More bad news for Tim Ballard: LDS Church-owned Deseret Book yanks his books

Scholars welcome their removal, saying his historical works are “more fiction than fact.”

After publicly rebuking Tim Ballard, the embattled author and founder of the anti-trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has quietly removed his books from its Deseret Book online catalog and bookstores.

Ballard’s name was listed on Deseret Book’s website Wednesday but not his books. Both his name and one of his books, “Slave Stealers,” appeared that same day on the website of Shadow Mountain Publishing, which is a subsidiary of Deseret Book.

After The Salt Lake Tribune contacted Deseret Book officials several times to confirm the books’ removal and to explain why, Ballard’s name and his works were noticeably absent Thursday from both websites. Deseret Book officials have declined to comment thus far, but employees at several of the church-owned outlets said the books were removed about two weeks ago.

This screenshot, taken Sept. 24, 2023, shows this Tim Ballard book available from Shadow Mountain Publishing, a registered trademark of Deseret Book, which is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The book was removed from the Shadow Mountain site after an inquiry from The Salt Lake Tribune.

The timing of the books’ removal coincides with the church’s recent public condemnation of Ballard. On Sept. 15, the faith released a statement denouncing him for engaging in “morally unacceptable” activity and exploiting his friendship with M. Russell Ballard (no relation), acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, by misusing the 94-year-old church leader’s name to bolster his business interests.

“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 [for] activity regarded as morally unacceptable, President Ballard withdrew his association,” a church spokesperson said. “President Ballard never authorized his name, or the name of the church, to be used for Tim’s personal or financial interests.”

The blistering statement was issued amid a swirl of allegations against Tim Ballard, who resigned as head of OUR earlier this summer after multiple employees reportedly filed complaints against him. Suzette Rasmussen, an attorney who represents several of the employees, said the anti-human-trafficking activist had subjected her clients to sexual harassment and misconduct, spiritual manipulation and grooming.

Tim Ballard has denied those allegations, calling them “baseless inventions designed to destroy me and the movement we have built to end the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable children.”

What’s wrong with Ballard’s books?

(Photo by Mike Hoogterp) Benjamin Park, associate professor of history at Sam Houston State University, says Tim Ballard's "Hypothesis" trilogy "completely disregards both the historian’s craft and the historical record.”

Ballard’s business practices are not the only questions surrounding him. Several of his books on American history and other topics have also drawn criticism, especially from historians.

Among the most egregious examples, Latter-day Saint historians cite, are “The Washington Hypothesis,” “The Lincoln Hypothesis” and “The Pilgrim Hypothesis.”

All three books purport to link prominent Americans and groups with church founder Joseph Smith, Latter-day Saint temples, the Book of Mormon (the faith’s signature scripture) and church teachings.

“The Washington Hypothesis” and “The Lincoln Hypothesis” were published by Deseret Book. “The Pilgrim Hypothesis” was printed by Covenant Communications, another division of Deseret Book. Covenant, too, has removed Ballard’s books from its website, though he remains on its authors’ list.

Benjamin Park, associate history professor and director of graduate studies at Sam Houston State University, said Ballard’s books are more hagiography than history.

“Every religious community features hagiographic histories that sacrifice rigor for sensationalism,” Park wrote in an email. “This is especially the case of American Christians who seek to sacralize important historical figures like the Founding Fathers. Tim Ballard’s books are both an example and an extension of these dynamics. His ‘Hypothesis’ trilogy completely disregards both the historian’s craft and the historical record.”

Park elaborated on a few examples this week on The Tribune’s “Mormon Land” podcast. One example he cited is the “Lincoln Hypothesis,” in which Ballard posits that the nation’s 16th president was inspired by the Book of Mormon to write the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves in states not under the control of the Union during the Civil War.

In the “Washington Hypothesis,” Park added, Ballard continues a trend of using bad evidence to reach even worse conclusions by using a dubious account related by a Revolutionary War veteran who asserted — decades later — that George Washington received a visit from a female angel at Valley Forge to reassure the downcast leader that America would prevail in that war and other conflicts.

During the course of that vision, Ballard wrote, the soldier said Washington saw another angel, this one a male, dip “water out of the ocean in the hollow of each hand” and sprinkle some of it on America. In the book, Ballard writes the male angel was anointing the land and theorizes it was Moroni, who Latter-day Saints believe gave church founder Joseph Smith the gold plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon.

Park said Washington never mentioned such an account during his lifetime. For an amateur history buff like Ballard, he argues, to examine Lincoln and Washington, who have likely received more attention and scrutiny than anyone else in U.S. history, and to attest that he has uncovered some core central truth everyone else has overlooked, is delusional.

How Ballard’s books can mislead readers

(Courtesy photo) Religion professor Taylor Petrey says Tim Ballard's books "should have never been published by a mainstream press."

For his part, Park is pleased the church appears to be removing Ballard’s books, but he and others wonder why Deseret Book promoted and sold the books in the first place.

“Historians have been highlighting the problems with Ballard’s books for over a decade,” he said. “Many brought their concerns directly to Deseret Book, to no avail. The books were not only profitable but also fit into a larger, and equally problematic, Christian nationalism that enraptures many Latter-day Saints.

“In all likelihood,” Park stated, “were it not for the morally indefensible activities that resulted in the church distancing itself from Ballard, they would still be on Deseret Book shelves for some time to come. It wasn’t Ballard’s many, many historical problems that resulted in their removal but his personal indiscretions.”

Taylor Petrey, associate professor of religion at Michigan’s Kalamazoo College and the editor-in-chief of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, concurred with Park’s concerns.

“Ballard’s books,” he wrote in an email, “have long been a lightning rod. By any standard of historical credibility, the books should have never been published by a mainstream press. Latter-day Saint historians have expressed dismay and embarrassment that these ideas are so popular and are promoted by the church’s publishing company. They are more fiction than fact.”

Petrey said Deseret Book publishes and markets many worthwhile works but added Ballard’s books do not belong on the shelves of any credible bookstore.

“Ballard’s books,” he explained, “greatly damaged the reputation of Deseret Book by giving a home to extremist and fantastical history. His books reflect broader trends on the far right, which is increasingly untethered from reality. The cause of this situation is far greater than any one book or press, and extends far beyond the borders of the LDS community. However, by promoting Ballard, Deseret Book bears some responsibility for creating an environment where many Latter-day Saints prefer ideology over evidence.”

For Deseret Book to carry and promote Ballard’s histories, both Park and Petrey maintain, can be construed by some inside and outside the faith as a tacit endorsement of the author’s ideas.

“I hope this causes the top leadership at Deseret Book to reconsider their publication standards,” Park said. “It is a lesson that historical malfeasance is not something to merely ignore. Indeed, the Tim Ballard episode may underscore the fact that the willingness to prioritize sales at the expense of interpretive fidelity might result in larger problems later on.”

For his part, Petrey hopes Deseret Book will learn from this experience and help “curate more responsible content for Latter-day Saint readers going forward.”

Ballard’s books are still available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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