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PROVO — The British priest thought his collar both would protect him and convince protesters yelling rude, hurtful things at members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they walked toward a general conference of the faith before the pandemic.
"I'll just make it clear to them that these are nice people, don't be cross," the Rev. Dr. Andrew Teal of the Church of England recalled Tuesday as he delivered a forum address at Brigham Young University. "The reaction was a baptism of fire into what the U.S. understands as freedom of speech. In the U.K., it would have been called hate speech, OK? But nonetheless, it was embarrassing when I was called to hear some of what was said."
That rude awakening helped the Oxford University chaplain and theologian continue to formulate his desire to help others benefit from the contributions of Latter-day Saints.
"I felt I could look at my hosts in the eye and stand with you as you were ridiculed," he told an estimated 2,559 students and members of the faculty, staff and public in the Marriott Center. "My closest friends have seen that my love for the Lord Jesus has grown exponentially because of my friendship with you, and I want to bring that to the beautifully diverse families of Christians and peoples of other faiths, so that we may travel together, even across steep mountains, which will lead to our being blessed together."
The Rev. Teal centered his talk on the idea of sojourning or traveling together, drawing on the words of St. Clement of Rome, St. Peter and Brigham Young. He felt called by Brigham Young's words in Doctrine and Covenants 136, as Latter-day Saints cast out of Illinois prepared to cross the plains to Utah and he asked church members "and those who journey with them" to organize for the sojourn.
"Those six short words, 'and those who journey with them,' were like a fountain of truth and trust," he said about first reading them. "Traveling alongside this restored church means being a part of a fluid and happy, repentant community, constantly delighted by the wonder of that invitation."
The Rev. Teal said during a question-and-answer session that he considers the Book of Mormon, which he has read three times, to be another testament of Jesus Christ, as its full title asserts.
"It's clear," he said during his forum address, "that the Book of Mormon's testimony to the truth of Jesus Christ is not manipulation, nor the desire to take power and authority over others, but to see and celebrate the glory of God in service and love."
The Rev. Dr. Teal long has felt called to increase religious understanding on multiple levels. He talked about internet groups that have attacked the leadership of churches longing for safe ground for themselves and warned against contention and playing to one's own prejudices.
He offered a question to test oneself against when dealing with others: "In all that we do are we being an advocate for our brothers and sisters and for the truth, or have we fallen into the role and nature of the accuser?" he said.
"Remember that our Lord is always the advocate. It is our enemy who is ever our accuser. We do live in very contentious times, and so our task to all who come to this beautiful community of BYU, to students and staff and visitors alike, is to say unashamedly, we see you, we love you and we will travel with you together into God's perfect kingdom."
A student asked him after the forum how to answer with love when one feels a need to defend doctrine against those who are hurtful.
"It's not Christianity that in a sense I want to defend," the reverend said. "I want to make space for Jesus Christ, the Lord of love, to come to his own and make them his own as only he can."
The Rev. Dr. Teal expressed hope that Latter-day Saints will see that they need one another to navigate a difficult, changing world.
"Even within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some people can veer away from some of the consequences of being a restored church with a living prophet and don't want to face the difficulty of negotiating change," he said. "That's not new, of course. Think about those two declarations at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants, how they reflect great trauma and the prophetic task of the pastoral care of people facing radical changes concerning plural marriage or race and the priesthood. But change and pastoral support are there. Facing change together is core to this church."
He titled his talk "Building the Beloved Community," an idea popularized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and defined again last month at BYU by Martin Luther King III. The concept of the beloved community is the theme of BYU's forum program this year.
The Rev. Dr. Teal, who dedicated his talk to his friend, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who was in England on a church assignment, began by establishing a baseline.
"I think first of all with a wonder that we are already called into being as a beloved community," he said. "We are all beloved now, no exceptions. The Lord has called us together because he simply can't take his eyes off us in his love. So we need to reflect that wonder. We need to show that whoever somebody is, whatever their color, creed, background, gender, sexual orientation, you name it, the Lord loves you. That is the baseline. We don't have to build that. That is the fact."
He drew metaphors from Latter-day Saint scripture and from an experience after he badly burned his feet early in his semester as a visiting scholar this fall at BYU's Maxwell Institute. He spent nearly a month in the intensive care burn unit at University of Utah hospital for third-degree burns sustained when he walked onto a patio with heat-reflecting panels.
He said he was not the best patient. One day as he stood outside his room in the burn unit and worried gloomily about his feet, a 5-year-old girl grasped his little finger in her tiny hand, turned him around and walked him around the floor.
"I can tell you that the characteristic hallmarks of God and Christ were there," he said. "This was indeed an angelic visitation. I'd been told to turn around, teshuva, metanoia, repent, and had been led by a little child. Those in a healing community build a beloved community around them, often without completely comprehending what they're doing.
"That, in a nutshell, is what I believe we're called to do together. After the long histories of difficulty and division and schism between Christian communities, beautiful friendships can flower and bear fruit between Christian communities."
The Rev. Dr. Teal is striving to launch an ambitious center for religious understanding with Oxford, his own Pembroke College and BYU.
"I commit to journey with you even on these feet," he said, "however ragged they become."