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. Amber

    Church views aside (because debating religion gets people nowhere)...I think the timing was wrong. In the past 2 wks, the news has been all chattering over all the gay teen suicides. What was it, 5 in one week? Everyone knows the LDS are for traditional marriage, we get it. But perhaps out of consideration they could have focused their talks on suicide prevention, anti-bullying, an seeking help for depression. The battle over gay marriage will take years, the LDS will have many conferences to discuss it. But youth suicide is happening daily and should have been addressed with urgency.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  2. nOT Trash

    None of the churches, any churches, business.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  3. 4sanity

    There are so many things in organized religions that are explicitly immoral and unnatural but that hide behind a veneer of self-righteouness .....

    If being gay is immoral and unnatural.... so is celibacy in the priesthood. It's a bizarre form of masochism against the biological imperative to reproduce.

    If being gay is immoral and unnatural .... so is polygamy. Simple math shows that plural marriages will deny a significant proportion of individuals (i.e. men) the opportunity to marry and reproduce.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  4. Dave

    “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.”

    Calling this hate speech is not accurate. In this country we have the right to express out opinions (for good or ill) and this opinion by itself may not directly affect anyone’s well being. On the other hand, give the recent suicides by Gay teens; I think it is insensitive of the Mormon Church to drive this point home at this time.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  5. dr7x

    You know what Im sick of? Gay people bashing my religion because someone stands up and dissagrees with them on "if being gay is right or wrong." Just because the church believes it to be wrong so what, if you dont, fine! dont go to church then if you got it all fiqured out and are happy with your life style. But dont go bashing everyone because they dont believe the way you do. There is a lot of things in this world I think isnt fair but Im not going to bash anyone over it if they dont see it my way. Grow Up!!!!!!!!!!

    October 12, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  6. john316

    Why these massive "Cults" acting as large corporations are allowed to be tax exempt, while preaching hate and intolerance is true Science Fiction......except it's real. And why rational Americans would allow these groups to deny its own citizens equal rights is an abomination ( as the cults like to say) "moderate" muslims are also afraid to speak against the radical elements of religion.....and so it is with the moderates here.... the most firightening thing will be when the followers of organized religions everywhere finally realize they've been hoodwinked all this time ....now that could be really scary.......

    October 12, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  7. Simple_Human

    Wow.....okay. For those of you who believe yourself to be the moral compass of our society, let's say this: Since marriage is only for 2 people to procreate then all those who cannot bear children (for any reason) should not be allowed to marry. Sound good? Ridiculous..... Find something positive to do with your life other than forgetting to walk a mile in someone else's shoes but still having an opinion about them.....

    October 12, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  8. Mormon Girl

    Bravo, Elder Packer! Whatever else, I applaud his sticking to his guns. I love gay people, but I do very much agree with his words. Timing may be what it is but part of courage is to stand for your beliefs whatever the situation.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  9. Ron

    Gay lifestyles go against nature. There are plenty of examples in nature of polygamy and even historical and religious precedent for polygamy, but there is no natural or historic (except for ancient Greece) precedent for gayness. Somehow gay lifestyles have now become to be considered "natural" in the US and Europe. These same countries won't tolerate polygamy, however. I think that's why Al Queda hates the west so much. We are trying to force our pro-gay, anti-polygamy lifestyle on their culture and they don't like it.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  10. Torey

    I've pretty much had it up to 'here' with liberals espousing their beliefs in the name of the 1st Amenment and then attacking anyone who has the nerve to disagree with them. Gays are hypocrits. I am neither a fan of the Morman religion or the G/L/T groups. Joseph Smith was a pedophile and had some seriously creepy ideas. In today's world, he would be fodder for the Nancy Grace Show. And as for the G/L/T groups, when will enough be enough? We get it... you're gay. What else do you effin want? A cookie? Hate laws have been enacted, gays are regulars on tv, there are more and more companies enacting gay-friendly policies. The people who rage against it are not going to be swayed by legislation. Why not be thankful for the immense strides that you HAVE made in a short time and CHILL? The only negative thing I ever hear about the Gay population anymore is that they have pushy lobbyists. With all the US has to deal with these days, who you sleep with is NOT our major concern. YOU are making it bad on the young gays coming up! Conservative Americans look at them and think, "Great... another whiner." Just go be gay and be happy, ok?

    October 12, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  11. Lets be real

    @ Will

    WHAT??? People have genitals to reproduce?? What about to remove waste from the body? Can you explain then the biological justification of the prostate? Oh and while you’re at it can you categories all couples that decide not to have children, or that try and can't, do they have a condition as well?

    October 12, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  12. CapnGroo

    You are all missing the point...again. The question isn't nature or nurture, nor is it right or wrong. (In case you're wondering, though, it's nature, and neither right nor wrong). It's whether or not in a free society we are going to allow descrimination based on lifestyle. I don't care if a person chooses to be gay, is born gay, or has a signed waver from God that says "you are gay." If they are gay, or want to be gay, LET THEM BE GAY! Stop forcing your version of morality on everyone else. Oh, and BTW, their only "agenda" is equal treatment in society and especially unter the law. Nothing more than other minority groups have fought for righteously for decades.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  13. Duane

    I was a LDS faithful for 25 years before I resigned. It seems to me that the church I loved took a hateful turn while wrapping itself in the flag and the bible. It is sad it went this way, but no suprise to see the leaders take this approach. Still living in Salt Lake, and watched the rally the other night. Hope the faithful of the church can band together and realize we are all human beings and deserve to be happy, regardless of our orientation.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  14. Linda

    How does a difference in opinion become hate speech. In this article I did not see in threat of violence only a difference of opinion. Seems to me that if you don't agree with gay marriage than you are automatically a "hater". The hate spreaders are the ones calling everyone else haters.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  15. Ron

    One thing that this pastor needs to learn......you don't mess with the gay community. Dare speak anything that isn't just pro-gay lifestyle and watch how you will get attacked. Now you can talk about how bad polygamy is all day long and that's okay, but speak one word that isn't pro-gay and be prepared to be attacked. Our PC government is right there to enforce pro-gay lifestyles too. Have a gay bathhouse and watch our government roll in tanks and troop to protect the gay bathhouse, but a Mormon who has more than one wife, watch the tanks roll in to blast the house and kill everyone in it.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  16. Chris

    I don't know why everyone so outraged by this latest statement issued by the cult. Mormons didn't even allow black to become practice members until 1978. People can cite all the Mormon scripture they want saying they were against slavery, but what is sad and what is done are two completely different things. This is more bigoted trash coming out of Utah. The intellectual stagnation there is sweltering.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
    • FloridaGal

      Reality – Before you post, please get it RIGHT. These men have provided for their families with incomes outside of the church! They established companies unrelated to the church. One is a doctor, another a lawyer, one a scientist, a couple are professors; unlike mainstream Christianity where it's leaders are solely provided income from it's members. A few have chosen to take their businesses to Utah, to benefit the members of the church, but the majority's chosen professions are not associated with the church.
      Chris – Being a Black member of the Church, I have been a member for over 30 years and my parents before me. I think you need to check your information.

      October 12, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
  17. Donna

    Did anyone really expect Packer to say something other than what he said? One side of my family are mormons – a bunch of judgemental hypocrites. Once you study the inner workings of the mormon church, you will wonder why anyone would belong to such a "religion". Don't go and tell me about all the love, the children, how you all take care of each other. If you want a discussion, let's talk about having your own planet when you die, or marrying dead women in you temples, or being baptized for all the dead people who were not wise enough to become mormon before they died. Yes, you are going to save every dead sole by turning them mormon through baptism because, as I have been remined so many times, "It is the only true religion!" Well, God save the rest of us because that makes the majority of mankind wrong! Need I say more?

    As soon as this world learns to love ALL of mankind, no matter what, is when this kind of nonsense will be over. Until then we will continue to live in a world of hate.

    Finally C. TheLight said it perfect (above blog), he is one who has also lived this religion, as I have, and both of us, thank God, got out before it was too late.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
    • Gary (Member) Newman

      I'm sorry you are so bitter.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  18. Eva

    ..."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" That hardly qualifies as "hate speech". I read no threats in that whatsoever. The hate speech is in calling someone's opinon hate speech because you disagree. I guess anything that person who called this hate speech disagrees with is hate speech. I would like to know who elected that person supreme decider of what words can be spoken.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  19. Dang

    Well, it looks like the "Reply" function is trashed again. Thanks CNN.

    All: Please reference the pertinent post / poster when you write - otherwise it makes no sense.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  20. CanadianBacon

    Mormonism is a cult. feel bad for you mormons no caffeine no booze cant do jack on sundays and ur brainwashed and judgemental

    October 12, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Do you not see the hypocrisy in your post calling Mormons "judgemental?" Also, I can do plenty on Sunday. I can go to church, I can drive a car. I can visit family. I can play with my kids. I can do the nasty with the mrs. I can watch football. I can talk on the phone. I can help people. I can drink a coca-cola. I can blog. I can go for a walk. I can do the nasty with the mrs. again! I can even work if my family needs the income. Yes, it is a day of rest, but not a day of waste.

      October 12, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32
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.