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. Robaire

    No Worries! It's only a matter of time before this moron...ah, mormon, will be caught "toe-tapping" under a Men's Room stall. First comes the hate, then comes the truth. I am always surprised ( and I shouldn't be) when I come across an insecure idiot who feel the only way to get a view of the world is by standing on the neck of someone else. Hatemongers! ha, you know I love 'em....

    October 12, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  2. chris

    get over yourselfs. this world has become so sad that protest come from anything anymore. so now protests are just the grownup way to cry to your mommy that someone called you a name.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  3. Mark in California

    So wait a minute, your talking about taking the the word of God... for a Mormon.... if so, then shut the heck up. Mormons don't believe the word of god, they have their own take on that and have their own set of Words. They are the abomination, not anyone in the LGBT crowd.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
    • David Anderson in Sacramento California

      Mark in California – You get the "I have no idea what the facts are" award of the day!

      Mormon believe in God and the bible very much! The fact that they have additional text means nothing. It must be embarrasing to make bold statements that can't hold a drop of water. Then again, ignorance is bliss!

      Mormons are some of the most caring and kind individuals I've ever met. It's too bad people stereotype and trash them when they really have no clue other then what they "heard" or read in a blog somewhere.

      October 12, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
  4. Bubba

    That ain't me posting, 'cause I don't believe there's anybody without sin. Especially old Phyllis that works at the Dew Drop Inn, she might have been born innocent but she ain't no more.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
  5. cmxsmitty

    The leader of the cult of magic underwear that lead a covert fund raising operation to deny tax-paying, law abiding citizens to their rights under the 14th amendment is not the voice of reason. The Mormon church should have their tax exempt status revoked if they want to be involved in politics.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
    • TheChurchofJesusChristofLatterDaySaints - Current Member

      Interesting? Do you also feel like the National LGBT Bar Foundation should have their tax exempt status revoked? They dabble with politics? Not a great argument.

      October 12, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  6. Fiona64

    Jason wrote: The bible does state CLEARLY why Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed.

    Why yes, it does. Ezekiel 16:49 reads: Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

    I don't see one peep in there about GLBT people, do you?

    BTW, in case you missed that day in civics class? Your bible is not the basis for law in this country.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  7. CanadianBacon


    October 12, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  8. delguy

    what a surprise that a religious wingnut would say something stupid. just stay in Utah. leave America to Americans.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
    • Joey

      Last I checked, Utah is considered to be American. Its been a state since 1896.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  9. dugudr

    ezekiel 27 17. This means war! To those how seek to poison and destroy my gay brothers. We, people who sheperd the weaks throught the valley of darkness and finders of lost children will strike down upon thee with great logics and ferious reasonning. When we done with you, you will find that logics and reasons has previal.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  10. qwertick

    This is one of the hardest subjects to speak, read, and agree on. There will always be a debate or arguement on this subject. I am a member of the LDS church and have family members that are gay. What I believe in ,or think of how a person is gay, is very different from what the opinion of people who are gay, and how they believe they were maybe created to be gay or made a decision to be gay. In the end, I love those people who are gay, who aren't gay, because I am commanded to love. they deserve respect, and for that I do give them the respect. I also respect my beliefs vs what other people believe. Unfortunately, there most likely will not be an agreement on this subject. Best thing we can do is to give a good effort to get along and hope for great results.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  11. Andy

    “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?”

    I don't know, maybe because there isn't one?

    October 12, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
    • erasmus

      ... or if there is a God he is a malicious and sadistic SOB

      October 16, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
  12. Leah

    Christianity : The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

    **courtesy of Urban DIctionary

    October 12, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  13. CenterStage

    Good for him for standing up for his beliefs & being counted. For far too long the American people have allowed themselves to be swayed by popular belief and polical correctness.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  14. Lee Oates

    Once again believers have proved the absolute stupity of those who practice and preach the morality of fairytales.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  15. Jon

    Wait a minute...so LBGT asks for tolerance....isn't tolerance a two way road? Why will you not tolerate a religion that believes that marriage is between a man and a woman? What is so hard about that?

    All the church has done is function within the limits set by the first amendment. We have a right to organize ourselves and vote, to preach what we believe to be true, and to practice our religion. Kick and cry as you may...march and write letters and dominate the blogosphere, but you can't change that.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  16. Josephine

    Hey, since when is a dissenting opinion hate speech? People will have different ideas. If you do not agree with a church, you do not have to attend that church. It's called freedom of religion. Everyone has a right to their conscience. Why on earth would you protest? This is not your value system. It seems to be that there is bigotry going on here by the LGBT community. If you don't tow the line and believe in what they preach, you are in for a protest. I can think of nothing more oppressive ! Can you imagine if any mainline church did that at a gay bar? What is needed here is a little respect across the board. Not everyone is going to agree, but everyone should be treated with respect.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
  17. learn to spell

    i find it funny how many of you ignorant people can't even spell Mormon. it is not MorMAN. if you've ever read anything from a reliable source about them, you would likely know that. or you just can't spell.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
  18. pastor warren

    the word is right all by it self
    more power to you brother wrong is wrong
    there is no other way to put it

    October 12, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  19. Golden Circus Girl

    The only people who need to worry about what this guy said are Mormons. If you're out of the closet, chances are you're not a Mormon. So if you're not a Mormon, who cares what they think? They can say what they want. It doesn't mean they're right and/or everybody has to agree with them.

    October 12, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  20. Jim H

    Strange from a religion founded on the principle of polygamy. I believe that most western religions wouldfind that immoral as well. Isn't that the reason that the Mormons were sent to Utah in the first place. As for the California issue–Another good reason to tax church property. If they are going to be a political lobbying group then they should give up their tax exempt status, as should all churches preaching politics from the pulpit–hmmmm maybe we could even pay of the national debt!

    October 12, 2010 at 2:53 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.