Recalling his own days in uniform during World War II, President Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said that while he was a young man in basic training, “One of the things that impressed me the most was a major who was a Catholic chaplain. He gave a very direct talk about maintaining your standards and keeping yourself spiritually and morally straight, and that helped me.”
President Packer has been close to chaplains ever since, including many years working with military relations for the Church, and he was close to chaplains once again as he addressed the annual Military Chaplains Seminar held in the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, following October conference. About 250 people, including chaplains and their spouses, attended the seminar.
Watch Over Others
Chaplains help to meet the spiritual needs of all who serve in the military, regardless of religious affiliation. They are watched over even as they watch over others, President Packer said. “You have found the Spirit of the Lord operating in you, too, have you not?” he asked the chaplains, then reaffirmed, “You have felt . . . the calm assurance that comes from the voice of the Spirit.”
He reminded the chaplains that “all of you have your priesthood with you, and it will stay with you. You will be blessed and watched over, and [so will] your wives and families.”
Use the Power of the Holy Ghost
He noted that chaplains, like all members, receive two ordinances when they join the Church. “When we are baptized members of the Church, the ordinance of baptism is the ordinance of cleansing,” he said. “But then in [an] ordinance separate and apart from baptism, each one of us had hands placed upon our head by holders of the Melchizedek Priesthood . . . and we had conferred upon us the gift of the Holy Ghost. That’s ever with us and that will never fail you. You cry out for help and comfort, or for courage, and it will come. Sometimes it’s in the Lord’s time, in His own way, and according to His will, but it [will come].”
He admonished the chaplains to follow the counsel given in Doctrine and Covenants 46:2, “to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit.”
Be Kind to Your Wife, Love Your Children
While President Packer was speaking, a toddler cried out. “Did I hear a child?” President Packer asked. “That’s wonderful!” He told the child’s mother, “Don’t go away!” and said that during his military service, “I was away about four years, and I found out the one thing I missed was a congregation where there were little children, so I was delighted to hear a baby cry, a little youngster in the audience. You mothers who are trying to keep a youngster quiet, we’ve been there and done that.”
He encouraged each chaplain to love his wife, and he told the wives, “You are much prayed for and much blessed. You are the spark, the spirit, that keeps these chaplains going.”
“You men who join the chaplaincy, and you sisters [who accompany them] . . . you deserve great blessings,” he said. “I’m sure you feel that—don’t you feel like you’re being blessed? I know there are times when he’s away and everything goes wrong, but you have another relative that is close by; you have your Father to plead with in prayer, and everything will work as it ought to work.”
Give Honorable Service
Noting that many of the General Authorities of the Church have an honorable record of military service, President Packer told of attending a servicemen’s conference when he was a soldier. About 400 soldiers attended the conference, organized by chaplains, that was held at Naja on Okinawa Island. He learned years later that Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had attended the same conference. “Two future Apostles were there,” he said. Together, they looked at a photo of the event, and once again, “Neal and I became comrades in arms,” he said.
He remembered a speech given by President David O. McKay (1873–1970, ninth President of the Church) during general conference, reassuring thousands of Latter-day Saints that military service is approved of the Lord. President Packer also said the scriptures give insight into appropriate military service. “The Book of Mormon of course is the answer to everything we need to find answers to,” he said, “and there were the wars and rumors of wars there.” He quoted Alma 43:46, which says that “inasmuch as ye are not guilty of the first offense, neither the second, ye shall not suffer yourselves to be slain by the hands of your enemies.” He also said Church members have an obligation to “defend the doctrines of the gospel that have spread across the world.”
President Packer also explained that Church beliefs cannot be cited as a basis for conscientious objection to military service. He told how a man once came to his office to ask, “How, as a priesthood holder, can you go willingly into the military?” President Packer said, “I told him, ‘Because I wouldn’t want to leave it to someone else.’ We go, and we take our place,” he said.
Remember Those Who Prepared the Way
President Packer told of his personal experiences supporting the chaplaincy as a General Authority as a member of the LDS Servicemen’s Committee, now known as the Military Relations Committee. He said that following World War II, many chaplains finished their service, and the number of LDS chaplains had dropped to only five or six. “We saw the dwindling number with worried eyes,” he said.
A military regulation had been adopted requiring all chaplains to have 90 hours of study at an accredited university seminary, but the Church, with its lay ministry, does not have clergy trained at divinity schools. President Packer told of efforts made by Elder Harold B. Lee, a senior Apostle (1899–1973, he later became the 11th President of the Church) and others, who tried repeatedly to find a way that would allow LDS men to serve.
Finally, an appointment was scheduled with the president of the United States, and President Packer was asked to take the assignment and be on the plane the next day. At that time President Packer was Elder Packer, an assistant to the Twelve who had been a General Authority for about three years. He asked Elder Lee for counsel and was told, “Just remember, this isn’t 1830 and there aren’t just six of us.” President Packer met with President Lyndon B. Johnson and was referred to the Secretary of Defense, Cyrus Vance. Asked what he wanted, President Packer said, “A fair hearing.” After that, “we were able to work it out, and here you are now,” he said.
Since then, a steady stream of LDS chaplains has been recognized for excellent service. “You’ve just been good Latter-day Saints,” President Packer said. “You have a lot of responsibility on your shoulders to serve well, and you serve well.”
Be Clean, Be Unafraid
President Packer recounted two stories from the life of President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918, sixth President of the Church). The first was about a dream in which President Smith stopped to bathe and dress in fresh clothing before being presented to his uncle, the Prophet Joseph Smith, who commented that he was late. In the dream, President Smith replied, “Yes, but I am clean—I am clean!” (Read a general conference address that discusses this.)
He also told of an incident when 19-year-old Joseph F. Smith was confronted by a mob threatening to kill Mormons. Asked if he was a Mormon, he replied, “Yes siree; dyed in the wool; true blue; through and through,” to which the ruffian responded,
“Well, you are the — — pleasantest man I ever met! Shake. I am glad to see a fellow stand for his convictions,” and then turned and walked away. (Read a general conference address that discusses this.)
“And that’s where you are,” President Packer told the chaplains. “You can’t mitigate or be embarrassed for the truth.”
Know Your Significance
President Packer said that, over the years, “it has been important that we keep the chaplaincy, and keep it alive.”
Speaking of training held as part of general conference, President Packer said, “This room, a few days ago, was filled with all of the General Authorities of the Church. We were talking about the Church around the world and the destiny of it, and what we face. We don’t have an easy life ahead of us, and, notwithstanding that, the power of the Almighty is upon us. We have the responsibility of carrying this work of the dispensation, the revelations, around the world, and I marvel at what has been done and what is going on. Just know that we count the chaplaincy as being a very significant part of the Church.”