In November 2015, a local leader in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — better known as the Mormon church — was reading through a private Facebook group dedicated to helping LGBT members when he came across a post detailing a new church policy that categorized married same-sex couples as “apostates.”
That leader, Aaron Brown, was disheartened by the previously unknown policy, which also controversially barred the children of same-sex couples from being baptized while they were still minors. Soon, he shared the news in another Facebook group and later on his wall. From there, it spread to other parts of the social network, an ex-Mormon Reddit page, and eventually headlines around the world.
A year and a half later, the furor over that policy has largely died down. But the event itself, in which a leaked policy was posted on the internet and inflamed both Mormonism and the world alike, has spawned the website MormonLeaks, which aims to pull back the curtain on the famously private Utah-based church.
MormonLeaks was founded by Ryan McKnight, a 36-year-old former member of the church who played a key role in leaking the document about same-sex couples and their children.
After the policy was first noticed and shared by Brown, it was McKnight who posted it to the ex-Mormon subreddit, a lively forum for people who were once members of the church. McKnight also brought the policy to the attention of podcaster John Dehlin, who was excommunicated from the Mormon church earlier that year. Attention to the policy spiked after Dehlin shared it on his own Facebook page.
McKnight said that after the revelation, people began contacting him about sharing other confidential church information. Nearly a year later, in October 2016, that resulted in a leak of a series of videos in which Mormon leaders were briefed on and discussed topics ranging from Chelsea Manning’s sexuality to medical marijuana and the housing crisis.
After posting the videos, McKnight was “bombarded with people contacting me,” he said, and began assembling a team to build a website that could accept secure, anonymous documents. After some initial struggles with the name — the project was originally called “Mormon WikiLeaks,” but the WikiLeaks organization asked them to change it — the group settled on “MormonLeaks.” The organization today is a nonprofit.
McKnight declined to speak in detail about the source of the leaked documents, or MormonLeaks’ vetting processes.
Technology has given young people the “expectation of transparency,” said Patrick Mason, a professor at Claremont Graduate University who has studied the church extensively (and who is also a member). “I do think the internet has galvanized these folks,” he said.
Brown — who initially noticed and shared the policy on same-sex couples, and is now taking a “hiatus” from the church — agreed.
(Dalrymple, "A Former Mormon Launched A WikiLeaks-Inspired Site. Now It’s Trying To Expose The Church," BuzzFeed Online, 3/10/17).