Confessions of an Elder

A friend of mine sent me this video yesterday. Please go watch, then let’s discuss…

First, this video is a clown show. It’s so oversensationalized. Good heavens, an elder in the church is dealing! An ELDER! In other words, like pretty much any dude over 18? When you use the term ‘Elder’ in some Protestant faiths, it means something, a position of seniority. With Mormons, however, becoming an Elder is largely an expected rite of passage. Emphasizing the title as NatGeo does here is just a rhetorical ploy to make this drugslinger appear to be more involved in the Church than he probably really is. Dressing him in a white shirt and black tie, the repeated footage of his hollowed-out scriptures, it’s all intended to replicate towards non-members the common tropes of Mormonism, while displaying to members a near-total ignorance of the faith. (Mormons know it’s artificial because of the footage of the stained glass)

Then, towards the end, the video shifts from the scandal element of a Church Elder selling drugs towards a condemnation of the Church itself for its “shunning” practices. Good heavens, you mean that the Church would socially exclude heroin dealers?! THE INJUSTICE IS STAGGERING. I don’t know if the makers of this video are actually anti-Mormon but I am not sure whether an anti-Mormon would have made this video any worse.

His closing line, “there’s good that comes from this”, rang especially hollow. What a parasite. “I just wanted people to know, it’s not all bad people that are involved with it.” So there are bad drug dealers out there — those who have regular contact with users, presumably — but he’s a good one? Yeah. I was not too impressed. Here’s the thing, and please forgive the generalization: it seemed very…. Utah. Where else would a guy try to drum up sympathy for himself slinging heroin? We’re to let his victimization at the hands of a shunning cult outweigh his utterly destructive behavior?

This video is ridiculous. This is National Geographic, not some off-brand reality TV channel. People expect the brand to be objective and trustworthy. This was neither.


A few questions:
1. Should the Church excommunicate heroin dealers? Why or why not?
2. The opioid crisis is real, and I’m convinced there are lots of dealers (and many, many more users) in the pews each week. How could this be presented in a fair way?
3. Can a good person be a heroin dealer?


  1. Don’t convicted dealers typically get excommunicated? Given that a major opiate dealer who is Mormon was recently arrested in Utah county I assume this is not irrelevant.

  2. Sounds like the Amish Mafia, that aired on Discovery a few years ago. Complete crap.

  3. “Utah… Where else would a guy try to drum up sympathy for himself slinging heroin?”

    Would you please explain that one?

  4. “Excommunicated members are often shunned by friends and family.” We just don’t want those incestuous dads hanging out. Yeah.

  5. Opioid addiction in Utah is real. This video is a joke. Cartoon man, “I keep my heroin in my scriptures. My BoM is the bomb!“ I don’t doubt he’s a dealer and I don’t doubt there are Mormon dealers but this is all silliness to the extreme. It’s not even good stage craft. Re-donk-ulois. Bandana over the face, with eyeball cutouts? The hat? In front of a correlated picture of Jesus? Cut out hole in scriptures to keep your supply. O.o

  6. A legit Mormon smack pusher would obviously stash his stuff in a leather-bound quad, not the flimsy blue giveaway.

  7. Gobblefunkist says:

    I am not a Christian, but my answers to your final questions (which were probably rhetorical, still…) would be (i) yes, (ii) it can’t and (iii) most definitely not. I am sure the answers transcend religion.

  8. John Mansfield says:

    Well, it looks like the purchase of National Geographic by Murdoch is living up to the more pessimistic expectations.

  9. momba2012 says:

    This has to be a joke!!

  10. I don’t think it’s a fake (those stained windows look like the ones at a ward I attended years ago near Yale Ave.

    That being said, what shoddy, ignorant journalism. I don’t doubt that weirdo goes to church and looks for marks, or that there are occasionally some like him. But equating the insanely high addiction rates in Utah with drug dealing church “Elders” isn’t suppprted by any evidence and is really a rather unique “storytelling” anecdote I haven’t come across before in the literature.

    So while I don’t doubt the guy’s story, the presentation by NatGeo unfortunately makes me skeptical of whatever points are being made in the entire episode.

  11. Whelp, that’s three minutes I’m not getting back.

    But as to your questions:

    (1) I’m generally opposed to excommunication (or, as NatGeo’s on-screen lettering had it, “ex-communication”); in general, I’m not even convinced we should ex- heroin dealers, though, of course, it depends on what you see the underlying purpose of excommunication as being.

    One general exception to my dislike of excommunication: when the person will potentially harm other members. So, for example, if the heroin dealer’s using the church to find customers (or otherwise pushing drugs to ward/stake/whatever members), there may be a reason to excommunicate him.

    Of course, even not ex’d, if you know he’s a dealer, you probably don’t want to give him callings, etc. So maybe disfellowship is a decent option.

    (2) A couple things, maybe. The way it’s presented, it’s pretending to be objective and true, but it’s basically an outlet for the dealer to justify himself. Rather than giving him that room, it should look more skeptically at his story, and perhaps bring in actual, objective, and verifiable facts. Like how many dealers are there in Utah? You won’t know how many are Mormon, of course, but where do Mormons in Utah get their opioids? How big a problem is it? And how big is that compared to the rest of the country? Maybe talk to a bishop, or a RS president, or someone on the other end of the problem.

    (3) No. A good person cannot be a heroin dealer.

  12. I didn’t get to see they whole thing but what I saw was really cheesy. I saw another National Geographic special recently and was really disappointed and the quality–high on sensationalism and low on balance and facts. Seems they aren’t the respected high-standards production they used to be. I did a little research and found that they were recently acquired by none other than Rupert Murdoch. That says it all…

    1. I don’t know what the current church policies are for people convicted of crimes. But if they are excommunicating celibate transgender people then thedrug dealers certainly should be ex’ed.
    2. Don’t watch National Geographic anymore. It is crap.
    3. Generally speaking people aren’t all bad or all good. Some, of course commit crimes that are so heinous it outweighs the good. I would think it all depends on the circumstances/context of one’s life. If one grows up in a solid middle class, stable family background and then becomes a drug dealer despite all his/her advantages then, um, they aren’t looking very good. On the other hand, if someone grows up in poverty, surrounded by bad role models and few opportunities and ends up dealing to help support siblings and a parent etc–then it is harder to judge that individual.
    But overall, “good” people don’t choose to sell heroin.

  13. I just kept feeling bad for that poor Book of Mormon having the pages cut out like that. Not a nice way to treat your scriptures. I would add Q4. Can someone cut holes in a Book of Mormon and be considered a good Mormon?

  14. Anon for this says:

    This is not new. It’s been floating around the internet for awhile, posted under a lot of different programs. I saw it on a Facebook post that claimed it was a production by college students in Utah for a class project. Had to chuckle that a few years later it shows up here.

  15. 1. As someone who works in the court system and has a front-row seat to the destruction caused by opioids regardless of religion, socioeconomic status, race, gender, etc., I most certainly believe heroin dealers should be excommunicated. The damage they cause to communities is incalculable. They are ruining lives and very likely killing people for their own gain, so, yeah, there should be severe consequences.

    2. I don’t know. I’m probably too biased about this myself. Still, it’s disappointing to see that this is what National Geographic is now.

    3. I’m inclined to say no, heroin dealers aren’t good people, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that nothing is black and white. I’d echo what lois said above.

  16. The chapel and stained glass windows aren’t fake. See here:

    But other than that, this video is terribly sensationalized. What has National Geographic come to?

  17. Mr. Tracy M. says:

    So, let me get this straight: This ELDER is a “scrupulous” drug dealer doing good works with the profits from his death dealing drug business.

    And what’s with the eye holes cut in the bandana? And the fedora? Is he trying to pull off the Don Draper Bandit look?

  18. Reminds me of the time a kid in seminary (released time, Utah, late 1960s) decided that for an anti-drug “devotional” he would put Steppenwolf’s “The Pusher” on the record player. Bro. S____ didn’t exactly approve.

    Maybe NatGeo should have played it as background for this video.

  19. Can’t be all bad. After all, he is wearing a white shirt….

  20. This really bums me out.
    1. I don’t know about the excommunication. Maybe give repentance a chance, and if it repeatedly doesn’t work, ex them? Of course, so many people are getting ex’d over other stuff, why not? I really have trouble over excommunicating people, but that’s my baggage.
    2. What do you mean could this be presented in a fair way? There was some Nightline or some TV show about the prescription drug problem in Utah, but I don’t know if that was any better or worse… Was this presentation unfair? To him? To members in good standing?
    3. I am not sure I can categorize a person as “good” or “bad.” There can be good people who do really bad things. Maybe that makes them a bad person if they do enough bad things? When is the tipping line into what makes a person bad? I know two (completely unrelated) former heroin users. I hate the people that dealt them drugs. It’s a miracle they’ve both recovered fully, but then I remember that the dealers probably have a story too. I just don’t know.

  21. Maryanne says:

    looks like Utah?? Actually saw a news story in London a few years ago where two young British women had been jailed in some third world country for smuggling drugs. What could they do? They had to pay for their university tuition!

  22. MikeInWeHo says:

    I know several extraordinarily good people who were street level drug dealers before they got into recovery from their addiction. That in no way excuses any wrongs they committed; in fact, a big part of their recovery is acknowledging past wrongs. Most who street-level people who deliver drugs to feed their addiction are very, very sick. They need to be in a hospital (involuntarily if necessary), not jail. And no, I am not in favor of hard drugs being legalized. I am in favor of treating addiction as a disease of the brain, because that’s what it is.

  23. Mike, well said.

  24. Good point Mike. I’d amend my take to something like this: you can’t be a high-level dealer (like this guy implies he is) and be a good person. If you’re forced into it by circumstance, that’s something different.

  25. MikeInWeHo says:

    My understanding is that the real drug kingpins generally are not addicts themselves, which makes sense because people in the grip of addiction quickly stop functioning well enough to hold any job much less run an underground criminal enterprise. They are some of the most dangerous criminals on the planet. Tragedy compounds tragedy when government wastes law-enforcement resources on addicts instead of going after these international supply chains that are importing death.

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