SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, Dec. 20, 2016 (Gephardt Daily) — Ryan McKnight knows of a lot of LDS Church members who have been sitting uneasily on secrets about the inner workings of the organization.
“My main goal — my main mission if you will — is just to promote transparency within the church,” said McKnight, who this week launched MormonWikiLinks.com. It’s a website through which insiders can anonymously submit videos and documents linked to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Sometimes people come across information, maybe in the course of their jobs with the church, that makes them feel like it’s something people deserve to know,” McKnight told Gephardt Daily.
“If something is eating away at you to the point where you are willing to pull the trigger and release it, we are here to help you.”
MormonWikiLeaks is set up using Secure Drop, a system that allows people to submit data with complete anonymity, McKnight said.
“It scrubs files for watermarks that may have been embedded,” he said. “It provides another layer of peace of mind for a person who wants to submit things but not be found out.”
Submitted information is vetted for accuracy and authenticity before being shared on the site, McKnight said.
McKnight first drew attention from the worldwide media in October with his YouTube Mormon Leaks Channel, which released more than a dozen potentially embarrassing videos of news briefings for high-level church authorities.
Videos, most of them irreverently titled, include In Which They Fret Over The Young Single Adults, Addressing the Problem of Mormons Marrying Later in Life, In Which They Watch a Clip From Pirates of the Caribbean, In Which the Apostles Crack Jokes About Gambling in Las Vegas and 9-11, In Which They Discuss Politics with Senator Gordon Smith, and In Which the Apostles Obsess Over Chelsea Manning’s Sexuality.
“The guy with the videos had been sitting on them for years,” McKnight said, of the anonymous contributor. “He had wanted to do something with them every day.”
But employees of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often are asked to sign non-disclosure contracts, saying they will not share inside information.
“You’ve got to tow the line or you are out of a job,” McKnight said. “You don’t have a temple recommend and you are out of a job. To save your job and save face with your family, you’ve got to fake it, and make sure that they are not aware you don’t believe.”
McKnight believes many in the church’s ranks are nonbelievers.
“It seems to me the church is not aware of that,” he said. “They probably think they have a couple bad seeds, but based on me talking to approximately 25 church employees at this time, and all the closeted nonbelievers they talk about, I would say as a minimum, of hundreds who work for the church would like to share information, if not thousands.
“I think leadership thinks their top employees are very loyal to the church, and I think they are mistaken.”
The church, like any large nonprofit business, owes transparency to those involved, McKnight said.
“I think anytime you have a nonprofit or a religion, they have a fiduciary responsibility to be open with stakeholders — in this case the tithing payers. The average Mormon has no idea how the corporation runs,” McKnight said.
“The average member thinks there is more divine intervention than there is. It’s important to know the policies on this and that when taking part in such an organization, and the church falls short of that, of letting the constituents know how they do things, how the cheese is made.”
McKnight’s journey of faith
McKnight, who is in his mid-30s and lives near Las Vegas, said he was born into and raised in the LDS Church, and completed a two-year church mission to Barcelona, Spain.
“In the summer of 2013, I stumbled across a historical narrative that did not match up with what I had been taught my whole life,” McKnight said. “I had to reassess and ultimately separate from my church.”
The narrative concerned LDS Church founder Joseph Smith and his polygamous marriages to women, including some who were teens, McKnight said.
“It bothered me that he had teenage brides, but it bothered me more that I went 32 years without knowing it,” he said. “It was almost a case of the cover-up being worse than the crime.”
McKnight said as he did more research, he found evidence of a deep institutional racism, and of many claims in and about “The Book of Mormon” that did not hold up to scientific research.
“There’s a lot of evidence that things were not really as they were portrayed,” McKnight said. He resigned his LDS Church membership on April 14, 2014, he said.
Participating in an online forum on Reddit helped him process his separation grief, which was followed by denial, then anger, then bitterness, McKnight said. Asked if Mormon Leaks and MormonWikiLeaks were intended to help LDS Church members, former members or himself, McKnight said it was probably all three.
The LDS Church has declined to release a statement on MormonWikiLeaks.com.
“I don’t think they want to touch it with a 10-foot pole,” McKnight said.
The last few days have been crazy, he said, with interview request calls coming in from the Washington Post and other U.S. media outlets. On Tuesday, a member of the British media called, and a reader forwarded him an article written, without an interview, by a Russian media outlet.
“I don’t know what it says, of course,” McKnight said, laughing. “I don’t know Russian.”
McKnight said his quest for church transparency has earned him grateful praise and enraged criticism from readers.
“I try to roll with it,” he said. “I’m a nobody. If I get a lot of praise, I go out of my way to make sure it doesn’t go to my head. I’m a regular guy. If you knew me, you would know I’m a regular guy, nobody special.
“I do appreciate the positive comments,” McKnight said. “And the negative — I’ve got a thick skin. It doesn’t bother me. You get active Mormons saying you’re inspired by the devil. If that’s what makes you sleep good at night, good for you.”