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THE EDGE OF THE LIGHT

By Boyd K. Packer

Shortly after I was called as a General Authority, I went to Elder Harold B. Lee for counsel. He listened very carefully to my problem and suggested that I see President David O. McKay. President McKay counseled me as to the direction I should go. I was very willing to be obedient but saw no way possible for me to do as he counseled me to do.

I returned to Elder Lee and told him that I saw no way to move in the direction I was counseled to go. He said, “The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.” I replied that I would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then came the lesson of a lifetime: “You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.” Then he quoted these 18 words from the Book of Mormon:

“Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.”

Those 18 words from Moroni have been like a beacon light to me. Let me put them in their setting:

And it came to pass that Ether did prophesy great and marvelous things unto the people, which they did not believe, because they saw them not. And now, I, Moroni, would speak somewhat concerning these things; I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith. (Ether 12:5-6.)

During the 29 years following that experience, I have learned over and over again that all of us must walk by faith—near the edge of the light. Like Nephi, who said, “I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do” (1 Nephi 4:6), each of us must learn to take a few steps into the darkness of the unknown.

Let me share with you something I learned from another man named Lee, S. Norman Lee—once our stake president, then our patriarch in Brigham City. Shortly after we were married, I was invited to speak in a sacrament meeting. Patriarch Lee was seated on the stand. As the meeting closed he said to me, “That was a fine talk, Brother Packer, but may I point out that the correct pronunciation of this one word is as follows . . .” to which I replied with some impudence, “Oh, is that so?”

Later I felt very ashamed of myself and called Patriarch Lee and apologized. I thanked him for the correction and invited his continued interest.

Shortly thereafter I was called to the stake high council and on fairly frequent occasions spoke in meetings where Patriarch Lee was in attendance. Always he would compliment me and then add a correction or a suggestion. Always I tried to respond with sufficient appreciation to encourage him to continue his interest.

Elder Alma Sonne, one of the first called as an Assistant to the Twelve, was a very big man. He always called me “Little Brother.” He taught me the same lesson in his own way.

I did not speak at the conference when I was sustained as a General Authority, so I had six months to worry. As I entered the tabernacle, Elder Sonne put his big arm around me. Pointing to the rostrum he said in his deep voice, “Little Brother, when you get up to that pulpit, you will find that there is a great spirit there.” When I stood at the pulpit, I felt that spirit. I can testify it lingers there to this day. It will be there as well at every pulpit where you may stand to speak if you will learn how to discern it and how to call upon it.

A desire to learn is one thing. An expressed willingness to be taught and to be corrected is quite another. I have found, and we have taught our children, that there is always a “Patriarch Lee- type”—usually someone older and experienced who knows much about the challenges you face, whether they be spiritual or temporal. It is worth inviting them to help you.

While there is great value in seeking a personal interview to receive counsel, what I am talking about is something else. It is an unstructured process, with counsel and suggestions offered in bits and pieces and you responding with thanks. That process survives only where there is a genuine desire to learn and an invitation to those who can teach and correct you.

That invitation is not always in words but more in attitude. Could that be the reason that the scriptures counsel, “Ask and ye shall receive” more than any other statement? I believe the priceless gift of the Holy Ghost, which can be a constant companion, operates on those terms.

Once when I returned from a mission tour totally exhausted, my wife said to me, “I have never seen you so tired. What is the matter; did you find a mission president who wouldn’t listen?” “No,” I replied, “it was just the opposite. I found one who wanted to learn.”

Many will say they want to learn but feel threatened if there is the slightest element of correction in what they are given. He wanted to learn! That president now sits in the Council of the Twelve Apostles. I have learned that few respond when that kind of teaching or correction is offered and fewer still invite it. If you are willing, a teacher will spread a cloth and share nourishing morsels from his store of experience.

It was Harold B. Lee who taught me to take counsel from courage rather than my fears.

During the Vietnam War, we were having great difficulty getting chaplains certified in the military service. All but five, who had been commissioned during World War II and the Korean War, had retired.

In order to upgrade the chaplaincy, the chiefs of chaplains adopted regulations which favored the other churches and effectively blocked us out.

We had tried for years to get the regulations changed without so much as a fair hearing. It was decided that only the president of the United States could solve our problem and a request was made for an appointment with President Lyndon B. Johnson.

One afternoon Elder Lee called me from a meeting and said an appointment had been confirmed at the White House for the next day, that the Brethren had assigned me to make the presentation, and that I was to leave within the hour.

I was stunned; I was completely unprepared. I had known of the request, of course, but was sure one of the Twelve, a senior member, would be assigned to keep the appointment.

Before leaving for the airport, I stopped at Elder Lee’s office. “Do you have any counsel for me?” I asked. He said he did. It was one sentence only. Perhaps frustrated by our previous failures and the very unfairness of the way we had been treated, he said, “When you meet the president, just remember, this isn’t 1830 and there aren’t just six of us.”

The next day, in company with a senator from Utah and one from Nevada, we went to the Oval Office. President Johnson expressed his admiration for President McKay and then asked what our problem was. Emboldened by what Elder Lee had said, I made a strong statement of our case.

He listened. Then he phoned Cyrus Vance, then Deputy Secretary of Defense (later Secretary of State) and discussed our appeal with him. Secretary Vance obviously argued a bit with the president, for President Johnson said, “Oh, I know all that but those Mormons have them prayin’ and preachin’ as soon as they are out of their mothers’ wombs. They can be chaplains as well as anyone else.”

He told Secretary Vance he was sending us over and to hear us out. Actually what he told him was, “Giv’em what they want.”

Mr. Vance gave us what we wanted most, a fair hearing, the first we had had. He responded that our case could stand on its own merit and that our petition was a very reasonable one. It was granted.

I say to you as Elder Lee said to me: “This is not 1830 and there are not just six of us.”

We have now talked of: one, light and darkness; two, accepting suggestions and correction; and three, of a growing church. It is up to me now, if I can, to show how those themes converge and have meaning to you here and now.

You who are students at Brigham Young University have a Lee in your lives, President Rex E. Lee. If you are willing to be taught, he may influence your lives just as Patriarch Lee and President Lee have mine. And if you have been listening to President Rex Lee and his wife, Janet, surely you have learned a lesson of a lifetime already.

Recently President Rex E. Lee, speaking for the university administration, issued a statement concerning a letter from the First Presidency to bishops on the subject of continuing ecclesiastical endorsement of students attending Church colleges and universities.

The First Presidency’s letter reads in part:

The continuing endorsement will help ensure that students who are active Church members are not excluded through enrollment ceilings while inactive members enjoy the blessings of attending Church schools. Bishops should consider faithful attendance at Church meetings as one factor in the endorsement process even though no required percentage of attendance has been specified.

We encourage bishops to include the following question in endorsement interviews: “Have you done and will you continue to do your duty in the Church, attend your meetings, and abide by the rules and standards of the Church?” Students who have not been endorsed may not register for university or college classes for the next academic year. (December 15, 1989.)

I have thought it may help you and reinforce what President Lee said to you if I put that subject of continuous ecclesiastical endorsement in the larger setting of a growing church. You might then understand a little more clearly the why of it.

In 1965 when Elder Harold B. Lee taught me to take counsel from courage rather than from my fears, there were an impressive 2,235,000 members in the Church.

If you are a senior, you came to BYU representing a church of 5,900,000. If you are a freshman, you now represent a church of 7,200,000. In four years, you will leave to serve a fast-growing church of more than nine million. If each one present in this meeting were to represent one missionary now in the field, it would take a second session of equal number to represent just the missionaries presently serving, more than 40,000.

And do you realize that we would have to fill this building to capacity twenty-two times over to represent just the new members of the Church during the year 1989—over 430,000?

Do you realize that this year we will release enough full-time missionaries to fill the entire freshman class more than four times over? Indeed there will be enough released this year to equal 80 percent of the entire student body. And, thousands of them, literally thousands of them, dream of enrolling at BYU. Most of them cannot be admitted simply because of enrollment ceilings imposed by limits on space and funds.

During these years of very rapid growth in membership in the Church, the enrollment at this university has remained constant. It cannot grow as the Church grows, and the growth of the Church cannot be held back. The competition for admission to Church colleges and universities grows ever more intense.

General Authorities frequently receive letters from young people all over the world, begging for the opportunity for an education, wanting desperately to come to a Church-sponsored college. I have just now received one from a young woman in the Philippines. She wants to be a doctor.

“I’ve the grade,” she wrote, “but money I’ve nothing. I kept on praying asking Him, whom will I ask to help . . . and you know what? My heart says it’s you, Elder Packer, who can understand what I feel, so here I am asking the Apostle of God to help me.”

How painful it is for us to see so many worthy ones for whom there is no room. It is little wonder that the First Presidency would want to, “Ensure that students who are active Church members are not excluded through enrollment ceilings while inactive members enjoy the blessings of attending Church schools. . . . Students who have not been endorsed may not register for university or college classes for the next academic year.”

The Board of Education and the Church board of Trustees is struggling now to update our policy on admissions. We have no choice but to make some adjustments to accommodate the growth of the Church. The administrators of Church colleges and universities have no choice but to enforce those policies; they are not free to do otherwise.

Entrance requirements cannot be based on grades alone. Church schools are not solely for the academically gifted.

That word trustee is worth a comment. In a public institution, trustees are responsible to the tax payers. In the Church, we are responsible to tithe payers and to the Lord. We presently have institutes of religion at one thousand, seven hundred and eleven colleges and universities across the world. Typical of an excellent institute would be the one at Utah Valley Community College here in Orem. The institutes enroll 126,000 Latter-day Saints. In this way, we are able to bring religious education, the one discipline essential to the mission of the Church, to our members of college age without the expense of duplicating the whole secular curriculum. High quality education is widely available at state and private colleges and universities.

Notwithstanding the institute program, frequently at stake conferences we face a parent or a Church leader who desperately wants some student to be admitted to BYU.

They always ask: “Are the Brethren planning to build another university?” to which we must answer, “They are not.”

Next question: “Why?” I simply meet that question with one of my own: “Do you have any idea how much money it costs to mow the lawns and wash the windows at BYU?”

Never could we keep pace with the growth of the Church. Education is a very expensive undertaking, The operation of a large university in this country is not possible on a budget of millions or tens of millions’ of dollars annually. It requires the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Some time ago I was sent to inspect a college campus, smaller than this but as modern and beautifully constructed as is this campus. It had been offered to the Church for the taking, with the single requirement that we continue its operation as a college. But we declined, even though it was in a center of Church population. Such offers have come more than once.

We are not only trustees for our schools, we must balance the resources of the Church so that the central mission of the Church will be accomplished.

Did you know that there are members of this Church who eat only one meal a day? We help them all we can, considering political barriers. We face some very sobering choices. If we must choose between giving more and more to those already well-favored and helping them less, we will do just as you would do.

The Church once owned and operated a system of hospitals, a very defensible endeavor. In 1974 the First Presidency stated: “Because the operation of hospitals is not central to the mission of the Church, the Church has ... decided to divest itself of its extensive hospital holdings.” And, they were given away. (Church News, Sept. 14, 1974.)

Question: Are colleges and universities central to the mission of the Church? I might answer-“That all depends.” In his statement to you, President Rex Lee quoted a predecessor, Dallin H. Oaks, who said:

“Religious activities in the BYU stakes are ... vital to what is unique about this university. [Moreover,] the LDS student who takes no significant part in the religious life of this campus is occupying a place . . . that excludes another Latter-day Saint who is anxious to be admitted and to participate in the entire range of campus activities. This is unfair and an unwise use of the unique resources of this institution.”

You will contribute to the central mission of the Church only when you receive and maintain a testimony of the restored gospel to complement an education of superior quality. And there need be no choice between the two, for we can meet, even surpass, the academic standards of those organizations established to improve and accredit colleges and universities.

Why would anyone feel unsettled at a review of your worthiness to remain at a Church college? It is no different than the test to measure your academic progress, no different than the requirement that you maintain a certain grade point average.

The continuing endorsement is no different than renewing a temple recommend. When President Harold B. Lee would hear that someone became indignant over a temple recommend or other worthiness interview, he would say, “The hit bird flutters!”

BYU is owned by the Church. It was paid for from tithes and offerings of the Saints and other generous donors. We have kept ourselves free from being supported by public funds in order to remain independent.

If government funds ever are accepted, it is on a quid pro quo basis.

That’s Latin for “Giv’em what they pay for.” Every foot of real estate, every building and all each contains, the landscaping, the classrooms, the books in the library, the equipment and fixtures, the furnishings, the gymnasiums and playing fields, the auditoriums and laboratories, and all else belong to the Church. Everything from the pinnacle of the Carillon Tower to the utility tunnels under the earth belongs to the Church. All were paid for from Church resources.

None of this belongs to you or to us. We are but trustees. It was here before we came; it will serve generations after we have gone. For the present it is placed at our disposal so that as students we may study and as teachers we may teach in an environment that is clean, both spiritually and temporally.

It is made available to us at far below the operating costs. That demands that we respect both the property and the purposes for which it was established.

Tuition and fees do not make up one-fourth of the per-student cost of running this university. More than seventy percent comes from the tithes of the Church; from the widow’s mite. There is too much toil and faith and self-denial represented in those funds to expend them on one who is unappreciative of the opportunities afforded to progress both spiritually and academically.

How can we justify expending those sacred funds on a student who will dishonor the agreement he or she signed at the time of admission or on the salary of a faculty member who has his or her own agenda which is at variance with the central mission of the Church, particularly when there is a lineup, ever growing, of both students and teachers waiting and anxious to come to learn or to teach and advance the mission of the university and the central mission of the Church?

As to the student body—the lot of you—what a miracle! Where on earth, now or in any past generation, could you assemble such a student body?

Individually you are impressive; together you are powerful, compelling.

We admire you! You are unbelievable to the stranger who comes among you. You are a witness of the restoration, you are a joy to your parents, to all of us. You are the object of approval before him who is the father of our spirits and his son who is our Redeemer.

Granted there may be a few among you who feel uncomfortable with the conservative philosophy at Church schools. Each has that choice. If it is a different life-style you choose, you are not chained here. There are plenty of places to find whatever lifestyle you desire.

But together with you, we will maintain this university with a style of its own. We who love this university will not allow some few to alter the life-style here.

And, with your help, we will maintain to the best of our ability an environment that is totally free from the use of narcotics, the abuse of prescription drugs, from steroids and stimulants, from gambling or any other destructive addiction; where chastity and decency and integrity are fostered; where their opposites are subject to correction or expulsion.

Always there are those who chafe under standards and guidelines and restraints and want them lowered or loosened or lifted. Always they play on the word freedom and ask, “Is not free agency a basic doctrine of the gospel?”

Those who think standards contradict their agency may wish to read the 78th verse of Section 101 in the Doctrine and Covenants. They will find that the agency vouchsafed to us from God is a moral agency and that every one is accountable. There can be no freedom without choice. We are determined to maintain standards and guidelines and restraints so those who want to live under them may have that choice.

President David O. McKay said:

Brigham Young University is primarily a religious institution. It was established for the sole purpose of associating with facts of science, art, literature, and philosophy the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. . . . In making religion its paramount objective, the university touches the very heart of all true progress . . . .

I emphasize religion because the Church university offers more than theological instruction. Theology as a science “treats of the existence, character, and attributes of God,” and theological training may consist merely of intellectual study. Religion is subjective and denotes the influence and motives to human conduct and duty which are found in the character and will of God. One may study theology without being religious. (Messenger, Provo; BYU, October, 1937.)

Now about the faculty and staff. What a miracle. Where on this earth now or in any generation past has there been assembled a faculty and staff of men and women like this, who have achieved the highest academic degrees. Many have been acclaimed for outstanding accomplishments, and at once you are men and women of humility and faith. You of the faculty and staff are exemplary of the fact that on this campus there need be no choice between academic achievement, intellectual inquiry, and simple faith and reverence.

While that balance may be difficult to achieve and a challenge to maintain, are not these the brightest of minds and the most refined of spirits, these teachers and administrators, upon whom the Lord can depend? Does not every soul of you have the supernal gift of the Holy Ghost to be your companion and teacher?

You of the faculty and staff, perhaps more than any other, will answer the question, “Can a university contribute to the central mission of the Church?”

As with the students, there are perhaps a few faculty and staff who are restless over the conservative philosophy of education in the Church.

There should be no reticence in relating secular truths to revealed truths. Indeed, that is what President McKay gave as the sole purpose of this university. Nor should there be a problem with teaching about any topic or philosophy or subject for we should seek all truth. However, to advocate an unworthy philosophy, rather than to teach about it, to appoint one’s self as an alternate voice, is out of harmony with the purpose of Church schools and with the central mission of the Church.

In the early thirties, there developed what might be termed a drift from fundamental moorings in Church schools. Two things are symbolic of such a drift.

One of them is apparent when the teachers of other disciplines look upon the teaching of religion as having less stature than they accord themselves. The other is when teachers or administrators develop agendas of their own and adjust the course from the compass bearing which has been set by the trustees, to a course which is a degree or two worldward. This usually in order to gain, if they can, more approval of the world. Such things do not go unnoticed by those whose compass is sensitive to eternal things.

Concerned over what was happening then, the First Presidency organized a summer school. President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., was assigned to speak for the First Presidency. He spoke of course settings and compasses and said, “I shall bring together what I have to say under two general headings—the student and the teacher. I shall speak very frankly, for we have passed the place where we may wisely talk in ambiguous words and veiled phrases. We must say plainly what we mean, because the future of our youth, both here on earth and in the hereafter as also the welfare of the whole Church are at stake.” (The Charted Course of the Church in Education.)

I commend this address to every student and every teacher. Read it carefully, for we are not free from the possibility of such a drift today. Such a drift reoccurred again in the early fifties. Again the Brethren called a summer school. For five weeks, Elder Harold B. Lee was the instructor. President Clark taught the class more than once. I was among the teachers present.

In conclusion, a final lesson. There is one category of experiences which by long standing rule I do not speak of in public. However, I am going to set aside that rule and tell you a part at least of one such experience. I do so because it has to do with light and darkness and may fix in your minds the lesson I have been trying to teach.

In 1971 I was assigned to stake conferences in Western Samoa, including the organization of the Upolo West Stake. After the necessary interviews on Upolo Island, we chartered a plane to the Island of Savaii to hold a midweek stake conference of the Savaii Stake.

There were in our party besides myself and John H. Groberg, now of the First Quorum of Seventy and who was then a Regional Representative, President Wayne Shute of the Samoan Mission, now a professor of education here at BYU, Mark Littleford, superintendent of Church Schools in Samoa, and Brother Laeausa, a Samoan talking chief who would represent us in some ceremonies.

The plane landed on a grass field at Faala and was to return the next afternoon to take us back to Apia on Upolo Island. The next afternoon it was raining a little. Knowing the plane would not land on the grassy field, we drove to the west end of Savaii where there was a runway of sorts atop a coral waterbreak. We waited until dark; no plane arrived. We were finally able to learn by radiophone that it was storming on Upolo Island and that the plane could not take off. We were able as well to tell them we would come by boat and to have someone meet us at Mulisanua. We then drove about three hours back around the island to Saleleloga.

There President Tuioti, a counselor in the Savaii Stake presidency, arranged for a boat and obtained the necessary police permit to make the night crossing.

As we pulled out of port, the captain of the 40 foot boat, the Tori Tula, asked President Shute if he happened to have a flashlight. Fortunately he did and made a present of it to the captain. We made the 13-mile crossing to Mulisanua on Upolo Island on very rough seas. None of us realized that a ferocious tropical storm had hit Upolo Island.

At Mulisanua, there is one narrow passage through the reef. A light on the hill above the beach marked that narrow passage. There was a second lower light on the beach. When a boat was maneuvered so that the two lights were one above the other, it was lined up properly to pass through the reef.

But that night, there was only one light. Someone was on the landing waiting to meet us, but the crossing took much longer than usual. After waiting for hours, watching for signs of our boat, they tired and fell asleep in the car, neglecting to turn on the lower light.

The captain maneuvered the boat toward the single light on shore while a crewman held a flashlight off the bow. It seemed like the boat would struggle up a mountainous wave and then pause in exhaustion at the crest of it with the propellers out of the water. The vibration of the propellers would shake the boat nearly to pieces before it slid down the other side.

We could hear the breakers crashing over the reef. When we were close enough to see them with the flashlight, the captain frantically shouted reverse and backed away to try again to locate the passage through the reef. After many attempts, he knew it would be impossible to find the opening. All we could do was try to reach the harbor in Apia, 20 miles away. We were helpless against the ferocious power of the elements. I do not remember ever being where it was so dark.

We were lying spread-eagled on the cover of the cargo hold, holding on with our hands on one side, with our toes locked on the other to keep from being washed overboard.

Mark Littleford lost hold and was thrown against the low iron rail. His head was cut front and back, but the rail kept him from being washed away.

As we set out for Apia Harbor, I kept a post on the rail in line of Sight with the one light on shore. We made no progress for the first hour even though the engine was full throttle. Eventually we moved ahead and near daylight pulled into Apia Harbor. Boats were lashed to boats several deep at the pier. We crawled across several of them, trying not to disturb those sleeping on deck. We made our way to Pesanga, dried our clothing, and headed for Vailuutai to organize the new stake.

I do not know who had been waiting for us at Mulisanua. I refused to let them tell me. Nor do I care now. But, it is true that without that light, the lower light—the light that failed—we all might have been lost.

There is in our hymn book a very old and seldom sung hymn that has very special meaning to me.

Brightly beams our Father’s mercy

From his lighthouse evermore,

But to us he gives the keeping

Of the lights along the shore,

Let the lower lights be burning;

Send a gleam across the wave;

Some poor fainting, struggling seaman

You may rescue, you may save,

Trim your feeble lamp, my brother;

Some poor sailor, tempest-tossed,

Trying now to make the harbor,

In the darkness may be lost.

(Hymns, 335.)

What has happened since 1830 did not come about because we followed the wisdom of men. It came because we followed the light described in the scriptures as “a light that shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” (See D&C 6:21,10:58, 34:2, 39:2,45:7,88:49,88:67,)

“Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the son of God. I am the same that came unto mine own, and mine own received me not. I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not.” (D&C 6:21.)

I bear witness of Him, He lives, this is his church. The universities and colleges and schools and institutes and seminaries are his.

I pray, oh how I pray, for our Church schools. I feel contrary breezes blow and see dark clouds appear; it is then that I cry out in my prayers at night, “Oh, Lord, bless our youth, bless those who teach them!”

God grant that when you stand at the edge of the light you may say as the Psalmist said, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and the light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).


Elder Boyd K. Packer is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a member of the board of trustees of Brigham Young University. This article is adapted from an address he delivered at a BYU 18-Stake Fireside, March 4, 1990.

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