As allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced Monday against Tim Ballard, the embattled founder of the anti-human-trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad found himself embroiled in an increasingly heated fight with his Latter-day Saint faith.
Last week, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accused Ballard of exploiting his friendship with senior apostle M. Russell Ballard in support of OUR and Tim’s private business efforts, denouncing his “morally unacceptable” activity.
The Utah-based faith never explained the objectionable activity, but VICE News reported Monday that Tim Ballard’s exit from OUR came on the heels of an investigation alleging sexual misdeeds.
The news site stated that Tim Ballard allegedly asked seven women to “pose” as his wife and share a bed or shower with him on undercover operations in order to rescue sex trafficking victims.
Tim Ballard and Latter-day Saint leader M. Russell Ballard are not related but had been close. The church apostle referred to him as a “family friend” in a 2019 speech in Massachusetts.
Those ties apparently have frayed, given the strongly worded rebuke the church issued Friday.
“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 faith’s statement. “President Ballard never authorized his name, or the name of the church, to be used for Tim’s personal or financial interests.”
The church, which confirmed its statement to The Salt Lake Tribune, has now removed several articles on its website that mentioned the self-styled anti-slavery activist and his work, including this one: “Saving Children: Tim Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad.”
‘Like a grandfather to me’
Over the weekend, Tim Ballard’s response appeared in a YouTube defense, denying he ever exploited his friendship with the 94-year-old apostle.
“Everything you hear is not true,” he said. “President Ballard is like a grandfather to me. … Never in my life, ever, have I used his name to raise money, to make some business deal. It never happened.”
On top of that, the former OUR executive said, he doesn’t believe the statement condemning him came from the church.
“Can you imagine The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would publicly condemn one of its members without talking to [their] bishop or stake [regional] president? Is it possible?”
In a statement issued late Monday from The Spear Fund, for which Ballard is a senior adviser, he noted he is a “member in good standing” and believes in the faith with his “whole heart,” but he again questioned the veracity of the church statement.
“It has been alleged that an LDS Church spokesperson issued a statement about me through a tabloid that is often hostile to people of faith. My church has not publicly verified the statement’s authenticity,” Ballard stated. “... In any event, nothing will change my core beliefs. If someone within the church did release this statement, I am absolutely confident that the right people will step in and ensure that proper due process is followed as the rules of our church dictate.”
Some commenters also challenged the church’s statement and even attacked the Latter-day Saint leader.
“I will support and sustain you in your calling, but I don’t respect you,” one commenter wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “Hiding behind your calling to punch down at a man fighting trafficking makes you a suspect.”
Addressing the senior Ballard, another remarked: “You need to make a public apology for your benighted behavior towards Tim Ballard. Your behavior is ‘morally unacceptable.’ You are a hypocrite! As I’ve said before, I uphold you as a prophet, seer and revelator, but I despise you as a man.”
Others rejected the statement because the church’s spokesperson wasn’t named.
The faith “does not have ‘anonymous’ spokespeople,” one stated, “so it’s laughable the spokesperson is not named in the VICE article.”
On Saturday, Latter-day Saint conservative radio host Glenn Beck complained online that the church had effectively “excommunicated” Ballard in public statements in hostile media outlets.
Those now-deleted comments “are evidence of how conservative Latter-day Saints are renegotiating their religious and political identities,” said Shiloh Logan, a Mormon studies doctoral student at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California.
To such people, the church’s “seeming attack on Tim Ballard is not just viewed as an attack on his work with Operation Underground Railroad but also as a rejection of Ballard’s political beliefs and connection with former President [Donald] Trump,” Logan wrote in an email. “Beck’s comment implies that people are ‘struggling with their [religious] faith’ due to the church’s statement directed at a potential rising political figure.”
There has been speculation about Tim Ballard running for Utah Republican Mitt Romney’s soon-to-be vacant Senate seat.
Ballard pointed to that prospect in his statement Monday evening in which he cast doubt on the church statement.
“We are also highly suspicious about the timing of such a statement,” he wrote, “given its close proximity to Mitt Romney’s announcement that he is retiring, my own public comments about my prayers about future plans, and the fact that the LDS Church does not engage in political activity.”
Tim Ballard resigned from OUR on June 22, VICE News reported, after an extensive investigation by an independent law firm of “all relevant allegations.”
“He has permanently separated from OUR,” the nonprofit told the news organization, without mentioning any specifics. “OUR is dedicated to combating sexual abuse, and does not tolerate sexual harassment or discrimination by anyone in its organization.”