At a global moment seemingly defined by destruction and division, an Anglican priest taught Brigham Young University students on Tuesday lessons on building “beloved communities.”
The Rev. Andrew Teal, a chaplain and theologian specializing in Christian church history at Oxford’s Pembroke College, delivered the Oct. 26 forum address at the Marriott Center. The cleric is spending the fall at BYU at the invitation of his friend, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
“It is a great privilege to stand here before all your verdant strength of youth and to be able to reflect with you what it means for us to strive to build a beloved community,″ he said. “Last month, Martin Luther King III introduced this series of fora, reflecting upon how we might better become a beloved community.”
The Rev. Teal acknowledged it is natural to want to be loved and understood by others. But his first obligation is to express his love for his audience.
“In 2 Nephi 1: 25, a text that has lodged in my heart since I first read it, it’s clear that the Book of Mormon’s testimony to the truth of Jesus Christ is not manipulation, or the desire to take power and authority over others; but to see and celebrate the glory of God in service and love.”
In that verse from latter-day scripture, Father Lehi confronts his rebellious sons for accusing their younger brother, Nephi, of seeking power and authority over them. Rather, Nephi sought “the glory of God.” He was concerned for his brothers’ eternal welfare.
God is calling His children into a beloved community, taught the Rev. Teal.
“The Lord has called us together because he simply can’t take His eyes off us in love. So we need to reflect that wonder. We need to show that whoever somebody is — whatever their color, creed, background, gender, sexual orientation — the Lord loves you. That’s the baseline. We don’t have to build that, that’s the fact.”
Past religious communities, in their various hues, have sometimes been too quick to speak and judge and too slow to listen and communicate God’s love.
“We speak today of a cancel culture, deliberately demonizing and diminishing those with whom we disagree. But some of our different religious communities’ approaches to minorities or powerless people indeed have nurtured this response. So, we have to listen and learn and love.”
No one should be hurt or damaged on “the Lord’s holy mountain,” he added. Do not exploit the vulnerable or collude with oppression or unkindness. Safeguard the vulnerable.
The Rev. Teal, who has read the Book of Mormon multiple times, spoke of King Benjamin’s effort to purge contention from the land. The king inspired his people to pitch their tents toward God and the temple.
Being a beloved community means daily beginning again at building a beloved community, he said, adding that can be difficult.
“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.
“That’s not new. Think about the two declarations at the end of the Doctrine and Covenants — how they reflect the great trauma and the prophetic task of pastoral care of people facing radical changes concerning plural marriage and race and the priesthood. Facing change together is core to this Church.”
Attacks on the Internet have been leveled against the Roman Catholic Church, Anglicanism and other religions. Similar online aggression has focused on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and BYU.
Always exercise caution, warned the Rev. Teal.
“If we become the accuser of our brothers and sisters — even calling members of this university with whom we disagree ‘apostates’ — here’s one simple test question: 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?
“Remember that our Lord is always the Advocate; it is our enemy who is ever our accuser.”
Amid the day’s contentions, “our task” is to share love and fellowship. Discover ways to make every moment a means “to invite all people into the deepest truths of life; into a beloved community, which takes even our inadequate energies and gifts and builds of them a kingdom with Christ.”
Make every moment, he added, “a gate through which the Messiah can come.” Scholarship must not lead to cynicism. “Rather, it’s an opportunity to become friends and to discuss things like grown ups.”
The Rev. Teal spoke of divisions among religious creeds — arguing, for example, whether or not the Spirit proceeded from the Father and the Son, or just the Father alone. But shared scholarship can benefit all. It can reach beyond factionalism. It can be grounded in friendship, commitment, trust and truth.
“True friendship asks all sorts of questions — questions we don’t yet know the answers to,” he said. “I trust and love you and I want to ask a lifetime of questions as I travel with you, with a longing heart bringing others, beautiful people from my own and other religious communities, along with me; so that they can share something of the richness, the kindness, the truthfulness that’s overwhelmed me.”
Taking healing steps
The Anglican priest said he has been lifted by the kindness shown to him by Latter-day Saints who have invited him into their community by “traveling together” and sharing the blessing of community building. He referenced the possibilities of future “profound collaboration” between Pembroke College Oxford and BYU.
The Rev. Teal was hospitalized for almost a month after suffering serious burns to his feet when he walked barefoot onto an Orem, Utah, patio with heat-reflecting shields. He required multiple skin grafts while being cared for at the burn unit at the University of Utah hospital. His unexpected association with doctors, nurses and fellow patients deepened his understanding of community building.
“Being able to love people who help us to grow and who stand with us in our pain is a beautiful example of the nature and the cost of building a beloved community.”
Daily phone calls and multiple hospital visits from his friend Elder Holland also buoyed his spirits.
He remains uncertain about his feet’s recovery. A straightforward solution — one which resolves everything right now — would be ideal.
But “that’s not the pattern of anointing and sealing which I was blessed to receive,” he said. “It may well be that I have to go back into hospital again and have some more of the tissue removed, perhaps even a little toe. … Don’t get me wrong, I quite like it on my foot, but having taken the initial steps of faith, we can take steeper ones.”
Christian discipleship, he is learning, is not just something to be achieved — a one-off possession. “It’s, rather, the process of learning to walk step by step. As the road gets steeper, we are more equipped to take those difficult steps, recognizing that it is an infinite ascent into the very being of the Father in the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Concluding, the Rev. Teal said his love for the Savior has grown through his friendship with the Latter-day Saint community.
“I want to bring that to the beautifully diverse family of Christians (and people of all faiths) so that we may travel together, even across steep mountains, which will lead to our being blessed together.”