In January 2018, the LDS Church was made aware that an audio recording existed of a former MTC Mission President confessing past sexual misconduct (while not admitting or denying a specific rape accusation). That same month, a Utah politican was approached by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce to create a two-party consent law making surreptitious recordings illegal, with the LDS Church volunteering heavy support. Were those events related?
For those not aware, MormonLeaks released a disturbing audio recording and transcript on Monday between a former MTC President and a former sister missionary who accused the octogenarian of rape during their time together at the MTC in January 1984. While he did not admit to or deny her accusation, the former president admitted to molesting a different sister missionary, among other infractions. Yesterday, the church released an official statement on the matter. For more on the contents of the tape and implications, check out Jana Reiss’ excellent article at Religion News Service or these other media outlets: Fox 13, ABC 4, and Provo’s Daily Herald.
I want to focus on the timeline shared in the Mormon Newsroom statement released yesterday.
This matter was brought to the attention of the Church in 2010, when this former Church member, who served briefly as a missionary in 1984, told leaders of the Pleasant Grove Utah West Stake that she had been sexually assaulted by the president of the Provo Missionary Training Center, Joseph Bishop, 25 years earlier…
The matter resurfaced in 2016 when the same individual contacted a stake president in Pueblo, Colorado, and then again a few weeks ago in January 2018, when the Church was contacted by a lawyer representing her. He provided a copy of a recording that she had made of a conversation between her and 85-year-old Joseph Bishop in December 2017.
The LDS Church was made aware of the existence of this audio recording “a few weeks ago in January 2018.” When I saw that, it got me thinking… wasn’t the church involved in a push to make recording and publishing these types of things illegal “a few weeks ago”?
So, in what might have just been a very fortunate coincidence for the church, a state legislator from the southern Utah town of Santa Clara, Rep. V. Lowry Snow, was asked to develop a two-party consent bill in January 2018. From the St. George News,
Snow initially mentioned the bill in passing during a legislative preview breakfast held by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce in January. At the time, he said he had been approached by the Salt Lake Chamber about creating a two-party recording law.
Utah’s legislative session began January 22nd, so the preview breakfast in St. George must’ve happened sometime before then. The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce represents the business community throughout Utah, and Snow started drafting the bill after talking with them. Then he got contacted by LDS Church representatives.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, said he heard from LDS Church representatives after he began working on the bill. (Salt Lake Tribune)
Snow said he also received a call from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with interest in the bill and a possible desire to support it. (Deseret News)
The bill, HB 330, was formally introduced to the legislature on Tuesday, February 6th. Snow sponsored the bill in the House, and Sen. Todd Weiler of Woods Cross, Utah,agreed to do the same in the Senate. The same day the bill was presented, the church issued a statement formally backing the legislation.
“Church representatives have spoken with legislators to express support for (HB330), which is intended to protect the confidentiality of sensitive private conversations, including those between ecclesiastical leaders and their members,” according to LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins.
“In other states, business, legal, religious and law enforcement organizations have supported similar laws to safeguard confidential conversations for the same reasons.”
There was a problem, though. To put it mildly, this bill was not popular, and the public backlash was severe.
“It does appear that this original concept was universally hated,” said Sen. Todd Weiler, a Woods Cross Republican and Senate sponsor of the bill….
Weiler went so far as to express regret in agreeing to sign onto the bill. (He hadn’t read it when he agreed, he said.)
“I’ve rarely seen a bill that has had so much opposition so quickly,” Weiler said Thursday. “Obviously, this idea is hitting a nerve with the public, and not in a good way.”
Within 48 hours the bill was effectively dead. On February 13th, the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce requested the bill be withdrawn.
The Salt Lake Chamber Executive Board formally voted today to ask the Legislature to remove H.B. 330, Communications Interception Amendments, from consideration.
Wilford Clyde, chairman and CEO of Clyde Companies, chairman of the Salt Lake Chamber Executive Board, said, “This morning, we voted to ask the Legislature to remove H.B. 330 from consideration during the 2018 General Legislative Session. We believe it should be studied during the upcoming interim session.”
Lane Beattie, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, said, “We want to express our deep appreciation for Representative Lowry Snow and Senator Todd Weiler for their sponsorship of this bill, at our request, and regret the unintended consequences and negative attention they received.”
So here’s the bloggernacle tie-in. On Monday, February 5th, the day before HB 330 was officially presented, a legislator with inside knowledge called a guy named Steve Urquhart, and Urquhart passed along what he said to John Dehlin.
Dehlin was told “the LDS Church is pressuring the Utah legislature to pass a bill to make Utah a 2-party consent audio/video recording state – in direct response to Mormon Stories Podcast, MormonLeaks (Ryan McKnight), Jeremy Runnells, Sam Young, and others.”
So, if this is to be believed, the church was actively lobbying for HB 330 prior to its introduction. Which makes sense–Snow was open about the LDS Church expressing interest while he was drafting the bill. And we know the LDS Church hasn’t been happy with leaked recordings over the past several years, like video of disciplinary court proceedings, private meetings of high-level church leaders, or private conversations with general authorities and church historians on difficult church topics. But because of the Mormon Newsroom statement, we now know the church was likely concerned about this MTC Mission President recording as well during their lobbying for HB 330.
We don’t know what day in January the the audio and transcript were delivered to the church, and we don’t know what day in January the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce contacted Snow for help on a two-party consent bill. But for people already suspicious that the church was behind the Salt Lake Chamber’s request, it is certainly an interesting coincidence.
Update (3/22/18-11:00am): The Wheat & Tares community has soundly debunked the idea that the recently leaked audio recording might have been part of the LDS Church’s support of HB 330. See the awesome comment thread below (this is why we love our commenters!). There have been many new developments on the recent MormonLeaks audio since the publishing of this post, and likely will be many more. Here are some more resources: MormonLeaks (3/21 statement), Deseret News (3/20 article, 3/21 article), Religion News Service (3/20 article, updated 3/21), and the Salt Lake Tribune (3/21 article, updated 3/22).