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. pasigiri

    To all who say Jesus Christ, the son of the Living God, The Holy Father is imaginary, then I'm fine. Nothing will happen to me or anyone else. Everyone just dies and life doesn't mean very much. But if He isn't .... then what???

    October 12, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • Alienative

      Right on sister

      October 28, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  2. Chicago Jim

    Got to love that our cournty has moved from we have to have "tolerance" to we have to accept. Why are people up in arms when a representative of the mormen church is against gain marriage and thinkgs its a sin? That is part of their belief. The same goes for the pope, who is against gay marriage and thinks its a sin.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  3. Deborah

    Tolerance is in the eye of the beholder, apparantly. The left seems unable to tolerate some belief systems, feeling the need to lable believers in those systems "haters." This is philosophically and ethically manipulative and wrong. Could it be that the gay men who committed suicide (God rest their souls) had deeper pain that led them to their suicides? Perhaps that should be analyzed instead of the thumbnail approach people readily buy hook, line, and sinker.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
    • Doppleganger

      Tolerance? HAHAHA this is the U.S. If you can name a time in the entirety of U.S. history, where there wasn't an oppressed minority, I'd be absolutely dumbfounded.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  4. ApostleMyRearEnd

    So ol' Boyd is at it again. Isn't he the same clown who preached against interracial marriage?

    October 12, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  5. Dan

    I get so sick of people using their imaginary, magical sky gods to justify their hate.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
    • Ken B.

      Why is disagreeing Hate....where does this come from?

      October 12, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  6. greg

    isn't it a bit ironic that this "hate speech" (which really isn't hateful at all) is producing a whole slew of hate. Hate that is directed not only at the speaker, but at the speakers religion? Looking over this forum makes me sad. How can you accuse a man of speaking hate, and then make even more hateful claims against him and his religion? Isn't that hypocrisy?

    October 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • LDSRevelations

      I don't hate anyone— Boyd K, the Church or Mormons in general. In fact, I'm technically still Mormon myself.

      I do think that the LDS Church is dead wrong on this issue and that time will show that. I'm sure active LDS disagree— so lets agree to disagree.

      I encourage LDS to stand up and say what they believe if they wish to — just don't be surprised if people react negatively to it. I'll do the same and welcome criticism of my position. It only helps me to broaden my views and consider greater possibilities.

      The US social political process is great isn't it? Tough crowd but everyone gets to say their peace.

      October 12, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
  7. Sangran

    Mormons judging the gays and lesbian? This is hilarious considering that Mormon is nothing more then a cult on its own. Just ask the Catholics and the Protestants what they think of the mormons.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • Jerimiah

      As a Catholic, I can attest to the fact that the Mormon religion certainly has it's deviations from Biblical teaching. But honestly, how sad is it that Catholics aside, Mormons do a better job contesting abortion and gay marriage than do all the Protestants combined.

      So who is it who's ultimately wrong? None of us are doing God's Will to our fullest capability. Professing Protestant Christians (of which I used to be one) preach in support of this stuff these days. Yet here are the Mormons, unabashedly speaking the truth about gay marriage.

      Though I don't agree with their religion, I have to give them kudos for speaking plainly on a subject that everyone's afraid to talk about.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  8. miranda

    Oh my! What a bunch of name callers we have here! Emotional politics just reinforces stereotypes on each side and changes no one's opinion.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
  9. Z

    This is what happens when any religion dominates the political landscape of a state!!! God and politics do not mix, should not mix. Why should any one religion dictate the law of the land.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
  10. pasigiri

    This is funny and not funny at the same time. Will someone please define the boundaries for what's right and wrong. Gay and lesbians say they were born with these tendencies, or developed these tendencies, etc. So, by following that SAME logic, full grown adults can have relationships with consenting children because ... wait for it ... they were born with these tendencies, or developed these tendencies, etc. I know, I know "that's not right. children shouldn't be touched. there not old enough to consent to such". But why is it so wrong when it follows the EXACT same logic; forcing one's feelings and behaviors to be accepted by others? Look, I don't have a problem with gays. I have a problem with the behavior. Loving parents don't have problem with their misbehaving child, they have a problem with their behavior. I'm sorry. I just don't buy the whole gay stuff. Gays look no different to me than the guy at the strip club drooling over some hot super model taking it all off. LUST is the word ....

    October 12, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  11. Humble

    It wasn't that long ago that the leadership of the church claimed that God sanctioned men taking many wives ( but not women taking many husbands). So I ask why the paractice has stopped. Has the Lord God changed God's mind? People should really worry about theior relationship with God and leave others alone.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  12. James

    For those who heard his talk, it is quite clear that the overall message is that social acceptance does not always override commandments from God. The holy scriptures speak this truth.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  13. Tim

    This, coming from a church whose founder slept with 12-year-olds? How inspiring.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  14. Brent Spires

    Here we go again: The Sodomities playing tghe victim card again. If you believe in his Church and right to represent it, fine. If not, walk away. Oh, yeah, you're too interested in destroying the Latter Day Saints' property again–like you did in Los Angelos. . . . .I forget.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  15. Coolbreeze

    Well....The point is that we the Mormons do not, do not hate anyone gay or not, white or not; we preach and teach not to hate anyone, even to love our enemies. It is up to the member to follow or to live it. If you are an educated person, you will not, will not blame the whole church and its gospel just because one other mormon makes mistakes. The truth is that what Packer said..it is the truth and it is what the church teaches. Do we have to hate or discreminated all gays if they don't follow the same gospel?...Simply Not. No is the answer. If you follow a religion, you will understand the whole concept of this teaching...and let God himself to be the judge but lets not use this drama to hate each other or to point fingers at. I am a mormon and have gay friends and do not judge them; however, I practice and stick to my believes.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  16. Edudad

    It is wonderful that Americans are not inhibited and have freedoms that some countries can only dream about. However, we understand that to ensure these rights, we allow a window for people to possibly hurt others (see: pre-911 airport security). We simply put our trust in the fact that people will act responsibly. Free speech works the same way. Regardless of their message, everyone should be given the right to speak. Just understand that when derogatory comments about anyone are given a platform, they can sometimes fan the flames of predjudice and hatred. The attacks in New York City on October 3rd are evidence of the price of free speech. It is a privilege that must be spent wisely. I hope Fred Phelps and Boyd Packer are listening.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • Frank

      " The attacks in New York City on October 3rd are evidence of the price of free speech."


      October 12, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  17. cogito

    What is "impure and unnatural," of course, is any belief system that places a higher value on religious fantasy than on the real lives of real people, the findings of scientific medical research, or the moral imperative to respect others as they are. This self-appointed spiritual guru contaminates public discourse with his ignorant, dogmatic utterances. It is a shame that people have to read such filth.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • Nonimus

      I agree with most of what you are saying, however, you do realize the inherent contradiction in these two of your concepts:

      "...moral imperative to respect others as they are"
      "This self-appointed spiritual guru contaminates public discourse with his ignorant, dogmatic utterances."

      October 12, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
  18. MM

    So, is a speech all that it takes for a gay person to kill themselves? That is very sad to know because they don't that they place such little value on life.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
    • Joey

      Its not "a" speech that causes this. Its a lifetime of hearing people deamonize gay people, of hearing conversations regarding what abominations they are, of watching as politicians decide if you're allowed civil rights, and after coming out, of being treated as a lesser citizen. Its much more than just one person saying one thing.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • Sick of ignorant people

      This is for you MM:

      Your comment is one of the most cold-hearted on this whole page. Imagine being raised in the LDS church and told time after time after time that to be gay is be immoral and wrong and not accepted in the Mormon society or the eyes of God. How much value would you put on your life if that is what you truly came to believe about yourself? When someone you love and respected very much, President Packer, comes out with this kind of a statement only adding to what you already have listened to your whole life, killing yourself would seem as the last resort to escaping the kind of mental pain and torment that someone like yourself probably will never understand.

      October 13, 2010 at 2:33 am |
  19. Gromit

    All you people need to give it a rest!

    October 12, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  20. Glass Houses

    Consider the source. These are the same people who still believe in polygamy (They believe they will practice it in heaven, and don't do it on earth because it is frowned down upon), believed African Americans were evil and would not let them into their churches until the 70's, believe their MALE members can become Gods and rule their own galexies, and only say they are a Christian based faith so their true beliefs don't look so bizzar. Last time I read the bible "Apostle Packer" the devil was stricken from heaven for thinking himself a god. Your beliefs are truely unnatural and not Christian.

    October 12, 2010 at 3:50 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.