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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. Doogan

    For the poster who said spina bifeda is caused by a sin of the mother, not by God, and stated that it could be prevented by proper diet, do your research. Some spina bifeda can be prevented with folic acid supplements. Some is genetic. some may be caused by a defect in the mother that doesn't allow the body to metabolize folic acid properly. It's amazing what fools people will make of themselves in attempting to justify their false beliefs.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  2. Reality Check

    If you don't agree with a particular church doctrine then, discontinue your weekly offering. Start your own church. It's your God-given right.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  3. Paul

    No man should pretend to speak for God. Only God may judge us in the afterlife, and how we live our lives between this day and that is for Him to weigh, and no one else. This society has become far too judgmental on how others should live their lives. Stop worrying about what your neighbor is doing, and start focusing on your own relationship with the Lord.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  4. John

    He has a lot of nerve commenting on this issue, having a name like Packer.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • hokieduck

      Thank you for a bit of levity.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  5. CareJack

    Religion = Terror

    October 12, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  6. BEAR

    I find it humorous that a cult which has condoned murder and pedophilia would dare make a statement about the most upstanding citizens in our society. Gay men and women are more law abiding, socially conscious and considerate of others than any other group on Earth. Is it pure jealousy and envy that causes these Jim Jones style fanatics to speak out like they do.

    Mormons are patently immoral by definition and should be outlawed.!!!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
    • Gary (Member) Newman

      Bear,

      Why would you deny someone else the right to believe what they want. You expect that right, and due to someone disagree with you, you would make them illegal. What does that make you then? Where is the tolerance in that?

      October 12, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
    • Mike

      "make a statement about the most upstanding citizens in our society. Gay men and women are more law abiding, socially conscious and considerate of others than any other group on Earth"

      As a Sociology Major at University, I would ask, what study gave you the statistics on this, and could you please give us a link to that? Your amazingly broad blanket statement could smother an elephant. And it is patently untrue. Thanks for trying.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
    • Emma

      "Pedophilia"??? You do realize that the subject is the LDS church and not the Catholics, right?

      October 12, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
  7. r2chs

    Wow, he speaks for God. Wonder how he got that job.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  8. AJ

    BWAHAHAHAHA!! Who takes them seriously anyway. Don't they believe the earth is only like 10,000 years old too? Clearly they reject science of all kinds. One more boring wingnut spouting off. Next...

    October 12, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
    • Emma

      Nope, you can be Mormon and believe in Evolution...no biggie.

      October 12, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
  9. Jim

    I think the prophet is due for another revelation if they expect a Mormon to ever be elected US president.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  10. Jennifer Justice

    Also, really stupid to think, let alone state, that God makes people gay. When will you people ever learn (well, you would if you actually picked up a Bible and read it) that He doesn't cause suffering. Suffering is meant to be part of the human experience and there will always be suffering. Those that rise above their suffering will be granted a special place in the afterlife. Those that do not suffer are expected to help those that do. And God is there to help us through the suffering. Get it? Got it? Good!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
    • Stocko

      Thank you for explaining your irrational beliefs so rationally.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  11. Allen N Wollscheidt

    ALL organized religions are the scourge of humanity ! ! !

    October 12, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
    • wrack

      Absolutely. It's amazing how something with seemingly good intentions has spread so much hate and intolerance.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  12. Mel

    I personally think that being gay is not a choice its just who you are attracted to. I know for me the exact type of guy that I am attracted to and while I may have dated other types when I was younger, I married the type that attracted me the most. That is how I believe being gay is for others. I don't care if people are gay and I think that if they can not marry they should at least be able to do civil unions.

    I was raised Catholic. I don't believe in much, if any really, that was preached over the years. With that said, I respect others right to worship. This is my favorite quote of all times and how true it remains from the day H.L. Mencken said it "We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."

    Being on either side of the issue doesn't make you more right or more wrong. God will choose judgment on each person when the day comes. As far as I am concerned life choices are between you and your maker.

    Its high time we move past the gay issue and figure out how to make this country work rather than pinning each other issues against one another.....its stupid and childish!

    And just an end note – I think its time to stop the mormon commercials. I don't care if your Chris and accountant, bike rider, and a mormon. So what you're ruining my TV time!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
    • VoiceOfReason

      Thanks, Mr Gibson.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
  13. John in Sacramento

    What a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites! I hope I live long enough to witness the downfall of Religion and all other mechanisms of control...

    October 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  14. Aezel

    I love how some ignorant religious nut goes and shoots their mouth off and their organization's first response to it is, "oh, no, you are just misinterpreting their remarks."

    I have two doctorates and a perfect score in reading comprehension on every standardized test I've ever taken. So thanks a lot for trying to "clear that up" LDS, but I'm still gonna go with Boyd K. Packer is a total idiot.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  15. CareJack

    Religion = Terrorism

    October 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  16. Ray

    So, now we have the gays versus a massive cult. I think I'll be on my side cause neither one makes sense to me.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  17. Registrant

    WOW And we scratch our heads on why those uneducated folks in the Middle East can't "just get along".

    October 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  18. Raptor

    I think all you religious types are kooks.

    BUT

    This was a speech directed at his congregation on a private network ect.. No one had to watch it and it wasnt forced on the non believers in any way. So frankly it is none of joe publics business. Now you mormons have a right to protest this as it was direted at you within your belief system and I would hope you would. but as for the rest of us it really has nothing to do with us and we should just shut up

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

      I agree with you in theory. In the reality of the real world, it will be interesting to see if this speech is used as justification for further hate-mongering, discrimination in applying laws, attacks and torture, etc., as often happens when we have heard similar anti-gay speeches by others. The massively intolerant and hate-filled person uses these speeches and brochures, etc, as an excuse to act out on their hatred. We'll see what happens as a result of this speech.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  19. Brother John of Dallas

    I know Bisson doesn't like the timing of the comments by the Mormon speaker, but when it comes to any religious faith, the religious body cannot be directed in its message by when major news organizations time their "news" pieces. Rather, we should also be asking why are major news media outlets pushing out news en masse about gay-related "controversies" in Christian organizations (Catholic Church, Eddie Long, now Mormons, etc)? It is rather interesting how some are so ready to pounce on the "enemy" but turn a blind eye to the one manufacturing the enemy.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  20. danbeaches

    So funny the ignorance of it all ....did they consult Glen beck

    October 12, 2010 at 12:43 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.