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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. John

    No separate rights for peter puffers and carpet munchers!

    October 22, 2010 at 9:06 am |
  2. Lee Oates

    What would you expect out of a grown adult that follows the psycotic raviings of a most likely pre-schizophrenic child. Its sad that in this day and age there are still people who live their lives based on fairly tales that for the most part were started by people who today would be considered mental health patients.

    October 21, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  3. Dan

    It sure seems like a lot of you "experts" on the Mormon church supposedly changing doctrine have some problems with the accuracy of your source material. A lot of what you post is partially factual, mixed with untruths that make the statement incorrect. The Church never changed any stance on soft drinks by a investment in Coca-Cola. That is a myth. The Information given to local leaders is that the use of caffeinated soft drinks is cautioned against because of its addictive nature. The prohibition in the Word of Wisdom is against "hot drinks" which at the time included coffee and tea (which was often drank scalding hot right off the cooking fire). The Mormon Militia never fought against the US Army, but it was raised because of concerns over two separate extermination orders, one from Missouri and one within the federal government. The extermination order in Missouri by Governor Boggs resulted in many men in the church being killed and leaving wives and children without a man in the home to care for them. Regardless of the spirituality of the plural marriage issue, it was a way for many of those families to be brought together to be cared for. One slam against the church I have always laughed at is the assertion that "Joe Smith was a criminal and a treasure seeker" because his religious opposition had him arrested on numerous false charges that were always thrown out (which doesn't make him a criminal) and because a neighbor hired him to dig for buried ancient treasure on his property (which Joseph did so he could have a job to earn money, but after a time discouraged the property owner from continuing the futile quest). Facts mixed with fiction are one of Satan's wiley ways. It sounds true because some portion actually is, but the statement is inaccurate because of the lies.

    October 21, 2010 at 10:10 am |
  4. Bill Fitzgerald

    Strange what people write about our church. Easy to tell that they really only know what someone who is not LDS told them.If they would study and pray they could find out what I did a t age 24 that Joseph Smith is the Prophet of the restoration, the Book of Mormon is the word of God and that the Priesthood has been restored. I know this by the Power of the Holy Ghost. Tell all of the lies that you want but no one can stop this work. It will and is filling the world prior to the second coming.

    October 20, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  5. Greggo

    Not one of the people defending the Mormon faith and Joseph smith has any real fact based response for the shady beginnings of their prophet. J. Smith used a rock he called a "peep stone" that he looked through to help him divine the location of buried treasure that he was paid to find by someone he duped into believing he could find it for a price. Not to mention his convictions for swindling people out of their money. This does not a prophet make. He sure did have a thing for underage girls as well. Anyone care to defend this type of behavior by a religious leader?

    October 20, 2010 at 2:51 am |
  6. Billy

    Considering this is coming from a leader of a church founded by a convicted pedophile, I guess we shouldn't be surprised.

    October 19, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
  7. Eric

    Meh, the Mormons already have a history of discrimination against women and black people, who is surprised that they are discriminating against gay people? Not me. I just wish they would keep their backward, divisive, uninformed policies and thought processes in Utah. They want to drink milk? Let them have it. I prefer to have my beer.

    October 19, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
  8. D-dog

    It would seem that the attacks on the Mormon church for their beliefs is pretty childish on the gay communities part. All I hear from my friends is gay rights this and gay rights that, but heaven forbid rights for anyone else's beliefs. Mormons can say what they want. Its a right that they have. I don't see why so many people have gotten so bent over this. Welcome to America. If you don't like what they preach or any Christian church for that matter you might want to start with some how dethroning their God. Good Luck!

    October 19, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
  9. tomas

    So now the LGBT and gay community have the 'right' to tell religions what to believe? What on earth is this country coming to? The minority has taken over the the rule of the majority and would run the country exactly the way they wish it to be run dictating how everyone else should think: conforming to their beliefs only and not allowed to have their own. This has got to stop.

    October 18, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
  10. LDS Teen

    All of this is crazy. People saying they are tolerant, then bashing somebody else because their beliefs are different. That would be like me, going to a Catholic church then yelling at the pastor for not teaching what I believe to be true. What hypocrites are we. I try to be tolerant, at times I find it hard. I am imperfect. So is every other person. Boyd K. Packer was only teaching acceptance and love of everyone. Please, lets not be young children and argue. We should keep opinions to ourselves. I need somebody to look up to, I am 15. Please be a person I want to look up to.

    October 18, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  11. Bill Kilpatrick

    “Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”

    Now there's a solid argument. Why would God allow anybody to be born with any kind of challenge – like being blind or deaf or cognitively challenged? Why would God allow anyone to be born color blind or without a conscience? Why would anyone be born with ADHD or Tourette's Syndrome? Why would anyone be born criminally insane or OCD? Why allow anyone to be born with both types of genitalia? If it's unpleasant – like cutaneous horns – it must be an illusion.

    October 18, 2010 at 12:44 am |
  12. Lina

    When Christ was preaching his beliefs, he constantly received opposition. When LDS leaders share their beliefs they too receive opposition and hate. The Church's teaching people to love, to serve, etc. It has beautiful principles and beliefs that will teach men and women how to live better lives, but people are still against the church. People are constantly saying the Mormon's a cult, a hate group, etc. And they need to be saved, so there are a ton of NEGATIVE Anti-Mormon literature waiting to attack its next victim with its constantly negative and twisted words about the Mormon. These people aren't reaching out in love, but hate. Truly, they are hypocrites!! And a cult is defined as a organized religion. So if the Mormon church is a cult, then should all organized religions be called a cult too???

    October 17, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
  13. Lin

    When Christ was preaching his beliefs, he constantly received opposition. When LDS leaders share their beliefs they too receive opposition and hate. People are constantly saying the Mormon's a cult

    October 17, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
  14. JRock

    wow how ridiculous... all these hate comments for one church...

    October 17, 2010 at 1:51 am |
  15. LDS AND LOVIN IT!

    ♪♪ Now let us rejoice in the day of salvation,
    No longer as strangers on earth need we roam,
    Good tidings are sounding to us and each nation,
    And shortly the hour of redemption will come;♪♪
    When all that was promised the Saints will be given,
    And none will molest them from morn until ev’n,
    And earth will appear as the garden of Eden,
    And Jesus will say to all Israel, Come home.♪♪

    ♪♪♪ We’ll love one another, and never dissemble,
    But cease to do evil, and ever be one;♥♥
    And when the ungodly are fearing and tremble,
    We’ll watch for the day when the Saviour will come;
    When all that was promised the Saints will be given,
    And none will molest them from morn until ev’n,
    And earth will appear as the garden of Eden,
    And Jesus will say to all Israel, Come home♪♪

    ♪♪♪ In faith we’ll rely on the arm of Jehovah
    To guide thro’ these last days of trouble and gloom,
    And, after the scourges and harvest are over,
    We’ll rise with the just when the Saviour doth come.
    Then all that was promised the Saints will be given,
    And they will be crowned with the angels of heav’n,
    And earth will appear as the garden of Eden,
    And Christ and His people will ever be one.♥♥

    seems sort of funny that so many people that don't believe in our Church...CARE so much what we believe

    October 16, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
  16. Gays are hypocrites

    All of you gay people out there are a bunch of hypocritical hate mongers. You think you are the only one that can speak your belief freely and no one else can when it goes against your belief. You all just make me sicker and sicker of you every time I see anything about you in the news.

    October 16, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  17. Quit Hating

    Quit it! 97% of the people commenting are just railing on Mormons! They say Mormons hate, but here are a ton of people who are hating on them! Quit taking things out of context. We can believe what we want to.

    October 15, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  18. David

    May I please have the right to my religious beliefs without hateful attacks by LGBT organizations? Isn't there something about that in the Bill of Rights?

    October 15, 2010 at 3:00 am |
  19. Michael Daily

    This is ridiculous. The Mormons believe they got a new revelation from God 200 years ago, and that even their current prophets can get new revelations. And yet the still push the same old fundie line on gays; why can't any of them be compassionate enough to have a "revelation" that the bible got it wrong on gays, that gay relationships are fundamentally the same as straight ones, etc.

    October 14, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  20. David Johnson

    Good People! I would like to get your opinion on 2 exchanges between Frank and myself.

    If you have 5 minutes or so, please go to this blog and read the exchanges. Comment as you will.

    Thanks!

    https://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/13/songwriter-not-done-telling-the-story-of-your-life/

    October 14, 2010 at 9:55 am |
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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.