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. Matt

    Sounds to me like THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST is teaching exactly what JESUS CHRIST taught........... Evil will always fight against good!

    Romans 1:26-29
    26For this cause God agave them up unto bvile caffections: for even their dwomen did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

    27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

    28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God bgave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

    29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

    30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, dboasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

    31Without aunderstanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

    32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

    October 12, 2010 at 9:40 pm |
  2. Edward

    Mormonism is a cult. One man Joseph Smith claims angels allowed him to translate gold plates about the missing tribes of Israel who came to North America. No one has ever seen any proof. I guess maybe I should make up my own religion, so I can tell people how to live. all in the name of God of course.

    October 12, 2010 at 9:39 pm |
  3. Marcus

    1 Corinthians 6:9-11

    9 What! Do YOU not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men kept for unnatural purposes, nor men who lie with men, 10 nor thieves, nor greedy persons, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit God’s kingdom. 11 And yet that is what some of YOU were. But YOU have been washed clean, but YOU have been sanctified, but YOU have been declared righteous in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the spirit of our God.

    October 12, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
  4. Gingerpeach

    Hate speach?? What I read here in most of these posts is real Hate speach against a Man and his church. What he says is not against these people, it's just what they believe God says is the way it should be. There is more hard hate against a peoples belief than anything here. Maybe we all need to step back and take a look at ourselves befor we judge others. Stop and see what you write. Those of you without sin cast the first stone.

    October 12, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
  5. Jim

    This is One of the Few Times I agree with Mormons- Sin is sin, Iniquity is iniquity & abomination is Abomination If God Said it is wrong, Evil,Then that settles it. Don't like it? Take it up with the AllMighty when you stand before Him in Judgement. God Said " WOE Unto You who call good evil & evil good" Jesus Preached Saying "REPENT" "GO & SIN NO MORE" The Wicked are warned of their way- If they die in their sins- Their blood is not on my hands.

    October 12, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
  6. Roger

    These sickos have no right to talk about anything or anyone. They're garbage. 'http://www.mormonabuse.com/'

    October 12, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
  7. WhoCares?

    I say, let the gays get married. Then they can have thier 50% divorce rate like the rest of us.

    And who really cares what the Mormons believe, unless you're one of them?! I am amazed reading through these comments how the discussion has migrated off-topic and somehow more attention is focused on the Mormon religion that the gay marriage issue. My 2-year-old has a longer attention span than most of you.

    October 12, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
  8. jn3792

    As I read through the comments I am simply amazed at the amount of misinformation about the LDS Church that has been spewed here. Many are simply misinformed and too lazy to find out for themselves (you know, the e-mail forwarding crowd). Then there are others with an agenda. They know more, but they use that knowledge to paint caricatures that are not accurate in order to further their agenda. Both cases are disturbing. Hopefully nobody reading these comments takes any of them seriously (including mine). Go find out for yourself.

    October 12, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
    • Tom

      I could not disagree with you more. There is simply no evidence of any kind - NONE!! - that the Book of Mormon is a factual account of Semitic migrations or of New World history. None. There IS evidence of Mormon bigotry - repeated and continual (just like this latest "guidance" from the Supreme Quorum Leader). I have, indeed, studied the Church's teachings. And I am not impressed by its roots, pronouncements, or beliefs. But, hey, you can always tell truly uplifting, inspired spiritual remarks by the good they do, right? Do you think the comments of elder Packer helped make the world a better place? Did he fuel compassion? Is his "guidance" helping anyone do a better job of loving his or her neighbor? I think you ought to examine your beliefs on the basis of (1) fact and (2) social impact. If this kind of rhetoric helps you be a better person, hats off to you!

      October 13, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  9. AllGoodSinners Unite

    OK. IT sparks an outcry that LDS considers SSM a sin. Why no outcry that the Catholic church and Islam will not ordain woman or allow them to be Imams? Yet country clubs are picketed and sued for not letting women join and any discrimination is met with public outrage. This is contrived outrage by a few trying to make the cause seem relevant.

    October 12, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
  10. Amy

    One of my LDS mission companions is gay. Do you know what...she actually had hair growing on her chest...hmm..couldn't have been elevated testosterone levels could it?

    When I was in the RS presidency in my last ward, there was a woman who told me she was just "born a man in a woman's body" She was close to 60...I HATE to think what she was thinking when she heard this talk.

    An LDS psychologist I worked with said that it is "inborn". Boyd K Packer is NOT a psychologist. He can't SAY that it isn't inborn!!!

    October 12, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
  11. David M.

    It's one man's opinion, or in this case, one church's opinion. Take it for what it's worth. But....just because you disagree with someone does not mean they "hate" you. It's called a difference of opinion. Move on and get over it.

    October 12, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  12. Brett Favre's fan (a.k.a. ybs)

    Boyd Packer, at 86, how do you stay happy? You use your right or left hand? 🙂


    October 12, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  13. Kyle

    I don't agree with Mormonism as a whole, that's why I am not a Mormon, but follow Messianic Judaism. I do have to agree with the Mormon church on this issue. Non-Violent Expression of beliefs is the foundation of our country.

    October 12, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  14. Jake

    Let's see.... Mormons are a proud community of Christian people who have (1) shared belief in a divinely-revealed history of early America (which does not, unfortunately, have grounding in archeology, DNA analysis, indigenous linguistics , or any other basis of fact); and (2) shared belief in on-going revelation (which enlightenment has, in the past, justified the exclusion of blacks, polygamy, and even "shoot-first" self defense in early Utah history). And THIS is the community we should be paying attention to for guidance when it comes to 21st century social issues and civil rights? Wow!

    October 12, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  15. Amy

    Anyone who tells you NOT to read something is hiding information. The truth can stand on it's own two feet...unfortunately, i found out the LDS church is built on anything but truth.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
  16. Jimmy John

    The truth hurts when youre not doing whats right!

    October 12, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
  17. SaltyDawg

    HIM: I'm blah blah blah. And I'm a Mormon . . .

    ME: I'm sorry, did you say you're a moron?

    October 12, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  18. Mike

    an individuals freedom of religion only extends to the point at which other individuals subscribe to an alternate belief. If God exists and is all-knowing, why make a public spectacle of your belief?

    October 12, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  19. Beingalittlehypocritcal

    Haha I love that he is being accused of hate speech. Just read the comments to this article. The people protesting his remarks hate him and the Mormons a whole lot more than he and the Mormons hate them.

    October 12, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  20. John L

    I figure you can tell good religious guidance when it fuels goodwill between men and helps us truly "love our neighbors". If so, the "guidance" of this Church elder is 100% off the mark!

    October 12, 2010 at 8:46 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.