Last updated: 19 Sep 2023 13:22
Tim Ballard in the News
Tim Ballard, founder and former CEO of Operation Underground Railroad (OUR) and subject of the movie The Sound of Freedom, has been in the news lately. Here are some answers to common questions about him.
Question: How is Tim Ballard associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Mormons”)?
Answer: Tim Ballard is a member of the Church. Neither he, any organization he represents, nor the film about him have any relationship with the Church beyond that. Tim Ballard has had a personal friendship with Church leader M. Russell Ballard for a few years (Tim Ballard and Russell Ballard are not related; their shared name is a coincidence).
Question: Why did the Church make an official statement about Tim Ballard?
Question: Why would Vice’s article about Tim Ballard require comment from the Church if Ballard doesn’t have any affiliation with the Church beyond ordinary membership?
Answer: Vice’s reporting involved the Church. It included claims that Tim Ballard had implied or outright stated that President M. Russell Ballard had endorsed or even officially partnered with Tim Ballard in some OUR and for-profit endeavors. These claims are untrue, and the Church has to be clear its leaders don’t engage in such associations, so the Church made the statement to Vice.
Question: What was Vice’s source for the claim that Tim Ballard told people he was approved by President M. Russell Ballard?
Answer: From about 2020 until 2023, a County Attorney (prosecutor) in Davis County, Utah investigated Operation Underground Railroad. The goal of the investigation was to see if criminal fraud charges should be filed against OUR. In 2023, that investigation was closed with no charges filed. Vice obtained the documents generated by that investigation through a public records request. The documents include research and interviews conducted by the County Attorney’s office.
Question: What fraud was OUR alleged to have committed?
Answer: The Davis county attorney was apparently concerned OUR was using inflated or false claims in order to convince supporters to donate money to OUR.
Question: If the investigation was closed without charges, doesn’t that mean OUR and Tim Ballard didn’t do anything wrong?
Answer: The investigation didn’t result in criminal charges, but that doesn’t mean anything in the documents is false. It also doesn’t mean they’re true, although the investigators tried to collect true information to build their possible case. The documents are public record and fair game for journalists. The information in them may or may not be corroborated by journalists or other interested parties.
Question: Is Vice a reputable or trustworthy source for journalism?
Answer: Vice is often considered to be biased against political conservatism and religious beliefs. But they are a major publication, listed on aggregators like Google News and cited by other news organizations like the Washington Post. And there’s nothing illegitimate about reporting on public records from an investigation. Other news outlets should also be able to obtain the documents and confirm or dispute Vice’s reporting.
Question: Why would the Church even respond to an outlet like Vice when asked for a comment?
Answer: Because the allegations were so serious, and based on public records. According to Vice’s article, Tim Ballard told others “OUR and his personal business ventures were backed by [President M. Russell Ballard], and part of a larger mission to use the anti-trafficking cause to bring Americans to the Mormon faith.” Moreover, Tim Ballard allegedly consulted “a psychic who claimed to be able to communicate with the prophet Nephi” and claimed to have President M. Russell Ballard’s approval to do so, and that President Ballard was personally involved in planning OUR rescue missions. The Church couldn’t allow such false claims to go unrebutted in a major publication.
Question: How can we be certain the Church’s alleged statement to Vice was legitimate?
Answer: Vice produces slanted opinion journalism, but it is still subject to defamation laws. Fabricating a statement from the Church in order to harm Tim Ballard would put Vice at risk of serious legal liability, and therefore it’s unlikely to have happened. Moreover, other outlets including the Church-owned Deseret News have confirmed the Church’s statement. One outlet reports the statement came from Doug Anderson, Church Director of Media Relations, from his official Church email address.
Question: Isn’t it unusual for the Church to speak against a specific individual like this?
Question: But there are other cases where members of the Church have committed truly reprehensible crimes, but never got a specific denunciation by the Church’s public affairs officials.
Answer: Journalists routinely ask the Church for comment on various cases, and the Church can always simply point them to existing statements and teachings condemning such behavior. This is different because Tim Ballard was allegedly, and persuasively, claiming Church endorsement for his organization and his fundraising. Moreover, Tim Ballard has a national and even international platform via his recent film and his rumored Senate candidacy. The Church couldn’t simply direct journalists to existing statements because it is very much in favor of rescuing children from child trafficking. It had to make a very clear statement disclaiming a relationship with Tim Ballard because of the unique factors in this situation.
Question: Is it true there were previously articles on the Church website about Tim Ballard that have now been taken down?
Answer: Yes. Tim Ballard was profiled for his anti-trafficking work, just as many other church members are routinely highlighted when they’re accomplishing important and interesting work. Taking down the webpage doesn’t completely erase its existence because of web archive services, but it still makes the important point that the Church does not endorse or affiliate with Ballard.
Question: The Church’s statement to Vice condemned Tim Ballard for “unauthorized use of President Ballard’s name for Tim Ballard’s personal advantage and activity regarded as morally unacceptable.” What is his morally unacceptable behavior?
Answer: We don’t know. It could refer to Tim Ballard allegedly consulting a “psychic,” which is against Church teachings. It could refer to allegations that Tim Ballard has misrepresented some of the child rescues he claims to have made. Or it could refer to additional actions that President M. Russell Ballard knows about but haven’t been made public. It’s possible the Church’s statement anticipates additional reporting that hasn’t yet been published.
Question: Why does Vice care about Tim Ballard?
Answer: Vice has been writing about Tim Ballard since 2020, criticizing his methods and claims about rescuing children. We cannot speak to whether those criticisms are legitimate. More immediately, last week several outlets reported Tim Ballard intends to run for the Senate now that Mitt Romney is retiring. Therefore Tim Ballard’s background will be scrutinized by many journalists and rival political campaigns.
Question: Shouldn’t we all just get along for the sake of saving children who are being trafficked?
Answer: That would be ideal. But it’s important for the Church to protect its leadership and influence from being improperly used. And it’s unfair to accuse anyone who has concerns or questions about Tim Ballard of being in favor of child trafficking. Fighting trafficking is complicated and can cause unintended consequences. There are differing schools of thought as to what the best practices are. Love and concern for all God’s children does not require placing complete confidence in one particular person or organization.
Question: Did church leaders provide OUR with the tithing records of potential donors?
Answer: Church spokesman Doug Andersen denied the allegation in a statement on November 6. “President Ballard has never released tithing records to Operation Underground Railroad or any other organization,” the church spokesman said. Read more about that here.