In rare public rebuke, LDS Church condemns Tim Ballard’s ‘morally unacceptable’ behavior

Utah-based faith says the anti-human trafficking activist, who may seek Mitt Romney’s Senate seat, “betrayed” his friendship with a senior apostle.

(Saul Martinez | The New York Times) Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad, speaks at the Turning Point Action conference, in West Palm Beach, Fla., in July 2023. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has condemned his actions.

Tim Ballard, the former head of the anti-human trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad, has been condemned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for “morally unacceptable” behavior by saying M. Russell Ballard, the acting president of the faith’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was a central figure in support of OUR and Tim’s private business efforts.

The strongly worded public rebuke, rare for the church, came as Tim Ballard is said to be prepping a run for Utah’s soon-to-be open U.S. Senate seat next year.

VICE first reported Tim Ballard, who is not related to the 94-year-old church leader, said the two were close associates and even partners in for-profit business ventures that would help him monetize the celebrity status he had gained through his exploits rescuing human trafficking victims.

Critics say his rescue missions are often highly fictionalized or exaggerated.

Those details come from hundreds of documents about a now-closed criminal investigation into OUR conducted by the Davis County attorney’s office and the FBI. County Attorney Troy Rawlings did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

A statement from the Utah-based faith, which The Salt Lake Tribune confirmed, said the senior church apostle and Tim Ballard, who is a Latter-day Saint, became friends several years ago but have not been in contact for several months.

“Once it became clear Tim Ballard had betrayed their friendship, through the unauthorized use of President Ballard’s name for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and activity regarded as morally unacceptable, President Ballard withdrew his association,” according to the statement. “President Ballard never authorized his name, or the name of the church, to be used for Tim’s personal or financial interests.”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is shown in 2021. The faith says Tim Ballard "betrayed" his friendship with the apostle.

According to the VICE article, Tim Ballard allegedly told associates that M. Russell Ballard personally urged him to quit his job at Homeland Security to found OUR, and the two maintained close contact during an overseas operation the group launched based on information obtained by a psychic.

Tim Ballard is reportedly preparing to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican Mitt Romney. The senator announced earlier this week he would not seek a second term in 2024.

Tim Ballard’s prominence increased after the success of “Sound of Freedom,” the fictionalized movie biography that became a box-office hit over the summer.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, once considered a contender to replace Romney, said on social media he would not campaign for the U.S. Senate and instead would endorse “a dear friend” in the race. Reyes and Tim Ballard have a close relationship. Reyes is listed as an associate producer for “Sound of Freedom.”

The controversy with the church is just the latest involving Tim Ballard and his anti-trafficking efforts. Earlier this summer, he quietly stepped down as head of OUR after multiple employees reportedly filed complaints against him. He also resigned as the CEO of the Glenn Beck-backed Nazarene Fund organization in July.