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. earl fey

    People saying that saying something in a church is OK but many of those same people say j. Wright"s comments in curch
    are dangerous hate speach. Is it what is said not where it is said?

    Doesn't the Old Testment say adultr is an abonation also?

    October 12, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  2. Lee Oates

    Once again Religious people have proven, without doubt, the absolute stupidity of holding to fairytales to govern their lives.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  3. rivirivi

    The Mormons are just another group of idiots believing the lies of another stupid sociopath John Smith, who just like the other sociopath Mohammed claim that an angel came for them – in different eras- to copy the holy book – and then took the gold book back to heaven. The Mormons, just like the Catholics have manipulated the so called "holy books which came from an angel" to the point of child molestation and numerous women- child women- "given" to their leaders. AND WE THE REST OF HUMANITY STAND IN IDLE DOING NOTHING WHILE THESE PERVERTS ABUSE OUR CHILDREN- UNTIL WHEN??????WHEN??

    October 12, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
    • Joey

      You know you really discredit yourself when you rail against something without checking your facts. The Mormon religion was founded by JOSEPH Smith not John.

      October 12, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  4. Sarah

    Anyone who kills themselves over what some moron (synonymous with morMon) says has it coming. Survival of the fittest, baby.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  5. Daniel Ipson

    You folks obviously don't read your scriptures:

    Jesus Christ says the following, (Luke 12: 51-53)

    51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
    52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.
    53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.

    Isaiah says, (Isaiah 5:20)

    20 Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!

    Nephi says, (2 Nephi 9: 28-29)

    28 O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish.
    29 But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

    You can't break the laws and commandments of God, you can only break yourself against them.
    Repent everybody, before it's everlastingly too late. For the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  6. Joshua Ludd

    Legalize immorality? Yeah, perhaps he should check our laws... most "immorality" is actually legal already, and not much chance it will ever be anything but. Remember, folks... if everything immoral to Mormons were made illegal coffee and tea would be outlawed.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  7. Bill

    It very interesting that God, the creator of the vast universe and every creature that walks, cowls or fly, and all in a week time, seems very batch full in giving us a set of instructions on behaviour. Instead supposedly he picks a bunch of idiots to speak for him.
    I am a Christian but it does mean that I have no right to use the gift that God gave us, a brain. Religion since Christ is nothing more than a political, economic power house. Which faith or government truly follows the words and deeds of Jesus.
    His words were simple, love, forgive, share, absolutely no blood shed. Jesus basically was 360 degree different in his teaching than the first testament. Seems that God changed his mind from the instructions he gave Jews. Do Christians follow his teaching, the answer is no. Christians killed more people in wars in two thousand years that any other religion on earth, that includes Christian against Christian. So who speaks for the father and son? No one.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  8. Sick Of the LDS

    Mormons need to be changed into REAL Christians. They are disillusioned businessmen hiding under the guise of being religious to save on taxes. Joseph Smith was a kid that was looking for attention and made up a purely fictional story and some fools decided it was enough to create a cult. Now they use this cult to disseminate lies about science and myths about truth. Pitiful are those that follow this cult like the mindless Kool-Aid drinkers of Jonestown.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  9. A Concerned Christian

    I am amazed at the postings here concerning this article. First of all, this was not a speech in hate. He stated his beliefs before a group of his peers. If you attend any social function of your choosing whether it be politcal spritual, or just social, you will hear things that you agree with because you are in a crowd of people that have likes as you. Mormon's are not morons, and even if you don't believe as they do does not make them Christians either. Every religion has christians in it with the exception of the few. However, Reuben, I do take offense as to your comment about other protestant religions and their christians. I pray for each of you. I do not agree with a gay lifestyle, but I will pray for those who participate, but ultimatley it is between them and God. Will I stand for my beliefs yes, and I have no hate in my heart.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  10. JJC

    Get ready for Boyd Packer to get caught in a mens room stall soliciting s3x. It seems like whenever anyone says that gayness can be changed by praying it soon comes out that they are themselves a practicing gay. The more someone dislikes gays the greater the chance that they are gay themselves and just trying to suppress it because of being taught by religion to hate themselves.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  11. Fred

    Jesus says perversion is of the devil.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  12. Sue

    Let him have his beliefs, but Gay marriage is only a matter of time. Once its here, the religious right will have their heads spin, but God does not belong in the law and the extreme hate on the side of people like this man, will only push more and more people out of the religion. Which means less money. Take the money away, and he has nothing

    October 12, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  13. Chip Douglas

    I am tired of candlelight vigils and silent protests. I suggest that all gays group together and torch the temple!

    October 12, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
    • Kira

      Now who is spewing hate? Elder Packer said to love and assist. You're promoting arson. Sounds like you are the one filled with hate.

      October 17, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  14. Time for a reality check

    @TomCruzzzz – Scientology is not the religion of science, nor was it ever meant to be. Science, in and of itself, could be characterized as a religion. Check the dictionary for the definition of Religion before attempting to argue otherwise. Although many religions, such as Christianity, are based around a single book it is ridiculous for anyone who would consider themselves intelligent to compare it to the Little engine that could, that definitely shows your biased and rather uneducated view point. Christianity and other religions are "ever evolving" as is any study. Although text is no longer added to the Christian bible the application of the doctrine in every day life is, along with the "ever evolving" understanding of the doctrine itself.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  15. Sick Of the LDS

    The LDS is a white trash organization founded on totally false "prophecies" of an ignorant teen. What more do I need to say?

    October 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
    • DinaK

      ACORN and the NAACP do not have much better things to say about White peopole. Haters are everywhere.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
    • Ken B.

      No Hate in your comment? I will pray for both sides to react and respond in a way that is right.....hate is wrong. Disagreeing is not Hate ....wherever that mental process came from is odd at best.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  16. Matt

    Wow, how can anyone say Pres. Packer's words are "hate speech" and then have no problem with the spewing forth of truly hateful comments on this board? Hypocrites. Taking a stand on moral issues in not hateful, and the LDS church continually tries to reach out to work in a friendly manner with those who they do not hate, but feel live an immoral lifestyle...and this is the reaction they get. Sad.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  17. JC

    @ David Johnson
    You said...
    Blonde people reproduce. Gay people do not except through means not seen in nature.

    Well there is no un-natural way to reproduce, it takes and egg, a sperm and a environment and voila natural reproduction.

    Now the conventional way of making that happen might be the most popular, but there are certainly unconventional ways to make those three requirements come together.

    Don't confuse unconventional with unnatural. Otherwise it's just a silly argument about what is natural....

    Just because you are gay doesn't meean you can't procreate. There's no reason at all why a population of gays and lesbians would become extinct.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  18. BOB in Indiana

    I suppose God has also created people as murders and thiefs as well? To say we have no control over sin is exactly what
    Satan would want us to do.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  19. Allan White

    Mormon doctrine is based upon the story of Indian tribes being decendents of a tribe of Hebrews. This "fact" has been proven false by dna testing. Every time historical and physical evidence comes out being contrary to Mormon doctrine, Mormons simply dismiss it as inconclusive. I guess believing a lie is better than not believing at all.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  20. Sick Of the LDS

    If the LDS can't be positive about minorities they need to stop bashing. Hate is hate no matter how they package it. It wasn't that long ago that these people were chased out of the Midwest for their beliefs. Now they think they're the almighty himself. What happened to humility? I doubt they know anything about spirituality or love. God forgive your hating leadership and his followers. Satan has a place for haters.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
    • dr7x

      Your just mad because you dont agree with him, so what, I dont agree with you, but Im not going to bash you because of it.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:53 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.