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. sandykync

    legalize immorality Huh? The fake church found on polygamy and marry girl as young a 12 years old. Don't deny it, you may not publicly practice it now, but allot of you nut job followers do. boy isn't that the pot calling the kettle black.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  2. JP

    A MORMON doesn't have ROOM to talk crap about anyone....SERIOUSLY!! Are we at ALL familiar with the whole Joseph Smith story?? WAIT.....an angel just brought me a bunch of gold plates!! LOL.....what MORONS!!

    October 12, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • Ficheye

      And the angel came to him again and took them back.... sort of like interlibrary loan. Why couldn't he keep them? And then they wrote their own version of the bible as well. Hey, I'm working on mine, too!! Cult, cult, cult. Magic underwear is gonna protect you from being gay, cause Joseph Smith knows that you wanna be.....

      October 12, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  3. Susan

    I saw your temple in Idaho Falls this year, on the horizon. It sent shivers up my spine – now I know why. You people are not good people. 🙁

    October 12, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
    • Kira

      Susan, whether you agree with what he said or not, it is absurd to say that an entire group of people (13.5 million worldwide and counting) are "not good people". This article is about 2 sentences that one man said in a15 minute speech, mostly about an entirely different subject, and included a message of love and support. This speech was only one in over 10 hours of speeches given by dozens of people. If you are going to condemn us all as "not good", then you should at least get a more well rounded point of view. In my experience, most non-Mormons who personally know Mormons think the ARE "good people", even if they totally disagree with our beliefs.

      October 17, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
  4. Nick Lekatis

    The Church of LDS is the last degradation of Christianity

    October 12, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  5. Bill Williams

    You all should me more concerned with your own lives then to worry what some 86 year old mormon thinks. There is no purpose to his speach, he was speaking to his own kind & they, of course want to hear what he has to say, to the rest of you I say this....why do you care? If you are thinking about suicide, believe me some OLD WIND BAG isn't going to push you over the edge. There are so many things about the speech, this article and all the comments that could be picked apart and attacked, why bother?

    October 12, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  6. Alex

    Religion – last bastion of the weak minded and ignorant

    October 12, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  7. therm

    Kevin, it's not logical at all. I suppose you think science is illogical? Wow, what a ...sad, simply sad.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  8. Susan

    It's terrible how people in power bring such evil and sadness into the world. He strikes at the heart of God when he strikes so harshly at God's GLBT children. They are made in God's image, too. Please stop using your power to hurt others, sir.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  9. Drgnldy14

    All Religions are made up by man...just as the Bible is a collection of stories made up by man. Believe as you choose, but don't tell me what to believe, or how to conduct myself. Gay, Straight, Black, white , red, yellow, or purple...people are people. To each his or her own. How dare any one person tell the rest of us how to behave...it was tried once...and Hitler destroyed millions. ...and we all can see how that worked out for him.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  10. mike

    Gay children do not just come from gay people. They come from straight people too.

    Even if you think that no gay person had ever been forced into a hetero marriage, and produced children, then fully straight people would still have made gay children.

    Heritance of a trait does not imply the parent(s) displayed it.

    Brown eye people have blue eyed children ...........

    Don't like gay marriage ? Don't have one.

    Everytime I ask how my gay marriage restricts your rights, no one ever has an answer

    October 12, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • Finally C. TheLight

      well said! I ask that same question and I have never gotten an answer either.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  11. Michael

    Wouldn't we all be much better off without religions?

    Recognize them for what they are, archaic power structures recruiting the masses to do their bidding while becoming power grabbing political machines (Ex. Christianity's "conversion" of the Americas, Islamic Republics, etc. etc. etc.)

    You get 3 chances in life to figure this out... The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and God... Why do so many people get stuck at #2?

    There is a core set of morality common to mankind that pretty much covers society's needs. The rest of these religions are just excuses for picking fights over who gets to tell others what they can and can't do with their lives. Who gives a rat's rectum if you like/dislike pork, alcohol, gays... mind you own business and world would be a much better place.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  12. Nick Lekatis

    The church of LDS, with its spiritual hijackings, is definitely the last degradation of Christianity

    October 12, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  13. White Man

    Hey Mario, I don't like the ethnic sound of your name. I think you need to get off my White American discussion board.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  14. Eric

    The "apostle" also believes gold tablets were left on earth that could only be read with magic spectacles. It's a little hard to take his opinions seriously.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  15. Kip

    These are the same twits running around with 20 wives. They "offically" condemn it. hahaha All over Utah there are 10s of thousands of multiple wife men. These people are never sanctioned and are in the governing bodies of the church all all levels. One "legal" wife and several others just living ,by mainstream christian beliefs, living in mortal sin. Mainstream christians do not even consider the lds'ers to be christian because they have tampered with the direct word of god, therby going straight to hell, where they will me big "b" and joseph "dogman" smith. Humans – let this folly go – there is no big man in the sky – beneath us only dirt – no hell either.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
    • VoiceOfReason

      Complete nonsense. Try getting your facts straight. And watching less "Big Love". There are NO polygamous marriages in the LDS church. Anyone (at any level) who engages in any kind of polygamous marriage is immediately ex-communicated. You need to find a better source of information.

      October 12, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  16. Steven

    So much is being said. If any of my Louisville, KY colleagues are reading, I want to speak in favor of Boyd K. Packer, whose intent was to teach how merciful God is, how He loves us all, and what we should do as we all seek for mercy.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  17. Finally C. TheLight

    SO embarassing. As an inactive Mormon myself (family is all very active)this is so embarassing. This statement is thousands of steps backward for the gay "black sheep" of any Mormon family who may have finally begun to find some acceptance within his/her family and community–when the only thing they have done "wrong" is finally be honest with themselves and everyone else. They may not admit it, but deep inside will continue to feel as if they are somehow flawed or ruined in some way. Who doesn't want to be accepted and loved? It is human nature. Mormons place such a high emphasis on the family unit. If you are brought up this way, it is ingrained in you deeply. When your family unit doesn't accept you and you are pushed outside of it, it is very painful. You may repress this pain, but it is there. You long to be a real part of your loving family again, without having to sacrifice your beliefs and lifestyle.
    I am not gay, but I feel this way within my own family...just for not believing what they chose for me to believe when I was young. I do not hate them for THEIR beliefs, why should they hate me for mine? So much for Christlike love. There are SO MANY in the Mormon (LDS) church who have open hearts and minds and accept their family and friends no matter what. Those same people do struggle against the tide, though, never feeling like they truly belong to the church because the popular opinion is so hugely different. This is what eventually drove me away from the church. I was so tired of feeling forced to believe one way or another and from being made to believe that others who thought 'differently' were somehow bad. I feel such a sense of peace and relief in growing and realizing that the whole rest of the world is not even one millionth as evil as the Church would have me believe as a youngster. I feel as if I have been reborn and a whole new world has opened up to me. SO, in my eyes,it is a shame that the voice of the Mormon church that everyone hears is an old man spewing ignorance and hate- when there are millions of members of the Mormon church who may actually feel love and acceptance for their gay brothers and sisters in their hearts. (and all you hateful Bible bashers who will condemn me to hell for my statement- go ahead. it doesnt hurt me one bit. I know in my heart that I truly love and accept people the way Christ would want me to and I know ultimately it is up to God to judge us all. we need to quit judging each other. Trust me, you don't get extra points for it. Just alot of prematurely gray hair and a false sense of security.)

    October 12, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
    • MeganColorado

      To "Finally C.TheLight"

      I really hope you are able to take the time to read this. I am Mormon and I have four children. My son who is in Afghanistan isn't active in the church either-I just want to share with you a Mom's perspective on what it is like to be a parent of child who has choosen another way. As you know, Mormons have pretty strong feelings about their faith. If nothing else, you have to hand it to them that they are not fence sitters–we honestly believe that the true church that Christ established in his day has been restored in the present LDS church. Know this, Moms do love their children–just as I am completely sure that you parents and family love you–it is just difficult to relate to you. It is not about "acceptence"–it's about knowing how to relate to you. You have to admit that it is probably very difficult for them, just as it is difficult for you. My advice is to focus on the commonalities that you do love about each other. Maybe you have some really fond childhood memories that have nothing to do with faith. This is your family–you only get one–good, bad, indifferent. They belong to you and that in and of itself makes them especially yours and yours alone. Focus on the things you do love about them, and it won't be so hard for you to accept them for their beliefs, and maybe, just maybe, you'll come to realize that your family does love you too in spite of your differences in belief. This is possible. I was raised by two attorneys. One was a devote Catholic; the other didn't believe in organized religion. One was a staunch democrat; the other was a "John Bircher" republican. You don't have to agree to get along.

      October 12, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  18. therm

    “Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”

    This statement is like watching an idiot perform a simple experiment, like rolling a ball down an inclined plane, and then coming to an absurd conclusion, like Gremlins are to blame for the motion of the ball. Look at the facts numskull, your stupid heavenly father wouldn't do anything because he's not there. Why would he give anyone AIDS? Why would he allow children to be born with defects? Why would he condone war and killing and slavery like he does so much in your beloved "story book"? Why would he allow a societal disease like religion to run rampant? One simple answer; Religion IS Delusion.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  19. Biblical

    What does the Holy Bible say??

    I am a Christian I choose to live by it's law, not by man's opinion.

    October 12, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  20. marcia

    What and idiot!

    October 12, 2010 at 1:03 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.