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. Steven

    These comments are grossly taken out of context. The lines:

    “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?"

    were put in with overcome addiction. Boyd. K. Packer was gently reaching out to any who are seeking help with very difficult problems. This was overlooked and twisted to mean something very different. I hope all can read the speech in it's entirety.

    This is something I have come to expect from journalists. Anything they can do, they will do to make a buck.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
  2. Lee Oates

    This is a cult based on the ravings of a schzophyrenic youth, thereby proving that humans are extremely gullible and willng to belieive any fairly tale.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
    • Judgwell

      Right 14 million people are dedicating their whole lives to follow a crazy person. Maybe a 100 or 200 like in Waco, but 14 million? World wide?

      It's no fluke brother.

      October 12, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  3. Jeremy

    I really appreciated the Church's statement: http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/.

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

    Now someone is going to really Pi** god off and then watch out, another flood or turning the sea red or locus will swarm. How much longer can this nonsense of a god go on? Isn't it time to realize that we have evolved over them billions of years on this planet. Get a grip people, religion is all about the M O N E Y.....take the $$$$ away and watch how quickly the preacher panic to find decent respectful employment

    October 12, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • Judgwell

      LDS leaders, like Pres Packer, are not compensated for their services. He is a volunteer along with the other 14 apostles and 70s, stake presidents and bishops.

      Not about the money. Not in the least.

      October 12, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
    • Judgwell

      LDS leaders, like Pres Packer, are not financially compensated for their services. He is a volunteer along with the other 14 apostles and 70s, stake presidents and bishops.

      Not about the money. Not in the least.

      October 12, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  5. dwayne

    How many wifes did Joseph and Brigham have? The # slips my mind. Didn't this christian cult start in PA when jesus visited the United States? Again my mind blank.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  6. Lynn

    Romans 1:22-32 (King James Version)

    October 12, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  7. Mormon for Eternity

    All of you are a mess on this board. It's comical.

    NOH8 is being preached in between "hate" comments against what one believes in is what is comical. Prez Packer is sharing his views and I truly believe he is not trying to incite any backlash knowingly on the LGBT community. However, if everyone is truly looking for equality then shouldn't forgiveness of perceived or misperceived comments be forgiven? Is there a better way to approach someones views than H8ful comments? I think so.

    Keep sharing your views, but my hell cage the emotions and focus on positive debate rather than the mudslinging we see in politics that is so detrimental!

    October 12, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  8. Dave

    Total believer
    "How many gay deaths are there every year from not only disease but from gay on gay violence?"

    Good point and now lets take a look at Mormon deaths from diseases but also from Mormon on Mormon violence?

    Do you want to make a bet on which will have more deaths?

    So if we use you thinking/logic then:
    being gay results in a large number of deaths from all causes and being gay is wrong and immoral (this is the original statement from the Mormon Pres) then;
    A group that self identifies itself in some way is wrong and immoral if that group suffers from a large number of deaths from all causes.

    We can then extrapolate that since the number of Mormon deaths are even higher then gay deaths then being Mormon( or Catholic/christian, Jewish, Muslim for that matter), these groups are then even more wrong and immoral then gays.

    ***That doesn't sound to healthy to me.

    Hey – everyone out there. Don't attack the Gays or those who are not religious or normal people for having the guts to say what is proven by the medical and societal evidence. Being religious is harmful. Saying that isn't hate. Being religious leads to all kinds of problems. That isn't hate. Most the time normal people are merely saying this because it is painful to watch someone going down a road that is generally a dead end. (literally) That isn't hate – it is kindness and love.***

    October 12, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  9. va Christian

    Ok, here is where I think it gets dicey. The protesters open letter to the guy who stated that the religions beliefs are that being gay is not accepted in their religion, this letter advises that HIS WORDS cause PEOPLE TO KILL THEMSELVES!! Suicide is an option, chosen by people who feel there is no other way, and in itself a sin in many religions. But, to blame a man's words (opinion) for anothers ACTIONS is typical bleeding heart extremist progressive liberal blame others GARBAGE! He did not kill those people, they killed THEMSELVES, based on one man's word. If you let other peoples thoughts control your actions then you are preparing yourself for serfdom.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  10. eldono

    I'm glad Boyd Packer said what he did. He is now exposed. I can't imagine the anger he must be carrying seeing his "World" changing and he not wanting to go along with it. It's sad.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
  11. Steve

    @Bull- "The guy is 86 years old. Who really cares about anything an 86 year old has to say."

    At least 14 Million people care what this "old man" has to say. Who here really cares what YOU think? I certainly don't. Yet we have the God given right of freedom of speech so you have the right to your opinion. Even though it doesn't mean much.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  12. Bamafever

    What we need do to is stop trying to play God. It is not our job to judge these people. No, we are not to condom it, either, but we ARE to love everyone (our neighbor) as we love ourselves. Leave it to God to judge. He's judging you, too!

    October 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  13. dwayne

    Who cares what the bigot says. mormons just another sick christian cult.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  14. Doppleganger

    I love our country... we can't go a decade without radicalized and generalized hate of a group of people. Sorry, gay people and Muslims... apparently it's your turn. Just be sure to do what you can to create a new pariah, that seems to be the only way out.

    The U.S. just wouldn't be the U.S. without hating someone.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  15. Jennifer

    Wow. I've already posted and said my bit; but after reading the comments that followed mine, I'd like to submit some additional points:
    1. People who've posted here don't seem to know the first thing about the LDS church or its members. They don't all go to BYU. They're not at a disadvantage when entering the workforce; neither do they blindly promote their own. They're largely well-educated, competent, generous, industrious people.
    2. The people in the LDS church are far more loving and informed than Boyd K. Packer's truncated speech suggests. And by the way, Packer is neither the president nor the prophet of the church.
    3. Being gay isn't unnatural. It isn't wrong. It isn't a choice any more than being hetero is a choice. And, let's just acknowledge, here: many hetero relationships are very unnatural, chosen for the wrong reasons, self-destructive, destructive to society, etc. Why do some of you insist, arbitrarily, that being gay is, in and of itself, unhealthy? You can't possibly know what those individual relationships are like. Is yours healthy? Is there something you'd like to talk about that the rest of the commenting peanut galley would only pelt you for? What do you do that is "natural" and "unnatural"? I want it all laid out in black and white. Is it natural that your syntax and grammar are wrong, or is it appropriate and regional? Why don't you line up, and I'll judge you individually. That seems to be the order of things on this stupid comments page, a hundred times beyond Packer's insular intolerance.
    4. I suggest that, instead of investing in arguments posed against a lifestyle that you don't know by a group of people you don't know, you all just focus on LOVING one another. Be kind, regardless of who's saying what. EVERYONE needs to be loved and understood as a fellow human. Better use of energy than ranting on here.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  16. al

    He also discourages interracial marriage. He's a moron...a prerequisite for mormonism. Let's ask his opinion of "spiritual" marriages and the poaching of teenage girls by the elder members of the church. I really wish there was a hell just so people like this could end up there; however, there isn't...so he's just another toad.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  17. AinPa

    The only people defending religious nuts are other religious nuts

    October 12, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  18. luvilips

    the mormons are just as screwed up as the catholics. this sounds like pope speech to me.

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

    There are a lot of hateful comments posted here. Also a lot of Mormon bashing going on, which is a little disturbing since according to the LBGT, words lead to suicide. Apparently there should be a great number of Mormon suicides after these harsh words, which sadlly would thrill many of you. If thats your hope than I think you are out of luck. When making a correct choice there is no need to defend it, it defends itself, and no need for harsh words and accusations. If you truely believe your choices are right it should bring you peace and strength and no words or actions should affect you. We all have the power and freedom to make choices, but are not free to choose the consequences that come with that choice.

    October 12, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  20. suebee

    The sin of Sodom was clearly INHOSPITALITY. I'm not sure why people who consider themselves "well read" in the Bible can't open their eyes to what it actually says. I suppose they're so brainwashed they have no ability to see the actual meaning. Please refer to Ezekial 16:48-50 and Matthew 10:5-15 and you'll see this for yourself.

    Notice in Ezekial 16:48 (God is speaking to Jerusalem) "As I live, says the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. 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.

    Jesus was specifically counting on hospitality when he sends his 12 disciples out. Notice Jesus saying (Matthew 10:14) "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town."

    October 12, 2010 at 4:16 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.