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. Anaidia


    October 14, 2010 at 7:15 am |
  2. Thomas

    As a person who was raised in the church and is over 30, I used to pray about the priesthood ban and ask why it happened to any church leader I came across and could never get a consistent and truthful answer. As an adolescent I cried myself to sleep over it on more than one occasion. It wasn't until I was 30 years old (5 years ago) did I discover the truth about the ban. It was after Brigham had received a letter in the winter of 1847 learning of an interracial marriage of a Black Priesthood holder in a Boston ward and that the family would be making a trip westward that he decided to enforce his personal prejudice both through "church doctrine" and legislation. The priesthood ban effectively stopped white women from marrying black men because the men could no longer get a Temple recommend and thus could not be sealed to their families..
    Here is what eerily similar to this conversation. As Governor of Utah he made it illegal for a black and white couple to consummate their marriage in the state and offered up this gem before the Utah Congress and the Church

    "Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so. The nations of the earth have transgressed every law that God has given, they have changed the ordinances and broken every covenant made with the fathers, and they are like a hungry man that dreameth that he eateth, and he awaketh and behold he is empty."
    The problem with the Church and its leaders is they fail address blatant prejudices of recent history and pretend they did not happen which allows prejudice to persist. This time they want to get ahead of what happened with the passing of the Civil Rights Bill that forced them to allow Blacks back into the Temple by passing similar legislation as before that denies the equal rights of all people and saying it is "the word of God."
    This is sad because it is otherwise a positive organization that does lots of good.

    October 14, 2010 at 4:24 am |
  3. jc

    It's funny that so many people talk against a church that they don't believe in. Why? If some people don't believe it, why does it matter to them? Maybe they really do believe it and are just trying to talk themselves out of it. That's what I think. Otherwise why does it matter to them? Or maybe they feel lonely and hope that someone will finally listen. Otherwise what does it matter to them what a Mormon church apostle says or what the Mormon church does? Does it really affect them? It seems like the only ones that should care are members of the church or those that are interested in the church? These people must really be interested in the church, because they seem to be trying to find out more about it and seem to like to talk about it. I think deep down they know it's really the Church of Jesus Christ, but have a hard time admitting it. Hmmm...

    October 13, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
  4. Kim

    I agree, Staci. And for those of you who live under a rock, Mormons DONT practice polygamy; they are Christian. The polygamists used to be Mormon, but they broke away when the church didn't allow plural marriage. And as far as 'altering' or 'changing' doctrine goes, they still believe in marriage to be between a man and a woman. Such practices have existed for all of time until now, and the church has NEVER tried to 'alter' or 'change' it- despite such heavy public outcry. Clearly this contributes some credibility to their steadfastness in their beliefs.

    October 13, 2010 at 9:14 pm |

    This bogus religious filth should be banned. It exists as a tax exempt structure which discriminates against human rights. The pope, bishops and mormons are cult members promoting discrimination against minorities. That bogus black book called the bible should be banned. Religion and the churches should now be exposed as a bigoted structure that gets away with hate mongering. Love between two guys or girls existed long before these cults existed. By enjoying their tax exempt status and benefits from the state it also puts them at the mercy of state; to be forced to adhere to the human rights laws. Religion is thriving like a cancerous growth on society that should be stopped in its tracks; outlawed & banned.

    The Right Honourable Prime Minister of Canada Jean Chretien told the Vatican that there was to be no cross erected over the Canadian Parliament buildings figuratively speaking; when the Pope demanded the Prime Minister go against gay rights. An Alberta bishop had the audacity to say that The Canadian Prime Minister would go to hell for going against the church. Such outrageous evil threats. The Right Honourable Prime Minister in return; basically told the Pope to go to Hell! The Honourable Irwin Cotler, Canadian Minister of Justice, stood for equal rights for the gay community. With reference to protecting the children: The Honourable Hedy Fry, member of the Canadian Liberal Parliament, who happens to be a doctor who delivered many babies; spoke eloquently to defend the rights of babies being born and stated that she was in fact defending their rights by speaking on behalf of equal rights for the children and youth of the future - defending their integrity and dignity. Minority rights should be decided by a dignified judicial system and/or a compassionate government.

    United States is supposedly fighting for democracy but within the U.S. they treat gays like secondary citizens. Being black or being gay is just as natural. If blacks or women’s rights were cast to the masses to decide … then the majority or lunatic fringe in this case - has the advantage to decide minority rights.

    October 13, 2010 at 8:26 pm |

    There is no scientific evidence to prove any of the cross related bogus elements of christianity. Civilization goes back 2,000,000 years - descending from apes; 1,996,000 years before the Greeks, Romans and the Jews and 1,998,000 years pre-dating the myth of christianity which is a mere 2010 years old. In the year 300 AD when Emperor Constantine, who to some was the first pope; went on to market Christianity – a fantasy – which turned out to be one of the most hateful & evil concoctions ever perpetrated on the world.

    I am the son of a catholic father who never went to church and a protestant mother who took us to church and Sunday school. Onward christian soldiers; I think not. Such absolute drivel. To be manipulated by a santa claus; an easter bunny and worst of all a bogus cross.

    October 13, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
  7. Seth

    “Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”

    Hmmm, maybe the same reason our Heavenly Father would allow children to starve to death, or all the other unbelievable stuff in the world.

    October 13, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
  8. Kari

    I find it interesting that those who don't want hate, bigotry, and bias directed at gays seem so quick to direct the same at "Mormons!" Where is their tolerance for those who do not believe as they do?

    October 13, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  9. Nemo Crets

    I think Boyd Packer needs to loosen up his magic underwear a little.

    October 13, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  10. Lucifer


    October 13, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  11. Frogist

    OK. This guy isn't saying anything any other christian organisation (as well as other religions) have been saying since their inception. That he chose now to say it shows he's either cruelly opportunistic or naive to the extreme. Neither characteristic should be sought out in a leader, religious or otherwise. To make this statement when children are dying because of these very sentiments is divisive and dangerous. And it doesn't matter who says it or where. I am glad so many people have decided to make it their business to challenge his words. And to challenge the idea that gays are lesser beings. And let's face it, that is exactly what he is saying. Being gay is like being a liar or a murderer... except it doesn't harm anyone. Teaching people to target gays as sinners who need to change to suit your comfort level... that harms people. I often wonder if people really understand what they are asking for when they ask gays to "change". Men: Would you be ok with someone asking you not to be attracted to a woman? Would you be ok with someone telling you that when you look at a woman with love it is a sin? Would you be ok with someone saying even if you feel deep love for your girlfriend, you are not allowed to confess that love openly or ever marry her? And therefore you are never allowed to consummate your feelings for her? I doubt it. But that's what Packer and his ilk are asking. And recall they are asking for these changes even though the alternative harms no one. What brings me hope is that sooner or later these sentiments will fall along the wayside like so many others. And church leaders like Packer will have to find someone else to "change".

    October 13, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  12. dfwsunking

    Actually, when it came to polygamy, they didn't stop it just because it suddenly became illegal. It was always illegal! There were state laws against it in Illinois for example before the Mormons ever arrived. When the Mormons arrived in Utah, then a Mexican territory, polygamy was illegal in Mexico too. In 1862, the Morrill Anti-Bigamy act was passed but the Mormons still kept thumbing their noses at the government until finally the Edmunds-Tucker Act in 1887 dis-incorporated the church and seized all non-religious assets valued over $50,000. It was at that point that Woodruff came up with the Manifesto which banned plural marriages and unlawful cohabitation, only to turn around and sanction polygamous marriages just days after he issued it. Woodruff also took another plural wife himself in 1897 on a cruise ship (Lydia Mountford). The next church president, Lorenzo Snow fathered a child with one of his polygamous wives (Minnie Jensen) after the Manifesto in 1893. The following church president Joseph F. Smith was arrested and charged in 1906 with unlawful cohabitation as was the next church president Heber J. Grant.
    They have a word for this. It's called hypocrisy and in so doing Mormons leaders clearly violated the 12th Article of Faith that says: We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.

    October 13, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  13. Susan

    I think what strikes me most reading these posts is the amazing level of intolerance and hate directed at the LDS Church. Talk about hypocrisy. The same people who accuse the Church of hate speech are the ones actually perpetrating it.

    October 13, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  14. Reality

    The leaders/brotherhood of the Mormon Church/"Cult" are not paid? Actually, they are paid via being executives of the large Mormon-owned businesses:


    "The Quorum of Twelve's president Ezra Taft Benson was a director of Beneficial Life Insurance Co. Apostle Howard W. Hunter was president of the Polynesian Cultural Center (Hawaii), and director of Beneficial Life Insurance Co., of Continental Western Life Insurance Co., of Deseret Federal Savings and Loan, of First Security Bank of Utah, of First Security Corp., of Heber J. Grant & Co., of PHA Life Insurance Co. (Oregon), of Watson Land Co. (Los Angeles), and of Western American Life Insurance Co. Apostle Thomas S. Monson was president and chairman of the board of Deseret News Publishing Co., vice-president of LDS Social Services and of Newspaper Agency Corp, and director of Beneficial Life Insurance Co., of Commercial Security Bank, of Commercial Security Bankcorporation, of Continental Western Life Insurance Co. (Iowa), of Deseret Management Corp., of IHC Hospitals, Inc., of Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Co., of Murdock Travel, of PHA Life Insurance Co. (Oregon), of Pioneer Memorial Theater, and of
    Western American Life Insurance Co.

    APOSTLE BOYD PACKER was chairman of the board of Utah Home Fire Insurance Co., while also director of Murdock Travel and of Zion's First National Bank.

    Apostle Marvin J. Ashton was president of Deseret Book Co., chairman of the board of ZCMI, and director of Beneficial Development Co., of First Security Bank of Utah, of First Security Corporation, of Laie Resorts (Hawaii), and of Zion's Securities Corporation. Apostle L. Tom Perry was director of American Stores Co. (which operated Skaggs Drugs and Alpha Beta supermarkets), of ZCMI, of Zion's First National Bank, and of Jewel Companies, Inc. (Chicago), and trustee of LDS Social Services and of Nauvoo Restoration. Apostle David B. Haight was director of Bonneville International Corporation, of Deseret Management Corporation, of First Security Bank of Utah, of First Security Corporation, and of Valtek, Inc., while also a trustee of Deseret Management Corporation Foundation. Apostle James E. Faust was vice-president of Deseret News Publishing Co., director of Commercial Security Bank, and of Commercial Security Bank Corporation, while also a trustee of Ballet West and of LDS Social Services. Apostle Neal A. Maxwell was director of Mountain Fuel Resources, Inc., of Mountain Fuel Supply Co., and of Deseret News Publishing Co. Apostle Russell M. Nelson was director of Zion's First National Bank. Apostle Dallin H. Oaks was chairman of the Public Broadcasting System (national), while also director of O.C. Tanner Jewelry Co. and of Union Pacific Railroad.

    October 13, 2010 at 8:07 am |
  15. Anaidia


    October 13, 2010 at 7:42 am |
  16. Chris Greer

    As a former Mormon, I'm not surprised by the bigoted remarks of the LDS church leadership. People oppose gays simply because their leaders tell them to, and Mormons are the most brainwashed of them all. How else could they belong to a church which believes God is a man named Elohim, who lives on a star base in the Milky Way galaxy, who populated earth with the children from his MANY polygamous relationships. The most notable of which is his son, the Mormon Jesus, who came to the US in 500 AD to curse the Lamanites (which they believe to be modern day Native Americans) with dark skin for killing all but one of the Israelites. That one remaining Israelite is known as Moroni.

    Thirteen hundred years later the angel Moroni visited with and guided the church's founder, Joseph Smith (a convicted con-man), to an ancient Hebrew text, written on a gold tablet, buried under a tree in upstate New York. He then gave Smith a pair of magic glasses that allowed him to translate this text into what is now the doctrine and basis for LDS beliefs, called the Book of Mormon. Does this sound like any Christian you know? Perhaps more former members should reveal the Mormon's outrageous beliefs and practices to discredit them.

    October 13, 2010 at 6:33 am |
  17. Here we go again.

    Every one has an opinion about every thing under the sun. Sadly much of that...that is opinion, is extremely flawed historically in these threads. I could point them out but to what avail? To sum things up, the church should not be getting involved in political activities and like wise others out side the church have no business telling the church what to preach to it's members. It is a double edged sword that cuts both ways.

    If the LDS church wishes to get involved with politics then it should become a taxable organization. And that goes for any church pouring money in to campaigns to fight initiatives because that is a direct influence on government. The separation of church and state is now being crossed and trust me...the LDS church and the Catholic church have a ton of money to throw into political causes and it can go unchecked.

    October 13, 2010 at 5:29 am |
    • Kate

      @Here we go again

      That would pretty much mean no church would be tax-exempt, since they all get involved in politics, from black churches to synagogues to baptists (although I'm not sure if the dreaded yogatists mentioned in a different post do)

      Just notin'

      October 13, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
  18. Corey

    Hey CNN, how about reporting on actual confirmed events rather than speculating about an unconfirmed suicide that may or may not have been related to Mr. Packer's speech. It really makes it sound like you are reporting what you wanted to happen rather than what actually did happen. Shoddy journalism.

    October 13, 2010 at 3:00 am |
  19. Respondez

    Jackie McFarlane,

    "...if we are right (which we are-added by me) then we have gained everything (eternal life, celestial kingdom life with god) and if we are wrong we will have lost nothing because we are still good people. But if we are right and you don't believe you have lost everything."

    This is a very old stance called, Pascal's Wager. Yes, you are betting (gambling!) that you are right. It is an insincere way of covering yourself against the odds of an afterlife.

    There are other possible scenarios - you could have chosen the wrong god. What if the true god is Allah (many think this)... and you are dam-ned because you didn't follow him? What if the real Creator despises people who followed religion, especially people who followed it for their own gain of life eternal?

    You would have wasted your whole life ti-thing and following silly rules for nothing. You can lose this wager.

    October 13, 2010 at 2:07 am |
  20. notahater

    holy crap this blog isn't even about the article anymore. i was going to say earlier... 1) no one has to act on every implulse they've ever felt. i have the alcoholic gene. i drink. i'm not an alcoholic 2) no one should be dubbed a hater b/c they don't accept your choices 3) if you really want to call someone a hater, make it God. he's the one who made the rules. you might have to define him though. watch out 4) spanish inquisition, crusades, whatever, had little to do with Christ or his teachings 5) does anyone read anymore???

    October 13, 2010 at 1:20 am |
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.