Mormon News Report: 5 October 2016
Anonymously Leaked Videos Show Quorum of the Twelve Member Meetings
The big news this weekend, the news that even dwarfed the semi-annual General Conference weekend festivities, was a leak of 15 videos of meetings involving the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. These appeared to be committee meetings and briefings of different social issues, from Wikileaks to the housing crisis to relations with Islam. You can find all of the posted on YouTube by the leaker here. Needless to say, they got some attention. Well…a lot of attention. Including, but not limited to: Vice News, the New York Daily Post, The Associated Press, and those were just some of the big outlets. The content of the videos themselves (mostly, general authority Gerrit W. Gong’s presentations) are fairly dry and outdated – most of the videos were posted from 2009 – 2011. However, what is getting a lot of attention is the interactions, questions, and comments from individual members of the Quroum of the Twelve. For example, KEUR’s Whittney Evans writes “ LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks asks whether Chelsea Manning, born Bradley Manning, who released classified documents to Wikileaks and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange were gay. “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,” Oaks says.” In another video, former Oregon senator Gordon Smith told LDS leaders his reasoning behind voting for the Iraq War, according to this transcription from RawStory: “I know and have been a critic of the Iraq war, but I also admit to you that I voted for it because I felt the Lord’s hand in it…I hope it works out, but I can promise you this: You’ll never send missionaries to the Arab street until the rule of law exists in Arabia, and it has taken root in Iraq. And ultimately, if that succeeds, there will be an opportunity to begin building the church in the Middle East, which is a deeply troubled place.” If you don’t have time to watch all the videos, the Salt Lake Trib breaks them down by topic here. And if you want some different commentary, Max Roth of Fox13 has his take here.
Peggy Fletcher Stack of the Tribune caught up with the poster of the videos, former Mormon Ryan McKnight told Stack about how he got the videos: “Last week, a person he believes is either a current or former employee of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints contacted him. This person had been “sitting on the videos,” McKnight said, worried about violating a nondisclosure contract. But now the jittery correspondent wanted the material out before the faith’s 186th Semiannual General Conference wrapped up. Fixer and leaker communicated strictly by email, McKnight said. They never met in person or talked on the phone. Even the email address gave no hint about identity. McKnight said he received copies of the videos Saturday and watched the shorter ones, laughing out loud at the sight of Mormon authorities watching a clip from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The presentations seemed authentic, so McKnight hurriedly met the leaker’s deadline, posting them on YouTube at 7 a.m. Sunday, the final day of conference.” Interestingly enough, this is just the latest Mormon leak, as last week a Reddit user by the name of Mormon Documents leaked approximately 64 different internal documents for the LDS Church Office Building. While this was first met with a lot of fanfare, upon further investigation the documents seemed to be much more technical and rudimentary than previously thought, including the user’s allegations (for example, one document claimed to show “Job Description/Annual Pay for Confidential Records Section Mgrs: $445,000.00,” yet upon further analysis it showed that the $445,000 was the payroll for the department not a salary). Stack also reported “When the LDS Church was asked Monday if it is trying to identify the leaker or if it has filed a complaint with the police or taken steps to secure its documents and videos, spokesman Eric Hawkins declined to comment. Salt Lake City Police Sgt. Brandon Shearer said he is “unaware of any current investigation” into the leak.”
The LDS Church responded on Sunday to the leak, as reported by Tad Walsch of the Deseret News, quoting Eric Hawkins, LDS Church spokesman: “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. 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.”
Stephen Prothero, author of “Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars,” will be speaking at the Salt Lake Public Library on Thursday, October 6 at 7PM. Prothero is a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Boston University. No word if this will be streamed online, but the event is free to the public and no tickets are required.
The University of Utah’s Mormon Studies Panel Discussions Series for 2016 was also released today, focusing on the theme of “The Intellectual Life of Mormonism.” This four part discussion series will be held in conjuction with Brian Birch’s course at the U on “The Intellectual Life of Mormonism.” The panels have already started, with Mary Lythgoe Bradford, L. Jackson Newell, and Boyd J. Petersen participating on a panel at the end of September on “Mormonism’s Intellectual Legacy: Nibley, Bennion, McMurrin, & Arrington.” Thursday, October 29 a panel consisiting of Colleen McDannell, Linda King Newell, and Kate Holbrook will speak on “Writing Women’s History in Mormonism: Old Challenges, New Prospects.” On November 17th, Margaret Toscano, Ignacio Garcia (pending), and W. Paul Reeve will speak on “Race and Gender in Mormon Studies: Contemporary Perspectives.” The concluding panel will be on Thursday, December 8th with Marlin K. Jensen, Spencer Fluhman, and Grant Underwood speaking on “The LDS Church and the Academic Study of Mormonism: Institutional Dynamics.” This sounds like a totally awesome series. I would love to see it streamed online, or made available for those of us not in Utah (I’m working on getting final word), but if you are in Utah, you really should go. This will totally be worth it.
True West, a website focused on the history of the American frontier, looks into the first woman to “despise” polygamy. Spoiler alert: It’s Emma Hale Smith, wife of Joseph Smith. Columnist Jana Bommersbach offers a very basic and cursory overview of Emma’s objection to polygamy, including the quick descent to the end of Joseph’s life, which she ties to polygamy. If you know the basic story, this is nothing new, but if you want a brief overview, this will do the trick.
Doug Fabrizio, the Mormon News Report’s pick for best interviewer in Mormonism, talked with Greg Prince and Lester E. Bush, Jr. yesterday about a very touchy subject for Mormons – the gerontocracy of the upper leadership of Mormonism. This is fleshed out more in the Fall 2016 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in an article titled “Gerontocracy and the Future of Mormonism,” but interestingly enough, this was a sensitive-enough issue that Eric Hawkins, Senior Manager of Media Relations, responded to a request from RadioWest on October 3, stating “President Monson is 89. It’s natural that he and others in Church leadership are feeling the effects of advancing age. However, he spoke at General Conference and attended all the meetings. He comes to the office every day, attends First Presidency and committee meetings, leads the discussion, and makes decisions. The workload of the First Presidency is up to date. President Monson has always been private about his health, but appreciates the prayers and sustaining support of Church members, as do all of the First Presidency and the Twelve. Emeritus status is not a consideration for members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. Apostles serve for life.” Fabrizio and RadioWest consistently have the best discussions around Mormonism, and this really is a must-listen.
I don’t really use emojis that much. Like. I think I literally use like 4 of them. So I don’t have much use for this. You might (via LDS Living)
So this is still a thing, huh? This was going on before I took my sabbatical. Well, I guess it’s still in the news. WCAX of Vermont covers the continuing story of David Hall, owner of NewVistas, who apparently is buying up all the land around the original Joseph Smith hometown to create his own “Mormon Utopia.” WCAX reports Hall canceled an early October meeting with residents in the towns after he found out protesters may show up. We reached out to Hall’s lobbyist working in Montpelier and he declined to comment.”
NPR’s Morning Edition talked with Eileen Eagar, a real estate broker, a Mormon, and a Trump supporter. I’m warning you, it’s a doozy. Like this quote from her: “ I’m going to tell you something that maybe you don’t know about the Mormons. So at one time, when the Mormon church first began, they would congregate naturally together just like the Muslim people do. And pretty soon someone would run for a public office. Well, then they would be chased out of that place because of the fact that the local people were concerned about the power of that Mormon group of people. They were chased clear across the country until they came to Utah. So in a way, I understand completely Trump saying he would ban the Muslims from coming here. But do you understand why he says that? Are you a little bit afraid that somebody might walk into your school where your children are because he wants to kill anyone who doesn’t believe the same way that he does? See and that’s the difference between the Mormons that were chased and the Muslims. The Mormons wanted to live peaceably amongst the people. The Muslims want to come here and change, many of them, what we’re doing. If they believe in the Quran, that’s what they want to do. And their goal, many of them, is to kill us.” Yes. And there’s more. As someone who had a 45 minute discussion with a Trump representative this past weekend, I was very open about bringing up my Mormonism with her, and how that played into my feelings towards Trump. The weird thing was, she spoke just like Trump – “Don’t worry, Mr. Trump loves the Mormons. Loves them. Thinks they’re great. Would love to see more of them involved in the political process. Thinks they are the greatest when it comes to service. He has a huge amount of respect for them. HUGE.” Anyways. Listen if you want.
Mormon Newsroom reports that the creation of a Mormon Newsroom for Taiwan marks the 80th Mormon Newsroom website for MormonNewsroom.org.
LDS Living notes that two major newspapers picked up on the proceedings of this past weekend’s General Conference: “ One article Mormon leader: Defend founder Joseph Smith’s story specifically highlighted Elder Christensen when he asked members who may be questioning their testimony of Joseph Smith or struggling with false information about the first prophet of the Church to “consider the fruits—the many blessings that have come to us through the miraculous mission of Joseph Smith, the prophet of the restoration.”… The article by The Washington Post, The Latest: Mormon leader cautions of ‘gospel extremism’ was shorter but included Elder J. Devn Cornish’s address, highlighting Elder Cornish’s remarks about rebellion and repentance.
Some people love these. Most of these make me cringe. Do with it what you want. Just know that @TheMormonNews was much funnier than any of these. Anyways, it’s a thing.
In another story that has been going on since before the Mormon News Report sabbatical, both the Salt Lake Trib and Fox13 report on the ongoing fraud case issued by the U.S. government, and specifically the testimony of FLDS leader Seth Jeffs. Jeffs testified “We believe all is not ours anyway. It all belongs to Heavenly Father…I believe the Law of Consecration is lived in Heaven…I’m preparing right now for that.” Defense attorney Jay Winward asked Seth Jeffs, “If someone prohibited you from practicing the Law of Consecration, how would it affect you?” Seth Jeffs replied: “It would prohibit me from living my religion.” Retired BYU professor Lyndon Cook also took the stand to give background to the FLDS viewpoint and make connections with early Mormonism. U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart will likely rule in November.
1. I play a “fun” game during General Conference. Well, “fun” is a relative term. For every talk I listen to, I ask myself are they Team Institution, Team Individual, or a Tweener. Someone who is Team Institution focuses on the institutional LDS Church. They focus on the importance of the institutionalized church, whether that be the Priesthood, temples, tithing, fasting, etc. They seem to focus on the “right” way of doing something. Team Individual is a bit different – they seem to be focused on the individual, and that person’s individual spirituality. Elders Ballard and Bednar are consistently Team Institution. Elders Holland and Renlund, and President Uchtdorf are consistently Team Individual. There are a handful of Tweeners, who swing both ways. I didn’t keep very good track this past General Conference, but back in April, my final tally for these 3 themes among speakers showed Team Individual winning with 14 speakers, Team Tweener with 10 speakers, and Team Institution with 7 speakers. It’s not that one is “good” and one is “bad.” In my perfect world, all three teams would be equal. I think the more unorthodox people like myself get a little antsy when the Team Institution people seem to be dictating how one is supposed to live “Real Mormonism.” I’m in the process of re-listening to General Conference to find a few more nuggets, so look forward to a breakdown of the teams in a future News Report.
2. Random fact that only myself and other Mormons on the internet might be interested in: Elder Ballard used the phrase “Heavenly Parents” in his conference address. That phrase is at an all-time high in General Conference mentions, going from 12 instances in the 1990s to 15 instances in the 2000s, and now 31 instances in the 2010s (and we’re barely halfway through!)
3. I’ve been pinged a lot recently about the video leaks. Honestly, it’s a lot of complex emotional processing for me, mostly because I’m feeling very strong pulls of emotions in different areas. There is a part of me that feels very voyeuristic, both in a fascinated and horrified way, to see the videos. There are parts that infuriated me (the phrase “church-broke” sets me into an absolute frenzy – a good piece by hawkgrrrl at Wheat & Tares elaborates why). Personally, the anonymous author behind the By Common Consent Intelligencer (a companion-piece to the Mormon News Report) articulates my feelings better than I can:
1. It’s an immense betrayal of duty to post these videos.
2. However, they’re overall pretty benign, despite the occasional groaner.
3. However, leaked discussions at this level probably won’t lead to more open discussions.
4. However, it’s that very lack of openness that’s inspiring these leaks.
5. However, the titling of some of these videos isn’t exactly open either. They’re quite unfair and in some cases inaccurate.
6. However, it’s kinda nice to have these out there. For one thing, no women in the church have witnessed these conversations before. And it’s good to get a reasonably unfiltered view of how our leaders view the world and God.
7. However, it’s scary how Republican our leaders are, and how no one bats an eye when a U.S. senator is like “Yeah, guys, I’ll vote how I’m supposed to. Just LMK.” (Paraphrase.)
8. However, these guys have LOTS of meetings, and we’re seeing whatever the leaker thought was most damning. We have no real grasp of how these meetings fit into the larger context of the meetings of the Q12.
9. However, it’s disheartening to see such a lack of debate or disagreement in this limited sample of meetings.
10. However, these are very old, very conservative men. We knew that already. They’re of their time. We knew that too.
11. However, that can be frustrating.
12. However, it’s not an aberration. It’s not like the Lord suddenly decided He was going to let humans be His church leaders. That’s kinda the way it’s always been.
4. Because it’s college football season:
- Brigham Young University Football: 2-3, unranked (last game: W 55-53 vs Toledo Rockets)
- University of Utah Football: 4-1, #24 (last game: L 28-23 @ Cal)
- Utah State University Football: 2-3, unranked (last game: L 21-10 @ #24 Boise State)
- University of Michigan Football: 5-0, #4 (last game: W 14-10 vs. #8 Wisconsin)
- Hail to the Victors, folks.
5. Obviously, I’m playing around with formats for the News Report to serve 2 purposes – first, to make it a bit easier to skim and read the news, and second, to streamline my workload a bit. If you have suggestions for the layout or presentation of the News Report, please feel free to get in touch with me at MormonNewsReport@Gmail.com, or on Twitter @TheMormonNews
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