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. RW

    What about multiple wives? Some of their wives are only children. Hypocrites!

    October 12, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  2. teen LDS member

    I'm not saying that i know everything about other religions, but before you comment about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, will you please research it from what the church actually teaches, not what others teach about the church. Thank you!

    October 12, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
    • Amy

      The sad truth is, anyone can do a search on google and find out more about the LDS church than I learned at the LDS church in 33 years. YOU do some research...and get out while you're young.

      October 12, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
  3. who is god really?

    Talk about a person who needs help. Some one who claims that they have been chosen buy some one who has never existed. (Jesus was a man GOD is a story) I lived with a family of mormons and what a messed up group. Two un-wed mothers, more cheating then a high school math test and stacks or divorce papers thicker then the bible. Who cares what this old fool has to say. Live your life and be a good person and on the off chance there is a GOD maybe he will be there when it happens

    October 12, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
  4. dave

    The Mormon church has called for civility and kindness in this discussion. The church has a belief system and moral set of rules. YOu do NOT have to believe in it...but I think it is in everyone's self interest to be kind and thoughtful. Disagree without being disagreeable. The church corrected Mr. Packers remarks to mesh with their longstanding position. Everyone relax. Respect is a virtue that I fear we are losing as a society. Just as it is not respectful to call gays by the myriad of pejorative terms that have arisen, please don't call Mormons by terms like "moron" etc etc. You can disagree with doctrine and belief without being disagreeable. Please don't say things in inflammatory ways with kernals of truth that cause misunderstanding.

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

    The Mormon PR machine is in full effect... It's not surprising the Mormon God changes his mind...just like he did about blacks in the 1970s... I lived in SLC for 20 years, was told I was a "Bad Influence" and was forbidden be around by my LDS friends because I wasn't of their faith... To say that they don't mean to hurt others, is a lie. Just like their religion is a lie.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  6. Cache

    The bibles, the korans, the torahs of the world... why don't people wake up and see what these are? These are closed books, dead and unchanging chapters of religions that are swirling the drain until their self-perceived end of the world. I, for one, would prefer a world where we learned acceptance and love than one where we must have enemies, where we must seek out and label offenders of the faith with a death sentence. Religion is the last vestige of the cave man, a cry for help to the wind and sea when they knew nothing of science, medicine, or true kindness to one another.

    Why is it when you are sick, you seek a doctor; when you are lost, you check a map; when you are hungry, you go to the store–but when it comes to how to treat one another, we turn to books whose authors turned to dust thousands of years ago?

    October 12, 2010 at 6:31 pm |
  7. Chris

    Please do not take Elder Packer's message out of context. I know he is called of God and is earnestly working to help all of God's children return to live with God again in a state of never-ending happiness. I know God loves each of us individually and knows the challenges we face every day – whether they are great or small – and He wants us to be happy. Please take a moment to open your heart to Him in prayer, and if you do so with real intent and sincere hope, I promise He will touch your heart with His Spirit, and you will know He loves you and will support you.

    God is the Father of our Spirit. He loves us dearly. He hears and answers our prayers. I know this is true.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  8. soledad

    I liked the way the message was deliver, I will be teaching all my children about it just the way he did it, so be it....

    October 12, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  9. John

    Mormons are a cult. They are an American-made religious cult. Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were polygamists. They want to talk to me about family values. Mormons only gave up polygamy because Utah wanted to become a state. There are Mormons fringe groups that still practice polygamy and the Mormons in Salt Lake City are usually pretty quiet about it. Remember Warren Jeffs does consider himself a true Mormon. Mormons need an education. The hate of Gays is their way of creating a scapegoat. Glad the Mormons decided to stop baptising dead Holocaust victims. They need to apologize. Apologize to all Gays NOW. Learn acceptance and tolerance. There are Gay Mormons too.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  10. godisdead

    Why does any one care what a person who think he is doing the will of god says? GOD has nothing to do with what happens in the world because he was made up buy people. Its time to start believing something real and stop wasting so much time and money on god in hope that when die he will be there for us.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  11. Greg

    Presdient Buchanan was right!

    October 12, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
  12. October10s

    Uh... what am I missing? There is no free speech issue here. No one sensored the self-proclaimed "prophete." No one threw him in jail. He was allowed to spew his inanity. But you cannot in the same breath defend that man's right to speak his so-called truth and then condemn those who disagree with thim for doing the same. Freedom of speech DOES NOT mean that you wil l remain free from condemnation for the stupidity of your comments. All mormons are free to go around judging gay people. And all non-mormons are free to go around judging mormons for being incestuous bigamists. It's a free country. But if you dish it out, you darned well better be able to take it. I don't care if that octagenarian is a "prophete," a bishop, a pope or jesus himself. If he says something that is heartless, bigotted, without grounding in fact and that shows a profound ignorance about the nature of God, I am free to call him out on it. That's America! Deal with it. Get a life yourself and get out of the blogosphere if you can't deal with people discussing this issue.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  13. Observer

    Boyd Packer, the president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles said: “Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”. I would answer to that with the following question: Why would our Heavenly Father create children with deformities, children with cancer, still born children... need I continue?

    October 12, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  14. John

    The Mormons what a cult. Show me those gold tablets Joseph Smith got. Would love to see those on display. The church of polygamy telling Gays about family values. Warren Jeffs still considers himself a Mormon. We know the Mormons kept hiding him. Brigham Young was a polygamist and child rapist. There is nothing to be proud of in the Mormon cult. You Mormons are not even Christians. Jesus Christ did not preach to the American Indians in Utah. No historical evidence of this at all. Read once what Mark Twain said about Brigham Young and get educated. Mormons won't even let non-Mormons walk around their temples. Start drinking some caffeine and start supporting Gay rights now. The world did not go under when Canada got Gay marriage. Stop preaching Hate and get rid of that fiction of a story the Book of Mormon. By the way Mitt Romney and Glenn Beck both Mormons are hypocrites and right-winged Fascists. Remember Hitler preached hatred of Gays and preached gay conversion therapy. It doesn't work.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
    • Judgwell

      I'm not sure why I'm even taking the time to respond to your unfounded and biased slander. 14 million people world wide is no cult.

      One day, you'll eat those words. I strongly encourage you to take em back.

      October 12, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
  15. Brook

    I can offer several reasons why our loving Creator might create gay people... 1. Population Control. 2. More people to care for the children abused, neglected & abandoned by "normal" people. 3. To teach everyone the meaning of tolerance & compassion. 4. God loves Rainbows. 5. someone has to stick-up for FABULOUS!

    October 12, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  16. Kris L.

    What I am wondering is why the gay community is wasting their time with the Mormon contingent. The Mormons are a group that continually speak out of both sides of their mouth, proclaiming on one side that "They love all God's children" and on the other, that being gay is a sin and gay men and women will have "feelings" but should never act on them lest they burn in hell and never make it to heaven. What is the definition of love if it is so conditional? This is not an organization that should be acknowledged by the gay community in any way. It should hold no power and folks in the gay community should be encouraged to completely separate themselves from the Mormon community if that's even what you could call it. Truly there is no acceptance here of any difference. The Mormons have always struggled with the issue of inclusion and acceptance in spite of their own history of persecution. Clearly they have not been able to practice what they preach and clearly they have never learned form their own experiences.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:13 pm |
  17. wow

    what a bunch of morons...

    October 12, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
  18. JennyTX

    Isn't religion great??? Sigh...

    October 12, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  19. Bob

    Well I agree with him.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:05 pm |
  20. Roscoe

    The bible is full of ridiculous and inaccurate statements not supported by any science or history yet xtians spew them at will pretending they are accurate. What a load of****.

    October 12, 2010 at 6:03 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.