Given that my studies have involved the interpretation of Genesis, science, and evolution, Elder Packer and I have not always seen eye to eye. I remember well on my mission when Time Magazine ran the cover article about Mormon finances. This made it all the way to France, where we had a copy, and my companion Elder West really focused in on their description of Elder Packer as “the LDS Church’s hard-line number 3 man.” And indeed, he had and has that reputation.
But around 2007, while I was teaching volunteer Institute in Urbana IL, we attended a CES fireside for CES teachers, where he spoke. I think he felt that he was talking to insiders, whose commitment and knowledge ran deep, and we saw a different side of him. He was casual, funny, self-deprecating… surprising. We really only see the public persona of the Apostles, which is a very limited and selective part of them. I reprint below some comments from a post a few years ago revealing another side of him, called “Scientific Neglect.” No, it’s not what you’re thinking. I believe this story is from when he served as mission president in New England, 1965-68, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of this story, other than that President Packer is not always the “hard-liner” he is made out to be.
“Scientific neglect can be a respectable procedure in discipline.
One missionary came into the mission field with some serious physical deformities. He was withdrawn, self–conscious, and retiring, particularly around girls. I had him examined by several doctors. Then I wrote to a friend of mine and told him I needed a substantial amount of money. He responded immediately with a check, the only condition being that he remain anonymous. With the cooperation of some able professional help, the deformities were corrected and the missionary was transformed in his appearance. Immediately his behavior changed.
Then I began receiving reports that he was breaking mission rules. I did not show much interest in the reports, although inwardly I was delighted. A few weeks later the problem came to a head when my missionary assistants reported that at a stake conference this missionary had left his companion and had gone up to the balcony to sit with a girl. There had been other times also, they said, when he had left his companion to go talk with the girl.
I was not disturbed by the report, and some time later my assistants returned to the office for something of a confrontation. They said, “You are not fair. This elder can get away with anything and you don’t do anything about it. Ordinarily nothing would make you act so fast as a report that an elder was leaving his companion to visit a girl. Yet in this case you won’t do anything about it. Why?”
It was only after a long discussion that they understood I was doing something about the matter. I was treating it with scientific neglect. When the right times comes, I told them, the elder will either return voluntarily to observing the rules or he will be pulled back to observe the rules—but that “pulling” will be ever so gentle.
In a short time, when he was convinced that the transformation was permanent and that there would be time for all of the things he had been kept from enjoying during his earlier years, the elder did return to being a missionary. During his period of breaking the rules it took some faith to believe that he would not overreact and get himself into difficulties so serious we would be required to apply severe punishment. But my faith in him was justified.
-Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), 161–163, emphasis added.
Elder Packer also gave some of the most quotable directive on meetings.
“It takes a pretty good meeting to be better than no meeting at all.”- Source at
RIP, President Packer