Thursday, January 3, 2008

Boyd K. Packer My Hero

As Latter-day Saints we hear our leaders speak to us on many occasions. They address us in General Conference, Stake Conference, Christmas Devotional, Priesthood Leadership Meetings, CES Firesides, Sperry Symposiums, BYU Education Weeks and in BYU Devotionals. All of them have important messages to offer. Even though this is the case there are some for various reasons that are favorite. Intellectual types feel Neal Maxwell and Jeffrey R. Holland are superior presenters. Those who like story tellers gravitated to Thomas S. Monsen, Legrand Richards, John Groberg and Paul H. Dunn. I on the other hand, like fire breathing Apostles-- my favorites were Bruce R. McConkie, M. Russell Ballard, and Boyd K. Packer. They were men that told it like it was. Even though the last two have had a huge effect on me Boyd K. Packer is my favorite.

He is a man's man. He is like the Marlboro Man without the cigarettes. Even in the recent documentary on PBS he described his families Horatio Algers type experience of coming to Utah to build a life out of nothing. He pulled himself up by his bootstraps being the tenth of eleven children overcoming polio, poverty and lack of education to become a religious educator with a doctorate degree. He is not afraid of issues he discussed: Blacks and the Priesthood, revelation, discernment, the three degrees of glory, Satan as a real being, spiritual crocodiles, when we should disclose or not disclose factual events, the use of excommunication in the church, the meaning of the term "I know", baptism for the dead, place of Gay Mormons in the Church, proselyting mission of the church, whether women should work, gender roles, proclamation of the family, and discussion of the hymn "Hie to Kolob." These are some hard hitting controversal issues. He is not afraid to speak his mind and is a real straight shooter.

He also said something that censured me for sharing certain events if they tended to the negative. He said during the PBS interview: 'Some things that are true aren’t very useful. And there are those in the past who have looked at the leaders of the Church, for instance, and found out that they’re human and want to tell everything. There are steps and missteps that don’t help anything. Some think that to be totally honest they have to tell everything. They don’t. If they’ve got the mindset for that, then they’re always grumbling — they have an appetite for it. They’re free to do that, but it isn’t really productive, it doesn’t really make anybody happy.

Someone you knew, say when you were in college, made a terrible mistake. You knew about it, and it was forgiven and lived beyond. There’s little purpose in going back and digging that out and speaking of it when their children might be present — a lot of things that are true historically aren’t very useful and don’t generate happiness." He teaches people like me who are prone to grumble or point our fingers to be careful. Boyd K. Packer has always been a litmus test for me. One of my problems is that I struggle many times and fail it.

When I was a student at BYU working on a bachelor and master degrees from 1981 until 1987 I had a wide range of professors. I always tended to be on the conservative side. I felt comfortable with people like Keith Perkins, Donald Q. Cannon, Robert J. Matthews, Spencer Palmer, Richard O. Cowan, Lamar C. Berrett, George Pace, Larry Porter, and Robert Millett. I could handle James Allen and Thomas Alexander. I didn't relate at all to Marvin Hill and Michael Quinn. Marvin Hill was my graduate advisor and was quite pessimistic. He liked telling the dirt about everything. He was a tough unrelenting no nonsense professor who expected you to experience a history degree similar to what he experienced at the University of Chicago. He once told me he had to repeat a class a time or two. The professor gave you a list of about a hundred books. You met with him for two or three hours and if he was satisfied you passed apparently he flunked a couple of times. It took Marv ten years to complete his degree. He demanded we read the dozens of books also and experience the German symposium style. He would pick minutiae to quiz us to see if we had read a book. One day he looked at us with his mischievous smile and said what is the Loco Foco Faction in Jacksonian America. Only Bruce Van Orden had a clue the rest of us looked like idiots. That was classic Hill. I actually learned Marv's bark was worse than his bite. One useful thing he told me was that you're a Librarian not a Historian. You want to give me a bibliographic essay every time I ask for an assignment.

Michael Quinn was also an exacting professor. He expected his students to know everything. He was a more social person who seemed easy going on the outside but inside was quite intense. He was very focused on his intellectual studies. He knew you could get farther using honey than vinegar. He was in to pursuing studies for self-actualization. He would encourage us to pursue any tangent no matter where it took you. Many of his students end up being the source of the Mormon underground in documents. I witnessed some pretty shady swapping. I was working for James Allen and was doing some legitimate research on Wilford Woodruff in the Potteries. One of the other students tried to get me to swap with him when he saw what I was doing. I refused when he told he was going to feed it to Gary Bergera for a future publication for Signature Books. He finally went to my boss and came back and said give it to me Dr. Allen said I could have it. I would name their names but that would be breaking Boyd K. Packer's advice. Some are actually teaching on the the campus today in conservative departments. Some of the more faithful ones even took a turn down the dark side. The source of their concern was Boyd K. Packer who they considered to be unenlightened. One day I went with three of them two now professors in the religion department and listened to them take apart Elder Packer who had just given his talk about the Mormon intellectual history.

Elder Packer had given a talk at the Fifth Annual Church Educational Systems Religious Educators’ Symposium, 22 August 1981, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah titled the "Mantle is Far, Far Greater than the Intellect." I was actually present at his talk and heard it with my own ears. In the talk he starts out telling the story of a CES guy who does a study in counseling on Bishops as counselors. His academic committee would not allow him to make any religious statements. He didn't capitulate to their demands and never published his dissertation later but returned to the CES. Elder Packer's thesis statement in the talk was "“The mantle is far, far greater than the intellect; the priesthood is the guiding power.” Elder Packer further states in his address: "His statement becomes the title for this talk and embodies what I hope to convey to you. I must not be too critical of those professors. They do not know of the things of the Spirit. One can understand their position. It is another thing,however, when we consider members of the Church, particularly those who hold the priesthood and have made covenants in the temple. Many do not do as my associate did; rather, they capitulate, cross over the line, and forsake the things of the Spirit. Thereafter they judge the Church, the doctrine, and the leadership by the standards of their academic profession.This problem has affected some of those who have taught and have written about the history of the Church. These professors say of themselves that religious faith has little influence on Mormon scholars. They say this because, obviously, they are not simply Latter-day Saints but are also intellectuals trained, for the most part, in secular institutions. They would that some historians who are Latter-day Saints write history as they were taught in graduate school, rather than as Mormons."

Elder Packer discussed four cautions:

1. There is no such thing as an accurate, objective history of the Church without consideration of the spiritual powers that attend this work.

2. There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not.

3. In an effort to be objective, impartial, and scholarly, a writer or a teacher may unwittingly be giving equal time to the adversary.

4. The final caution concerns the idea that so long as something is already in print, so long as it is available from another source, there is nothing out of order in using it in writing or speaking or teaching.

He didn't name any names in the talk but I wondered as I listened if Michael Quinn would take this personal since I knew he was privately talking to others about his concerns that Elder Packer was starting to limit research. Elder Packer in my mind probably meant Marvin Hill, James Allen, Dean May, Leonard Arrington, the whole bunch. Quinn might as well put a sign on himself because the small group of historians he was talking to couldn't keep anything private. It was common knowledge what any of the professors in history or religious studies thought at BYU or the U of U. Their colleagues and graduate assistants squealed them all out to the rest of us in the history department. There was a Mormon grapevine then and there still is today. I don't think there were even a hundred people majoring in history. We all had our fellow students in one class or another since there were about twenty people per class. In graduate school we had no more than twenty of us there at a time.

This was a time of the so-called Mormon Intellectual History. Leonard J. Arrington had opened the archives to all with legitimate research demands. Michael Quinn spent many a day at the Church Archives. He even worked there before going to Yale to do a doctorate. He came to the BYU History Department from Yale. He had an exuberance for research. Even when he was teaching at the Y he spent every free minute in the archives. I went there a time or two and ran in to him. He was always pleasant and shared his finds with me and anyone around.

Elder Packer's talk was like a shot over Quinn's bow. I remember the reaction of the students at the time. Many talking to him personally wondering if they should change their styles and become more conservative. Quinn decided he would champion the cause to keep it an open profession. He didn't know I was standing outside the history office which was the size of a postage stamp and that I overheard him talking to James Allen about how he didn't want to put anyone else in a bad position and would take the heat because he had less to lose. I was there in the history department when he declared that he would answer Elder Packer in an open meeting. It spread down the halls within seconds if not minutes. Students passed it on as we moved between classes. I was curious what Quinn would say. I was present in the Clyde Building when he gave his rebuttal.

It was actually quite a passionate discourse. His talk would have been fine and in true academic decor but he stepped over the bounds when he actually outed Boyd K. Packer. I was flabbergasted. Packer had given his talk without the mention of names. Academicians spar with each other in their profession by giving counter-opinions without naming names usually because we all know who they mean anyway. They beat the verbal crap out of each other and come away smiling and slapping each other on the back with no hard feelings, it is part of the process. Even if we do name names it is usually forgotten soon after. I let several minutes lapse thinking did he really say what he just did and declare Boyd K. Packer was an anti-intellectual. I read somewhere that he was too emotional to finish having Straker read some of it. I vaguely remember that but I wonder how he could have had a question and answer still if he was an emotional wreck. The Question and Answer period came. I raised my hand and said "You can't possibly believe that Boyd K. Packer really is an anti-intellectual." I thought he would clarify it in a way that would make it a philosophical difference not a personal one even though I had heard him with my own ears bad mouth Packer. I thought he might retrench a little, soften it a little. He responded I meant exactly what I said and restated Packer was anti-intellectual and went on about it for another couple of minutes. I thought there had to be other supporters of Elder Packer in the room but the room erupted in pandemonium. I didn't see any emotional breakdown with his talking to others afterwards. He managed to go on for ten or fifteen minutes. I even tried to get another shot at him and gave up. I tried to engage others in conversation to find out their feelings about his talk. The all told me I was a conservative whacko and why was I doing a degree in history if I was supporting Packer over Quinn. Even some of the religion assistants told me you got guts but you need to stay out of it if you know what is good for you. I couldn't believe my fellow students who were moving toward becoming future LDS historians and religion professors could possibly take Quinn over Elder Packer but that day they did. It was not a temperate talk as Lavina Fielding Anderson defends Quinn on support Michael Quinn.Net. Quinn knew exactly what he was saying as my follow up question shows. You can't on one hand attack one of the Lord's anointed then later claim it was a philosophical difference of opinion that General Authorities should be concerned in secular matters they know nothing about. His apologists are talking out of both sides of their mouths. I was there I saw it with my own eyes. He could have walked away and forgot the matter. It would have died down. Even George Pace survived the Bruce R. McConkie zinger by being humble. There is intellectual integrity and there is intellectual suicide. Quinn committed it continually.

The Seventh East Press many who were supporters in the room that day sprang to the defense. Quinn soldiered on. He survived for seven more years even becoming head of the graduate school committee that assigned students to their committees. I was a graduate student there he was over me. I marvel that people think his reason for leaving is Elder Packer alone. I one time heard a religion professor tell me a urban legend about Boyd K. Packer talking about some guy who was causing the Church trouble that he would squash him like a bug. I actually thought that was a gutsy thing to say. I think Elder Packer was a tolerant person. His viewpoints on history didn't differ much with people like Joseph Fielding Smith or Ezra Taft Benson. If either Benson or Packer wanted Michael Quinn fired he would have been fired immediately but he wasn't.

In contrast let me tell you about what my hero had to say about Richard O. Cowan who is one of my mentors. Richard O. Cowan was a blind religion teacher who also was recognized as superior teacher receiving the Teacher of the Year Award, the Karl G. Maeser Distinguished Faculty Lecturer Award, and in 2003, the Phi Kappa Phi Distinguished Faculty Award. He too had a history doctorate from a prestigious school Stanford. He also wrote about Church history publishing sixteen books including many controversial subjects like LDS Temple Work. He spent his days passionately pursuing research at the Church Archives. I was his research assistant being blind I was his eyes for four years and never once were we denied access to any journal or document or photography including Joseph F. Smith, Heber J. Grant etc. They never even said we will read it for you instead of me. He was the chairman of the Gospel Doctrine Committee for over twenty-five years shaping the doctrinal understanding of millions of saints. One day I was up visiting M. Russell Ballard in the Church Administration Building. As I was leaving I walked out the door and standing in front of me was Boyd K. Packer. He said how are you? I told him I was fine. He introduced himself to me. I told him who I was was. He then said Elder Ballard tells me you are working with Dr. Cowan. He said I have heard good things about you from him and others about your research abilities. He then said "you are working for one of the best historians in the Church. Richard Cowan is trusted. Try to be a trusted historian." I never forgot those words. I have always wanted to be like Richard Cowan and be trusted.

My next encounter with him happened when I was going to graduate school at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. I had gone there to do a doctorate degree in education. I had five children at that point out of my eight. Two were subsequently born there. I spent many years in the hallways with my babies and toddlers. We had a brother there who had set up an exhibit. He was in the country on a visitor visa that had expired. He was inactive but came to church and sat in the hallway. He liked to tell me some of his wild tales. He even admitted to me he was an illegal alien and how he was keeping from paying back creditors. His business was floundering and he was headed for bankruptcy. The local paper told of how he had cheated an elderly club out of their money for a Christmas dinner. He was accused of tax evasion and was reported in the papers with several profanities. I was assigned to home teacher a mother and her daughter who told me that they were inactive over this man that he was such a bad example that as long as he was in they wouldn't be coming to Church. We had a member who returned from working in California who was an executive in a large corporation. The man was made the bishop. He called the other man who he said he hardly knew but his wife and the new bishop's were now close friends. We were asked to sustain him. I raised my hand in opposition. The high councilor took me in to the bishop's office and asked me what my objections were. I stated he is unworthy to be called he has defrauded people. I admitted I liked the man who was charismatic as a public speaker but I just didn't feel right sustaining him. The counselor told me I was welcome to vote my conscience. The next time the man came up for sustaining I again voted against him. This time I went in to the room with the bishop and the high councilor. I was told it was unfair for me to not sustain him since it embarrassed his wife and children who had done nothing and don't not sustain him ever again. I told them I didn't agree and talked to the stake president. I told him of my concern. Nothing happened. I decided that I had followed the correct lines in the matter. I copied all the clippings and told Elder Packer in a letter the details of what the man had actually bragged about to me in the hallway. Within three weeks the man was released. I was called in by the stake president who told me he didn't appreciate me going over his head that he had the matter in control. A short time after that I was released also. The bishop ended up out of his own pocket helping the man pay off the creditors. I respected Elder Packer for cleaning up a mess.

In July 2006 I was near completion of my Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord quote book that you can read on this site. I sent a copy to all the General Authorities. The only General Authority to respond they even received it was Elder Boyd K. Packer. He actually wrote me a note saying that he was glad to receive it and intended to read it in the near future since it was a important topic to him. Ten years ago I received acknowledgment from Elder Ballard, Robert Dallenbach, Joe J. Christensen, Hartman Rector, and Robert Bachman. This year I sent it out for the final time before posting it and heard from Elder Eyring, Elder Holland, Spencer Condie and David Baxter. Only Elder Ballard and Elder Packer thought enough of me to say they would read it. That means something for a person to sit down and read a six hundred page book.

My last experience was recently when I asked for some pictures and unpublished manuscript materials from the Brethren. Elder Packer is fair and treats everyone equally. I received a note from Roger Fluhman, Secretary to the Twelve telling me that "I have been asked to respond to your recent messages to members of the
Quorum of the Twelve, inviting them to send you photographs for use
with your quote book. The First Presidency have, over the years, asked
Church members to recognize that "correspondence directed to Church
headquarters as well as individual requests delivered to General
Authorities, present an almost insurmountable task making it difficult for the
Brethren to fulfill the duties for which they are alone responsible."
In the spirit of this earlier instruction, I have been asked to
indicate that, because of their busy schedules, the Twelve will be unable to
respond to your invitation. Though this may be a disappointment to you,
we are sure you will be understanding. Also, when copies of publications in any format are sent by individual authors to the Brethren, the fact of their receiving them is often misused. A kind letter of appreciation from one of the Brethren is
sometimes used by individuals to imply endorsement of their product."

Boyd K. Packer is my hero. He is a faithful dedicated man of God. He may be a tough fire breathing man on the surface but his heart is in the right place. He is just looking out for the Church. Traditional family means much to him. He had ten children. I tried and only had eight. Lots of people think of him as just plain tough but he has a sensitivity in that he likes art and even set up a family trust to do philanthropic projects. As a modern day Defender of the Faith he is a straight shooter. He stands with the Prophets. I think he is more complex than his detractors give him credit for being. He has a sense of humor even admitting he might have said something like that when confronted by a journalist. I don't have to kiss up to him so I will conclude by saying he may not be liked by everyone but as far as I'm concerned I would rather be like Boyd K. Packer than any other man alive in the Mormon Church today. I genuinely like the man and can't wait to hear whatever he has to say each and every conference.


Larry said...

I'm working with Bro Cowan now and he and I are interested in what you had to say about Elder Packer's comments. He would like to know your name. You can get in touch with him at his office.

Anonymous said...

Being famous, and wielding huge amounts of power are enough to make fawning idiots of us all.