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October 12th, 2010
10:19 AM ET

Mormon leader's remarks spark outcry on same-sex issues

Editor's Note: Since this post published Tuesday morning, the LDS Church has issued a statement in response to the day's events. Please see some of the comments, and a link to the full statement, at the bottom of this piece.

Twice a year, members of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints convene for a general conference during which the LDS Church leadership addresses the Mormon faithful.

Broadcast via satellite to millions of Mormons across the globe, and speaking in front of the more than 20,000 LDS Church members who flock to the enormous conference center in Salt Lake City, Utah, the leaders offer insights on doctrine and guidance to church adherents.

One speech at the 180th semiannual conference, held the first weekend of October, ignited a controversy that spawned protests, set off a petition-signing push and led to allegations of cleaned-up records. It sparked battles in the blogosphere and online onslaughts of accusations, frenzied Facebook campaigns and even unconfirmed claims of a suicide. It prompted Utah’s largest newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune, to issue a statement to readers this weekend explaining its in-depth coverage and pushed the church-owned newspaper, the Deseret News, to print Sunday a “call for civility.”

The speech in question was that made by LDS Church apostle Boyd K. Packer, 86, the president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles – a governing body in the worldwide church.

In his address on October 3, Packer suggested to Mormons, among other things, that allowing people in same-sex relationships to marry “would legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God’s laws and nature,” and that any attraction between people of the same sex can – with enough faith – be changed.

Boyd Packer, the president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles

“Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural,” he said. “Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”

These statements created a swift backlash in Utah and elsewhere. Calling the comments “heartless,” a local gay activist, and former practicing Mormon, organized through online social networking a silent protest around Temple Square, ground zero for the LDS Church.

About 4,500 people, dressed in black, laid their bodies down Thursday night around the Salt Lake City site, said Eric Ethington, of the blog PRIDEinUtah, who spearheaded the effort. Mixed in, he said, were at least 100 active members of the LDS Church.

“While we respect your right to say what you want, we will hold you accountable,” Ethington said, explaining the intended statement. “There are consequences for hate speech.”

The LDS Church said it, too, recognizes people’s rights to say what they believe, but that the intention behind Packer's message has been misconstrued.

“Those familiar with the church’s doctrine on the importance of marriage and family know it is based on principles of respect and love for all of God’s children,” said Kim Farah, LDS Church spokeswoman, in a written statement. “We have continually emphasized that there is no room in this discussion for hatred or mistreatment of anyone.”

What Packer said wasn’t what shocked Micah Bisson, spokesman for Affirmation, an organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender LDS Church members – former and currently active.

“The words he chose to use are no different than those he’s used in the past. The issue is more the timing,” Bisson said. “The timing was absolutely terrible.”

What he was referring to, of course, is the recent rash of publicized suicides by gay teens in the U.S. In the span of three weeks in September, five young gay men killed themselves.

Bisson was reached Friday by phone in San Francisco, California, just hours before a rally and candlelight vigil to increase awareness about LGBT suicides and the need to stop them. He, as well as others including Ethington, said he’d heard a young gay Mormon in Utah killed himself around the time of Packer’s speech. CNN has not been able to confirm this, and the head of the Utah Pride Center said this rumor was news to her.

When the LDS Church first posted the transcript of Packer’s speech, critics went wild – saying the transcript didn’t match his spoken words, that the words were changed to lessen the insult. The phrase about “inborn tendencies” was changed to “inborn temptations” and the rhetorical question about why God would create anyone with such traits was deleted.

On the Monday following LDS Church general conferences, the spokeswoman said, “each speaker has the opportunity to make any edits necessary to clarify differences between what was written and what was delivered or to clarify the speaker’s intent. President Packer has simply clarified his intent.”

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights agency, issued a media release and announced a press conference in Salt Lake City, scheduled for Tuesday. Immediately following the press conference, the HRC spokesman said the organization will hand-deliver about 150,000 signatures on an open letter to Packer.

That letter reads in part:

You have risked further alienating LGBT youth and potentially contributing to suicides of even more vulnerable young people. You’ve told them that their very identities are “impure and unnatural” and you’ve incited the violence and bullying that often drives them to suicide… I hope you will cease putting young people in real peril and acknowledge the scientific truth: sexual orientation cannot be changed, nor should it be.

Again, Farah of the LDS Church emphasized that the church’s stance on marriage and family “is based on respect and love for all of God’s children.”

Backing Packer, close to 15,000 (and growing) young LDS men and women have gone to the Facebook page WE LOVE YOU - President Boyd K. Packer, promising to send him 100,000 letters of support on Saturday. And though critics have weighed in posting messages on the page, there are notes of gratitude, thanking the one who they believe speaks "the will of God."

They offer testimonies showing their faith in him. One woman thanks him for not mincing "words to make them easier to digest by those who would attempt to call evil good and good evil." Another says, "I don't care what people are saying..I loved this man and his talk...ROCK ON PRES.PACKER....I mean..keep being real...We Love You!!!"

But those assembling Tuesday for the press conference are arriving with a different message.

One speaker will be Valerie Larabee, the executive director of the Utah Pride Center, which directly serves Utah’s LGBT community

“We find ourselves often in the position of picking up the pieces when Mormon leaders put out strong messages about gay and lesbian people being immoral,” Larabee said. “It creates divisions in families and is very unsettling to our youth and their youth. We provide a safe and affirming space for people in crisis. They’re OK the way they are.”

The statements by Packer are “disheartening,” she said, in part because there have been recent inroads in building understanding and respect. In November 2009, the LDS Church backed a Salt Lake City anti-discrimination ordinance, protecting the LGBT community in housing and employment matters.

This support came one year after the church’s much-publicized push to pass California’s Proposition 8, a bill that outlawed in that state same-sex marriages - a matter that’s weaving its way through the courts. In the aftermath of this and the protests that took place outside LDS temples, church officials – not on the highest levels – began meeting with members of the LGBT community.

“Through the telling of our stories and the stories of our community, we’re breaking down the stereotypes,” Larabee said. But the conversations are “only scratching the surface, and unfortunately cultural and doctrinal beliefs at higher levels of the church are very strong… We have a lot of work to do.”

[Updated: 4:30 p.m. ET] Michael Otterson, speaking on behalf of the LDS Church, issued a statement after the Human Rights Campaign delivered the petition signatures in Salt Lake City. His words, as seen in this written statement, spoke of the "bitter sting of persecution and marginalization" that Mormons felt in the church's early history and suggested that this makes members "sensitive to the vulnerable in society."

Though the LDS Church does not agree with HRC in many respects, he said that Mormons "join our voice with others in unreserved condemnation of acts of cruelty, or attempts to belittle or mock any group or individual that is different - whether those differences arise from race, religion, mental challenges, social status, sexual orientation, or for any other reasons."

Otterson also reiterated LDS Church doctrine, saying "any sexual activity outside of marriage is wrong, and we define marriage as between a man and a woman. However, that should never, ever be used as justification for unkindness. Jesus Christ, whom we follow, was clear in his condemnation of sexual immorality, but never cruel."

He also pointed out that while same-sex attraction is inevitable, those wishing to follow church doctrine can stay faithful:

The Church recognizes that those of its members who are attracted to others of the same sex experience deep emotional, social, and physical feelings. The Church distinguishes between feelings or inclinations on the one hand, and behavior on the other. It's not a sin to have feelings, only in yielding to temptation.

"Obviously, some will disagree with us," he said. "We hope that any disagreement will be based on a full understanding of our position, and not on distortion or selective interpretation."

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Mormonism • Utah

soundoff (1,369 Responses)
  1. Jason B.

    Ah...nothing like good ol' church sponsored hate speech.

    You just know there's a special room in Hell waiting for guys like this.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  2. Jeremy

    @ Diana.

    Jesus is loving and tolerant, that is sure. However, he isn't the sin loving person everyone makes him out to be. He is the same who drove the money-changers from the Temple. He is the same that is Jehovah from the old testament who flooded the earth for wickedness and laid waste to Sodom and Gomorrah. Stop with the "be like Jesus" if you don't know what it really means! Love the sinner, not the sin!

    October 12, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  3. Karl

    Before you cite Leviticus, make sure you've read it and abide by ALL its rules.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
  4. GFisher

    I commend anyone that uses their intelligent mind to make their decision as to what to do with their life or what they believe in. I am more of an existentialist or ethical humanist.

    I cannot hate religious or faithful people if they are only trying to live a good life for themselves and their families. What I can dislike is the harm that they may cause. I can dislike that because it is under the guise of wanting to do good for all the world that they must inflict words, violence, hate upon nonbelievers or other groups.

    Just see people for who they are, person by person, and determine then if they are good or evil. What I say goes for people on both sides of this issue. If you reel yourselves in a little bit, you won't be getting so fanatical

    October 12, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
    • Andrew

      I agree with you. The part you missed is that he is not talking to non-believers. He was talking to an LDS congregation, mormons. The only reason everyone else heard it was because people not of their faith made a protest out of it.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  5. Another viewpoint - Insightful

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/note.php?note_id=437973979211&id=651614501

    October 12, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
    • Another viewpoint - Insightful

      http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/note.php?note_id=437973979211&id=651614501

      You 'll have to copy and paste the whole link.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • Kristy

      That is a very good and interesting story. He didn't say it above, but it is written by a mormon who used to be a lesbian.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  6. carleric

    If all gays chose to be gay, it stands to reason that all heteros chose to be hetero. That means there was a time that all heteros on this comment list chose to be hetero. Is that true?

    October 12, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  7. rinsac

    Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” His own words tell the tale. Indeed the Heavenly Father would not. We were created as we are and did not choose. The "Heavenly" Father loves us as we are and the churches are promoting false doctrine which has now scriptural reality. Hate is hate no matter what words are used. And this from followers of a man who is a convicted criminal who served time for defrauding people. They are a sad lot!!! Deserving of no attention from anyone for anything.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
    • Kira

      Convicted criminal? Who are you talking about ?

      October 17, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
  8. Ralf the Dog

    A message from a hetro to the GLBT community:

    Marriage is the one sure way to make your life a living hell. If this curse is denied you, just be thankful and move on.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  9. Get Real

    Soooo 5 gay men killed themselves in September...
    How many non-gay men killed themselves in September?
    People of all walks have problems... Looking forward to when this issue stops being fashionable for CNN.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  10. Catie

    I dont judge anyones eternity. But I do judge peoples behavior, its a curse

    October 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  11. tstorm

    What's wrong with these people? And Mormons take offense when they are called a "cult". Really? What a hateful group!

    October 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  12. Trish

    I'm sujre Joseph Smith knew all about the gay lifestyle...not saying he was gay, but he was in jail at least twice for lying and making up stories...so I'm sure he witnessed some dropping of the soap at some point.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  13. Sidney A. Dewberry

    I see NO wrong in Mr. Packer's remark He expressed that which is embraced by the entire church leadership, global-wide. Man and woman is the only combination capable of fulfilling the injunction to "multiply and replenish" the earth. Certain it is that two males and/or two females together CAN'T unless adopting an offspring from the aforesaid union of a male and female. Those practicing "gay", and/or adultery type(not all-inclusive) behavior and feel no repentance is possible
    should leave the Mormon Church OR for sure will be shown the exit. Nothing new about this. The Bible states it. Those feeling these might in the future change are better off whistling "Dixie".

    October 12, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  14. Pam

    I was raised Mormon. My brother is gay. I have to say that all my parents bring to the table is judgment and a sense of disappointment. Family gatherings without them looking their noses down at us are filled with love. Living the before and after in this argument prove to me beyond measure that family and life is how you treat the people you love, not how you judge them.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  15. Catie

    Why are the faithful required to be tolerant to the unfaithful but its not the other way around. Hypocrits

    October 12, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
  16. zzzz

    Gays do nothing but whine incessantly.

    Your vice is no more pure than cursing, alcoholism, drug addiction, etc.

    Like the aforementioned, its your right to do it, but for F's sake, just don't cry about the ostracism when you do

    October 12, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  17. Guester

    And interesting statement. I see no logic in invisible people, and talking snakes.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
  18. Mahalowill

    Would someone from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints please educate the rest of us about what were the teachings of Jesus Christ regarding this issue? What exactly did Jesus have to say about it? And if it wasn't important enough for him to care about it, then where do these people get off making it an issue? It's certainly not based on the teachings of the person who they claim to be their savior...

    October 12, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • Catie

      Not everything Jesus said or did is in the book. However the book of Romans is pretty clear

      October 12, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
    • Mahalowill

      What does Jesus say about this in the book of Romans?

      October 12, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
    • Emma

      Funny thing, Jesus didn't meet Paul. Bwahahaha.

      October 12, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
  19. Jimmy Short

    Seth Walsh, 13, hanged himself in his backyard. Asher Brown, 13, shot himself after coming out of the closet. Billy Lucas, 15, hanged himself on the same day a group of students tormented him. Tyler Clementi, 18, jumped from a bridge because his roommate videotaped him in an intimate relationship and uploaded the images to the Internet. Raymond Chase, 19, hanged himself in his university dorm. The list goes on. These young people did not have to take their own lives, but due to bullying, bigotry, hatred & prejudice, they ended their lives all too soon. And yet some sadly continue to think being born gay is "choice"... it's 2010, please educate yourselves & teach tolerance to the next generation of Americans.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  20. tj

    Don't you just love all this diatribe about hate, right and wrong, mixed with all the anger and name calling? Don't you just love religion?...all those folks trying to live "saintly" lives, deciding (judging others?), and all the anger....while they quote the Bible? And I ask you, would you rather be right, or would you rather be happy?

    October 12, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.