Boyd K. Packer

10 Sep 1924
3 Jul 2015
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Boyd Kenneth Packer (September 10, 1924 – July 3, 2015) was an American religious leader and former educator, who served as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 2008 until his death. He served as Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve from 1994 to 2008, and was apostle and member of the Quorum of the Twelve from April 1970 until his death. Packer served as a general authority of the church from 1961 until his death.

Packer was born on September 10, 1924, in Brigham City, Utah, the tenth of eleven children born to Ira W. Packer and Emma Jensen. After graduating from high school, he served as a pilot in the United States Army Air Forces from 1942 to 1946. Packer flew a number of bombing missions in the Pacific theater of World War II. After leaving the military, Packer initially attended Weber College (now Weber State University), where he met his future wife, Donna Smith.They married in the Logan Temple in 1947 and are the parents of ten children. After their marriage, Packer attended Utah State University, earning a B.S. degree in 1949 and an M.S. degree in 1953. He later earned an Ed.D. from Brigham Young University in 1962. Packer was also an artist, and enjoyed painting, particularly birds.

In his professional career as an educator, Packer worked in the LDS Church’s Church Educational System, where he held various administrative positions overseeing seminary and institute programs, including as assistant supervisor of the church’s Native American seminary programs, general assistant administrator of seminaries and institutes, and later as supervisor of church’s seminaries and institutes. Packer served a four-year term on the Brigham City City Council. In 1961, Packer was called by LDS Church president David O. McKay to serve as a general authority as an Assistant to the Twelve, a position that no longer exists. While serving in the position, Packer was assigned to serve as president of the church’s New England States Mission.He also served for a time as the managing director of the church’s military relations committee.

Following McKay’s death in January 1970, Packer, then 45 years old, was called by new church president Joseph Fielding Smith as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at the church’s April 1970 general conference. Between 1979 to 1981, he was on the the committee that produced the new editions of the LDS scriptures. On September 12, 1991, Packer dedicated Ukraine “for the preaching of the restored gospel.” In 1993, Packer read the dedicatory prayer in the Spanish language at the dedication of the San Diego California Temple.

When Howard W. Hunter, who had been President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, succeeded to the presidency of the church in 1994, he called Gordon B. Hinckley and Thomas S. Monson as his counselors in the First Presidency. Packer was the fourth apostle in seniority among the ranks of the church, behind Hunter, Hinckley and Monson, respectively. This created a situation where the only apostles senior to Packer were in the First Presidency. As a result, Packer was named Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve. When Hunter died in 1995 and was succeeded by Hinckley, Monson was again retained in the First Presidency and Packer was again asked to be Acting President of the Twelve. Of the five acting presidents of the Quorum in the church’s history, Packer served the longest in that capacity and is the only one to serve under two different church presidents. In 1999, Packer dedicated the Regina Saskatchewan Temple.

Packer became President of the Quorum of the Twelve on February 3, 2008, when Monson became church president. In 2012, Packer dedicated the Brigham City Utah Temple.

Packer was well known for several talks and teachings, and several of Packer’s stories have been adapted into short films. His sermon about singing a hymn to drive off bad thoughts was adapted into the video Worthy Thoughts. His Parable of the Mediator (Jesus Christ) was adapted into the short film The Mediator. “The Candle of the Lord” (1982) is well known for its analogy of trying to describe what salt tastes like to trying to describe what promptings from the Holy Ghost are like.

Packer served as an advisor to the Genesis Group, a social organization of the LDS Church for African-American members and their families, and was also active in obtaining genealogical records on microfilm for the church through its Genealogical Society of Utah. In 1977, Packer was a key figure in getting Native American-related records filmed from the federal records centers in Los Angeles, Fort Worth, Seattle and Kansas City. He was involved in negotiations that same year with archivists and scholars at Jerusalem to microfilm Jewish records.

Packer taught the importance of hymn-centered prelude music for worship services, and spoke numerous times about morality. In a General Conference Priesthood Session in October 1976, Packer gave a sermon entitled “To Young Men Only”, in which he discouraged boys of the Young Men organization in the Aaronic priesthood from pursuing activities which the LDS Church defines as immoral, including masturbation, the use of pornography, and homosexual activities. The sermon has been criticized over the years by gay activists as encouraging homophobia and gay bashing. Further comments by Packer during his October 2010 address “Cleansing the Inner Vessel”, concerning whether or not homosexuality is an individual choice, generated a petition by the Human Rights Campaign. The church responded to this petition by reaffirming its doctrinal position on gay marriage while reiterating the universal need to follow “Jesus Christ’s second great commandment—to love one another.” Following the conference, Packer altered the published text of the sermon to “clarify his intent.”

Packer advocated that LDS historians should refrain from discussing history that does not promote faith. In a 1981 speech to educators in the LDS Church Educational System, he cautioned, “There is a temptation for the writer or teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.” Arguing that teachers should “give milk before meat”, he stated that “some things are to be taught selectively and some things are to be given only to those who are worthy.” Packer’s opinion applied to all historians who were members of the LDS Church: he stated, “One who chooses to follow the tenets of his profession, regardless of how they may injure the Church or destroy the faith of those not ready for ‘advanced history’, is himself in spiritual jeopardy. If that one is a member of the Church, he has broken his covenants and will be held accountable.” Packer’s comments raised criticism by some prominent Mormon and non-Mormon scholars. Soon after Packer’s 1981 speech, Mormon historian D. Michael Quinn gave a speech highly critical of Packer’s views, and suggested that a historian who followed Packer’s advice would sacrifice their honesty and professional integrity. Quinn also discussed what he viewed as a Mormon tradition of portraying LDS leaders as infallible people. C. Robert Mesle has criticized Packer as having created what Mesle views as a false dichotomy “between the integrity of faith and the integrity of inquiry.”

In May 2013 Weber State University, where Packer received an associate degree in 1948 and where he met his wife, designated a public service center for families the “Boyd K. and Donna Smith Packer Family and Community Education Center”.Packer was also interviewed by PBS for its documentary on the LDS Church titled The Mormons.

Packer died at his home on July 3, 2015, from causes incident to age. At the time of his death, he was the second most senior apostle among the ranks of the church and the fifth longest serving general authority in the church’s history.

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