"It's about time the Lord taught us a lesson," Packer, president of the LDS Quorum of Twelve Apostles, is said to have warned. "A great catastrophe is coming. . . That's what it will take to turn our hearts to the Lord. And we will learn from it. Our prayers will be different, less selfish."
The impact was electric.
A member of the congregation claimed to transcribe the speech and sent it to friends and family members on the Internet. Soon thousands of Mormons had forwarded it to everyone they knew from Alabama to Australia. Various versions circled the globe. People mentioned it at church in whispered tones.
The apostle's office at LDS Church headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City received so many queries about the speech that a secretary recorded a message, repeating that "the report of his talk is not accurate," and urged members to follow the LDS First Presidency's 2004 advice never to distribute notes of a General Authority's speech without authorization.
Kim Farah, an LDS church spokeswoman, had no comment, saying the recorded voice message will be the church's only response.
Cris Robinson, a Utah County member of the Mormon apologist group FAIR, reports on the organization's Web site a conversation with LDS Public Affairs that confirmed Packer spoke but cautioned that the purported transcript circulating "should not be considered to be authoritative."
Julie M. Smith, an LDS institute teacher and blogger in Austin, Texas, notes a few reasons why members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were so eager to spread Packer's comments to others in the faith.
"People are scared to death about the financial crisis," says Smith, who received two copies of the speech and heard it mentioned during a Sunday school class. "They are desperate for a revelation that will help them navigate through our treacherous times."
Plus, the fact that Packer wasn't scheduled to speak made members feel that they were getting something "special and important and inspired, as opposed to a 'regular' General Conference talk . . . and they feel special and important when they make it known to others," Smith said. "People really gravitate toward the idea of 'secret teachings.' It is a weakness, one that I've seen in myself and one that we need to be more aware of. There is some spiritual immaturity there."
Beyond that, Smith, who posted a discussion of Packer's speech at timesandseasons.org, sees wisdom in the First Presidency's instructions not to pass along notes from a local conference.
"The scariest thing is that people just don't seem to realize how dangerous spreading this type of thing is," Smith said, "not only is there the potential to spread false doctrine, but even if you have a 100 percent accurate transcript, you have taken away the right of a General Authority to speak specifically to a local group about their circumstances in a way that might not be applicable to other areas of the world."