Nation

Leaked videos pull back curtain on Mormon leaders’ politics

NEW YORK — In this era of leaks and hacks, secrets have been stolen from organizations as varied as the Democratic Party, the Vatican, Sony Pictures, and Yahoo. Now comes “Mormon Leaks,” a breach of the inner sanctum of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that has provided a rare glimpse into the workings of the church’s leadership and its cozy relationship with Mormons in politics.

Fifteen videos were posted online this week showing senior leaders of the Mormon church in private meetings, discussing issues including same-sex marriage, marijuana, Somali pirates, and even whether the church could be vulnerable to WikiLeaks.

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The church has acknowledged that the videotapes are authentic.

Unlike other hacks in which WikiLeaks was the culprit, this leak of videos from church headquarters in Salt Lake City is the work of disaffected Mormons who found one another online, in a Reddit forum for former Mormons. It comes not long after another leak of internal church documents.

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The videos reveal clubby exchanges between the leaders, most of whom belong to the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the church’s second-highest leadership body, after the First Presidency), and Mormon politicians and other experts invited in to brief the apostles.

In a presentation that has provoked some criticism, former senator Gordon H. Smith, an Oregon Republican, shared with the apostles that he voted in favor of the Iraq War partly because he believed it could open the region for Mormon missionaries.

“If that succeeds, there will be an opportunity to begin building the church in the Middle East, which is a deeply troubled place,” said Smith, who at the time had recently lost a reelection campaign after two terms in the Senate.

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He also told the apostles that Iran was close to having enough fissile material to create a nuclear bomb, information he said “may be classified.” He volunteered that he had persuaded the Indian ambassador to give visas to 200 Mormon missionaries, and pushed government officials in Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Russia to give missionaries greater access.

Smith, now president and chief executive of the National Association of Broadcasters, declined to comment, but said through a spokesman that nothing he told the apostles was classified information.

In a video from 2012, Mike Leavitt, a former governor of Utah, and Princeton professor Robert P. George, who is Roman Catholic, assured the apostles that Mormon, Catholic, and evangelical leaders were forging strong, well-funded coalitions to fight abortion and same-sex marriage in state legislatures, courts, and public opinion. About a week later, Leavitt began leading the transition team for the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon.

“If they think we will move on these issues, they do not know us,” said Boyd K. Packer, who was then the president of the Quorum, and died in 2015.

Leavitt said Wednesday that he was not troubled by the content of the leaked videos. “However, I think we all should all be troubled by the surreptitious nature” of the leak, he said.

The conduit — but not the source — for the leaked videos was Ryan McKnight, a former church member who uses the handle “FearlessFixxer” on Reddit. He lives in Las Vegas and said in a telephone interview that he resigned his church membership three years ago, unsettled by contradictions between Mormon scripture and history.

The videos are of briefings held from 2007 to 2012 and were recorded so those who missed the meetings could watch the proceedings later, said Eric Hawkins, the church’s director of media relations.

“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,” Hawkins said in a statement. “This is an informational forum, not a decision-making body.”

The videos have raised questions about whether Mormon legislators inappropriately used their influence to advance the interests of their church, long a sensitive issue. Suspicion that Mormons have dual loyalties flared up early in the last century over whether to seat Senator Reed Smoot of Utah, who was also a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. After years of investigations and hearings, Smoot was seated.

Scholars and political advisers said in interviews this week that Mormon politicians advocated in ways no different from many Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish politicians.

“Nothing in this videotape is any different from what I’ve heard in the past from other senators who were Irish Catholic, Protestant, or other religions,” said Jim Manley who served as an aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a Massachusetts Catholic who died in 2009, and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, a Mormon.

There were 16 Mormons sworn in to the 114th Congress in January 2015 — about 3 percent of the membership, according to the Pew Research Center. Mormons are about 2 percent of the US population, about the same as Jews.

Several scholars of Mormonism said that if the videos had surfaced when Romney was running for president, they would have had a significant effect, but not now.

“Mormonism has a reputation for secrecy and political power. I think these tapes probably fit that story, and explains the delight that people are taking in their leakage,” said Kathleen Flake, a professor of American religious history who holds a chair in Mormon studies at the University of Virginia and wrote a book about the battle over Smoot.

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