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What's in the leaked videos of meetings with senior LDS Church leaders?

A view of the Salt Lake Temple on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.
A view of the Salt Lake Temple on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Fifteen leaked videos of meetings involving senior leaders of the LDS Church were posted on YouTube Sunday morning.

"Most of these videos appear to be from briefings received by senior church leaders between 2007 and 2012," said Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "In these committee meetings, presentations are routinely received from various religious, political and subject-matter experts on a variety of topics."

In an effort to add context and broaden the current narrative, Deseret News reporters watched all 7 hours 42 minutes and 13 seconds of the videos. Our summaries of the content of each video follow, listed from shortest to longest.

Rather than use the titles used by the leaker, some of which editorialize and obscure the topics of the meetings, we have titled them by the subject of discussion.

Oceanic piracy

Video length: 5:54

Year identified in the video: 2008

Presenter: Gerrit W. Gong, then assistant to the president for planning and assessment at BYU

Via video conference, Gong briefs senior LDS Church leaders on the threat of oceanic piracy. He shows slides to give context on threats faced on the coasts of Nigeria, Somalia and Indonesia. He indicates that interviews with Somali pirates suggest a Robin Hood narrative, which they employ to justify taking from the rich (oil companies) to give to the poor. Gong notes the pirate mythology as typified in more than 300 movies about pirates, including “Treasure Island,” “Peter Pan,” “Captain Blood” and others. He shows a few very short clips (33 seconds worth) from Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean.” “I show it because, though meant in fun, Captain Jack makes pirating appear good, and traditional authority appear silly,” he says. After invoking Book of Mormon warnings against robbers and thieves, he suggests that, “In our day, it may be worth it to stress that even in times of economic distress it does not entitle individuals to steal from others.”

Mormons marrying later in life

Video length: 6:13

Year identified in video: 2007

Presenter: Gerrit W. Gong, then assistant to the president for planning and assessment at BYU

The presentation addressed New York Times and Newsweek articles that painted a bleak picture of single women and marriage, respectively. Both, according to Gong, turned out to be untrue. (The New York Times used data to sample women 15 years old and older; Newsweek’s analysis was also off.) Gong worries that media portrayals of marriage would become repeated enough to be a fact, even if the information is wrong. Most people, and women, will get married. “Hanging out,” however, is a problem, and LDS men and women are marrying later and having fewer children. This impacts young adult women who want to serve missions and pursue education without delaying marriage or children.


Video length: 7:07

Year identified in video: 2011

Presenter: Gerrit W. Gong, then assistant to the president for planning and assessment at BYU

Gong gives a presentation to senior church leaders with the premise, “Could WikiLeaks, or a group like WikiLeaks, embarrass or damage the church?” He briefs the group on Bradley Manning, now known as Chelsea Manning, and the former Army specialist’s role in leaking confidential reports on Afghanistan, Iraq and U.S. diplomacy. Manning’s sexuality and media coverage of the topic are discussed. Gong talks about possible church implications from a technical attack, a personnel attack or an “unintended” situation like a lost church computer or data drive. He also talks about Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Housing crisis

Video length: 7:20

Year identified in video: 2008

Presenter: Gerrit W. Gong, then assistant to the president for planning and assessment at BYU

Gong framed a discussion of the housing crisis in the context of “moral hazards,” which means that people and institutions do not face full consequences of their actions. The government refused to bail out Lehman Bros, Merrill Lynch and AIG (the government had recently bailed out Bear Stearns and helped Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). To avoid “moral hazards,” the government left federal interest rates alone and gave AIG a big loan. The presentation detailed unsustainable loans and the housing bubble bust. Gong says there will be commotion but no reason to fear.

Science and moral issues

Video length: 8:02

Year identified in video: 2008

Presenter: Gerrit W. Gong, then assistant to the president for planning and assessment at BYU

Gong gives a presentation about the science of moral sense, or conscience. Advancements in neuroscience could raise questions among members of the church regarding such issues as whether the use of drugs and gene therapy in certain circumstances violates the Word of Wisdom. Gong indicates that new definitions of brain injuries and impairments could change the understanding of moral accountability among members of the church.

Medical and recreational marijuana

Video length: 8:36

Year identified in video: 2010

Presenter: Elder Gerrit W. Gong, formerly the assistant to the president for planning and assessment at BYU who earlier in 2010 was called to be a General Authority Seventy for the LDS Church.

Elder Gong gave an overview of attempts to legalize medical or recreational marijuana in different states. He said “unlikely arguments” to legalize medical marijuana became credible because they went unchallenged and that moral authority can be lost if moral voices become “just another position.” Elder Gong noted that public opinion can change over time. “It’s particularly changeable when well-funded and well-organized single-focus interest groups lobby over time through clever national and local, legislative, executive and judicial strategies.” Elder Gong said he wondered if it would be helpful to members in California to remember that “popular classification of a substance as legal or illegal is not what determine obedience to the Word of Wisdom — and it of course raises the issue of the medical marijuana.” Elder Russell M. Nelson commented that he and Elder Jay Jensen were at a priesthood leadership meeting in Colorado Springs and were asked off the bat about their position on medical marijuana. Elder Jensen said he answered the question by saying that bishops are judges in Israel and have scriptures and handbooks and can counsel with individual, discuss the Word of Wisdom, and decide between them and the Lord. The church does not have a position on medical marijuana.

Financial crisis

Video length: 11:55

Year identified in video: 2008

Presenter: Gerrit W. Gong, then assistant to the president for planning and assessment at BYU

Gong briefs senior LDS Church leaders on how the global financial uncertainties of 2008 were likely to affect individuals, and specifically their retirement funds. The results could be decreased consumer spending and delayed retirement. He focuses on the risks posed by credit default swaps and suggests they could “be the next shoe to drop,” further affecting global finances. He suggests that one way LDS Church members could be affected is that fewer senior couples could afford to serve missions. After hearing a somewhat sobering report from Gong, the audience of senior church leaders began to lighten the mood. Elder L. Tom Perry says to laughter, “I think you’ve convinced me. I’ll delay retirement.” And then President Boyd K. Packer says, “We have to pause and remember that we’re leading 13 million people worldwide and this pestilence, somehow, it’s touching them all. So we’ve got to settle down, sober up and wise up.”

Challenges facing Kurdish community

Video length: 11:57

Year identified in video: 2012

Presenter: Elder Paul B. Pieper of the Seventy

Elder Pieper of the Seventy briefs the Quorum of the Twelve on the religious and political history of the Kurds and discusses challenges faced by this nation of 38 million — a “nation without a country.” Elder Pieper and, at the video’s conclusion, Elder Bruce D. Porter both comment on the potential for LDS Church growth in the worldwide Kurdish community.


Video length: 43:40

Year identified in video: 2012

Presenters: Elder Paul B. Pieper, Elder Patrick R. Kearon and Elder Craig A. Cardon

This meeting features a report from the “Islam Working Group.” Three of the group’s members, Elder Pieper, Elder Kearon and Elder Cardon, give an overview of Islam’s history and belief system. Elder Kearon says that the “majority of committed Muslims cherish warm family bonds” and are “very hospitable to non-Muslims living among them.” They discuss building “a network of relationships with the Muslim community” and making church materials available in the appropriate languages. They review current church policy on teaching Muslims and address possible refinements to allow for “respectful and measured proselyting” in areas where there is religious freedom and familiarity with Christianity.

Church preparedness

Video length: 47:04

Year identified in video: 2008

Presenter: Bishop H. David Burton

In the meeting conducted by then-Presiding Bishop H. David Burton, senior church leaders and employees with the Church’s Welfare Services Department talked about helping members worldwide prepare for future disasters and emergencies. The group concluded that church preparedness is really family preparedness, with an emphasis on a three-month food supply, drinking water, financial reserves and longer-term supplies when possible. They talked about making sure all members of the church have adequate food and clean water. They emphasized the need to continue to train bishops to respond to the needs of members of their congregation.


Video length: 48:38

Date identified in video: 2009

Presenter: Gordon Smith is a former United States Senator from Oregon who served from 1997 to 2009

Three months after losing his reelection bid for the U.S. Senate, Smith met with top church leaders to discuss politics. Speaking of his commitment to the LDS Church, Smith said he regards “my temple recommend as more important than an election certificate." In October 2002, Senator Smith voted to authorize military force against Iraq. Smith said he voted for the Iraq War, in part, to spread the gospel. "I felt the Lord's hand in it." Quoting the late President Gordon B. Hinckley, he said, "Our missionaries always follow in the footsteps of soldiers." Smith and the top church leaders also discussed gay rights; Iran's nuclear capabilities; the church’s relationship with Catholics and Evangelicals; government program such as Medicare, Medicaid, and social security; the environment; and energy. When asked about the future of the Republican party, Smith refers to Democrats as “assorted miscreants.” He noted that California’s Proposition 8 ballot initiative demonstrated the church's ability to rally its members. Ralph Hardy, an Area Seventy and chairman of the church’s Washington, D.C., Public Affairs Advisory Committee, said "I can't stress what it means for the church to have temple-recommend carrying members of the U.S. Senate and House. It is of inestimable value to the church."

Young single adults

Video length: 50:03

Year identified in video: 2008

Presenter: Elder Bruce C. Hafen of the Seventy and BYU professor Alan Wilkins

The presentation addresses a study that showed an increasing amount of young single adults do not go to church, and that poses a threat to the growth of a multi-generational church. Paradoxically, the church is losing them because they're not being used in meaningful ways. The study showed declining church activity, marriage rates and fertility rates among members in their 20s. Wilkins said the study shows young single members don’t feel welcome or needed. The average age for marriage inside and outside the LDS temple is increasing. Young single adults delaying marriage in era of high immorality and pornography puts them at risk, Wilkins said. Hafen and Elder Dale G. Renlund (then an area Seventy) give specific recommendations from the Priesthood Department of the LDS Church on how to engage young single adults more directly in mainstream church work. They proposed adjusting some organizations, allowing stakes to be flexible in ministering to young single adults in their areas and merging young single adult and single wards.


Video length: 52:12

Year identified in video: 2008

David Magleby, dean of the college of Family, Home and Social Sciences at BYU and founder of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at BYU

This presentation appeared to be made within a week or two after the 2008 elections and some races were undecided. Magleby explains the election results. The election was “remarkable” because there was the first African-American president elected, the oldest nominee of a major party, and almost the first Mormon nominee and almost the first female nominee. Democratic voters participated more vigorously than before. A question-and-answer session discussed the future of Proposition 8 and other LGBT matters. The discussion also recognized that LGBT rights proponents are well-organized, well-funded, very aggressive and very smart with media engagement. LGBT advocated have successfully characterized the marriage debate as one of hate and intolerance.

Religious freedom

Video length: 55:19

Year identified in video: 2012

Presenters: Former Utah Gov. and former U.S. Presidential Cabinet member Mike Leavitt, Princeton professor Robert P. George

The meeting focuses on “the vital subject of protecting our cherished religious freedoms,” as described by Elder L. Tom Perry. Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt gives a presentation on the combined efforts of Catholics and Latter-day Saints with the American Religious Freedom Program. He outlines a detailed strategy for addressing religious liberty issues in a state-by-state fashion. Princeton professor Robert P. George, a practicing Catholic, also speaks, offering a scholarly perspective. Issues discussed include same-sex marriage and the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.

Church History Department reorganization

Video length: 1:37:59

Year: Unknown

Speakers share spiritual thoughts and present a new purpose statement and organization update for the Church History Department. Sister Linda K. Halverson and President Ronald T. Halverson share experiences from their three years serving with the church history missionaries. Elder Paul K. Sybrowsky gives a talk expressing appreciation for those serving in the area and talks about sustaining church leaders. Elder Marlin K. Jensen presents the new purpose statement.