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. Rock

    Why not speak out about people who rob or murder or hurt other people? Gay people don't hurt anyone. Get your morals out of the bedroom and focus the vitriolic speech on something that might mean something.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  2. Chris Greer

    Mormons believe that God is a white man named Elohim, who lives on a star base called Kolab located in the Milky Way galaxy, and who populated earth with his off-spring from his many wives. The Mormon Jesus is one of Elohim's sons, who came to America in 550 AD and cursed the people with dark skin for killing ALL of the Israelites that he told to come to America. Joseph Smith (a twice convicted con-man whom an angel told about ancient, gold scriptures hidden under a tree in upstate New York which he couldn't show to anyone else, but translated into the Book of Mormon using magical glasses that the angel gave him) will make them all polygamous Gods of a planet near ours when they die. Doesn't sound like any Christian God or Jesus I know!

    October 12, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  3. Brock

    Packer's mistake is in alienating LGBT Mormons. There's definitely going to be a backlash among the LGBT Mormon community (which is sizeable, even if Packer and many people on this forum aren't aware of it).

    October 12, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
    • MM

      There comes a time when you have to separate yourselves from that which is deviant and against the teachings for which you stand. God will hold the Mormons accountable for putting up with this kind of lifestyle.

      October 12, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • tparr

      I'm pretty sure Pres. Packer is not and never will be intimidated by the LGBT and their baseless cries of unfair hate. He answers to God and there for doesn't have to defend or answer to the LGBT.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:40 pm |
  4. Bob

    So, another Petrified Poobah tries to articulate dogmatic hatred with words like "respect" and "love". Well, my God demands that I poke old Mormons in the eye with my right index finger. Using love and respect, of course.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  5. Bubba

    OK, now I know what's even stranger than bein' gay: being a CRITIC of gay people.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  6. more women


    October 12, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  7. Ron Hicks

    This is why I’m a committed atheist – I don’t have to worry or concern myself about absurd commentary from some other human who I assure you, is no closer to knowing the mind of an imaginary deity than my dog is. Fairy tales and imaginary friends are for children and lunatics. This clown is exactly what the world doesn’t need, another bigoted, power hungry nobody preaching to the profoundly ignorant and desperate...

    October 12, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  8. Sara

    Packer asked why God would do that to His children. Well, why would God give a baby both male and female genitalia? It happens more often than people think. Why are some people born without the ability to reproduce at all? Why are some born with deformities or diseases. I have to think that it wasn't God who did those things. It was the luck of the human draw. We get what we get, and we need to be accepting of each others' differences.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  9. cookie

    Glenn Beck must feel right at home with the Mormons.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  10. Justin Martin

    I am a member of the mormon church and I disagree 100% with Packers speech. In the bible it says we need to be tolerant of other people... this is not teaching tolerance! Religion and politics shouldn't mix, why can't the mormon leaders learn this!

    October 12, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
  11. Gary (Member) Newman

    I have read almost all of these posts. Their are a few exceptions but I see tons more "hate" in these posts then you can glean from anything said by President Packer. Look at yourself before you throw the stone.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  12. Danielle

    "Bottom line: Mormonism is a business cult using religion as a front and "charitable" donations to keep their members employed and volunteer work to advertise said business i.e. T-ithes are nothing more than union dues!!"

    I am so agree! I worked in the company run by mormons. This IS a business cult. They treat non-mormon employees like slaves. They send their boys to serve in missions to spread their business all over the world. Don't worry, their children WILL find jobs after graduating from BYU in their own mormon community held businesses, and WILL keep enslaving you and me, disregarding their own rules about love to people and Family. They don't care about YOUR family and YOUR children.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  13. Barney

    I can't believe folks are chirping "hate crime" and "bullying". Get a life! If that were the case, then everyone in Congress should be arrested for hate crimes and bullying towards each other over differing viewpoints. Really, the louder you defend it seems like you are either agreeing or apologizing.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  14. JJ

    Wow, I just spent 30 minutes reading a lot of posts.
    Everywhere "Pushing tolerance" by being "Intolerant."
    One who belives in God understands morals are set by God not by us, and so one's faith is.
    Love, kindness and respectfully disagreeing is OK. Nowhere did I see a call to be differnt from Mr. Packer.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  15. David Johnson

    Tired of this. The comments aren't going where they are supposed to. Boring!

    October 12, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  16. connie

    with me knowing alot of gays and lesbians my conclusion of them all is that they all have some mental problems beside being gay. and i love my friends but everyone of them have other mental issue.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  17. Barney

    If we were all gay, we would cease to exist. Even Atheists agree on that. Therefore, it IS unnatural.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
    • User0192837

      Yup, that sums it up nicely.

      October 12, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • Frank

      Transgender people throw a kink in that little argument.

      October 12, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
    • Joey

      Check again, it occurrs naturally in all types of animals, and we all continue to survive. This is why its great that we live in a world where we don't all have to be the same.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
    • greg

      Everyone having babies would overwhelm the environment, leading to collapse (we are having too many as is). Too many straight people is killing the planet. So being straight must be unnatural.

      October 12, 2010 at 8:40 pm |
    • Frank Rizzo

      But, everyone isn't gay. So your hypothetical argument is irrelevant.

      October 12, 2010 at 10:17 pm |
  18. User0192837

    You are not born gay. It's a lifestyle choice. Genetics make your hair brown, not "be gay" , "be a killer", "be a thief", "be interested in stamp collecting".

    October 12, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
    • Frank

      There is no 'gay lifestyle'.

      As for killing: Ever heard of psychopathy? That's inborn and there's no cure for that (note: Not all psychopaths kill and not all killers are necessarily psychopaths but my point is clear).

      October 12, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
    • Joey

      Then when did you decide to be straight, I wonder? People don't choose who they're attracted to, they just are.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  19. MoodyMoody

    We Americans have freedom of speech and freedom of religion. That means the government will not interfere with what you say or what you believe. Freedom of speech and religion does NOT mean that there are no social consequences. Packer has the right to say and believe what he chooses, but he has to accept that many people find his speech reprehensible and hateful.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  20. Lapsed Pastafarian

    Ah, come on. Why is anyone surprise by these statements. Mormonism is a conservative religion. I don't agree with him, which I'm sure dismays but doesn't surprise all my Mormon relatives, but this is the USA. We have freedom of speech. Packer as well as all the protesters.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:31 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.