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. KneeDown

    What a religion or person believes is what they believe, it is neither right nor wrong. That's the bottom line. Gays want to be accepted and yet refuse to accept that other people do not agree with their lifestyle.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  2. lostmind

    Whether you are gay or religious your both wackos. Could we get some real news on CNN.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  3. Ficheye

    Mormonism is a cult. They think that Joseph Smith, the founder, is sitting at the right hand of Jesus. All he did was 'receive' the tablets, but he had to give 'em back. They wear magic underwear. They think being black is a punishment. Everything is blamed on liberals. Need I go on? A cult, plain and simple, with mindless followers.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  4. Mark

    I like how the gay community now days whenever they don't get their way they call everything "Hate Speech". No one can have their own beliefs anymore. If you have a belief it must fit into the gay mold. The gay community wants what they want and if they don't get it they call everyone hate speakers. Why don't you stop bashing everyone else in the world and stop crying poor us all the time. People are fed up with your behavior.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:25 pm |

    Here's a very short list of SCARY (sarcasm) mormons! It must be a cult, because these people make me fear for my very life! The Mormon church used mind control to make them successful so they could take over the world is what I heard. Hahahahahahahahahaha!

    Roy Halladay
    Amy Adams
    Rick Schroder
    Donnie & Marie
    Billy Barty
    Jon Heder
    Katherine Heigl
    David Archuleta
    The Killers
    Gladys Knight
    Derek and Julianne Hough (DWTS)
    Steve Young
    Harmon Killebrew
    Johnny Miller

    Just to name a few. A real subversive group if you ask me. Oh, and they all have at least 10 wives.....is what I heard. LOL!

    October 12, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
    • Ficheye

      Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Er..... and your point is.... what? Did you 'school us' with that list? Were you wearing your magic underwear? Drinking caffeine? None of those people impress me. Donny and Marie. Oh, they made the world a better place. Gladys Knight? I feel sorry for her since no one told her that Mormons think that being black is a punishment. Mormonism is almost as weird as scientology. Is Joseph Smith really sitting at the right hand of Jesus? I think not.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
    • boocat

      And how many of them practice their religion?

      October 12, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  6. Matt A

    I am comforted to know each of us will ultimately be judged by our Creator who knows all.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
    • Javinka


      October 12, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • No Fantasies

      For my part, I am comforted that I will NOT be judged by any sort of "god", because I've yet to be presented with any evidence that these mythical creatures actually exist!

      October 12, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
  7. two cents

    I didnt scroll through all comments here but i'll put in my two cents:
    We're born, we reproduce (or choose not to), we die. Just like every other ANIMAL on the face of the earth. Being gay goes against nature in that it breaks the cycle, biologically it's wrong: consuming resources without reproduction is counterproductive. Nothing more, nothing less.
    Religion merely raises us above the monkies. We're a virus, destined to fail and take the whole shootin' match with us. Mother earth will reclaim herself in the end.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
    • Emma

      False, not every bee in the hive reproduces. Some help raise children while others act as army. All roles are needed, not just queen bee and stud.

      October 12, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
  8. das0522

    Aren't liberals supposed to laud freedom of speech and religion? Or is that only for imams who want to build Islamic centers near Ground Zero?

    October 12, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  9. xhanay

    so many people in this forum have everything always wrong or completely backwardass. live and let live, it's not your religious responsibility to force your beliefs on anyone, just like we don't know how the world was created, we also don't know know the teh gays were created. it doesn't obscure the fact that they are people who should have the same rights and protections as everyone else. too bad it takes education to get over these issues and the fact is that religious fanatics and conservative politicians are all anti-education, so my prognosis on this is something akin to israel/palestine conflict (everlasting war).

    October 12, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
  10. Kip

    @ Daviid Johnson
    Ecclesiastes 7:29 "God made man upright. He is to smoketh the herbage God shot up from the ground, he is without sin when he smoketh this special herbiminius. God make the herbacious plant so man can twisteth his brain around and chillith out."

    October 12, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • xhanay

      Everything created by God is good, that includes weeds too.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
  11. Historian

    Isn't part of Chuckie Darwin's theory that any trait that does not help perpetuate the species is lost in evolution?

    October 12, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • Emma

      But it does perpetuated the species, but not every position in the hive is to reproduce. Some help raise babies, some act in defense so that those reproducing can do so in safety and with help.

      October 12, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  12. It's Me

    Well, there ya go.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  13. mplsmn1953

    Sounds like something Ahmadinejad would say. Now that speaks volumes.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  14. Michael

    Oh, by the way Mr. Bill....

    If being gay were a choice, why would *anybody* choose to be marginalized, discriminated against, bullied, targeted, despised by a large portion of society? Seems pretty obvious to me what the answer is.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  15. Dawn

    “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?”

    WHO THE HELL ARE YOU to presume the power and/or will of your own God?!

    October 12, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  16. GFisher

    Why get so bent out of shape on the matter of religion. I feel so much peace knowing that I don't really believe in God. I don't need religion to be my crutch. I can make decisions and choices for myself and guess what, I have made my life better because of it. I do not hate those who have faith. I do have Mormon friends and I can attest that they are some of the most caring, supportive people around. They are good to their families and good to others outside the church. But make no mistake, they are also hypocrites, just like people from other faiths. There will always be that gray area with religion.

    I will say they are good people (for the most part) who try to do good works. After all their church is built on the idea of choice and accountability. But all of you out there leaving comments are forgetting that people who are gay are also good and do good works. They are active, wonderful people in our communities. They are human and loving and deserve the same amount of respect that some of you say is owed to these churches.

    I have a brother who is gay and many friends that are gay as well. I will defend them all to the end. There is nothing wrong with them, they are not evil. What they do is not evil. You will find that without religion in the way, the matter is moot. Because you religious zealots out there, good, moral, ethical people exist outside of religion.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  17. Dondi

    Oh, heavely Father ruler of the heavens and earth, please protect me from your followers!

    October 12, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  18. think

    Whenever someone says something that is informed by their religious faith, you can completely ignore them.
    You will miss NOTHING.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  19. Asking....

    I have a question. If you are gay, do you believe in God? Do you believe in anything higher than you? It's a simple question and I'd be curious to see the answers.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  20. Simon Sosa

    Here's what church leaders say about the issue. If you really want to know, it's worth reading:


    October 12, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
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About this blog

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.