One of the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, M. Russell Ballard died Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023, at 95 years old. The LDS Church (also known widely as the Mormon Church) announced Ballard’s death Monday. He was the most senior acting member of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—its highest authority outside of its First Presidency.
According to the church’s announcement, after a recent stay in the hospital, Ballard returned home, where he “attended to duties as he was able,” before passing away at approximately 11:15 p.m. on Sunday, surrounded by loved ones.
Ballard is survived by his seven children, 43 grandchildren, 105 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. Ballard’s wife Barbara passed away back in 2018. Those who knew him in the church remember Ballard’s singing Barbara’s praises, “She’s just an angel. It’s awfully hard to live with somebody that’s almost perfect.” In an address at the LDS Church’s general conference shortly after her death, Ballard said, “How grateful I am to know where my precious Barbara is and that we will be together again, with our family, for all eternity.”
In his final general conference address before his death, Ballard recounted the current church’s version of how Joseph Smith founded the Mormon Church, extolled Smith’s virtues and reflected on his 50 years as an apostle and other leadership roles within the church.
A legacy now shadowed by controversy
In the weeks and months before his death, Ballard appeared in dozens of news headlines because of his relationship with Tim Ballard (no familial relation), the former CEO of Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), whom multiple people have accused of sexual misconduct and misleading donors. The LDS Church has distanced itself from Tim Ballard and insinuated that Tim Ballard exploited his friendship with M. Russell Ballard to further his personal interests (as originally reported by VICE News), the still-developing story casts a shadow on M. Russell Ballard’s legacy and raises questions about his dealings as a religious leader and a businessman. The words of the Bard might come to the minds of some, “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”
M. Russell Ballard became an LDS Apostle in 1985 and then Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 2018. His legacy as a leader of the LDS Church includes the creation of Preach My Gospel, the instruction guide for all Mormon missionaries. In the church’s statement on Ballard’s death, LDS President Russell M. Nelson said, “He’ll be remembered as a wonderful husband and a great father. This is where his highest priority was. He set a good example for us on that, even though he’d had many, many demands upon his time. His family always came first.”
In regards to family, Ballard is descended from a long line of prominent Mormon leaders. His grandfathers Melvin J. Ballard and Hyrum M. Smith were both apostles, his great-grandfather was LDS President Joseph F. Smith, the nephew of Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith. One of the possible stains on Ballard’s legacy is the allegation he used his position and authority as a leader of the church to promote his family’s business interests. An exhibit in an ongoing lawsuit against O.U.R. and Tim Ballard states that Davis County District Attorney Troy Rawlings had reason to believe, “Elder M. Russell Ballard’s son-in-law is involved in investing O.U.R.’s money and Elder Ballard and/or his family is benefiting from the investments.”
The lawsuit also alleges “The Davis County Investigation, according to O.U.R.’s own internal documents, revealed that Elder M. Russell Ballard and other authorities from the Mormon Church, provided Mormon tithing records to O.U.R. to help O.U.R. target wealthy donors and wealthy Mormons,” and that Tim Ballard has met with M. Russell Ballard in the Church Administration Building to discuss O.U.R.’s work.
The LDS Church has denied that Ballard ever released tithing records to O.U.R. or any other organization. The church also denied it ever endorsed or supported O.U.R. or Tim Ballard. In defense of Tim Ballard, a wealthy member of the church and founder of ClickFunnels, Russell Brunson posted a video on social media saying M. Russell Ballard approached him, “he personally called me and asked me to help Tim Ballard and Operation Underground Railroad.” Going on to say, “I have literally sat in the room with Elder Ballard and Tim Ballard to discuss these things and these ideas.”
In his professional life before being called as an apostle, M. Russell Ballard was involved in the automotive, real estate and investment industries. His first car dealership failed when Ford shuttered the automotive brand Edsel. Ballard attributed the business’s failure to ignoring inspiration he received while praying. Later, Ballard became president of Keystone Securities Corporation, and not long after that, the Securities and Exchange Commission started investigating Keystone for fraud, ultimately charging the company with providing false statements to the SEC and revoking its broker-dealer registration. Another venture of his, the Valley Music Hall was a concert venue in Bountiful, Utah. According to the faith’s Church News, “After fire damaged the building in the 1970s, the Church purchased the building and converted it for conferences and other Church and cultural functions.”
On business and hard work, the church’s Monday statement quotes M. Russell Ballard as saying, “Ultimately, it works out to your satisfaction that either you win, and it becomes profitable, or you learn that it’s not going to work, and you step away from it, but you never leave wondering if you’re willing to stay with it.”
Fellow Mormon apostle Dallin H. Oaks adds, “His business experience served him well in asking the probing questions that need to be asked when you propose a program or when you ask, ‘Are we using the resources effectively?’”
The O.U.R. lawsuit claims Tim Ballard said M. Russell Ballard gave permission for the use of controversial tactics in O.U.R. operations—specifically, a tactic called the “couples ruse,” which allegedly allowed opportunities for Ballard to sexually assault women who went undercover with him. The suit also asserts that Tim Ballard claimed M. Russell Ballard had given him multiple priesthood blessings.
In his own words in a 2019 graduation address at BYU Idaho, M. Russell Ballard spoke of a trip he went on with his son Craig, son-in-law Brad and “family friend,” Tim Ballard: “I had the opportunity this past summer to travel to Plymouth, Massachusetts, with my friend Tim Ballard to learn more about what he had learned regarding Nephi’s vision of these early Pilgrims and how their history corroborates Nephi’s vision.” Mormons believe Nephi is an ancient prophet who came to North America from Israel sometime around 600 B.C.
As far as where Tim Ballard received his insights on Nephi, the lawsuit against Tim Ballard claims “[Tim] Ballard would get ketamine treatments and have a scribe come in with him while he would talk to the dead prophet Nephi and issue forth prophecies about Ballard’s greatness and future as a United States Senator, President of the United States, and ultimately the Mormon Prophet, to usher in the second coming of Jesus Christ.” The lawsuit also alleges that Tim Ballard consulted a psychic medium (another defendant in the lawsuit) who also communed with Nephi.
Funeral services for M. Russell Ballard
Funeral services for M. Russell Ballard are scheduled for Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, from 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. MST, at the Tabernacle on Temple Square. The funeral will be open to the public ages eight years and older.The Temple Square gates and the Tabernacle doors will open at 9:30 a.m., and attendees should be in their seats by 10:30 a.m. The funeral services will also stream live on the Church’s broadcasts page as well as BYUtv. A private burial service will take place at the Salt Lake City Cemetery immediately following the funeral. There will be no public viewing.
In lieu of flowers, President Ballard’s family has asked that donations be made to This Is The Place Heritage Park.
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