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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. B. Hope

    I am glad to see some of God's people taking a stand and saying something. What most people don't understand

    October 12, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
  2. Amy

    The sad truth is most people of LDS faith don't know where their church came from or what was taught in the past. On Sunday, they are taught things that the prophets and apostles want them to know...and the REAL history is left out. The only way to find this out is to research the history, which isn't printed by the church anymore, so it is labeled "anti-mormon" and "dangerous". I know this because up until recently I was in the Relief Society presidency in my ward. It's painful to look at the truth, and realize you've been lied to. I plead with any mormons to research the history of the church...even on the family history site. You can see that Joseph Smith married women who already had LIVING husbands, without Emma knowing, and the husbands were clueless too. RESEARCH!!! By the way..that's the least of of what he did.

    October 12, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
  3. KDH

    So apparently it's okay to bash Mormons and their beliefs? The majority of the comments on this forum are simply venomous! I'm not sure what good that accomplishes for either side.

    October 12, 2010 at 7:55 pm |
  4. Bill

    President Packer's speech was not intended to incite hatred for any person, rather it was given to warn about the real consequences for immoral behavior and to offer hope and deliverance for those who want to be free from those consequences. In his speech he stated, "Nowhere are the generosity and the kindness and mercy of God more manifest than in repentance." He then invited all who found themselves engaged in immoral behavior to repent and "find the healing that is available to us". I am certain that he is in no way insensitive or indifferent to the damaging effects of depression and heartache and that those type of feelings drive some with same gender attraction to commit suicide. I am certain that President Packer's intent was to lessen the likelihood of such an occurrence and not to incite it, and those who state otherwise need to examine their own use of hate speech.

    October 12, 2010 at 7:55 pm |
  5. JaminB

    If Mormon leaders want to tell their members not to engage in what they believe is immoral behavior, fine. But keep it out of our nation's laws and politics. He's concerned that about "legaliz[ing] immorality"? Come on–plenty of "immoral" acts are legal. Keep your church out of my government. You want a theocracy, move to Iran!

    October 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm |
  6. The Truth

    I would like to thank all the people who are making comments on this site for their participation. By making comments about the LDS Church (good and bad), they are bringing more attention to the church, which in turn means more people are seeing the truth of the gospel and bringing more converts to the church! The Savior thanks you for bringing more people to his gospel.

    October 12, 2010 at 7:45 pm |
  7. Jay T

    Religion is just a tool to control the weak minded anyway. Who cares.

    October 12, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
  8. EdNV

    “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,”
    This is why they threaten all LDS members that if they reveal the 'secrets' of the 'temple' they will be hunted down and disemboweled - because they respect and love gods children.. meh
    This cult needs to lose its tax exempt status

    October 12, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
  9. Frank -Iowa

    It's a jolly good cult that needs money to survive and gays are not known for procreation which would jeopardize their revenue stream..

    October 12, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
  10. Andy

    http://www.ksl.com/index.php?nid=148&sid=12795071

    a response from the church.

    October 12, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
  11. dirkk

    I hate haters! I do not tolerate the intolerant! *runs around in circles* Ban Religion! Ban gays! Ban atheists! Ban bannings! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!! *explodes*

    October 12, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  12. Realistic

    Guys, Its an exit, not an entrance! That alone should tell you that it is unnatural.

    October 12, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
  13. blanketjackson

    i find it funny that his last name is "packer".

    October 12, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  14. hjrrockies

    Reading the comments here makes me sad. Far too much judging, far too many people using this as their soapbox to condemn gays and lesbians or LDS Members.
    I cannot answer with a perfect understanding what the "truth" of the matter is. I have my own beliefs, but that's not the point. The negativity and contention present here is sickening. I hope that people who comment further would cease to treat the "others" as "enemies." No more "God hates gays" or "Mormons are kooks." Religious or not, those comments are simply immature and wrong.

    Please take the time to remember that, independent of belief or lifestyle, everyone deserves the same respect we often demand for ourselves.

    October 12, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
  15. Jay T

    Some gays are so thin-skinned. Buncha drama queens. Why the hell do you care what this guy says if you are comfortable with who you are? The people in this country have become so weak.

    October 12, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
  16. nic

    I like that when people don't like what you say they freak out and assume a lot. I think the line about " why would God do that to people" was likely referring to why would he make them be born a certain way then tell them they are wrong. That's how i took it anyway. Even if he believes the act of being gay is wrong, it does not mean that he automatically hates gay people. I'm not defending this specific person, because he very well may hate gay people, I do not know. I'm simply saying that if you don't agree with something someone does, it doesn't mean you must hate them. I have different beliefs than my dearest friend, but we remain close and love each other. and @ nadine...im still gonna make fun of harry potter and not read it:P

    October 12, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
  17. Holly McGrath

    It's the same thing with left-handed people, you know. It's just not natural. It's a choice they make; our Heavenly Father would never create left-handed people. There is hope though! They can change...they can be rehabilitated! And then they will be worthy of our love and acceptance. After that we'll get to work on blondes, because you KNOW that's not natural....

    October 12, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
  18. Yuck

    fail cult is epic fail.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  19. The Truth

    So the great thing about this blog is that the more people talk about mormonism (whether it is good or bad comments), the more people want to know about the faith. The more they investigate the LDS Church, the more people see the truth and want to join their church. Keep up the comments folks. Jesus loves it!

    October 12, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
    • EdNV

      Your so-called church tells its LDS members that if they reveal the 'secrets' of the 'temple' they will be hunted down and disemboweled – because they respect and love gods children.. meh
      I assume you have not been alowed in the temple yet, or you would abandon this abomination.

      October 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
    • Amy

      Yes hon, they investigate the church and find out all the things the apostles have been hiding from it's members all these years.
      Including Joseph Smith marrying other mens' wives and his plagiarizing the Book of Mormon and the temple ceremony, plus the 9 different versions of the first vision. Please research your own faith...I was blinded for 33 years of my life, then finally found out all of the lies they hid..lies proven by books they don't publish or teach about anymore...

      October 12, 2010 at 8:05 pm |
  20. Judith

    The Mormon Church is a cult based upon the teachings of a first-rate con-man and womanizer, Joseph Smith. For them to condemn gays is wholly reprehensible.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:51 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.