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. pepinium

    Militant members of the gay community cruising all these sites ready to pounce on anyone who does not support their agenda are bound to be disappointed when they realize that most of us in the straight community do not buy their attempt to portray their lifestyle as perfectly normal or acceptable. Once you remove the layers of BS, you are left with the undeniable fact that no species can condone behavior that, if adopted by most would lead to the species demise. That is the inherent reason why this behavior will always, and with good reason, be deemed abherrant!!

    October 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  2. Jennifer

    So, I don't agree with what Packer said, but let's remember the audience to which he was speaking: Mormons, the majority of whom are like-minded on this issue and most others for reasons based in tradition and their intrepretation of scripture. And while his message is available over cable-televised and re-televised broadcasts that anyone could watch on YouTube, most non-Mormons don't sit around for hours to watch these long conference programs. If they were to do so, most intelligent, non-LDS viewers could find plenty else to get riled up about. The media sought this message out. Well, the same message could be found in Sunday services of other organized religions, on evangelicals programs, or in the minds of more popular figures than this elderly man and a majority of LDS people. As a former Mormon, I can attest to the fact that this message isn't new and that Mormons don't hate any group of people. Love the sinner, hate the sin, is what they say. They're stupid for saying that being who you are is, in these cases, sinful – that, I can get on board with and was not the least of my reasons for having my records removed – but they're not asking anyone but members to pay attention to Packer's speech. Like everything else that anyone says, you don't have to listen. No one's asking you to convert. They haven't legislated anything in anything in a General Conference in my lifetime.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
    • LDSRevelations

      I appreciate your comments but the issue is more complicated I think than you suggest. The Church's mobilization to fund and pass Prop 8 goes well beyond preaching to the faithful. The LDS hierarchy actively stepped into this arena and took the first swing.

      While Packers words are nothing new, his words are more than merely teaching.

      In 1993 in a talk he said the 3 greatest threats to the LDS Church were the "gay-lesbian movement, the feminist movement...., and the ever-present challenge from the so-called scholars or intellectuals." I think the Prop 8 campaign grew out of this sort of rhetoric and I don't think LDS will be content just believing their religion and leaving others alone to live.

      I for one need to voice my disapproval with LDS attempts to legislate their 'morality.'

      October 12, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
  3. Huzzah!

    david johnson, do you have a vivid imagination? can you think of one thing while doing another? that's how a gay man and a gay woman could perform

    October 12, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  4. Peacemaker

    This IS OLD NEWS CNN! Come on. The hypocrisy of the LDS never fails to amaze me! After a protest in front of 'temple square' of 4,000 people. And when this news broke nationally, the man whose comments were SO offensive CHANGED them! They said 'this happens all the time' meaning changing the comments! BUT...... don't be fooled, people, the LDS are seasoned liars.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
  5. User0192837

    Shhhh...you can actually hear CNN losing viewers. Maybe another "Black in America" special or more hating on Christians will help them out. But by the look of these comments, they can always count on the support of the non-thinkers.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  6. GianCarlo

    Why pay attention to this disgusting Cult of a religion. Mormonism is not a religion. It is a cult who's founder has created the most stupid and false creation. To all you Morons that believe in the Mormon doctrine; you are really stupid and deserve being lied and led by this cult.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  7. Jon

    That whatever this guy said has provoked this kind of reaction from the gay minority tells me that the Mormons are doing something right. Maybe I'll join up.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
    • Sara

      I don't know much about them, but it seems like what they teach is very Christlike. Love and heal and serve. Doesn't seem that bad to me.

      October 12, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  8. Supermom

    To the LGBT Community, I'm sorry you got your feelings hurt. I think Pres. Packer is a good man. You disparage him for "trying to indoctrinate millions with his outdated beliefs," but isn't that what you are doing. Nothing he said was hateful or meant to do harm but you automatically attack and call names with words that are meant to be nothing but hateful and do harm. You rail on him for calling your lifestyle and personal choices "immoral" and yet you have no problem doing the exact same thing to every Mormon in the world with your mean spirited and often unfounded comments. Instead of rising above the fray and realizing that an 86 year old man might need to clarify his comments, you are intent on latching on to any little remark that might be twisted into some imagined personal offense and run with it. It is you who should be ashamed. If you feel your life and choices are legitimate, why do you feel the need to defend every single comment that is uttered?

    October 12, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
    • Brandon

      This was not just some small statement uttered under his breath. This was an intensley focused comment directed at thousands of family's watching this in stake centers over satellite projected onto the wall of thousands of churches. People of all ages are are influenced by this man, children and adults alike are dying or being bullied because of this one broadcast. If words where not that powerful than where would the word of God be?

      October 12, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  9. TW

    Most of you genius' haven't even read or heard the talk and then sit in your bathrobes and trash the Mormons about something you know nothing about. And if you don't even know how to spell Mormon how much credibility can you possibly have?

    October 12, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  10. tomtom

    1. You are born being gay!
    2. Religion is a pest, always been and will never change!
    3. The US of A is in many ways years behind any other industrialized modern country!
    4. It will only get worse after November!
    5. I am american and thankful for the people who died, allowing me to post those things!
    6. I am embarrassed people still live in the medieval times, right here in my country!

    OK, I can hear it already, move if you don't like it here, lol!

    October 12, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  11. lexi98248

    Glad someone is standing up for principles! These people BASHING the gay comments obviously do not support the Bible and have not read Romans......I guess Paul was a "bigot"....

    October 12, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  12. ringo

    It's an interesting logic:

    1 – God made us all
    2 – God doesn't make mistakes
    3 – Some people are gay

    4 – Therefore they must resist the urge to be gay.

    Wouldn't a sane person come to a different conclusion?

    October 12, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
    • nuser


      October 12, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
    • Mike D.

      There's a gap in the logic here between 1 and 3. I assume you are implying that God made people gay, because 3, as stated, doesn't make any logical connection between what God did and some people being gay. Thus, 4 is one of several perfectly reasonable conclusions given 1 through 3. The truth is, God made us male and female. The root meaning of the word s** actually originally meant 'to divide.' God created gender, and then commanded a man to cleave unto his wife and become one flesh–i.e. to rejoin what had originally been divided, and this goes well beyond just the physical act of s**. That's the pattern in all of nature, including human beings. That is what Elder Packer is teaching. Whatever deviations from this pattern one may feel or choose can be brought back in harmony with the pattern of nature.

      October 12, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
  13. Todd

    I just want to know why this is being deemed as hate speech.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  14. Tom

    Preident Paker's talk reminded me of Jonah, of the Bible, sent by God to Sodom and Gomorra to call them to repentance.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
    • Mike D.

      Actually, Jonah was sent to Ninevah...

      October 12, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
  15. Kip

    not one – not a st!nk!ng one !!!~ Can a guy not catch a break here. Every post removed !
    Is there no room in the world for misantric, mysognistic, racists to rant?
    What is the big show coming to? is this is the Rapture? I don't feel raptured.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  16. Amunaka

    """" he said. “Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”""""

    Jeeeeze ..a lot of us wonder the same thing how could a" heavenly father" be so cruel to create such hatred and chaos ..death and destruction through the centuries ...

    October 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  17. CenterStage

    Good for him! I'm glad to see that he boldly stood up for his beliefs. For far too long the American people have allowed themselves to be fooled and restrained by politcal correctness "acceptance". No, I am not a Morman but I do agree with him.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  18. SeenMormanismInAction

    If this statement is correct: “We have continually emphasized that there is no room in this discussion for hatred or mistreatment of anyone.” then why do SLC Mormans constantly separate themselves from everyone? Even non-Morman children are not allowed to play with Morman children. Once it is known that you are not Morman, you are treated as an outcast. They will not speak to you or even acknowledge your presence. Mormans only believe in treating other Mormans with respect and dignity. If you are not Morman you are no better than a piece of trash to them. Mormans are great at preaching one thing and practicing something entirely different. Ask any non-Morman that lives in SLC!

    October 12, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
    • JC

      Not true, I'm a member and have friends of my different faiths and back grounds, even gay friends! If this person treated you differently, I'm sorry, it's wrong and that should have never happened.

      October 12, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
  19. LDSRevelations

    The LDS has a long and not so proud history of being on the wrong side of history— especially when it comes to social issues. That a Church claiming to have continuing revelation from God can be so consistently wrong is noteworthy. In fact it is the determination to cling to teachings of LDS prophets (past and present) that keeps Mormons holding onto outmoded ways of thought. In both cases of polygamy and the priesthood ban against African-Americans the LDS Church was— in a manner of speaking— dragged kicking and screaming into giving up it's questionable practices. The Prop 8 debacle appears to be no different. I suspect Mormon leaders and members of the Church will oppose change until LDS PR seriously suffers and conversions drop to zero— at which point the hard stance will be allow to change.

    Will the change come about by subtly shifting of policy or by a convenient yet bold revelation to the Brethren? Who knows? What do I look like— a prophet?

    Luckily there are some Mormons who oppose the actions of the Church and the hierarchy. Unfortunately they are generally marginalized for exactly that— not obeying the Brethren. Hopefully young LDS trend more open to gay marriage — as their counterparts outside the faith do. Sometime changes just requires all the old farts dying off— or at least one can hope.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
    • Joey

      To your final point about hoping young LDS members trend more favorably to their views on the GLBT community, I'd have to say from being gay and having LDS cousins that this often is not the case. Most my Mormon relatives of all ages hold the same point of view regarding this with just a small number of exceptions. I believe their view will only change when it becomes law as it did with women's rights following women's sufferage and with persons of color after the civil rights movement.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  20. Kip

    not one – not a st!nk!ng one !!!~ Can a guy not catch a break here. Every post removed !
    Is there no room in the world for misantric, mysognistic, racists to rant?
    What is the big show coming to? is this is the Rapture? I don't feel raptured.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
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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.