OUR, Tim Ballard, and the Church

Like many I’ve been recently drawn to the hard-to-look-away car crash that is the Tim Ballard/OUR saga. I am very disconnected from the conservative Utah zeitgeist that’s given rise to this debacle, and I haven’t done a deep dive into the particulars, but in a sense that makes my perspective not worthless on a meta-level in terms of messaging, since I think my experience mirrors that of most members on the street who only have a casual familiarity with what’s going on.  

A few things can be true at once, as much as people try to pigeonhole these types of things into a grand confirmation of their ideological identities and repudiation of their enemies’.

There are a handful of people who are so patently scheisters in the Mormon space that you don’t have to have a lot of discernment to see them for what they are, but evidently a lot of people don’t pass even that minimal bar. On the right there are certain former Utah politicians, and on the left there are certain thought leader types in the current and former Mormon communities. From the little bit that I have seen and heard of Tim Ballard there’s something off about him personally.  

However, there is some validity to complaints about the Church spokesperson vaguely alluding to some sin without due process or concrete specifics, and I wonder if some among the Church professionals feel like they can take the right flank of the Church for granted in this regard because the right has not traditionally been the bastion of pushback against the Church. 

For those cheering this approach, imagine if tables were turned and this approach was used to somebody on your side of the aisle ideologically. If they have something (which I have little doubt that they do, there’s been an awful lot of smoke for there to be no fire), then bring it up. If for whatever reason it’s not wise to bring it up, then there are ways to distance an organization from a  person without casting vague aspersions, especially when there was one concrete thing that they did feel comfortable sharing (Tim Ballard using President Ballard’s name). 

(I get that the case of disciplinary proceedings is a more complicated one, and that the Church is in a bind in order to protect confidentiality, but even in these cases if somebody is misrepresenting what went down I’m fine with the Church publicly requesting permission to make the details available.)  

Of course, I don’t mean to dogpile on the Church spokesperson. My armchair quarterbacking is easy, his job is not, and I’m sure he’s feeling a lot of unearned stress right now. 

Finally, I’ve seen a lot of vague, ideologically charged criticisms against Ballard and OUR. Again, there’s been so much smoke that I doubt there isn’t some fire, but if you want to make a case against OUR and Ballard then some basic principles of communication might be nice. Make it brief, clear, to-the-point, maybe with some graphics. The “Letter to a CES Director” made a splash precisely because it was the first product in the apologetics/critics wars that understood basic graphic design. 

People who think that simply appealing to experts disagreeing with his modus operandi is going to do anything don’t quite appreciate how much the concept of expertise, especially in the softer social sciences, has taken a beating in recent years. You can gnash your teeth about that, but that’s the world we live in, and there appears to be more than enough on Ballard that you can take him down without being a jerk to people who see things differently than you. 

20 comments for “OUR, Tim Ballard, and the Church

  1. The tldy is: Tim Ballard formed an organization called Underground Railroad that does paramilitary-style raids to purportedly rescue child sex trafficking victims. A very successful, apparently high production value film, the Sound of Freedom, was recently put out based on him, but there are criticisms of 1) his honesty in portraying his background, 2) financial management of OUR, 3) his raids being counterproductive, 4) some history books he’s published, 5) his treatment of subordinates, 6) apparently he used psychics to help find children, 7) sexual harassment, and now 8) implying Church endorsement. He’s become quite the cultural figure in some sectors of conservative Mormondom, but that last item got him into some hot water with the Church.

  2. Stephen for background into understanding the emotional reactions to him I would add that Ballard is popular in QAnon circles and with people who believe there is a huge conspiracy among liberals and mainstream media and the “deep state” to groom and traffic children. Thus any denunciation of Ballard’s behavior is evidence of someone being a pedophile or “groomer” and in this case, that the church has been infiltrated by such people.

  3. I am not aware of the details of the story either, or see the movie, but anyone who is trying to stop child sex trafficking can do what ever they deem necessary IMO. Gloves are off. Lie, cheat, steal, psychics, voodoo, witchcraft, launder money, death, sin, etc. Nothing Ballard may or may not be doing is worse than what he might be trying to do to help the children. He gets a green light from me. Having said that, if he broke some serious rules the church frowns upon, then the church gets to do what they do. If he gets X’d, I personally would not look at him any different as what he does to help children override his possible personal faults in my book. Like members that are cops that work with this stuff and have to see and process on a daily basis the evil that is out there. If I was their bishop I would allow for all types of self medication if that’s what they need to keep getting the scum off the streets.

    Thou shall not kill, covet, steal, lie, unless you are trying to stop child sex trafficking, is what I think the original commandments meant to say…

    If any of us worked in this field, we would be “off” a bit after a week. God bless all the Tim Ballard’s out there!

  4. @REC911, writing someone a blank check to be heinous because he’s on the right team is so very, very wrong. You need to stop thinking in terms of teams/us vs them, and hold everyone to the same standard. You’re so confident that he’s helping children, but organizations have been backing away from him for years because he doesn’t. He raises lots of money but doesn’t appear to be spending it on what he claims he’s raising it for. Do you still want to give him a pass? He doesn’t actually have to rescue any children, he just needs to get you to think that your donation to him will help rescue children (even though it won’t), and by giving you that warm and fuzzy feeling do you still want to give him a pass?

  5. @jader3rd, Calm down my friend….I feel this way with just those who abuse children especially in the form of sex trafficking. I dont know Ballard at all and my comments are based on IF he is actually helping with the child sex trafficking issues. If he is not, of course my thoughts/comments are not going to be the same! I am NOT so confident he is helping anyone, my point is IF HE or ANYONE else is actually helping with this issue, they get a green light from me.

    Once someone abuses children, they dont get to have the same “standards” IMO and it is us vs. them.

    If Ballard raised a billion dollars and spent it on saving only 1 child, that is money well spent. If he spent the majority of the $ on blows and ho’s, pretending to save children as you seem to believe, different story.

    I am not asking/saying you or anyone else here has to agree. My views and opinions are probably skewed by reading the old testament too many times…. ;)

    Sounds like you know Ballard pretty well. Enlighten us if you do.

  6. REC911, would that extend to you being okay with him coercing 7 or more women to have sex with him on the claim that it was necessary to trick the traffickers into thinking they were married? That is one of the claims that the OUR has made in explanation for why they are distancing themselves from him.

  7. @Chad Nielsen – There is no reason to have sex to get people to believe your married so no, that is just dumb. I can see someone in Ballard’s position asking women to “pretend we are married” and those non-member women thinking he means sex. Kind of like the exmo’s view of JS sealing a 14 year old to him in a religious ceremony can ONLY mean JS is in fact a pedophile. Pretend we are married to catch sex trafficker’s I have no problem with. Telling the women we need to have sex behind closed doors to pull this off…that is just stupid and if that was Ballard’s intent, and I have no idea if it was or wasn’t, then he gets to find another church to be a member of.

    If two consenting married adults not of our faith were having sex to catch these scumbags I would be fine with it. Does not make the infidelity right, but at least they are doing it to help children instead of just creating “art” for sex scenes in movies.

    According to the old testament, God allowed some pretty crazy stuff to happen for the greater good.

    Again, this is just my opinion and I do not think anyone else should or needs to think the way I do. My opinion is also subject to change.

  8. I’ve read some crazy stuff on the internet, but REC911’s comments really take the cake.

    I guess this is what you get when your faith community make a hero of a man who decapitates incapacitated drunks to steal their property because the voice in their head said it’s cool. And apparently Nephi tells Ballard’s clairvoyant how to do his job to boot.

    The ends should not justify the means. Here’s to hoping you don’t find yourself on the short end of that stick one day REC911.

  9. The reason Ballard is in the news is a series of investigative reports by Vice News, so anyone wanting the full story should go there (https://www.vice.com/en/article/pkaqvn/tim-ballards-departure-from-operation-underground-railroad-followed-sexual-misconduct-investigation covers the allegations that led to Ballard’s departure from OUR). The Church’s statement was given to Vice in response to their investigation. I haven’t read all their reporting (I’m still at a conference) but it’s well-sourced and ugly.

    While OUR’s operations sound amateurish, including getting “intelligence” from a psychic who claims to be in touch with Nephi, the bigger problem is that it all seems to be based on the assumption that most child sex workers are there because they’ve been kidnapped. Thus all OUR needs to do is get the children out of the physical custody of the traffickers briefly to declare then “rescued.” In reality, most of them are there because their family is in desperate poverty and sees this as the only way forward. So all OUR really accomplishes is making them find new employers. I’m not making any excuses for the traffickers or the children’s families here–having children do sex work is soul-crushing–but the way to really help them is to address poverty, not arrest bad guys.

    But if OUR wasn’t very successful at helping children, it’s been very successful at bringing Ballard fame and fortune. He certainly comes across as a classic grifter. But go read it for yourself.

  10. @REC911, I don’t know much about Tim Ballard. I first learned about him via the article that The Atlantic did about Sound of Freedom. But what I know about him doesn’t matter. My point is excusing people’s bad behavior. Doing good doesn’t earn one “sinning credits”.

  11. Chadwick are you going to throw my faith community and Nephi under the bus for killing and stealing plates and not those who believe in the old testament? If your going to mock the mormons, which I am fine with, I hope you give the same respect to other faith communities that are bible believers. Maybe you are just not a fan of religion and again, I am fine with that. People do and have done some pretty crazy things in the name of religion. God, if you believe in one, has done some pretty crazy things.

    I wont be on the “stick” because I dont participate in child sex trafficking in any way…the ONLY crime I would throw the rules out to stop. I seriously would do almost anything to stop this crime and am appalled that some wouldn’t. If that makes me crazy in your opinion, then call me crazy.

  12. REC911, sex trafficking is bad, but so is murder; so is genocide; so are homicides; so is domestic abuse. Just because a sin is bad, does not mean we throw out the “rules.” So holding up the few exceptions of scriptural figures who broke the rules is NOT a good guide to behavior. Most Bible believers I know would not mind pointing out that Abraham, David, and Moses were all flawed and we shouldn’t use every moment of their life as an excuse to “do as they did”—no one points to Moses killing an Egyptian, or David murdering Uriah and sleeping with his wife, as justification for their actions. Therefore, I don’t think anyone can point to Nephi and say, “Look, he did that, so I can!” That’s dangerous, even when—perhaps especially when—you feel like the ends justify the means. It creates an attitude of “All it takes is an emergency or sufficiently bad enough sin, and we can suspend the commandments” on the part of believers, and that is an incredibly dangerous belief for believers like you and me to have.

    An interpretive principle I hold to when I read scripture is that, all moral examples in scripture—Abraham, Moses, David, Nephi—should be secondary to the moral example of Jesus. Jesus is the only perfect one we’re called to follow. And if Jesus himself is the ultimate example, the one figure we can unequivocally point to and say “Let’s be like him”—well, Jesus didn’t say “Keep the commandments until they stop working.” He kept them, even when they DID NOT work. The ends, in Jesus’ book, NEVER justified the means; the means WERE the ends. Even when it meant death for Him and continued rule by the Roman government—which a Jew like him could have easily said, as many Zealots did, “Roman rule is an emergency, let’s resort to murder to get away from it”—Jesus kept to the commandments and Kingdom rule he preached in Matthew 5-7 and elsewhere.

    I don’t think you’re crazy, but I do think that’s a wrong and dangerous view to hold to, given who the scriptures point to and what He’s asked of us in every situation.

  13. Bryan, Child sex trafficking for me is the worst thing that I can imagine that happens on the earth. If there is any evil that humans should do all they can to eradicate with almost any means possible it is this IMO. Clearly what we have been doing as a society is not stopping it so now we let it happen for the sake of “rules”. When we all die and meet our maker will we be able to look Him in the eye and say “but we kept the rules”? I think the moral “high horse” does not apply to this evil. Probably some others that you list but this is #1 for me. I am not saying anyone needs to agree and I get where those who dont agree are coming from. I am also open to being completely wrong and will gladly be told that by Jesus when I see Him and then I will seek you all out to tell you I was wrong and you were right! (unless I am in hell and not allowed to go where you guys are going to be) (sorry for being smug, I cant help myself sometimes) (yet another reason I will be in hell)

    I have been a member of the church all my life and I have never heard a lesson or talk about Nephi not being completely justified for what he did. Extreme circumstances sometime take extreme actions, might be the lessons that you mention from our biblical past. Maybe God will turn a blind eye to our “rules” to save children from being used for sex? Maybe He wont.

    I would err on that He would and if I am wrong, repent.

    Our religion is against shedding innocent blood. Guilty blood, not so much. Our church and leaders in its early history broke rules, commandments, and laws in the name of religion. I think we even did it recently as well regarding SEC filings. Just to hide money….from members as well as non members.

    Jesus was considered such a radical religious rule breaker He was killed for it by those who knew and kept the rules. They were so focused on the rules and not breaking them, they missed Christ.

    I do appreciate you, and others here, taking the time to share your views/thoughts on the matter. Thank you.

  14. @jader3rd – “Doing good doesn’t earn one “sinning credits”.

    And I would say “sinning” does not take away or disqualify all the good a sinner does. If Ballard, as a member, is just a con-man and not helping anyone as he claims to be, then not good and my comments dont apply to him and he should suffer the consequences from the church and the law. But if Ballard, or anyone else, and his “sins” are helping free children from being sex slaves I will pat him on the back and thank them for the good he is doing. Do I wish we could abolish child sex slavery with the “rules” we have in place? Of course. If the “rules” we have are not saving the children should we bend or break the “rules” in their behalf? I say yes. I say do whatever it takes to save these helpless children, rules be dammed!

    Throw stones at me freely for my opinion.

    What “sin” is too bad to save children from being sex slaves?

  15. REC911, it really is good form in social media to make your case in three comments or less and bow out of the discussion. We understand your position. No need to keep repeating yourself.

    While I viscerally disagree with your position that the ends justify the means (as does pretty much everyone else in the comment section so it would seem), I do agree that human trafficking is a problem worth solving. If you really want to become part of the solution, don’t encourage people to break the law. I would ask you to start by re-reading RLD’s comment.

    Most trafficking of minors is a result of poverty, not child theft. If you want to become part of the solution, let’s start by supporting the working poor instead of buying up arms, paying a psychic, and airdropping into Haiti.

  16. Chad, I’m inclined to support your side, but you don’t do any favors with no nuance mocking of the keystone of the religion of most of the believers here.

  17. Based on my understanding, in July O.U.R. notified high profile donors that Tim Ballard separated from the organization after an investigation into multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. Presumably Russel Ballard and possibly others at the church were notified at this time. I imagine the church’s initial plan was just to stay quiet and hope things blow over. Once Vice ran a story on what was happening and asked the church for a statement, the church likely felt it necessary to publicly distance itself from Tim Ballard at that point.

    I don’t fault the church for publicly distancing itself from a problematic individual, especially if the church has a high degree of confidence that the accusations are accurate. I am troubled that the church didn’t forward the misconduct allegations directly to Tim’s bishop immediately. Certainly a dissident wouldn’t be provided similar ‘confidentiality’ by church leadership.

  18. Miles, how would you know if the church did or did not forward concerns to Ballard’s bishop? In the case of highly publicized dissidents, their interactions with their bishops and stake presidents have only been publicly announced by the church at the end of such matters. I can’t think of any cases of public announcements by the church that were not first preceded by public disclosure by the dissidents themselves, and the dissidents have in some cases preferred not to publicly disclose letters from and meetings with church leaders until months after those things have commenced.

  19. John Mansfield, fwiw, in Tim Ballard’s first rambling response video, he said he doubted the provenance of the church’s statement in part because he called his Stake President who told him, in effect, that the Church had not contacted him (the stake pres).

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