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. Debra

    God does not cause any of the evils of sickness and death inherited by our first parents who chose to disobey in the Garden of Eden. " Romans 5:12 That is why, just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned". If you really want to know the truth listen to the Jehovah's Witnesses when they come to the door.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  2. Jeffrey

    Love mormons!!!! nice people. My nanny is mormon. Trust her with my house and children!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  3. paul 1st

    Let's do away with tax exemptions for all churches and let them openly participate in the ugly mess we call elections. Then the pretense that a church's opinion is anything more than the opinion of its leadership can be included in the public debate.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  4. II-Savy

    They need to change the name to Moron.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • Supermom

      Wow, that was helpful. Why did you even bother to comment?

      October 12, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  5. Krow

    Mormons are a cult. And cults, by definition, have strange, unscientific beliefs. This is why the Founding Father's took great pains to protect us from religion.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
    • Supermom

      We have freedom OF (any one specific) Religion, not FROM Religion. The founding fathers all had a great respect for their Divine Father or Creator. Their basis for everything was religion, just not one in particular. That's just history my friend.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  6. Drumcp

    Nowadays, the Freedom of Speech is replaced by Freedom of Speaking what is convenient to others! This is what the man said:
    "Regardless of the opposition, we are determined to stay on course. We will hold to the principles and laws and ordinances of the gospel. If they are misunderstood either innocently or willfully, so be it. We cannot change; we will not change the moral standard. We quickly lose our way when we disobey the laws of God. If we do not protect and foster the family, civilization and our liberties must needs perish." -

    October 12, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  7. orbiter100

    "As if a vote can alter the design of god's law and nature". My response: As if you have any idea!

    What baffles me is that there is one single person who believes that A: there is certainly a god and B: any human being has Clue 1 what that god wants. Just amazing. The arrogance of those who would pretend they know! Anyone who claims to is a liar or straight up insane. As for the Mormons, it doesn't matter which brand of religion it is. Gay people: ignore this group of clowns too. Also: Rove is a liar and the biggest hypocrite in DC.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  8. JKale

    And I suppose schizophrenia is caused by demon possession, which is why NAMBL-....uh...I mean the Catholic church, has been so good at irradicating it.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  9. JC

    I am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I know there may be some who look at my words and try to disect them and turn them against me. It does not stop me, however, from sharing that I know this to be the true church of Jesus Christ. I know that President Boyd K. Packer is a true prophet. I know this because I have read the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our faith and religion, and have prayed and asked God if it was true. I invite all who read this to do the same, so they may know for themselves whether what our Church teaches be inspiration from God or the philisophies of man.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
    • Drumcp

      In this case your testimony is mine! Amen brother!

      October 12, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
    • redisgreat

      How did Packer actually become a prophet? And I do not believe that god spoke to you and reading some book will not convince me that what you say is true. Men write many things in order to enslave other men (and women for you PC'ers out there) and control their thoughts and minds. You have just been enslaved into something that you really do not even understand. Read more books and think about what they tell you.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
    • Chad

      I totally agree. Redisgreat...you can't rip on JC unless you try it yourself. You are basically saying..."you're wrong I'm right....even though I'm afraid to find out for myself"

      October 12, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Josh

      I know there may be some [in the church] who look at my words and try to disect them and turn them against me. I grew up in the Church and reading the Book of Mormon and Doctrine of Covenants. I hated it to say it lightly. I'll admit it provided a nice place of community, but the teachings and leadership all felt like poison when I asked God what was right, but I guess I just asked God wrong and I should have just let my fellow man tell me what is right because surely he as a hand of God higher in the church knows more than me, why think for myself? Know that I am a believer in God, but your Church did not speak to me nor did the books. At my local church I did not experience the "cult" stereotype or anything that abnormal, but it all felt wrong when I was really honest with myself.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
    • Chad

      See, and I respect Josh's comments. He gave it a shot, discovered that at worst, it is a great community,....not a cult. Maybe he doesn't believe it's true,....but not a cult.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
    • Pat

      I was a Mormon, I prayed and God told me the LDS Church was false.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • Maybe

      "I know this because I have read the Book of Mormon, the keystone of our faith and religion, and have prayed and asked God if it was true."

      Odd that many others claim that they have prayed - and "God" told them that some other book is true.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • Gingerpeach

      Thank You JC!! I say the same. Amen

      October 12, 2010 at 10:45 pm |
    • Centaur

      This is the common Mormon response when people question their beliefs. Mormons will bear their testimony and say, not simply that they believe their church is true, but that they "know" their church is true and that Book of Mormon is true etc. When you ask them how they "know", they will say the Holy Spirit revealed it to them. When pressed further, it basically amounts to them having a strong emotional feeling. Mormon children are raised from a very young age to say they "know" that Joseph Smith was a prophet, before they have the slightest idea what they are saying. Mormons are mostly well-intentioned people, but, when it comes to their core beliefs, they are deceived and misguided and brainwashed.

      October 13, 2010 at 1:55 am |
  10. Mormon in Texas

    >Peter and any other uneducated moron who deems it necessary to spout off false facts. Mormon's no longer practice polygomy nor have they for over a hundred years. Any practicing polygmist will not admit to being Mormon but rather a break off of the Mormon Church, if even that. Mormons in fact do preach the importance of a "single devoted wife.' Learn the facts before you make an idiot of yourself...oops too late!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  11. Meh

    Big deal. It's from an old white male leader of an organized religion, what do you expect? Compassion? Tolerance? Ha! He is clinging to the last shreds of external hatred he can find. He can't burn witches, or stone his children, or kill adulterers and blasphemers, or discard lepers, the diseased, and the handicapped, or own slaves anymore.... he needs to have something to judge, damn, and hate, else he would have to "examine thy self."

    October 12, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
    • redisgreat

      He could try by speaking out against something that we all fear, Islamic terrorism. Please have him explain why is it an affront to god to allow these extremists to kill innocents.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
    • hmmm....

      Because no "Christian" religion ever killed "innocents"........????? It's a good thing you are here to decipher what "everyone" else is afraid of so concisely. Curious though....why just Islamic terrorism and not say terrorism itself...???
      As I've been reading along with the comments posted to see how people are responding to the recently constant stream of LDS publicity, it seems you have quite a lot to say without ever really saying anything.
      And yes, compassion, tolerance, and a open kind heart would be nice for those in positions of power over others to have, but like you said....ha! It's not happening anytime soon here.

      October 12, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
  12. ttTTtt

    Maybe all gays should live together on their own island. They would soon be extinct, because they can not REPRODUCE.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • The WOW Man

      So when gays are born who are they born to? Oh wait they are born to a Straight man and a Straight woman.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
    • Flagguy

      No, it wouldn't result in extinction. There will always be gays and lesbians coming over because they are born that way. And to straight parents!

      October 12, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
    • Happy Athiest

      Hell yeah; I'd voluntarily go to this "island." I think, in return, however, people who believe in fairy tale mythological creationism should be sentenced to life on their own island. You can overpopulate the hell out of it and die from disease and starvation (pray for a cure, if your god loves you he'll save you); we'll see who goes extinct first. I've got a turkey baster in my kitchen that says we'll win!!

      October 12, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  13. oh boy, here we go again

    it amazes me that a group of people that cnstantly have to defend their own marriage practices of polygamy can be advocating for the denial of other people's marriage rights. what a country.

    October 12, 2010 at 11:59 am |
    • Tom

      You might read "The Mormon Encyclopedia" to clarify and strengthen your position.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
    • Scott Gerlach

      Mormons haven't practiced polygamy for over a hundred years. Less "Big Love" and more actual factual research would be appreciated.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
    • Jenn

      Actually, though a little misguided, he has a valid point. Mormans would still be polygamy if the law did not step in and ban the practice. At that time the mormans separated so you technically have two versions of this religion though the non polygamists do not claim the other. Polygamists are alive and growing, always have been. They practice the true version of this man mande cult

      October 12, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
    • Tom

      Jenn, you fell into what is known as "sweeping generalities."

      October 12, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  14. PTucker

    A greater issue with the Mormon Church is that they believe in different levels of Heaven, and only certain people get to higher levels. Isn't that being judgemental?? So therefore, they don't believe in redemption. I have a hard time believing they all live perfect lives. Maybe they believe if they all associate with only Mormons, no "one" will find out!! LOL.

    October 12, 2010 at 11:59 am |
    • Scott Gerlach

      Actually, they believe that Christ will judge them, as do most Christian denominations. The fact that they believe there are multiple glories in heaven like unto the glory of the sun, moon, and stars is supported bliblically. Read up, please.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • Drew

      Jesus said some would be resurrected unto life eternal, and others would be resurrected unto damnation. Jesus will be our Judge. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, spoke of different degrees of glory. It's scripture, at least to many people. You don't have to believe it, but please don't make it seem like these are beliefs held only by Mormons.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  15. W.

    I have lived in the vicinity of Mormons all of my life and they are to be avoided at all times. This is a violent cult that is controlling and derisive. Care should be taken to not cross the LDS church any more than the JDL. Both sects feel compelled to administer their belief system independent of the law of the land. Their beliefs allow a sniper bullet to deliver justice in the name of some obscure god figure, or whatever. These are some very scary people. This is not a joke.

    October 12, 2010 at 11:57 am |
    • Scott Gerlach

      Wow. You should really seek counseling for these delusions. Sniper bullets? Are you kidding me? Spread the bile elsewhere. You'd be funny if I didn't think you actually believe this tripe you just posted.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
    • Jenn

      I'm not sure about these sniper bullets you speak of but yes, overall a group not to cross. I've also see the cruel damage the Morman cult can do and the name of god seems to dissapear in many of their choices...very screwed up

      October 12, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
    • Tom

      What is REALLY scary is you'll find "Mormons" in every business, virtually every entertainment media, news source, government agency, aligned with numerous religious communities, national and international goodwill agencies, and just about every community.... Yes, they are a very scary sequestered group. :))

      October 12, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • Tom

      Joseph Smith, Jr. wrote thirteen articles of faith (i.e. statements of belief), numbers 11 and 12 are as follows: "11. We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may. 12. We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." The LDS member who lives the teachings of the church is a very law-abiding citizen and friendly to all. Indeed, it is our solemn duty to love all people and invite them to come to the Savior, Jesus Christ with all puropose of heart. Jesus Christ is the savior of all mankind and loves everyone equally.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
    • Russ

      Wait... wuh? So you are an antisemitic anti-mormon? I'm pretty sure the Jewish faith has not actively proselyted in roughly 2,000 years, and while Mormons certainly proselyte, I don't seem to recall any snipers. Calm down and go find a happy place.

      October 14, 2010 at 1:32 am |
  16. JAB62

    End the madness that is religion!

    October 12, 2010 at 11:56 am |
    • redisgreat

      Sorry old son but there are way too many crazy people that want someone to tell them how to live. I just love religious folks that tell me they have 'free will' but then follow some lunatic church that tells them how to live.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
    • Tom

      Everything around you is "religious." Every opinion and law is based on a norm, an ethic.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  17. MS

    I heart Mormons they make regular Christians seem sane in comparison

    October 12, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  18. The anointed One

    Little Baby Jesus gave him the gut of a Pot Bellied Pig, I guess he can do darn near anything.

    October 12, 2010 at 11:56 am |
    • redisgreat

      Jesus forgot to give you a brain. Sad really.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  19. Marke Tyrrell (Atheist)

    The Mormon church is in the dark ages. A bunch of old men demanding obedience from 10 million members. I cant imagine why anyone would want to be a member of this ridiculous religion/cult. I urge all LGBT members of the Mormon church to quit the church. Why would you be a member of an organization that hates you. All LGBT that belong to the Mormon church should write to the church and demand excommunication!

    October 12, 2010 at 11:56 am |
    • seabhac

      there are more folks playing WoW than are in the Mormon church? coolbeans... 12million vs. 10million.

      October 12, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
  20. truth77

    Elder Packer's talk was not hateful. It was loving. He desires to help those of our faith who are dealing with this issue. On the other hand, there has been extreme hate against him (just read the comments of others to this article) for standing up for what he believes in. People seem to think that he is somehow forcing his beliefs on people. He's not. It's freedom of religion and freedom of speech. If you don't believe what he says, you don't have to be a member of this church. There's an article of faith written by Joseph Smith that says, "We claim the privilege of worshiping the almighty God, and allow all other men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, and what they may." You worship how you feel is right, and let us worship the way we feel is right.

    October 12, 2010 at 11:56 am |
    • redisgreat

      Worship god but you take ORDERS from Elder Packer. Big difference. You have no freedom if he is telling you what to do. Grow up and get out of that cult.

      October 12, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • Jenn

      If what you say is true then you just validated what everyone is upset about. If that is the way he feels then he is being a hypocrite!!!!! He is judging others and NOT allowing them the same privileges he takes for himself. My guess is...God is upset with your Packer for his inappropriate actions.....

      Your words:
      "It's freedom of religion and freedom of speech. If you don't believe what he says, you don't have to be a member of this church. There's an article of faith written by Joseph Smith that says, "We claim the privilege of worshiping the almighty God, and allow all other men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, and what they may." You worship how you feel is right, and let us worship the way we feel is right."

      October 12, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • Postal

      Boy...I hope none of you guys (and gals) actually reads the New Testament, since it is basically a whole volume of people telling other people what they should or shouldn't do, and the eternal consequences and punishments that are waiting for everyone that doesn't do what the people writing it said...

      October 12, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
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.