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. Dennis

    Why people care what any Voodoo doctor says is beyond me.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  2. EC

    Mormons are against gays??? when did that happen???

    October 12, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  3. nick


    October 12, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
    • hokieduck

      Cap locks stuck there BigGuy Nick. Or does it make it mean more if you scream through your fingers?

      October 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  4. wrack

    It's getting so obvious that religion is the true evil. This virus of faith is spreading hate and intolerance and I'm really getting sick of it.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  5. Kgh

    How is it that religious people seem to be the most intolerant in our society? Did the God they worship really want them to discriminate against his children? Very sad.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • VoiceOfReason

      Funny how you say the religous people are intoloerant. Try reading this thread again. The hate and intolerance directed at the LDS church here is disgusting. Hope all you posters feel proud of your anti-religious bigotry.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  6. brad

    The usual comments here about some church telling people how to live and the "sheep" that "blindly" follow. So, Mr/Ms Anti-Religion: what's governing your life? Your perfectly tuned reasoning powers untainted by emotion? Your hormones? Your gut? Your ambitions?

    Unless you have some restraining code that you accept and live up to, the world's worse off for your presence.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
    • wrack

      HUGE EFFIN DIFFERENCE! the laws of government are mutable and decided based on consensus and fact. As our knowledge of the world advances so can our laws. Your medieval code is not destined for a thinking population and it doesn't consider facts. It relies on the cyclical logic of it being right because it claims to be right.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
    • brad

      The laws of governance can't change until human nature changes. People can wreck each others' lives for the same reasons now as they did 10,000 years ago.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  7. JerryD

    G_D must be ashamed of those you pirport to know His will.. Shame on this cult!

    October 12, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  8. concerned citizen

    What's up with all these bigots coming out of their holes over the last few days?

    It's not like this country doesn't have any more important issues to deal with right now, like jobs and the economy, for example.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  9. Jennifer

    Mormons are stupid. Period.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  10. Dave

    Funny that this organization preaches tolerance and patience and love for their gay brothers and sisters and they are seen as a nut job cult. I mean, after all, if the church is still willing to love all of these disgusting sinners despite their inability to control their unusual gay urges, can't the gays just try a little to be straight and have a little faith?....Are you kidding me? Even when apologists come out and say it was grandpa packer talking crazy and he doesn't represent the modern Mormon outlook, it ignores the fact that the church is condescending and hateful in their words and actions. It's a sin that a non-profit religion is so politically motivated and involved. Why don't they pretend it's not happening like the Meadow Mountain Massacre.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  11. Stocko

    Holy crap, I shake my head in wonder at the stupid things religions are still trying to teach.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • VoiceOfReason

      Holy crap, I shake my head in wonder at the stupid things people say about religion. You need to broaden your horizons, and be a little less narrow-minded. I believe what i believe, and grant you the right to do the same. If you dont want religious people pushing their beliefs on YOU, then dont try to push your beliefs on THEM.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  12. Dimtiri

    If the power of god gives him authority and this is God's word, then why does he need to edit his speech or statement. I don't udnerstand why people justify thier actions through the power of god as oppose to taking resposibilty for thier words and actions of the people they influence. I have nothing against faith and religion but it this blind faith tha is really power, control and fear masqurading as faith. I find troubling. It is so easy to justify one's actions through the Power of God without any accountability, becuase it is god's word and I'm just the innocent bystander/messenger/interpreter who inflicts his word without question. Fine. Without facts, reason or logic, it is just an opinion. Which would you rather have?

    October 12, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  13. Jake

    Here's the irony in all this, Jesus didn't die for Christians....he died for sinners. So, even though Christians reject and hate sinners, Jesus came to this Earth for them, because he loves them. In the end there will be a special place in hell for these so-called "Christians" and Satan will welcome them with open arms for doing such a great job in turning people away from Christ.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
    • learn to spell

      Christans are sinners. You are too, by the way.

      October 12, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  14. xiaobao

    Religion makes you stupid.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  15. Practice

    Why are young people listening to this hack? He comes from another time and another place. Why in the immensity and diversity of the world, where there exists so many religions and so many varying beliefs, do the mormons and this bafoon think that they got it right?

    October 12, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  16. CareJack

    Is this the same church that practices poligamy in secret ?

    October 12, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  17. stu

    can anyone here say "cult"?

    October 12, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  18. Tghb21

    Hey guys, do we need to take a trip to the Museum of Tolerance

    October 12, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • wrack

      i love it!

      October 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  19. chainsaw

    There are several natural tendencies that appear to be scientifically shown to be innate and not chosen. Just because a person was born with an innate tendency does not mean that it is acceptable to practice it. Take sociopaths,cleptomaniacs, etc, it is generally accepted that they are born that way, yet we do not encourage them to carry out their desires. This is not to say that being gay is a danger to society, it is to say that the argument that you were born one way or another means you have no control is not a good argument. The better argument is that if your actions do not cause harm to others and it is between or among consenting adults then why should anyone care about or restrict your actions?

    October 12, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • Kira

      Chainsaw, your comment was one of the most logical on here. The "CHOICE" is not about how one FEELS, but rather about how one ACTS.

      October 17, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
  20. Jack

    All religion is an uncivilized mess and Mormons and Islamic are right up there with Jews and Christians of all stripes. All of humanity suffers when any one of their Gods looks askew at another. None of them are holy, trustworthy, forgiving, caring and or loving.Freedom from religion would serve the world better than freedom of religion has served the US. In the US these loose canons have turned freedom of religion into a travesty.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • wrack

      The idea of God is improbable as it is. The idea that there are many gods, one for each religion is even more improbable. The idea that those gods would want their people to fight each other over religious supremacy is outright ridiculous.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:49 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.