When I was a teen, my family moved into the ward in Lindon, Utah where Boyd and Donna Packer and their 8 children lived. I remember the Packers as a relatively young couple, at least compared to my parents. Brother Packer worked for the Church and we knew the Packers were religious, but were blown away to have a general authority called from our little ward.
Young, good-looking Elder Packer soon became a favorite Church speaker—often using stories about his children to make his point. One story he related was about tussling with his boys on the living room floor and calling one a little monkey. “I not a monkey, Daddy,” the child replied. “I a people.” Then Bro. Packer made the point of knowing who we are—children of God. Another touching story was about trying to locate an affordable house in Salt Lake for his large brood after his call. The only place with space enough for the children to play freely was too expensive for his modest salary and a bank account depleted by years of graduate school. Yet Elder Harold B. Lee urged him to go ahead with the purchase, without offering financial help. Elder Packer related the story as an example of the need to sometimes rely on faith to take a step into the unknown.
Advancing Elder Packer to an apostle in 1970 meant I could enjoy the gentle humor and down-to-earth wisdom from my favorite conference speaker more often. One of his most memorable speeches was entitled, I think, “Let It Go,” in which he admonished listeners to let go of past injustices and resentments and move forward. I bought his first book, Teach Ye Diligently and used it as a source for inservice lessons.
I’m not quite sure when I ceased to enjoy President Packer’s talks. I know his 1981 talk about the need to omit negative facts from Church History because, “some things that are true are not very useful,” struck me as dishonest. I found his “milk before meat” philosophy for church instruction and his rationale, “some things are to be given only to those who are worthy,” condescending.
But 30 years of full time dealing with Church problems might shake anyone’s faith in the common sense of most members. I also suspect that having little contact with members below the rank of stake president creates a barrier to understanding the hearts and mind of ordinary members. And being stuck in a demanding job from which one can’t retire and which leaves little or no time to pursue interests outside family and church would erode anyone’s sense of humor. Believing that Satan rampages through the world trying to thwart the work to which one has devoted his life is also conducive to fear and rigidity. While I no longer listen to Pres. Packer’s speeches, I think I understand his transition.
Currently, younger, more liberal church members find Pres. Packer’s brand of religious conservatism more irritating than inspiring and shudder at the possibility of him leading the church someday. But I suspect traditionally devout members who share his beliefs about homosexuality and women’s roles love and admire Pres. Packer. For more liberal members? My best advice is: Pray for Pres. Monson’s continued good health and long life.