Boyd K. Packer dies at 90; Mormon leader next in line to be church president

High-ranking Mormon leader Boyd K. Packer, a strict conservative who was next in line to be president of the church, died Friday at his home, said the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a statement. He was 90.

The death was attributed to age-related causes.

Packer, whose statements on matters such as homosexuality and feminism made him a lightning rod for criticism, even among more liberal members of his faith, was president of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He had been a member of that influential body since 1970.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statement, saying Packer was “unwavering in his devotion to his faith and the principles by which he lived his life.”

Packer was the second member of the Quorum to die in recent months; L. Tom Perry died of cancer May 30.

Their replacements will be chosen by the president of the church, a position currently held by Thomas S. Monson, who is 87.

Next in line to take Monson’s place is Quorum member Russell M. Nelson, 90.

The church’s announcement of Packer’s death said it had not been determined when his successor on the Quorum will be named.

Packer, who helped mentor generations of Mormon leaders, served on committees that produced new editions of church scriptures in 1979 and 1981.

“With the passing of years, these scriptures will produce successive generations of faithful Christians who know the Lord Jesus Christ and are disposed to obey his will,” Packer said, according to a church release.

He made no secret of the fact that he believed those teachings should be followed narrowly.

“President Packer always felt that if we could read the words of the Lord,” said M. Russell Ballard, also a member of the Quorum, “we would be far better off and much safer than speculating with our own ideas.

“It was not unusual for him to say, ‘Brethren, let me read to you.’ And then he would turn to a very important scripture in the standard works and let us listen to what the Lord had to say. And we all learned at his feet.”

An educator by trade, Packer said, “The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”

In 1993, Packer identified three serious threats to the church as homosexuals, feminists and “so-called intellectuals.”

Time did not appear to have altered his views, at least not on homosexuality. In a 2010 speech that drew sharp rebukes from gay rights groups, Packer characterized homosexuality as against nature and curable, saying, “Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and the unnatural. Not so. Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?”

Armand Mauss, a Mormon scholar and retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University, said Packer will be remembered “for an unyielding resistance to the secular, social world, especially as that world evolved during his lifetime.”

Packer was born Sept. 10, 1924, in Brigham City, Utah. During World War II he served as a bomber pilot in the Pacific theater. His bachelor’s and master’s degrees were earned at Utah State University, and he received a doctorate in educational administration from Brigham Young University.

He is survived by his wife of more than 70 years, Donna, and their 10 children. In one of his last speeches, in April, he said the two key ingredients to successful marriages were “a cookie and a kiss.”

david.colker@latimes.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATED

9:01 p.m.: This article has been updated throughout with more background on Packer's life and reactions to his death.

A shorter version of this obituary was posted at 5:40 p.m.

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