Mormon Leader: Gays Can Change, Church Must Not
The president of the Mormon Church’s Quorum of Twelve Apostles has issued a decree that gays can change their sexuality, and announced that marriage--or any union--between people of the same gender is immoral.
"There are those today who not only tolerate but advocate voting to change laws that would legalize immorality, as if a vote would somehow alter the designs of God’s laws and nature," said Boyd K. Packer, 86, in an Oct. 3 sermon, the Salt Lake Tribune reported on Oct. 4.
"A law against nature would be impossible to enforce," added Packer. "Do you think a vote to repeal the law of gravity would do any good?" Packer’s comments were made during the Mormon Church’s 180th Semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City. More than 20,000 people were in attendance, and millions of others watched a telecast, the article said.
Packer spoke against the testimony of gays and lesbians and the findings of modern science, both of which indicate that homosexuality is an innate and biological phenomenon. "Not so!" declared Packer. "Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father." Packer added, "Regardless of the opposition, we are determined to stay on course."
The Mormon Church was a major backer and contributor to the deeply divisive 2008 campaign to pass Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that went before California voters and rescinded the then-existing right of gay and lesbian families to participate in marriage. A recent decision from a federal court struck down Proposition 8 as unconstitutional. The Mormon Church issued a statement when the verdict was announced, saying that it "regretted" the finding. An appeal is underway.
In the wake of Proposition 8’s narrow approval by voters two years ago, GLBT equality advocates called on the Mormon Church to change its stance toward gay individuals and their families. In his sermon, Packer asserted that although gays can change their sexuality even as he denied that the Mormon Church needs to make any adjustments of its own. "We cannot change; we will not change," Packer told the crowd. "We quickly lose our way when we disobey the laws of God. If we do not protect and foster the family, civilization and our liberties must needs perish."
Local LGBT advocates were dismayed by Packer’s remarks, reported the local Fox news affiliate.
"So many Mormons have worked hard to increase understanding of what homosexuality is and what it means to be faithful," Mormons4Marriage’s Laura Compton told the Salt Lake Tribune. "Now we have this message coming from the pulpit in General Conference by the president of the Quorum of the Twelve. It seems like hitting a brick wall. Hopefully, this won’t make people stop and say, ’It wasn’t worth it.’ "
Another Mormon group, Evergreen International, claims to be able to help gays "convert" to heterosexuality. Mormon leader Bruce Hafen, in an address to Evergreen last summer, declared that those who are gay in this life will be rewarded for virtuous conduct by being made straight in the life to come, the article noted. "If you are faithful, on resurrection morning--and maybe even before then--you will rise with normal attractions for the opposite sex," Hafen declared, going on to deny that homosexuality is an innate characteristic and part of natural human sexual diversity. Rather, Hafen said, homosexual impulses are the work of the Devil, and told his audience that when Satan sets out to "convince you that you are hopelessly ’that way,’ so that acting out your feelings is inevitable, he is lying."
The Salt Lake Tribune article cited another Mormon apostle, Dallin H. Oaks, as having said that the church has stopped advising gays and lesbians to marry people of the opposite sex in order to be "cured" of homosexual feelings. Oaks also said that the church does not completely rule out biology as a basis for homosexuality, and noted that the church does not subscribe to all methods of so-called "reparative therapy," which claims to help "cure" gays.
Another pro-GLBT Mormon group is Affirmation. The leader of the Salt Lake arm of Affirmation, Duane Jennings, worried that Mormon families would take Packer’s comments as a cue to reject their GLBT children. Jennings also expressed concern that the church leader’s comments would nudge more gay teens toward suicide. The nation has been shocked recently by a rash of suicides by GLBT youths, including two hanging deaths, a gay youth shooting himself, and a college student throwing himself from a bridge in New Jersey.
Jennings’ fears were echoed by local GLBT equality advocate Eric Ethington, who has invited area GLBTs and their supporters to a protest in response to Packer’s words, reported Rosemary Winters at the Salt Lake Tribune’s LGBT FYI blog on Oct. 4.
"This kind disgusting hate speech is responsible for more teen suicides every year then we even know," Ethington said in a Facebook message. "Kids kill themselves, or are thrown from their homes because they are taught by men like this that God doesn’t love them." The invitation to the protest asks participants to wear black and to convene at Salt Lake City’s City Creek Park on Oct. 7 at 7:00 p.m.
On the national stage, the Human Rights Campaign responded by calling on Packer to "correct" his remarks about gays. In an Oct. 4 statement, the HRC noted that Packer had charactertized the sexual impulses of gays and lesbains as being " ’impure and unnatural," claiming that it can be corrected and characterizing same-sex marriage as immoral." The HRC statement continued, "Packer’s inaccurate and dangerous rhetoric comes on the heels of the suicides of at least four teenagers over the past month, all victims of anti-gay bullying or harassment.
"An additional seven teens committed suicide in the past year in one Minnesota school district alone; three of the teens’ suicides were connected to anti-gay bullying," the statement added.
"Words have consequences, particularly when they come from a faith leader," said the president of the HRC, Joe Solmonese. "This is exactly the kind of statement that can lead some kids to bully and others to commit suicide. When a faith leader tells gay people that they are a mistake because God would never have made them that way and they don’t deserve love, it sends a very powerful message that violence and/or discrimination against LGBT people is acceptable. It also emotionally devastates those who are LGBT or may be struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identify. His words were not only inaccurate, they were also dangerous."
"The American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association have both concluded that same-sex attraction is normal and that "reparative" therapy--like the kind being advocated by the Mormon Church--is unhealthy and harmful," the HRC release continued.
The statement went on to note connections between the Mormon Church and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), an anti-gay group that has launched a national campaign against same-sex families. On Oct. 5 EDGE reported that NOM is working to influence the outcome of the mid-term elections next month.
"As HRC has chronicled on its website, the Mormon Church is a key funder of the so-called National Organization for Marriage (NOM), a powerful fringe group that regularly encourages anti-gay attitudes and behaviors," the statement read, going on to quote the militant declaration of "NOM board member and famous Mormon writer, Orson Scott Card, [who] has said, ’Any government that attempts to change [marriage] is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage...’ "
"Elder Packer’s remarks in General Conference were not only ill-advised and contrary to fact, but were mean-spirited and will be perceived by many as bullying," the executive director of Affirmation, David Melson, said. "We see no potential for good coming from his words and much possible damage, to the church, to individuals, and to families. The LDS Church should be a source of love, compassion, and conciliation, and not of fear and unfeeling petty hatred."
Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.