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. Dan B

    Ahh, love the 21st century.. should still be dancing around stone henge.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  2. max

    I am a straight, married, mormon turned athiest who lives in salt lake city and actually attended the protest spoken about in the article. It was great to see how many parents were there (both mormon and non-mormon) to support their children. I dont know what the church expects when they issue statements such as these on a world wide stage. Even just walking home I could hear conference blaring over loudspeakers downtown. And all these packer- backers are crying If you dont want to listen, dont listen. Packer has freedom of speech, he can say and believe whatever he wants but to broadcast it openly, he cant not expect people to hold him accountable for his tactless remarks.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  3. Gavin Ford

    I will tell you what is unnatural. Believing in this absurd and easily debunkable religion.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:27 pm |

    The Mormon Church: Considering Black People Human for ALMOST 40 years!

    October 12, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  5. A-Whole Dude

    Everyone is wrong but me! my Opinion is the only one that is right and matters! I didn't even read or understand what's going on but I disagree with everything that has been mentioned before me! That's as far as any other comment is going to get. Get over it.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  6. Greg

    So gay marriage is immoral but polygamy is OK?

    October 12, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  7. Michael

    Why is this a surprise? News flash: Mormons are intolerant of people not like themselves. Why are they even trying? Forcing them to be PC is forcing them to be hypocrites and fake. Plus it let's them survive and thrive when they wouldn't if they were free to say what they really want to say. I'll take my religious fanatics holding signs saying "God hates you" over the quiet ones any day. That way at least I know who I'm dealing with.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  8. FloridaGal

    js007 – Served a mission, immediately came home and resumed college and graduated, continued on to law school. I wasn't "late in the game". And, neither are the thousands of missionaries that serve. Where are you getting this information? And, BYU is a prestigious school, although I went to Yale. I have a ton of friends that went to BYU, that have graudated from there, that are now making big salaries. As far as people staying in the church to "stay straight". What's wrong with that? Isn't that what church is supposed to be, a place of healing, a place to assist us in "staying on the course". I don't know of any statistics out there that state the ALL Mormons or that Mormons, above any other religion, has subtance abuse members. The Church is just full of people that come from all walks of life, who love the Lord, and are striving to do good daily. Just because you are a hurt former LDS man doesn't mean that you can make your experiences truth for all.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  9. BOB

    People are not born as perverts any more than they are born as murders or thiefs.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  10. squealy

    The argument that, if all people were gay the world would have ended 2000 years ago, is crazy. There have always been gay people and there have always been straight people. There will always be enough straight people to keep the population up. And besides, gay people CAN certainly procreate in just the same way straight people do. They are physically capable of it just as anyone is. They may not wish to, but they can. So don't worry about the demise of the human race which has overpopulated this resource-scarce planet to begin with. I'm sure gay people will pitch in and do their best to help when we get down to our last 2 or 3 people.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  11. Ross

    Since LDS is a religion that believes the Bible is the word of God, and as such, needs to be followed if you don't like the word of God, don't belong to that religion. Make up a new one that leave Leviticus out of the scriptures. It is that simple.

    They are a bunch of people that have a view that others don't like. Instead of jumping up and down, screaming at them, ignore them. Don't feed the squirrels. If you feed them, they keep coming back for more.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  12. docliptz

    So I can have many wives, believe someone carry golden tablets around that weighed too much for one man AND hate gays? Sign me up for this religion!

    October 12, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  13. Jeff

    Now why would anyone take a thing these wife-swapping child molesters say seriously? The sooner we revoke tax-exempt status for these disgusting religious cults, the better the world will be.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
    • American Patriot

      "Wife-swapping child molestors"??? Hate speech at it's finest. Plural marriages have been gone for over 100 years, and they are not the Catholic church. I'm hearing a whole lot of the pot calling the kettle black! I guess Mormons can have thier own beliefs (just like you), they just can't say them out loud because someone might disgree or be offended. WOW! LOL!!

      October 12, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  14. dj1s

    Wow, the crazy is strong in this thread.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  15. whoa whoa whoa

    ya, well i don't know what you're thinking, you should take a pill and calm down a bit there lady, its complete nonsense and very offensive.....learn to communicate with others, it'll get you further in life than spewing hate...not very lady like if you ask me

    October 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  16. tj

    “Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”

    Questioning God's plan, are we? I see how it is.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  17. It's True

    Is an alchoholc born an alchoholic? Is that wrong? Did God create him that way?

    The similarities are uncanny......the signs or consequences are quiet during childhood. During adolesent years is when they typically come out. Someone with 'addictive tendencies' still has to decide to take his first drink of alchohol. Someone with 'gay tendencies' has to decide to act on those for the first time.

    I wouldn't argue that a gay person does as much harm or affects those around them nearly as much as an alcoholic. Obviously the two are different in many ways.....The real item of interest is if you're born that way in both instances. If so, and you applied the 'gay activist' logic, the alcholic should be allowed to start drinking whenever he is ready, and anyone who tries to deter him from that is a bigot because that's how he was born.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  18. John Thomas Tucker

    How much money has this "Church" spent on this now? How many millions of dollars that could had been used to facilitate good have been wasted on this?

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

    Burn them all to the ground, All the churches, burn baby burn

    October 12, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
    • Josephine

      Ah ... bigotry at its finest

      October 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Gingerpeach

      Now that is HATE talk!

      October 13, 2010 at 3:53 am |
  20. You know

    holy hell. half you people are insane and most of your have reading comprehension issues. and some of you like blowing things out of proportion simply to create a controversy because you have nothing etter to do. good luck with that.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
    • dr7x

      And some people cant spell.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:39 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.