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. JWH

    This is news? God said it is wrong. What is the problem? Ever heard of Dodom?

    October 31, 2010 at 7:13 am |
  2. Timothy Jolliffe

    The Holy Bible states in Matthew of Eunuchs: some were born that way , some were made that way by men, and some are set aside for the Kingdom of Heaven...made that way by men suggests psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, and socially – thru the varioius forms of abuse that have and will exist...u mnade us

    October 30, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
  3. Timothy Jolliffe

    The Holy Bible says about eunuchs: Some were born that way , some were made that way by men, and some are set aside for the Kingdom of Heaven.

    October 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm |
  4. John

    First of all Mormons are a cult and will always be. Joseph Smith was a charlatan. The only true church was that founded by Peter, and that is the Catholic Church...all others anglosaxon, baptist etc are cults.

    October 29, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
  5. wowed

    wow......this is why I do not discuss religion, politics, abortion, etc with anyone I work with or don't want to hurt. Everyone always thinks that they are always right and that their opinion is the best, most knowledgeable, most important or whatever. and to go against my better judgement, I do want to say that I completely disagree with the comments made by this man, however, I don't think these situations will change or improve in my lifetime,. but I hope that I am wrong

    October 29, 2010 at 1:38 am |
  6. Alienative


    Do y ou not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the se_xually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prosti_tutes nor ho_mose_xual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

    But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

    Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

    God hates sin, but he loves the sinner. Christians should do the same. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

    October 28, 2010 at 11:53 pm |
  7. Alienative

    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[a] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

    October 28, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
  8. Alienative

    CNN censores the Bible. So much for free speech.

    October 28, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  9. TK

    This is getting out of hand. When someone speaks against gays: OMG cancel Christmas, Santa is not coming to town, we have to go to court call it a hate crime or slander. Gays are worse than blacks. I didn't get the job because I am black or I am gay. Don't get me wrong that is the case at times but most of the time it is not. If that is his opinion then that is his opinion and his belief, most of all his right to say what he feels. You don't like it don't listen and if you don't like what the Bible states about gays then don't read it. I feel Gays already know where they are going. One lesbien is a friend of my sister and she told me she already know she is wrong for what she is doing and she knows she is going to hell. So do I preach or throw the Bible at her: NO...BUT do I let her know how I feel about gays/lesbiens when asked YES. Do I turn my back on her and not talk to her no because that is not Christ like. Gays just need to grow up and L I G (Let It Go) stop being so sensitive when someone speaks out against them. Blacks endured it and still do, Mexicans endured it and still do, Hispanics endured it and still do, Whites endured it and still do. Suck it up and move on with your life!

    October 28, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  10. patriotandmore

    Leviticus 18:22: Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. God's Judgment is upon this nation.

    Genesis 13:13: "But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly."

    Malachi 2:17
    “Ye have wearied the LORD with your words. Yet ye say, wherein have we wearied [him]? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil [is] good in the sight of the LORD, and he delighteth in them; or, Where [is] the God of judgment?”

    October 28, 2010 at 8:34 am |

    How can a religion that sanctioned polygamy have any credence to condemn anything related to modern social culture?

    October 27, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  12. Zoe

    I think the biggest obstacle the gay community has to overcome has been the scapegoat that it IS a natural pretext that they're born with and cannot control like you were born with some kind of disease. Being gay – sure, it may be a natural pretext. I would be the last to argue that. You also may've had some kind of trauma – which is equally as valid. But being actively gay IS a decision, so is being straight. So is going to the bathroom when you need to pee. Lots of gay people live – sadly – in the closet and choose to pretend not to be gay. Some gay people make the decision to live an openly gay life and some decide to live a quietly gay life. But, its all a decision you make. They CAN control it, they CHOOSE not to because they want their rightfull pursuit of happiness and its not hurting anyone else so why not. Why should they have to pretend and not pursue their dreams because someone with a different belief system is forcing their self riteous moralist agenda. But, until they stop treating it like a disease that they can't control and they just WISH that they were born normal and healthy and start treating it like a decision that they have the right to make they're always going to be riding in the back of the bus.

    October 27, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
    • HotAirAce


      Let me see if I understand what you are saying, and I am keying off your last sentence. Are you really suggesting that if gays stop agitating for change, if they just be good little quiet gays and be happy in the back of the bus, then society will some day reward them with the same human rights that the rest of society currently enjoys? I certainly hope that I have mis-read you, and don't have to more clearly remind you of a parallel in the not too distant past. Also, do you think there is any chance some gays behave in public as they do because the rest of society has failed to deal with their quest for equal rights?

      October 27, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
  13. darren

    I'm a active Mormon. The church does not hate Gays they are just informing our beliefs. If Gay people do not like what Mormom leaders have said do not listen or read Mormon news. The mormon leaders talk about all kinds of subjects that have to do with keeping the commandments of God. Active Mormons believe in spiritual revelation(holy Ghost). Many of the writers do not take time to understand main stream mormonism. The LDS faith is a very spiritual religion and the religion believes in getting revelation through a living prophet as well as personal revelation. Questions on doctorine is done by studying the scriptures and pondering them as well as praying for answers. The Holy Ghost that is mentioned in the bible witnesses truth to an individual who is honestly searching about God.

    October 27, 2010 at 3:53 am |
  14. Paul

    I feel that the President of The Quorum of 12, Boyd Packer and Thomas Monson, The President of the Church, are wrong in their assessment. However everybody is responsible for their own opinions. I have met many Mormons and feel they are nice descent people who are hard workers and have a kind disposition.

    October 27, 2010 at 12:34 am |
  15. Wendy

    The Mormons are known to have some kooky beliefs, but I have to agree with them on this one.

    October 26, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  16. Wordcutter

    If a young woman says she is fat even though she is only 75 lbs on her 5'4" frame she is told she suffers from anorexia nervosa. Her friends and family try to help her, they worry that their friend or daughter will die from starvation or other complications. She however says she is ok and that when she is no longer fat life will be perfect. In her heart and mind she is fat and only starvation or purging will fix that. Society says she is ill. If we follow along with the gay community then we should applaud this brave young woman and help her with her quest of weight loss. There is nothing wrong with her, just ask her. Numbers vary but an estimated 0.5 to 3.7 percent females fall into this misunderstood group of people. Tell me the difference except that the Gender Challenged community is better funded and is more fearful of being told they have a problem. Like any mental or physical problem acceptance is the first step to recovery. Instead of trying to pretend they are normal by all standards they need to fall in behind those that outnumber them. Alcoholics, the number one group with 18 to 20 % of the population, 10% of Americans are deaf, tied are the blind, anorexic and the gays with 1 to 3.5% of the population. With 1% or under are Downs and other birth defects.
    To be fair there should be more drunks on television along with blind and deaf people as they all outnumber gays. Its an issue of the squeaking wheel and personally I am sick of it.

    October 26, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • Wendy

      I LOVE YOU! Perfectly said. You are absolutely right.

      October 26, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  17. goandseek

    Does anyone realize that the mormon church was started by a con artist after jail time as a way to make money

    October 25, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  18. Agnostic101

    What I don't get is why does everyone think that a religion should change it's doctrine and practices because other people do not like it. If the Bible says something, people want to modify what the Bible says or what Jesus said to fit their lifestyle so they don't have to feel guilty or ashamed. If that is the way people want to deal with their beliefs and religions, why even believe in a god if you change the principles and doctrines that that religions is founded on.

    October 24, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  19. Agnostic101

    What I don't get is why does everyone think that a religion should change it's doctrine and practices because other people do not like it. If the Bible says something, people want to modify what the Bible says or what Jesus said to fit their lifestyle so they don't have to feel guilty or ashamed. If that is the way people want to deal with their beliefs and religions, why even believe in a god if you change the principles and doctrines that that religions is founded on.

    October 24, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  20. Sam

    I’ve only read some of the comments that were near the start, so I apologize if this seems out of place. I’m a Mormon, and I don’t hate anyone. I believe that God meant for marriage to be between a man and a women. I also believe that God loves everyone no matter what. So I don’t think that people can go to hell for being gay. I don’t understand why God has said that marriage is only to be between a woman and a man, and I don’t pretend to. I’m 14 now, and maybe I just can’t understand it because of my age. Personally, I doubt I’ll ever understand the reason why. But I believe that God has said that.

    I have a friend who’s gay. The way I feel about him is probably the same way that some people feel about their religious friends – that they’re wrong about something. He’s a good person, and being gay has nothing to do with that. Not every Mormon thinks that. But, I think, what people who aren’t Mormon need to realize is that it is not our religion itself that is bad. Sometimes, though, the people in it are. It’s the same with every religion.

    I also have a question, and I honestly want to know what people think about it. Why is it that people find it unacceptable to judge a race based on the actions of a few people belonging to that race, but think that it’s okay to judge a religion based on the actions of a few people in that religion?

    October 23, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.