Secretly recorded videos pull curtain back on Mormon church

New York Post/October 4, 2016

By Joshua Rhett Miller

A cache of videos released anonymously shows Mormon church leaders discussing a wide range of controversial topics, including homosexuality, morality and even an insensitive joke about lightening the mood in the room by discussing Sept. 11.

The 15 videos, uploaded Sunday to YouTube by a user named “Mormon Leaks,” primarily show presentations made to high-level leaders of the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints between 2007 and 2012.

The first video, purportedly recorded in January 2011, shows LDS general authority Gerrit Gong discussing whether WikiLeaks or another group could potentially expose internal church documents that would “embarrass or damage” the church.

Gong describes WikiLeaks as an organization dedicated to “radical, involuntary transparency” and details the diplomatic cables released by Chelsea Manning, a transgender former US Army intelligence analyst. But the church leaders were seemingly much more concerned with Manning’s sexuality than the potential to be exposed by hackers, the video shows.

“But he is confirmed homosexual?” one church leader asks, to which another confirms.

That topic continued after Gong said Manning was “openly homosexual” and “did what he did” after becoming depressed when he companion left him, citing Manning’s posts on Facebook at the time.

“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,” said LDS apostle Dallin Oaks. “I just wondered if there was some of that in this.”

Another member of the Quorum of the Apostles, the church’s second-highest governing body, then asked if WikiLieaks founder Julian Assange was gay.

“I don’t know,” Gong replied. “He was under indictment as you’re alluding to for sexual assault, but it seemed to be rape charges that he was coming under, not for being gay.”

“Well, thank you, I think,” said Boyd Packer, the former president of the Quorum of the Apostles who died last year.

In another video entitled “In Which They Fret Over Science and Worldly Morals,” Gong gives a PowerPoint presentation to church leaders on advancements in science and the moral questions they pose.

“For example, should church members consider using new drugs or gene therapy to break addiction, counter homosexuality, help shy teenagers become outgoing or enhance student performance?” Gong asks.

In another presentation entitled simply “401(k),” Gong gave church leaders a summary of the uncertainty among global financial markets in 2008, and its potential impact on the church. During a subsequent question-and-answer session on insurance policies, Packer said life insurance boiled down to one thing.

“I was chairman over at [Beneficial Financial Group] for a number of years and I looked at life insurance,” Packer said. “And it amounted to this: They looked at charts and they bet that I was going to live so long. I bet that I wasn’t so I started paying them money to prove it.”

Laughter then filled the room, as Packer continued: “That’s about what it amounts to.”

Someone not on camera then says: “It’s a lot quicker to go to Las Vegas.”

Then, in a seemingly casual and insensitive attempt to keep the jokes flowing, another church leader said: “Yeah, let’s go to something like 9/11 now.”

Packer later admonishes the comment, telling the group to remember that it leads 13 million people worldwide.

“So we’ve got to settle down, sober up and wise up,” he said.

The 15 videos, which also cover hot-button topics like the Iraq War, Islam and religious freedom, have been viewed more than 138,000 times since Sunday. Church officials confirmed the authenticity of the videos in a statement to The Post.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

Patrick Mason, head of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in California, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the “only value” of the videos was to embarrass the church.

“Frankly, I didn’t even know these meetings were recorded,” Mason told the newspaper. “Clearly, whoever is leaking this is trying to embarrass the church. That is the only value at this point.”

Mason said there’s “zero surprise” that Mormon leaders discussed issues pertaining to the LGBT community and religious liberties.

“Those are the top issues for the church leadership right now,” Mason told the newspaper. “None of that is a secret.”

One commenter on YouTube even said the videos have “increased the testimony” of faithful LDS members.

“I don’t know what was your purpose on doing this, but as far as I can see, those videos have increased the testimony of the faithful LDS members, as we can see how our apostles really get informed about important issues with well informed people,” one post read. “Our apostles really work hard and base their choices in a lot of studies.”

A former Mormon, Ryan McKnight, has admitted to posting the videos. McKnight told The Salt Lake City Tribune that church members shouldn’t be afraid of their release.

“There’s no reason members need to be afraid of them, or for ex-Mormons to think this will damage the church,” McKnight told the newspaper.

McKnight, who uses the handle “FearlessFixxer” on Reddit, told the paper he was contacted last week by someone he believes is either a former or current member of the church. That person who was “sitting on the videos” was worried about violating a nondisclosure contract and wanted to release the material before LDS’ 186th Semiannual General Conference ended.

McKnight said they contacted each other strictly by email. He told the paper he received copies of the videos on Saturday, laughing out loud at 6-minute video on piracy from 2008 that includes a clip from “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

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