forum, not a decision-making body."

Some of the videos are roughly an hour in length; others last a few minutes. The range of topics is broad, bouncing from the church's relationship to Islam to a briefing on the housing crisis in 2009 in which an upbeat Gong says: "We have some commotion but no need for fear."

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt headlines one video focused on religious-freedom laws in the wake of the advancement of gay marriage in many states. That video, from May 2012, came at the same time Leavitt was leading the potential transition effort for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who is Mormon.

The conversation, which includes Robert George, then the leader of the National Organization for Marriage, explores how the LDS Church could team up with other faiths to fight against abortion and same-sex marriage.

"If they think we will move on these issues, they do not know us," says Boyd K. Packer, then the president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who died last year. "Never will we budge on these fundamental things."

'They want validation' • Packer also wanted to talk about gay rights when David Magleby, a political scientist from LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, spoke to the group about the 2008 elections.

"How do you see the gay, lesbian coalitions moving forward?" Packer asks. An unidentified man follows up by asking if Magleby knows of any, "group formal or informal," orchestrating the gay-rights movement behind the scenes.

Magleby says he expects supporters of gay marriage to fight relentlessly — "They want validation" — and that he knows of no group running the effort.

Mason said it is "zero surprise" that Mormon leaders would regularly discuss gay marriage, religious liberties and issues pertaining to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"Those are the top issues for the church leadership right now," he said. "None of that is a secret."

The videos delved deeper into politics than just the marriage debate.

Former Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. and a Mormon, spoke to church leaders in 2009, shortly after his term expired, saying he regarded "his [LDS] temple recommend as more important than an election certificate."

Ralph Hardy, then an LDS authority who served in the Washington, D.C., area, introduces Smith and describes the senator's staff, who were not Mormon, as "church broke."

"In fact," Hardy says, "not many months ago [Smith's] legislative director called me on the phone and said, 'Ralph, you haven't called us in six weeks, what are we supposed to be doing?' "

Hardy and Smith tell the leaders that having Latter-day Saints in the Senate has "inestimable value to the church," particularly when it comes to assisting the faith's missionary goals.

"There is nothing quite as effective," Smith says, "as when Ralph Hardy calls me and says we need a meeting in Rome, we need a meeting in Madrid, we need a meeting in Belgium. A U.S. senator can get those meetings."

In the video, he praises the church's support of California's Proposition 8, which for a time blocked the legalization of gay marriage, and encourages the leaders to keep fighting in other states. He suggests, however, it would be better to join with like-minded lawmakers to kill bills rather than wage a public campaign.

"If the devil wins the war over the family," Smith warns, "he's won."

The senator also explains he voted to support the start of the war in Iraq "because I felt the Lord's hand in it," believing that the conflict eventually could open the Middle East to Mormon missionaries.

Muslim to Mormon • Other videos explore how to make inroads among Kurdish people living in northern Iraq and Muslims broadly. Paul B. Pieper, who is now a member of the Seventy, says of the Kurds: "The writing is truly on the wall. Despite the political challenges of the day, the gospel will one day reach these ancient people."

A fellow Seventy, Bruce D. Porter suggests trying to find Kurds living in the United States and Europe as a start.

In a February 2012 video, LDS leaders discuss the creation of an "Islam Working Group," with apostles Oaks, Jeffrey R. Holland and three members of the First Quorum of the Seventy — Pieper, Patrick Kearon and Craig A. Cardon.

Their charge was "to prepare to take the [Mormon] gospel to Islamic world." Their short-term recommendations included translating LDS scriptures into Arabic and other languages spoken by Muslims and to "provide specialized training for mission presidents of approved missions."

Though proselytizing in Islamic countries is forbidden, the group estimated that some 20,000 former Muslims have joined the Utah-based faith, mostly in countries where religious freedom is guaranteed.

"I don't think [the converts] have a problem being assimilated," apostle M. Russell Ballard says in the video, except "maybe in Utah."

In another video, from 2007, Gong dispels media myths about a precipitous decline in marriage. He warns that Mormon men and women are delaying marriage and having fewer children, but notes the vast majority of adults still wed or intend to do so.

Packer, then the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, jokingly tells Gong, "Well, we're glad you've improved everything."

"Sometimes," Gong replies, "the glass is more than half full."

Morality and marijuana • In a 2008 video, Gong updates LDS leaders on studies about science and morality, pointing to advancements in drug and gene therapy. Should Mormons, he asks, someday consider using new tools to, for instance, "break drug addiction, counter homosexuality, help shy teenagers become outgoing or even enhance student performance?" And would any such drugs violate the Word of Wisdom, the church's health code that forbids alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea?

"Science and morality — those two words might go together," Packer remarks, "but science has got a lot to learn first. You've got to at least admit that there's something spiritual."

A 2010 video shows top Mormon leaders receiving an update on medical-marijuana laws at a time before recreational marijuana was legal in states such as Colorado and before Utah lawmakers began seriously debating the issue.

The authorities focus on reminding members that even if the drug became legal, it would be against the Word of Wisdom.

"I can't understand our great emphasis on getting rid of tobacco to then start a project to increase marijuana," says apostle L. Tom Perry, who also died last year. "It is so inconsistent."

At this stage, there's little information on who released the videos and how they were obtained. The Mormon Leaks YouTube page was created Saturday; the videos were uploaded early Sunday.

In the WikiLeaks conversation, Gong appears to use LDS scripture, specifically Doctrine & Covenants 1:3, to imply those who release such internal documents will be punished in the afterlife for their transgressions.

That scripture reads: "And the rebellious shall be pierced with much sorrow; for their iniquities shall be spoken upon the housetops, and their secret acts shall be revealed."

David Noyce, Benjamin Wood and Peggy Fletcher Stack contributed to this story.

mcanham@sltrib.com

 

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