Since I first began my participation in the Bloggernacle a couple of years ago, I have heard a lot of references to Boyd K. Packer, and I would say off the top of my head that probably most of those references have not been favorable.  I don’t think many of us are openly hostile to him, but I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with his style and what they perceive as his dogmatic approach to issues that require more nuanced treatment.

My first encounter with someone’s discomfort with Pres. Packer was when I worked at FARMS after my mission; one day I heard a discussion in the office about an incident that has generated some strong feelings about Pres. Packer among folks in the Provo area.  Pres. Packer came to speak at a large gathering — I don’t recall what kind of conference it was, and please correct me if you are better familiar with the details — and the people attending the meeting were seating away from the podium and toward the edges of the building, as if to make it easy to be early out the door and miss traffic on the way home.  One of the local leaders noticed this, and at the beginning of the meeting, he asked the people to move and fill up the center seats, up to the podium.  People responded at first, and then many gradually moved their seats farther away during the meeting and its intermission.  When it came Pres. Packer’s turn to speak, he got up, said a few pleasant words, then sat back down without giving his talk.  My co-worker at FARMS was still shaking his head in disbelief over the incident; he was really bothered by what he saw as an unwarranted reprimand of the entire audience over something as small as seating.

Since then, I have seen Pres. Packer criticized many times for things he has said about some of the more perplexing subjects: homosexuality, gender issues, intellectualism, sustaining of leaders, you name it.  And as a student of Pres. Packer’s teachings over the years, I can say that there have been instances where he probably wishes he had held back some of what was on his mind, or used different language (recall his “Did I say that?” response in the PBS documentary).  I am certain that most of us in the Bloggernacle know that feeling all too well.

So to any readers who may have uncomfortable or even hostile feelings towards President Boyd K. Packer, I am going to ask you for a moment to wipe the slate clean as far as your feelings towards him, and take some time to get to know him better.  Personally, I know President Packer to be one of the most understanding and encouraging leaders the Church has ever seen.  And to that end, to help you understand him the way I do, I offer what I consider to be essential readings from Pres. Packer:

1.  The Choice.  As he often does, here Pres. Packer uses raw human drama to get his point across.  If you are a high-powered executive with advanced degrees and very visible and prominent service in the Church, President Packer is not impressed.  When you see or hear his teachings on the importance and nobility of motherhood, the heart-wrenching stories in this talk probably inform much of his thinking and feelings on that issue.  President Packer has a different, and better, concept of greatness than perhaps most people do, which parenthetically may be why he shows up so often in Edward Kimball’s Lengthen Your Stride, interacting with President Kimball seemingly whenever possible.

2.  The Balm of Gilead.  Forgive those who have offended or harmed you.  I have seen numerous people have an important change of heart as a result of this talk.  As usual, it’s very, very challenging.

3.  The Candle of the Lord.  What can you say you know, and when can you say you know something of a spiritual nature?  It’s probably sooner than you think.

4.  Obedience (found in That All May Be Edified).  This talk contains the interesting quote:

Some people are always suspicious that one is only obedient because he is compelled to be. They indict themselves with the very thought that one is only obedient because he is compelled to be. They feel that one would obey only through compulsion. They speak for themselves. I am free to be obedient, and I decided that-all by myself. I pondered on it; I reasoned it; I even experimented a little. I learned some sad lessons from disobedience. Then I tested it in the great laboratory of spiritual inquiry-the most sophisticated, accurate, and refined test that we can make of any principle. So I am not hesitant to say that I want to be obedient to the principles of the gospel. I want to. I have decided that. My volition, my agency, has been turned in that direction.

5.  The Least of These.  If you find discipleship discouraging, or if your life has not turned out the way you were hoping, read this.

Now, I know that a lot of you are inclined to counter with “Yeah, but what about…” and then bring up all kinds of regrettable things he has said over the years.  What I would ask is that you apply the Golden Rule to him: allow for evolution in his thinking and his approaches to things, try to see him in context, and judge him when he is at his best.  And please take him at his word when he said the following:

My observation and experience have led me to know that, with very few exceptions, people want to rise above themselves. This attitude of confidence and trust has a stabilizing effect in all of our relationships. This attitude was not always mine. Because I had once been badly used by someone I trusted, I tended to be suspicious of those I met and was reluctant to trust them. Serious and sincere introspection revealed that this was a weakness that I must overcome if I were to progress spiritually.  And so, with effort (as all change requires) I cultivated an attitude of trust.  If someone proves unworthy of trust, it is their responsibility to show it-not mine to find it out.  People, including our own children, I believe, will rise to our high expectation of them.  I have found few exceptions.  They do not trouble me.  If one exception is the price of extending trust to everyone, I am glad to pay it.  It may be painful when trust or confidence is not honored.  That kind of pain is bearable for it is only pain.  It is not agony; but I have known agony when I have discovered that inadvertently I have misused someone…
I am continually anxious over my failures. Occasionally I am hurt by the actions of others, by the pain of being misused by somebody else. That happens to all of us, you know.  But I know only one agony, and that is to know that I have hurt or offended someone else.

Boyd K. Packer, That All May Be Edified