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. GOD_fearing


    October 12, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
  2. Natalie

    I don't understand what the problem is, or why this is news. OF COURSE he believes that. Him and every other religious ranking figure. Christian prejudice, bigotry, and racism are nothing new.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
  3. confused

    wow, after reading all this religious/ gay he said she said finger pointing stuff leads me to a legitimate free speech question. How many surgeons does it take to remove a light bulb from someones anus???? After knowing someone in an ER, being gay must he unhealthy, harmful, or hurtful at the very least..........................

    October 12, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  4. Diane Colorado

    Whatever happened to "Judge not that ye be not judged"? Or "Love One Another"? Or Live and Let Live? Or tolerance? Or acceptance? What difference does it make if someone is gay? How are gays getting married going to destroy "the family"? These are questions that Mormons should ask themselves – instead of blindly and rotely following what Mormon leaders tell them to believe. If they say something is true, then it is? Oh, I know... when the prophet speaks, the debate is over. Yeah, right...

    Mormons also need to ask themselves why church leaders are always "spinning" the truth... like changing the content of Boyd K. Packer's speech. Cover-up?

    October 12, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  5. Rock God

    Mormons also believe black people bare the "mark of Cain."

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

    To Dissent Is Not To Hate, differences of opinion are the basis of the American democracy. Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Religion, the same people who demand the right to love and marry who they please cannot now deny to anyone the right to say they disagree with their choices.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
  7. Gabriel

    Mormons believe in the angle Moroni. Moroni is said to have given them the Book of Mormon. If Moroni is so important to them why don't they call themselves Morons?

    After all, its how they act.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  8. Mr Bill

    A church has the right to their religious beliefs and to speak out against what they believe is contrary to their church teachings. If you do not agree, you will not be a member of that church.
    But the church should not be forced to change their beliefs because some group has a different belief. That is why we have so many different Christian churches. Each preaches its own doctrine, based on their interpretation of God's teachings. Each should be tolerant of the other groups beliefs. And the gay community should not expect that every one can accept what they preach.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  9. John

    Wow Diane. It really sounds like you've done your homework. Care to share your sources? Because I have a pretty good hunch on that they sound just as bitter and full of hatred as you do. Hatred is contagious. The church does not hate the gay population, but it certainly sounds like you hate the church. You must be a pretty good "stone thrower".

    October 12, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  10. Diane Colorado

    Whatever happened to "Judge not that ye be not judged"? Or "Love One Another"? Or Live and Let Live? Or tolerance? Or acceptance? What difference does it make whether people are gay? How do gays destroy "family values"? How is allowing gays to marry going to "destroy the family"? The Mormon Church needs to ask themselves those questions – and its member need to think for themselves and not blindly follow what they are told to believe. Instead of adhering to the self-appointed position as "Moral Compass" for the entire world, they really should practice some compassion and understanding.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  11. Justin Martin

    I am a member of the Mormon church and I disagree 100% with Packer. The Bible teaches tolerance of others... maybe Packer should practice what he reads and believes. This guy doesn't speak for me!

    October 12, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  12. Christian

    As a Mormon I would like to see a return to the greatest commandment of all – "Love One Another". It is not our place to judge the world. Boyd K. Packer does not represent me in regards to this subject. I will only teach my children to Love One Another.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
    • Judgwell

      Of course President Packer is saying to love gays. He's saying what they do to act on these feelings are wrong. Teach your kids to love one another, but don't teach them to love the wicked things people do.

      That's all he's saying. Seriously, pray about this one brother.

      October 12, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
  13. Edward

    Do you think the Mormon Church with the approval of the Prophet Joseph will accept me as a Gay Mormon if I was to give 10% of my earnings to the church? Money talks!

    October 12, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
    • Judgwell

      No money doesn't talk in the church. What's the church going to do with your money other than give it away to good causes? None of these leaders earn a penny for their services. If you gave 10% of your money, you could count on 100% of that 10% going to the good causes that we promote instead of a lot of charities where 5 cents of your dollar actually gets to the needy.

      Look at lds.org to learn about all of the aid the church gives.

      October 12, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  14. Justin Martin

    I am a member of the mormon chruch and I disagree 100% with Packer. It sickens me that he is my "leader". The bible teaches tolerance of others... maybe he should practice what he reads.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  15. Rob

    The truth is people are born gay, you can't change that (nor should you want to), there is nothing immoral or wrong in any way with being gay, and the old man just doesn't know any better because that's how he was raised. We won't get into that crazy story about Joseph Smith and the electroplated thingamagig he found wandering the desert.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
  16. nobodynobody

    People insist that this is a "freedom of speech". But if you call a group of people “impure and unnatural” , you are abusing your freedom. Look what happened to jewish people when Hitler said the things he probably never should have said. If you don't use your freedom properly, it can be dangerous and cruel especially when you are in a position that you are given the power to speak to a large audience.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  17. HannahAr

    Wasnt he addressing members of his own church, defining the beliefs of the mormon church? Why should it be a problem for anyone else. If you dont agree to their beliefs...LEAVE...find another church.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
  18. Suval

    What can one expect form an organization hwose sole beliefs are tied up in the Book of Mormon and whose leaders,all old men,think they are prophets. They are a racist,sometimes hateful organization. They are more representative of a huge,clique-like business than a Christian organization. Had they done their research, they would know that some people cannot help being different. It happens,psychologically,medically,emotionally and physically. Medical research will show that. Apparently some Mormons do not do research but they can still lead the flock. How stupid is it then to say to say that this is impossible simply because God would not do that to a person. Some leader! Prejudiced? Ignorant? Those words do not begin to describe such behavior. He DOES NOT speak for a loving God who accepts all people regardless of their gender preferences. Believe what you want but speak and treat others who might be different with dignity and know your facts. The whole Mormon organization ought to be put o na HATE SPEECH list.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  19. momof7

    Chris Greer in above commet is correct. The church really does teach the men of the church this bullcrap. I was a member in good standing for 20 years, and these are narrow minded crazy people.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
  20. frem

    First of all he was addressing Mormons, not the general population. If your a Mormon and don't agree with his speech or doctrine of this church, then leave; join another church. If your not a Mormon, who cares what he says, it only applies to Mormons. Your not going to change his point of view any more than you can change the Catholic churches doctrine on the divinity of Christ or the Islamic point of view on Mohhamed (sp?) Live your life the best way you can; it doesn't matter if your gay or straight; good is good not matter what you do with your personal life. There is nothing wrong with being gay if your a decent human being. Love is love, pure and simple. There is nothing better if it's real.

    October 12, 2010 at 5:10 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.