Oct 3, 2016

No need to fear leaked videos, notes former Mormon who says he posted them

The Salt Lake Tribune
October, 03 2016

Mixed reaction: Will the videos damage the Mormon church’s reputation or encourage a much-needed discussion?

Even former Mormon Ryan McKnight, who said he posted for all the world to see the buzzed-about videos of top-level LDS Church briefings, does not view them as particularly damning.

The 15 videos — showing Mormon apostles privately discussing topics ranging from gay rights to politics to piracy — simply offer "a peek behind the curtain" of the faith's burgeoning bureaucracy, McKnight said Monday from Las Vegas.

"There's no reason members need to be afraid of them," he added, "or for ex-Mormons to think this will damage the church."

Here's how McKnight said he happened to get involved in this latter-day leak:

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.

McKnight's move paralleled some of what he has done for about a year. Since November — when he played a role in the leak of the LDS Church's controversial gay-marriage policy — he has received periodic messages from Mormons who insist they work for the church and are eager to share what they believe are explosive documents from inside the faith's Salt Lake City headquarters.

"In almost all cases," he quipped, the material is not "as interesting as they think," or the would-be leakers "have zero proof to substantiate their claims."

McKnight is motivated by a desire for the LDS Church to be more "transparent," he said, and hopes "this leak inspires more people to come forward with other things."

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who appears in one of the videos, said the "content was essentially public domain already."

But they were "obtained in an unlawful manner," he added, "and that should trouble all of us."

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.

No matter how mundane the videos are, some Mormons found disconcerting elements in them.

"I don't think anyone is questioning the motivation of the Quorum [of the Twelve Apostles] to solicit information from outside sources," Mormon scholar, writer and podcaster Gina Colvin wrote from New Zealand. "However, the sources, the consultants, their responses and their questions are somewhat questionable. These meetings demonstrate a poverty-stricken discourse lacking in thoughtful complexity and ideological, cultural and gender diversity."

Where are the women in these meetings? she asked. "For years, Mormon feminists have been suspicious that our beloved church is currently governed as an authoritarian patriarchy and these videos have not eased our minds."

Women speak in only a couple of the 15 videos.

Gay Mormon blogger Mitch Mayne was especially upset about the meeting in which LDS authorities were briefed about the possibility of a cyberattack on the church.

The apostles seem far more interested in a convicted leaker's sexuality than the issue of cybersecurity.

"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," LDS apostle Dallin H. Oaks remarked, "and I was just wondering if there was some of that in this."

Mayne said "the disdain and disgust" he felt from such comments made him "physically sick." To this San Francisco gay man, the words were personal.

"That was me they were talking about with such aversion," he said. "I'll never have the privilege of viewing it through heterosexual eyes, which would perhaps buffer me from noticing or being affected by their disgust."

As a believing Mormon, Mayne said he expected his religious higher-ups to "show more compassion and kindness and less open revulsion when speaking about another segment of God's children."

It wasn't "a shining moment for our church," he said, "and certainly not for our leadership."


Twitter: @religiongal

— Salt Lake Tribune reporter Matt Canham contributed to this story


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