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Church issues sharply critical statement about anti-child-trafficking leader
Tim Ballard may run for Romney's seat in U.S. Senate
Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints frequently comments on political and social issues, it is extremely rare for it to name a member of the church in good standing in a critical manner. In fact, I can remember it doing so only once in the past 10 years — until this week, when a church spokesman distanced a church apostle from Tim Ballard, whose story was told in the surprise hit of the summer movie season, Sound of Freedom.
Ballard is the former head of Operation Underground Railroad, an organization devoted to countering child sex trafficking. He has been widely regarded as a hero in the Christian nationalist movement, while his critics have claimed that he has been counterproductive and unethical in his methods.
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Ballard appeared in the news this week after U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the Republicans' most outspoken critics of President Trump, announced that he would not seek re-election in 2024. That knocked the race for the nomination of the Utah Republican Party wide open, and Ballard, who, according according to media reports, is considering entering the race, got a big boost from Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, one of the party's most powerful figures. Reyes said he expeced to endorse "a dear friend" in the race; Ballard and Reyes have been close friends, and Reyes was an associate producers of Sound of Freedom.
By issuing a statement on Ballard, the LDS church seemed to interject itself in the Senate race.
The church's statement involved the relationship between Tim Ballard and Russell Ballard, a member of the church's First Presidency. The two Ballards are not related.
Here is the church statement, which was the result of questions from Vice.com:
President Ballard and Tim Ballard (no relation) established a friendship a number of years ago. That friendship was built on a shared interest in looking after God's children wherever they are and without regard to their circumstance. However, that relationship is in the past. For many months, President Ballard has had no contact with the founder of Operation Underground Railroad (OUR). The nature of that relationship was alway in support of vulnerable children being abused, traficked, and otherwise neglected. 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 activity regarded as morally unacceptable, President Ballard withdrew his association. President Ballard never authorized his name, or the name of the Church, to be used for Tim's personal or financial interests.
The last time I remember the church saying anything comparable about a member and public figure other than one involved in an excommunication process was in 2015, when its Church Education System placed a book by member Julie Rowe on its list of books that should not be recommended or endorsed by CES employees. The CES said the experiences in the book "do not necessarily reflect church doctrine." Rowe at the time had strong support in the "prepper" community. She was excommunicated in 2019.
As of this week, Sound of Freedom ranks 10th in box-office gross in the United States and Canada for 2023, with revenues of $183 million. The film was heavily promoted to evangelical and politically conservative audiences.