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Senior Mormon apostle Boyd K. Packer has modified his General Conference speech for the LDS Church's online publication to more closely reflect the faith's view that the cause of same-sex attraction is unknown and that the only sin is acting on those desires.
Packer's speech about gay marriage, same-sex attraction, pornography and addiction ignited a firestorm of critiques, conversations and protests, particularly the suggestion that gays could "overcome" their attractions with enough faith.
Perhaps the most controversial paragraph in Packer's text that he read Sunday said, "Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father."
Now the word "temptations" has replaced "tendencies" and the question about God's motives has been removed entirely.
Packer, next in line for the LDS Church presidency, changed his wording as part of a routine practice after every General Conference, according to spokesman Scott Trotter, when speakers are given the opportunity to make "any edits necessary."
"President Packer has simply clarified his intent," Trotter said Friday in a statement.
While minor edits may be common, such substantive changes are rare. For instance, a general authority had to revise and retape a General Conference sermon he gave in 1984 that some saw as out of step with church teachings.
In recent years, officials in the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have distinguished between same-sex attraction and gay relationships.
"It's no sin to have inclinations that if yielded to would produce behavior that would be a transgression," apostle Dallin H. Oaks said in an interview posted on the church's website, lds.org. "The sin is in yielding to temptation. Temptation is not unique. Even the Savior was tempted."
On the question of inborn tendencies, Oaks said "the church does not have a position on the causes of any of these susceptibilities or inclinations, including those related to same-gender attraction."
Packer's original speech seemed to combine attractions and actions so his changes were "more in line with where the church has been moving," said John Lynch, chairman of the board of FAIR, a group of Mormon apologists.
"My interpretation is that he's removing the question of [same-sex attraction] from the realm of nature-versus-nurture," said Lynch, a California Mormon whose older brother was among the first to die in the AIDS epidemic. "He's saying, regardless of cause, people still have to contend with their desires."
Lynch applauded Packer's statements about overcoming challenges.
"One would hope that God would not put you in a position where you had no opportunity to align with his standards," he said. "President Packer was extending a hand of hope, [saying] it's not hopeless."
Others were not so positive.
Gary Watts, a former member of the LDS Church who has followed church statements about same-sex attraction, doesn't see the edits as an improvement.
"It leaves it out there like this is a temptation, like this is something one can choose," said Watts, a Provo father of six grown children, including a gay son and a lesbian daughter. "They're trying to edit it and soften it and make it better, but it's not going to work. [The speech has] gone viral. Everyone knows what he said."
Packer and the church should have gone further in their subsequent statements, Watts argued.
"It would be nice to have the church apologize and say they're editing it because they've recognized that it's caused a tremendous amount of hurt and discomfort," he said. "I know many leaders of our church know that homosexuality is experienced honestly and involuntarily and is not amenable to significant change. I'm disappointed they don't speak out."
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, was even more forceful.
"People across this country still need to hear from Elder Packer that he was wrong and that his statements were dangerous," Solmonese said in a statement. "Trying to rewrite history is simply not good enough. Elder Packer and the church must immediately and fully correct the factual record. Sexual orientation and gender identity is an immutable characteristic of being human and, no matter how hard you pray, that won't change."
Packer's revised speech does eliminate the rhetorical question about why God would give people a condition beyond their capacity to cope one the apostle says a loving Heavenly Father never would do.
That is a question that has engaged Christian thinkers for millennia. Rabbis even asked Jesus who caused a man to be blind, his parents or himself. Jesus answered, neither.
The way Packer phrased the question was a "flash point among the membership, not only those paying close attention to issues of homosexuality and gay marriage," said Rory Swensen, a Utah businessman and former board member of Sunstone, an issue-oriented Mormon magazine. "It rippled out in a way we haven't seen before."
Swensen blogged about the question at timesandseasons.org. That was followed by a second thread about the question on the same site, soliciting dozens of responses.
"It strikes at the heart of our belief about a personal God who is involved in our daily lives," Swensen said. "There are really profound questions that remain to be answered."
One final change,besides some tightening, in the freshly edited speech is worth noting.
In his original talk, Packer said the church's 1995 statement, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," "qualifies according to scriptural definition as a revelation." That descriptive phrase has now been omitted, leaving the proclamation simply described as "a guide that members of the church would do well to read and to follow."
That proclamation declared that "marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God" and that "gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal and eternal identity and purpose."
Tribune reporter Rosemary Winters contributed to this report.
The major changes in Packer's speech
"The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued 'The Family: A Proclamation to the World,' the fifth proclamation in the history of the church. It qualifies according to scriptural definition as a revelation, a guide that members of the church would do well to read and to follow."
"The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles issued 'The Family: A Proclamation to the World,' the fifth proclamation in the history of the church. It is a guide that members of the church would do well to read and to follow."
"Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember he is our father."
"Some suppose that they were preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn temptations toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! Remember, God is our Heavenly Father."