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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. kwame

    he is right being gay is the worse thing that can happen to anybody

    October 12, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  2. Mark

    Organized religions are for those whom can’t accept death or just plain fear it. Live and let live, love and let love. Otherwise keep it to yourself.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  3. Ashley

    His comments were far from HATE, unlike many of the comments about mormons that have been left.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  4. Jennifer Justice

    It is not the same as having a blonde or tall gene. It is a hormonal or chromosomal imbalance which is why it is "not normal." That said, these mormon people scare me. Faith can't change a person's taste – only how/if they act on it. If I liked chocolate and you sent me to rehab, I would still come out liking chocolate; I just wouldn't talk about it anymore. And how dare them call their leaders apostles! That level of arrogance and self-righteousness is unbelievable!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • Relax

      you don't seem normal jenny, live your life and let others live theirs

      Have a super day sweety!!!!!!!!!

      October 12, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
    • Conqui

      Not any stranger than many of their other doctrinal beliefs about Jesus coming to minister to the Indians between crucifixtion and resurrection, the stuff about Joseph Smith's gold tablets, living on other planets, etc.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  5. Sybaris

    Mormonism a.k.a. Judaism-lite

    October 12, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  6. TonyInNYC

    “Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” Well, Boyd Packer, I guess you and I don't know. God has an infinite imagination and knowledge. You and I don't.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  7. Just ME

    I'm not a Mormon, but why is that if you don't agree with someone that it's always Hate Speech. I think the peodophiles are wrong and most people hate them, but if I say they are wrong is that hate speech or a matter of what I belief (even atheists have beliefs – they don't "believe in God"). Isn't hate an emotion like "I hate your guts, and I'd like to punch you in the face!"? Isn't that hate? Special interest groups need to stop crying hate at everything, or people are going to hate them because they are such a pain in the ass (no pun intended, but it is funny).

    October 12, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  8. edw

    Just to let you know they are not ok the way they are they will be judged for there decisions to be gay!!!!! And if they dont repent and turn from there evil ways THEY WILL BURN IN HELL!!!!!!!!!!!!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
    • Stocko

      I say unto you and hear my words and tremble: YOU ARE GOING TO BURN IN HELL!!!!

      October 12, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
    • Happy Athiest

      Ooo, hellfire. I hope we can share a cross together, i bet the conversation would never get dull. Oh, wait, that's right, hell doesn't exist. Now, I'm truly disappointed. Loving Christians my foot, how dare you think you know the mind of a supposed god. If a simple human could figure out the mind of a god, we'd not be simple humans at all. Arrogant; and further proof of his non-existance.

      October 12, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  9. STAND UP FOR TRUTH

    If you don't like what he said, then stop paying attention to it. This just gets the message out to MORE people that being gay is WRONG. Good people, bad choices. They know it deep inside too. Wrong.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
    • SitDown

      love how you turn a groups struggle for rights into you being the victim

      Have a good one lady!!!!!!!!!!

      October 12, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  10. mario

    Lets see here...a religios church preachers morality and it is critisized by a bunch or perverts who don't know what the right thing to do with the body parts and a bunch of liberal morons who say thay you should be tolerant of these perverts...sounds to me that what is good is bad and what is bad is good...what a world we live in. I support whole heartedly that the Mormons are right. You don't like it...to bad! Quit being a pervert then. And yes you do make the choice of being gay or lesbian. Prove to me different.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • Luigi

      seems like you should do whats good for you and let others do whats good for them...mind your business and go about your day

      Thanks for coming out big guy!!!!!!!!!

      October 12, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  11. David K. Anderson in California

    Wow, the word "Cult" gets thrown around real easy. If believing in Jesus Christ and the Father, and living a healthy happy life while loving everyone a round you as much as you can is considered being part of a cult, then sign me up!!!!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  12. Anatol

    I am sick and tired of every religion, period. When will we have human rights for everybody? Do we have to convince every single church first?

    October 12, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
    • Brother John of Dallas

      But there are human rights. Don't let purposely-placed news pieces in the media narrow your thinking on religious organizations. Like any other group, there are a variety of voices in Christianity, too. Everyone has a gift of life from our Heavenly Father and can choose to do with it as they please. And one day, our Heavenly Father will ask each of us how did we best use that gift, and He will be the judge as to whether we used that gift wisely or not. Period.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • tj

      @Brother John of Dallas

      You don't have to be a part of any religious organisation to believe in God nor do you have to be a part of any religious organisation to do good works. All the origination allows for is pride which is a sin.

      Remember the parable of the widow {Luke 20:45-21:4]. Sometimes, organised religion is a bigger handicap than having no religion at all. You don't need to the showmanship to worship and do good works and I'm sure God doesn't care if anyone is paying attention to what you're doing.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  13. PIH

    PIH

    I would like to commend the mormons for not changing their views. Remember when the catholic church insisted the earth was flat. Or, that the earth was the center of the universe. Think of how much better off we would all be if religion would just stick to their guns.

    My favorite religous quote: "What profit has not that fable of Christ brought us!" Pope Leo X

    October 12, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  14. Dorange*

    Amazing as I read most of the post they called the LDS a cult. Well around 2000 years ago the Jews and Romans were saying the same thing about Christianty. Imagine a world without some form of religon. It would be full of hate and war. Also imagine the United States without the freedom of religon. Imagine a state run church that runs the country. This is what is meant by freedom of religon means! The freedom to find a church that you want to attend not have to attend. Elder Packer exercise his duty as the president of the church to address the social problems of America and that is when the minorties start demanding that we comply with their demands and when we don't we are hateful bigots, liars etc....! I agree with his acessment of the gay and lesbian community. That they are people who can't live without flaunting their pride. Wish that you would tone it down and live like everyone else

    October 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • Flagguy

      Imagine a world with religion. Filled with hate and wars.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  15. Liza Manellli

    hey, be tolerant people

    October 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  16. Objective Viewpoint VA

    If the freedoms we enjoy in America mean anything, they must mean both that all Americans be treated fairly and without prejudice, and that people of faith can equally and freely express their beliefs without recieveing prejudice. In this context the LDS Church has suported (some) anti-discrimination legislation while maintaining its religious position that such behavior is against the will of God. This seems fair to me. People of religious conviction cannot expect all other Americans to believe the way they do, any more than people of other lifestyles can expect all Americans to believe the way they do. In America we have the freedom to agree to disagree.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  17. CHAD TURIN

    Just because some of you are brainwashed to think being gay is normal does not mean it's ok.Being politically correct is not a fad,people follow the media and what they are taught in school.It's called brainwashing.Oh yea Anderson cooper i just wanted to say "that's so gay".your such a whiny puss.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • tstorm

      I have no dobut you hang out in mens restrooms at airport terminals!

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

      Are you afraid of maybe being gay?Do you have feelings that horrify you? That would account for your gay bashing hatred.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  18. Jake

    No more silence on this issue. Let's stand up for what is right. It is not okay to be gay. It's not okay for our children to accept the gay way of life. STAND UP PEOPLE.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • You sound like Carl

      thanks for coming out

      October 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  19. PIH

    I would like to commend the mormons for not changing their views. Remember when the catholic church insisted the earth was flat. Or, that the earth was the center of the universe. Think of how much better off we would all be if religion would just stick to their guns.

    My favorite religous quote: "What profit has not that fable of Christ brought us!" Pope Leo X

    October 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  20. Mike in RI

    I just don't get all of the attention that organized religion wants to put on being glbt. It's not like any gay person is advocating for everyone to be gay and end the human race. Aren't there more important issues for the church to focus upon - hunger, homelessness, etc.? I mean, once you've fixed all of those things, feel free to come back to the gay thing.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
    • Char

      Sorry this isn't the only thing our Church was focusing on during it's semi-annual General Conference, there were over 35 different talks given that weekend with many different topics.

      Check out this page to see or look at the wide range of topics given.
      http://new.lds.org/general-conference/sessions/2010/10?lang=eng

      October 12, 2010 at 6:08 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.