By Eric Johnson
July 23, 2021 has been declared M. Russell Ballard Day in Utah by Gov. Spencer Cox. Ballard, 92, is the current President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who was honored on July 22, 2021 at the state capitol where he was presented with the day’s designation. Source
At the ceremony, Ballard was credited with “lifelong commitment and advocacy for the Days of ’47 organization and new rodeo arena.” In addition, he was cited for supporting This Is The Place Heritage Park; encouraging native American stories to be told at the park; his “hard work” and “perseverance”; and helping to create the “Walk of Pioneer Faiths.”
Doesn’t it seem more likely that Ballard was being honored for being one of the top leaders of his 16-million member church? Some might even think this could be taken as a political “thank you” by Gov. Cox for the help he received in getting elected in 2020. While Ballard may very well be a hard worker and has certainly participated in several community projects, so have many other people who will never get a “day” named for them. Having a religious position of what has been called Utah’s state religion might actually provide privilege.
Perhaps Ballard’s biggest claim to fame is that, at the age of 57, he replaced the legendary Bruce R. McConkie as apostle in 1985 after McConkie passed away. Of course, McConkie may be one of the most recognized names of all the apostles who never became president.
Before becoming a general authority, Ballard organized and directed several businesses related to the automotive, real estate, and investment fields. In fact, he was a top-selling car salesman for his father’s dealership–Ballard Motor Company–when he left it in the early 1950s. He later returned in 1956 so he could run it. A few years later the Ford Motor Company convinced him to be the first Utah dealership to sell the Edsel, which he decided to do even though he had an inclination not to do it. It ended up costing his family a large amount of money.
Ballard first entered church work as a Mormon missionary to England from 1948-1950. Later he was a counselor to a mission president, twice held the office of bishop, and was the head of the Canada Toronto Mission while he was a Seventy. Ballard’s pedigree in LDS leadership is direct, as he was related to Apostle Melvin Joseph Ballard (1873-1939), Apostle Hyrum Mack Smith (1872-1918), and Hyrum Smith, the brother of Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith. This tracing of roots to prominent members of the church is very common for many LDS general authorities.
Ballard is typically straightforward and to the point in both his writings and general conference talks. In other words, he has not been the most memorable of the speakers at General Conference. Yet he has given some quotes over the years that ought to have given Cox pause before he decided to name July 23, 2021, M. Russell Ballard Day.
For example, Ballard is a firm believer in the Great Apostasy and has taught that all churches were corrupted soon after the death of the apostles. Cox gave a declaration that called Ballard out for his work as “a bridge builder among people of all faiths and walks of life.” But consider what Ballard had said in 2007:
“We’re not Catholic and we’re not Protestant, but we are the New Testament Church that’s been restored because we believe it was lost after the times of Christ and his apostles and was required to be restored through a prophet” (“Elder Ballard Responds to Evangelical Criticism,” Deseret News, December 6, 2007).
Notice, his is the New Testament Church, not the Catholic or Protestant churches. Consider these citations as well:
“There is no need to argue or contend with others regarding our beliefs. There is no need to become defensive or belligerent. Our position is solid; the Church is true. We simply need to have a conversation, as friends in the same room would have, always guided by the prompting of the Spirit and constantly remembering the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, which reminds us of how precious are the children of our Father in Heaven” (“Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet,” Ensign, July 2008, p. 63).
“They’re [Evangelical Christians] locked into the Nicene Creed…We’re locked into the restoration and the experiences of Joseph Smith,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard, a senior leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. ‘And that will undoubtedly be an issue until God himself comes’” (“Elder Ballard Responds to Evangelical Criticism,” Deseret News, December 6, 2007. Ellipses in original. Brackets mine).
According to Ballard, it is his church that is true, so let’s not argue over that! And he criticizes Christians for holding to a creed that does nothing more than espouses biblical beliefs and is truly a great unifying statement amongst Christian believers. Then, for those who don’t believe Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God, Ballard had this to say:
“False prophets and false teachers are those who declare that the Prophet Joseph Smith was a duplicitous deceiver; they challenge the First Vision as an authentic experience. They declare that the Book of Mormon and other canonical works are not ancient records of scripture. They also attempt to redefine the nature of the Godhead, and they deny that God has given and continues to give revelation today to His ordained and sustained prophets” (“Beware of false prophets and teachers,” Ensign (Conference Edition), November 1999, p. 63).
These are not citations that could be considered “bridge building,” as Ballard firmly believes that Jesus was telling the truth at the First Vision in 1820 as referenced in the above quote. This is what Joseph Smith-History 1:18-20 says:
I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join.
19 I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof;
20 He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.
Ballard is free to criticize other beliefs, as he has done. But for Gov. Cox to present Ballard as being “a bridge builder” seems disingenuous. According to this apostle, either we must accept Joseph Smith’s gospel to be true or we should be considered “false prophets and teachers.” How does that build bridges in the manner understood by the governor and others who celebrated Ballard at the ceremony?
For those single Mormons who have not been married in temple, consider this quote:
“I would rather be a woman not entering into marriage in mortality than a man. I would not want to stand before the Lord as a healthy, normal man and try to explain why I never married. Please understand that temple marriage is absolutely vital in our quest to inherit the highest degree of the celestial kingdom” (“Keep the Commandments – Beginning Right Now!” BYU fireside address given September 6, 1987).
Of course, something like this said today would draw additional ire from the homosexual and feminist members of his church, groups that have grown increasingly become more prominent in Mormon circles the past few years. For whatever reason. Gov. Cox failed to cite this or the other quotations that would have questioned Ballard in any way, shape or form.
Just why was July 23, 2021 named M. Russell Ballard Day? According to the article in the Salt Lake Tribune, Ballard was even embarrassed at the honor and said “I don’t know what that means.” I think we all know what it means, Mr. Ballard. Welcome to Utah, a state where the top legislative leader apparently wishes it were more like the theocracy that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young would have approved of.