Senior Latter-day Saint apostle ‘never released tithing records,’ church states

Utah prosecutor says “there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegation” that apostle M. Russell Ballard had shared such financial information with Operation Underground Railroad.

(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 honored at the Utah Capitol in 2021. The church says he "never released tithing records to Operation Underground Railroad or any other organization."

A senior apostle with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “has never released tithing records to Operation Underground Railroad or any other organization,” a church spokesperson said Monday.

This denial comes in response to allegations — included in a new filing in a lawsuit against OUR and the group’s founder, Tim Ballard — that Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings told OUR attorneys he had “evidence” that senior apostle M. Russell Ballard and/or other “church authorities” had provided the records to help the nonprofit anti-sex-trafficking organization target large donors or wealthy Latter-day Saint congregations.

Rawlings and the church initially declined to comment on the accusation.

When contacted Monday, however, Rawlings told The Salt Lake Tribune that “when Davis County closed its investigation [of OUR], there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegation of Elder Ballard’s role with respect to LDS tithing records.”

And, in its latest statement from spokesperson Doug Andersen, the church emphasized that it “regards tithing records as sacred and keeps them confidential.”

What is the church’s policy?

Social media platforms have been abuzz in recent days about the allegation that an apostle would give out private financial information about members of the global faith of 17 million.

“If Elder Ballard felt good in his decision to share big tithing payers to OUR,” one person commented on X, formerly Twitter, “then what other higher-ups are feeling good about sharing with other organizations or people?”

Best practices for nonprofits “is to have a formal donor privacy policy,” said Sam Brunson, a Loyola University Chicago tax law professor. “It can be explicit or opt-in.”

Many nonprofits “sell or rent their donor lists,” said Brunson, who is a Latter-day Saint. “I don’t love the idea of the church sharing donation information. It feels inappropriate. But … I don’t recall the church ever explicitly saying it will protect donor privacy.”

In this case, he said, “especially if something like this happened, there may be a need for the church to formulate a policy.”

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The church's General Handbook spells out guidelines for tithing records.

The Utah-based faith’s General Handbook suggests that such a policy exists.

“The amount of tithing and other offerings paid by a donor is confidential,” the guidebook for all church leaders states. “Only the bishop and those who are authorized to handle or view these contributions should have access to this information.”

Church leaders, it adds, are to “ensure that such data is not used for personal, political, or commercial purposes.”

Those funds ‘belong to the Lord’

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Neil L. Andersen talks about tithing at General Conference on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023.

In the faith’s most recent General Conference, apostle Neil L. Andersen said “sacred tithes do not belong to leaders of the church. They belong to the Lord” and are spent on missionary work, temples, church schools, chapels and to help those in need.

“The spiritual power of the divine law of tithing is not measured by the amount of money contributed, for both the prosperous and the poor are commanded by the Lord to contribute 10% of their income,” he said. “The power comes from placing our trust in the Lord.”

Andersen shared a quote from former church President Gordon B. Hinckley’s father about tithing: “What the authorities of the church do with it need not concern [you, Gordon]. They are answerable to the Lord, who will require an accounting at their hands.”

Today’s top church leaders, Andersen assured, “deeply feel the weight of being ‘answerable to the Lord.’”

Apostle’s falling-out with Tim Ballard

(The New York Times, left; The Salt Lake Tribune, right) Tim Ballard, left, and M. Russell Ballard, who are not related.

The latest court filing — from five women accusing OUR founder Tim Ballard (no relation to the 95-year-old apostle) of sexual misconduct — includes notes about conversations between Rawlings and OUR attorneys regarding the case. Dated Feb. 14, 2023, those notes refer to a December 2022 meeting between the two parties.

In September, the church issued a scathing rebuke of Tim Ballard, saying that M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Tim Ballard had been friends at one point but that the church leader severed ties with him “many months ago.”

“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,” the church said in a statement, “President Ballard withdrew his association.”

Tim Ballard has denied the accusation, saying “never in my life, ever, have I used his name to raise money, to make some business deal. It never happened.”

He also has denied the accusations of sexual misconduct.

Apostle Ballard reported last week that he is recuperating at home after being treated at a hospital for respiratory issues.