Today’s guest post is from Faith. This is the second post in a developing series spotlighting career backgrounds for general authorities in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can read the first post here:

As a reminder, all of us have our own personal issues, It’s not white hats vs. dark hats; it’s all different shades of gray. We want to be tougher on systems than we are on people. However, when a “leader” tells other people how to proceed with life choices and the leader’s past reflects other choices, what are we to think and how are we to act?

One GA biography that is low hanging fruit on professional missteps by an LDS general authority, is Melvin Russell Ballard.  I first want to recognize that one of MR Ballard’s family members was my wife’s VT.  She was the kindest visiting teacher Christian giving, stranger we have met in our various LDS wards. Sister, thanks, for helping out when help was needed!

I ask, what self-proclaimed benefit do we attain with LDS membership?  I was taught we need to get baptized into the LDS church, to always have the spirit with us.  The rest of the world, as taught in LDS primary, only has the Light of Christ.  Why do we go to church every week?  I learned that the highlight of our week should be taking the sacrament and renewing our baptismal covenant. We promise to obey and as a result we will constantly have the Spirit of God, all week long. Then, through prayer and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God guides each of us. The LDS church teaches, we need the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost to guide us through life’s decisions, “including education, employment, and marriage”[1]. I was told, if we do not have the spirit, we will personally have to pay the consequences.

Folly #1.

Russell Ballard was baptized by his grandfather at 8 years of age. “His parents were not active in church, but they loved him” [2]. (This statement alone could be its’ own blog post). As an adult, professionally, he was involved in several enterprises, including automotive, real estate, and investment businesses. He was the top-selling salesman for his father’s Nash car dealership when he left it in the early 1950s to pursue other business interests [3] In 1956, Ballard returned and took over the Ballard Motor Company from his father. During the late 1950s, Ballard was recruited by the Ford Motor Company to become the first Edsel car dealer for Salt Lake City.  In a BYU Speech in 2003 he states, I had an impression: “Don’t sign the franchise.” That was the Spirit whispering to me, “Don’t do this.” “Then, following that experience came the great pressure from Ford Motor Company with all of their skill and expertise to get me to sign the franchise, which I finally did” and incurred a huge loss. [4]

I think Ballard’s self-admission shows humility, that he could have made a better choice.  I applaud him for trying to help others to avoid mistakes in their future careers, from his past errors.  However, he self admits, he did not listen to the Spirit. I recognize that this can be part of the maturity process. Can he dismiss not having listened to the Spirit due to his young age? Was he being disobedient to his father?  Where does getting baptized and taking the sacrament weekly mix into this? Was it in step with Q15 teachings of 2023?  Were the church teachings of the Spirit in 1958 different than 2023?  When youth or missionaries, or even mature adults in the church do not follow the spirit and make their own choices, how does Ballard react?  Is he empathetic with other people’s follies?

Folly #2

In 1961, Ballard was the president of Keystone Securities Corporation in Salt Lake City. The Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation into Keystone in 1962 after accusations that Ballard and Keystone had violated the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and the Securities Act of 1933. The investigation centered around “manipulation and fraud.” The SEC completed its’ investigation in 1963. Keystone, with Ballard as the primary cause, was found to have violated the Securities Act of 1933 in the following charges: providing false statements to the SEC and aiding and abetting Shasta Mineral and Chemical Company in making false statements that included misrepresenting the relationships of the Shasta officers with both Ballard and Keystone. The SEC revoked the broker-dealer registration of Keystone as a result. [3][5]

As I recall, the 6th, 7th and 9th temple recommend questions asks about following, promoting, and being honest with practices that are contrary to the LDS church [6]. What do you think?

In 1969, concern about one’s profession conflicting with church teachings came to the fore. A First Presidency letter announced that it was inappropriate for those involved firsthand with liquor to receive temple recommends (e.g., bartenders or cocktail waitresses). [7] However, involvement in a SEC investigation was not included in the letter. The church was more concerned about members living in Las Vegas then those dealing with questionable federal government legalities.  The 1989 leadership handbook leaves the occupational worthiness to the judgement of local leaders, specifying only that a person’s occupation, profession, and affiliations should be “in harmony the gospel teachings”. [7]

Were Ballard’s business activities “in harmony with gospel teachings” ?

Folly #3

Another highlight of Ballard’s business career was his presidency of the Valley Music Hall in Bountiful, Utah, which offered family entertainment. There Ballard worked with Hollywood celebrities who were advisers to the enterprise. Although the music hall failed financially, investors recovered their money when the LDS Church purchased the building.[3] There is sparce information regarding its’ business history and the fire; other than a vague non-success statement of the business. The LDS church bought Valley Music and used it as a building for Stake and Regional conferences. [8] Ironically, the Valley Music Theater in Woodland Hills, CA had financial troubles during the same time and became the regional assembly Hall for the Jehovah Witnesses. [9]

Melvin Russell Ballard was called as a Mission President in 1974, then called as a General Authority in 1976. He has been a GA longer than even Nelson or Oaks.  He was not placed into Q12 until 1985.  He has been on the church payroll with a “small stipend” for 47 years. If you consider a Mission Presidents’ living allowance, 49 years.

How many church members would be placed into a leadership calling, after three failed business endeavors? Were Ballard’s businesses saved because of divine intervention ? Was he called to be a GA due to his stellar business career? If I need help with my business, will the church intervene ?

Sources and Additional Reading

  5. Violations Charged to Keystone Securities” (PDF). Securities and Exchange Commission News Digest. July 24, 1962. Retrieved November 2, 2021.
  7. The History of LDS Temple Admission Standards. Edward L. Kimball Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Spring 1998), pp. 161-162