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

    Love momons! Way to stand up for what you believe!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  2. Lisa

    So now churches cannot preach on what the Bible says? Didn't liberals ridicules conservatives for claiming hate speech laws would outlaw the Bible? Aren't liberals claiming that preaching the Bible is hate speech now? What happened to free speech in this country?

    October 12, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  3. Dustin

    Most of the criticism here against the Latter Day Saints is based in ignorance. I've read dozens of innacurate or just completely false statements in this thread like: "Joseph Smith 'lost' the plates" or "he translated them out of a hat". One guy suggested learning about the church through South Park...please! No wonder nobody knows anything true about this church! Everything you know probably came from a TV or heresay. Try getting information directly from the source. Read the Book of Mormon and the Bible if you want to know what Latter Day Saints beleive.

    Get your facts straight people: there is a zero tolerance policy for poligamy in the LDS church. There are exactly zero members in good standing who practice polygamy. This misconception is over 100 years old and by bringing it up you demonstrate your ignorance.

    It's ironic that so many people are critical of Mr. Packers comments and responding to it with messages that are mean-spirited, hateful, and even violent. When you take Mr. Packers comments in context, you will find that his message is one of hope, faith, and love. Read or listen to the entire message.

    If you don't agree with he's perspective, that's a you problem. He has every right to express his views and if you don't like it, just turn around and walk away. If you aren't a member of the church, that's your choice – he's speaking to members of the church here not you. If you don't want to follow his counsel, don't join up.

    Just remember. God hasn't revealed anything to his servants, prophet or apostles, new or old, that he won't reveal to any living person who approaches him with faith in Christ, and with real intent. If you have any qualms with what Mr. Packer said, take it up with the Big Man upstairs. Latter Day Saints promote faith, virtue, and love. The religion is very difficult to live but it's very rewarding as well. No faithful member can appropriately live the true gospel of Jesus Christ without having a deep PERSONAL conviction of it's reality.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
    • TheChurchofJesusChristofLatterDaySaints - Current Member

      Well said Dustin. Well said!

      October 12, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • Descarado

      I am Catholic and approve of your message.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • David K. Anderson in California

      Great points Dustin! Too bad it will be lost on most.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
    • Nick

      The LDS church may not practice polygamy anymore, but they sure as hell used to. The only reason they stopped was to obtain recognition as a legitimate "religion," but in essence it is still a cult. You tell me how the Book of Mormon came to be and then tell me it isn't a made up crock of BS.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
    • Dustin (not the mormon supporting one)

      It's funny Dustin, you're getting upset over the exact same thing that gay people do. People categorizing you because of your religion or beliefs based off assumptuous stereotypes. Ironic, don't you think?

      October 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Inconvenient fact

      Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the founders of the "sect" embraced Polygamy as a Fundamental practice. This fundamental practice was officially discarded (except by the "faithful" minority of Fundamental "believers") when it was politically expedient to do so.
      Whether it be Smith's "golden plates" or Glenn Beck's gold bullion... the acquisition and possession of gold/wealth seems to be much more important to the sect than it was to Jesus.

      October 12, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      Interesting, that Mormons complain about "collective judgements" (judging a whole groups by the actions of one)! Bit hypocritical.

      You can write all you want, say all you want. BUT the TRUTH IS that Packers comments were offensive. And we are FREE to say so! Then he CHANGED them, conveniently when the protests came from all over the nation.

      Everyone is free to voice their opinion. We are also FREE to strongly DISAGREE!

      October 12, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  4. Alex

    Leave the judgement to your god. If he thinks gay marriage is immoral, he will punish appropriately. It is not our place to judge. Gay marriage does no harm to anyone. My neighbors are gay and married, and they don't harm anybody.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
    • Finally C. TheLight

      Right!!! exactly.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  5. reality required

    Did someone really call for that guy to be shot...awfully extreme don't you think. Like I said, stop crying all the time about every little injustice. You want a story, try the boy who cried wolf. You will wear out society's patience and when the fem gay guy is no longer style, you will have no one to turn to every time someone calls you a name or expresses their personal opinion.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:31 pm |

    Who cares, let the "gays" cry all they want they will never be accepted and pushing laws down our throats wont change that lol.Perverts

    October 12, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • nuser

      Why do you care?

      October 12, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
    • Emma

      Do you regularly boycott the Red Lobster since Leviticus 11:11 calls shellfish an "abomination" and Jesus came not to change the law? Hypocrite!!

      October 12, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
  7. I'm Muslim

    finally people are leaving me alone for at least a few minutes

    October 12, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • Bill

      Don"t blame you fro saying that. We have mucho problems.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • Happy Athiest

      that actually made me smile

      October 12, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
    • js007

      LOL! How true...

      October 12, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
  8. Wow...

    That's seriously not right. I'm only 16 so I might not know the world that well, but I do know that whoever wants to be together should be together and no religious testimony should try to stop or prevent that.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
    • LL


      And this is the difference between a 16 year old and an 86 year old. Let's focus on the fact that thankfully times are changing and the dated opinions of three generations ago will only matter for a short time longer.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
    • lostmind

      And that is how the human race dies out. No babies no human 🙂

      October 12, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  9. chainsaw

    Religions will have their take on gays and gay marriage and the various followers will add their opinions and beliefs. This is acceptable and expected and is not a problem as long as they do not force the issue. However, the idea of marriage or at least civil unions and the benefits associated with them , should not legally be restricted to any subgroup. It is not fair and serves no purpose. Why should a man and a woman who throw a big party ad say they are married get benefits while another man and woman or name your couple, not get this benefit?

    October 12, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
    • Oliver

      Having a belief (whether founded in religious faith or not) does not allow one the ability to practice it legally. This was decided by the Supreme Court long ago, and coincidentally, it involved Mormons and an alternative definition of marriage: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reynolds_v._United_States

      October 12, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
  10. bailoutsos

    It's like being born Mormon.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  11. I Talk to God

    he said mormons are wrong, then he asked me why i was talking to myself

    October 12, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • lostmind

      So basically you have a split personality and you talk to yourself

      October 12, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  12. FV

    I personally agree with him. If he is a heater of Gays then God must be the ultimate hater because God does not look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.

    12 Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom.  
    13 But the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the Lord exceedingly.

    Verse 13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

    CORINTHIANS Chapter 10
    Verse 13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

    True Christians do not force their beliefs on to other people but stand up for their beliefs and if Mormons stand up for this issue as part of their beliefs I applaud them. I don't think Packer's speech was meant to promote hate but to point out a great decease in our society.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • Heater??

      a heater of gays? he likes to get them all hot??

      October 12, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
    • Pete

      God also hates shrimp:

      Leviticus 11:9-12 says:
      9 These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.
      10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you:
      11 They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.
      12 Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.

      October 12, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
    • FV

      1 Cor. 11:11
      “Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord”

      October 12, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  13. John

    Mormon here. I have gay friends. They know I don't agree with their decisions, but they don't agree with some of mine. There might be some gay men and women out there that are looking for another way. This message from Boyd K Packer was for them. If you aren't looking for help, then move on, this message isn't for you. I'm not going to teach my children that gay is normal. It's not. It iS a choice. I will, though, teach my children that gays deserve respect and love just like everyone else. Society will not tell me what is acceptable and what is not. God will.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • Brother John of Dallas

      Good point

      October 12, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
    • Gay

      I'll take your respect, would you give me my right to marry the person I chose to spend the rest of my life?

      October 22, 2010 at 9:48 am |
  14. Tara

    As the sister of two openly gay twin brothers I feel that as time wears on accpetance of different lifestyles will prevail. What people do on their own time is no one's buisness but their own. Don't worry....gay people do not want anything to do with you fat, ugly, straight people. As for the mormon church, some of the views shared here are somewhat correct. From the outside world, they do present themselves as conceited, rich, yuppie religious cult members. Money is a top priority, and they tend to shun those not in the religion. However, they do have many great qualities within their group. They have the lowest divorce rate of any religion. They offer their members ample counciling for all sorts of problems that arise within a family. I do not agree with the religion, I personally think it's a complete load of crap but you have to give them kudos for the effort to keep families together. The 86 year old nutjob is just that...a nut job. Let him go gracefully and don't give him the press coverage that he wants. He's probably changing his depends undergarment and wiping the drool off his face right now as we speak.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
    • Mike

      So you are saying that there are no fat, ugly gay people? I have seen them.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
    • Amartin

      Please try not to make up facts. Mormons divoce at the same rate as every other religion. Please look up the Pew survey on divorce to find what the real numbers are.

      October 12, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  15. Sher

    People people, this is not a religious issue. Stop with the bible quotes, and the God angst. This is discrimination against a group of people.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
    • VoiceOfReason

      And apparently that group of people are the LDS church. This level of vitriol and hate is disgusting. Those posting and bashing the beliefs of ANY religion ought to be ashamed. And to do it in the name of tolerence is as ironic as it is hypocritical.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  16. Travis

    Back in early humanhood up to the Middle Ages, religions gained power by influence. Since then, the trend has slowly continued where religions gain power from the people who argue against them. By protesting and demonizing this guy, what you are really doing is saying "This guy has power because of his religion and he is misusing that power". You are enabling him and his religion, not helping the situation. If you don't want his comments to affect our kids, stop giving him that power.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  17. Descarado

    Hellllllllooooooooooooo, Harry Reid!!!! Any comments???????

    October 12, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  18. Yes1Fan

    My wife has essential tremor. When my Lutheran Synod had it's annual convention, they had to vote on the issue of whether to ordain gay Clergy or not. I retorted on something similar to: “Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?” The answer, and if you ever met my wife, you would see, is to "show the glory of God". People who lack motion disorders take a lot for granted, especially that their ability can be removed in an instant.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  19. reality required

    I support gay marriage and all that jazz, I am just sick of gays acting like they are so oppressed when all this society does is coddle them every time they throw a hissy fit about someone hurting their feelings. Buck up and act like you deserve the respect you say you don't get.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • VoiceOfReason

      You point out the irony in all this. I have seen more HATE speech directed at LDS from the gay community here onthis thread than anything anyone coupld possibly construe from the few lines Elder Packer gave (which werent hate speech in ANY sense anyway). The REAL hypocrisy of the hate-spewers here outweighs the IMAGINED slight by the LDS church ten times over!

      October 12, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  20. Pope Benedict

    Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”

    Why did they give men mammary papilla?

    October 12, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
    • Good point.

      Good point. While we're at it, what is with that appendix.

      October 12, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.