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. Kevin

    I've seen a lot of Mormon apologists here call people ignorant for actually knowing the story that was the founding of their faith.

    So you say there were no gold plates? No Moroni? No white native Americans?

    I think you LDS kooks need to re-educate yourselves because you seem to have forgotten what your whole thing is actually based on.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
    • netmarcos

      Do mean like the imaginary Chachapoya of Perú?


      October 13, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  2. Danielle

    I suspect most of "grateful members of LDS church" don't believe in that BS. Mormon religion brings money and its a good cover up to to have tax-exempt status.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:39 pm |
  3. Frank Rizzo

    Religion is the true root of all evil. Very little good has come from religion.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
  4. LADoc1

    Packer has a right to say what he believes. However, he is speaking for the Mormon Church in this situation. There are many suicides of LGBT Mormon youths. How can they claim to be a loving organization when they are actively driving some of their children to suicide?

    October 12, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  5. S

    Wow, Boyd Packer is a real dbag

    October 12, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  6. Kobe

    @Amy- Joseph Smith had a 3rd grade reading/writing capability (confirmed by family and neighbors). There is no possible way he could have written the Book of Mormon without God's help. The Book of Mormon corresponds with the Bible in many ways, and I doubt someone with a 3rd grade capabillity could do that.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
    • Amy


      Like I said..do some research. Both his parents were teachers...He knew how to speak and write German. I thought some of his "bible translations" were miraculous on my mission (german speaking) until I learned that he just took them from the Martin Luther bible. There were other men who worked on the book with him, (Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery) as well as plagiarized various parts of it from two difft. books. Look at the Book of Abraham. They found the papyrus about 40 years ago...the translation doesn't match up.. PLEASE research your own history!!!!

      October 12, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  7. Spidey-Man

    Another 86 year old loser about to die of old age and find out there is no god... But trying to spread as much hate as he can before he goes. THAT'S religion folks.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
  8. Butch

    Why is so much attention paid to this cult? Who cares what they say or think? Bigotry exists everywhere, why give them so much bandwidth?

    October 12, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
  9. Kobe

    Amy, how does that prove that it was all made up? Your saying that Joseph Smith, with a 3rd grade reading/writing ability (confirmed by family and neighbors) could write the Book of Mormon, which corresponds to the Bible?

    October 12, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
    • Amy


      Plagiarism. Believe me...I didn't set out to prove the church wrong. I'd been put into a calling and WANTED to know the truth..I prayed and studied for 3 solid years. It was sooo painful to learn these things..and those of us born in the church have been wronged that they don't give us the information we need to make a good decision about joining and dedicating our lives to the church. The temple ceremony was plagiarized from the masons. Joseph Smith married 11 women who were already married to other men. He kept his dealings secret from Emma. The information they call "anti-mormon" is just church history they don't want you to know..or that they don't teach anymore.

      October 12, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  10. Rick

    Please stop talking non-sense, let's think more rationally here. The LDS Church will allow gay marriage. One day, when a man will insert his pennis inside another man's anus and after liberating sperm inside the large instestines a new human being will be created there. After 9 months growing inside the large intestines a beautiful baby boy or baby girl will be delivered through the anus of that man. When that change in human nature occurs the LDS church will say it's okay for a man to marry another man. If you don't see this change in human nature happening very soon, don't expect the church to change its doctrine about marriage very soon either.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
    • Frank Rizzo

      Look, marriage is far more than just giving birth to a kid. So, you are saying that a gay couple can't get married because they can't conceive a child ?

      With that logic, I guess that means my marriage is null and void since me and my wife don't want to have kids ?

      What about a couple that can't have kids because of medical reasons ?

      What about a couple that marries past the age of being able to bare a child ?

      I do agree that a church should NOT be forced to recognize a marriage that they don't support. However, that doesn't mean the state can recognize it. But, the church needs to stay out of states rights. Don't push your beliefs on me or my neighbors. We are Americans and we have a right to believe or not believe in what ever the hell we want.

      And before you suggest any domestic partnership .. do some reading and you will find out they are NOT the same. You still pay more in taxes, you don't get the power of attorney, you pay more for insurance (if you are in a state that will allow it in the first place), can't vist some the partner in ICU, etc.

      October 12, 2010 at 8:49 pm |
    • Rick

      Nobody said you can't adopt. You can adopt a child and that baby boy or baby girl will not come from the large instestines of anyone. That baby will from from the relationship of a man and a woman as the LDS Church agrees it must be. The problem is that LGBT wants to force the church to change its doctrine in this respect. Looks this nice video, a mormon lady with 11 children adopted a boy without arms and legs, what a beautiful video: http://www.b-roll.net/tv/view_video.php?viewkey=dc2a6340e258630febd5&page=1&viewtype=&category=tf

      October 13, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  11. BSchurch

    Thanks to the holy pastor long and haggard, we all know chrisitians are freaking BS. All religions are full of scam artists, and desperate and vulnerable worshipers.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:20 pm |
  12. World Without Borders

    I'm not religious at all, and simultaneously strongly against hate from any position–religious, political, etc.–but it is my opinion that religion is one of the many factors that contribute to hate and discrimination. Separating from "the human herd" and realizing that there is nothing at all that separates us from each other as members of the same race is what can really make us great as one people, all over the planet.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:17 pm |
  13. vindictivepuppy

    mormons are such icky bigots. my dad was born into that awful church and left when there was a row because they wouldnt let black people in. he wasnt feelin it anyway. He sure gave em hell when they came to the door on saturdays 🙂

    October 12, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  14. B. Hope

    Glad to see some people taking a stand on the gay lifestyle, which is wrong according to the Bible. You can believe it or not believe it, but the fact remains that it is wrong. Too many people think if you don't think it is okay, you hate gay people. Knowing the truth and disagreeing is not the same thing as hating.

    You cannot fight people who know the truth and know the gay lifestyle is wrong. You need to find out for yourselves. The media is wrong in making people think it is okay to live the gay lifestyle, it is not.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  15. Bob

    Delete the second "m" and what do you get? Exactly.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:07 pm |
  16. Vicki

    Why is it hate speech for the church to speak out about gays but it's fine for anyone to say anything they want hateful about the church ? Seems freedom of speech is limed to what they want to hear and say and anything else is hate.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
    • john1113

      Expect it to get worse.. Most everything will be tolerated... and yet as time goes on.. Christians will be less and less tolerated. As it stands now.. if we say what we believe.. in this world, we are bigots. So be it..

      October 12, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
  17. Fr33d0mhawk

    God would not do something so dastardly as to make someone healthy, gay and productive to society, but God proudly makes retarded children, children with birth defects so severe that they are not recognizeable as human, can't care for themsleves and need government assistance, like Palin's son Trig on tribal healthcare. Which is a worse existence, a child with Icthyosis or Ellen Degeneres, or Ted Haggard for that matter. Another reason to be an atheist, highly paid holier-than-thous acting like they are God, condemning people who exhibit far greater moral priniciple. Remove the Redwood Forest from your own eye there Preach.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
  18. Brett

    I do not believe in God, and I never will.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:00 pm |
  19. Brandon

    I agree! Im happy the Mormon church made a stand and is actually sticking by what they say!!!! too many churches these days say one thing then change! The church isnt hurting anyone so why people get so upset about it is beyond me, there are other churches to go to then.

    October 12, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  20. MainerTom

    How can any church claim to be "Christian" - as in "love thy neighbor as thyself" - and spew such rhetoric? How, in fact, could any genuinely "Christian" religious spokesman take it upon himself to pronounce this kind of speech (AND have the audacity to tell us what the Heavenly Father would and would not do)?! Talk about twisted! Talk about patently UN-Christian! This kind of lingo is just plain bigoted and smug. And it hurts people - so it cannot be righteous or God-inspired. Nope, this is sicko, 18th century, out-and-out bigotry. (Brought to us, mind you, by the same people who wouldn't allow blacks and other minorities in the door only a decade ago.) Shame on you, Mr. President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. You're presumptuous and anything but Christian.

    October 12, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
    • World Without Borders

      Oh, it is indeed very Christian. It is typical of any religion to want to convert nonbelievers, but Christianity is a religion that has caused so much of the historical strife the world has witnessed in the name of God:
      -the conquering of the Azteca and Incan civilizations and slaughter of millions
      -the Salem witch trials
      -the Spanish Inquisition

      To name a few (and not necessarily in that order...)

      October 12, 2010 at 8:53 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.