On Sunday, blogger Hermant Mehta, the self-described “friendly atheist” responded to “leaked” videos that show members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other senior church leaders being briefed on topics ranging from religious liberty to medical ethics to the 2008 housing crisis.
In a not-so-friendly post, Mehta says the videos show just “how sheltered and out of touch these leaders are” and how they “live in a complete bubble.”
In fact, the videos show the complete opposite. These are precisely the kind of briefings Latter-day Saints should want their leaders to have in order to be informed on the most pressing contemporary issues.
Apparently, Mehta’s definition of living “in a complete bubble” is receiving detailed reports on complex questions from the likes of Robert P. George, a distinguished professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, or Dr. Gerrit W. Gong, now a member of the Presidency of the Seventy, who also happens to be a former Rhodes Scholar with a wealth of experience in international affairs.
Other presenters featured in the leaks included nationally recognized political figures, not exactly the type of people one might engage with if they were, as the friendly atheist suggests, “sheltered.”
A “leak” is usually not a public relations win for an organization, let alone a church. In 2012, for example, the Vatican was the subject of a drawn-out scandal involving leaked documents from the pope’s personal secretary. Yet, in this case, these leaks show that senior leaders of the LDS Church are actually quite engaged in delving into multifaceted matters of consequence.
Through a spokesman, the LDS Church explained on Sunday: "In these committee meetings, presentations are routinely received from various religious, political and subject matter experts on a variety of topics." He continued, "The purpose is to understand issues that may face the church, and is in pursuit of the obligation church leaders feel to be informed on and have open discussion about current issues. This is an informational forum, not a decision-making body."
The fact that church leaders were caught grappling with national and international affairs, contemplating penetrating questions and seeking the best information from experts, may be read in some circles not as a public relations ruckus but instead as a commentary on the clear-eyed character of LDS leadership.
In 2007, President Henry B. Eyring of the church’s First Presidency commented on his first experience attending a church committee led by senior leaders: “At first I looked at it with my Harvard-Stanford eyes, and I thought, ‘This is the strangest conversation,’” he recalled. “I mean, here are the prophets of God, and they’re disagreeing in an openness that I had never seen in business.
And it was more open than anything I’d ever seen in all the groups I’d ever studied in business. And it was just dumbfounding.”
President Eyring then described “the most incredible thing” as “very strong, very bright people, all with different opinions” started to “suddenly” come to a more unified position.
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These leaks reveal what President Eyring described — leaders with sharp intellects, vigorously engaging with informed voices on the pressing issues of the day. Rather than a group of dogmatic or misinformed clergymen, the public will discover from these leaks a cohort of LDS leaders discussing, deliberating and dissecting the best information before finding consensus and acting in unity.
Leaks of any kind raise troubling questions of security and loyalty and are a part of this story yet to be told. But if the content of these leaks constitutes being “sheltered," perhaps more of the nation's secular leaders should start seeking this kind of refuge.