On the evening before he returned to England, the Rev. Andrew Teal of the University of Oxford joined Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles for a conversation about friendship.
“To the degree that I have been privileged to observe his life, Andrew truly lives what he preaches in every aspect of his behavior,” Elder Holland said during Brigham Young University Law’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies 2021 International Advisory Council reception and dinner held at the Grand America in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Nov. 11.
The Rev. Teal, a chaplain and theologian specializing in Christian church history at Oxford’s Pembroke College, has been spending the fall at BYU at the invitation of Elder Holland.
After speaking about community building during a BYU forum last month, the Rev. Teal was asked a question about truth and has reflected much on it since.
“Friendship enables you to be true,” the Rev. Teal told those at the dinner. “Kindness enables you to be true. … In our society, we see this tragic collapse where people weaponize truth, where people who speak uncomfortable about real truths get castigated because they don’t belong to that group, or they’re not saying the words that people want them to say.
“It strikes me that if we weaponize truth, if we make something to attack somebody else with, we are betraying our Lord, who never gave up on truth and never gave up on us.”
‘A covenant friendship’
In his introductory remarks, Shane Reese, BYU academic vice president, said Elder Holland and the Rev. Teal have “a covenant friendship” built on love and trust.
Elder Holland said the seed for their friendship was planted years ago when Elder Holland’s son, Elder Matthew S. Holland, did a sabbatical at Pembroke College from his presidency at Utah Valley University and introduced himself to the Rev. Teal. The “elder” Elder Holland then met the Rev. Teal later at an event in London organized by Baroness Emma Nicholson for the AMAR Foundation. “That is the first time I had been in the presence of this buoyant, sweet, radiant soul whose smile lit up the whole room,” Elder Holland recalled of the Rev. Teal.
The scholars’ friendship deepened as Elder Holland delivered several lectures at Oxford at the Rev. Teal’s invitation, including participation in an “Inspiring Service” interfaith panel with a former Archbishop of Canterbury and members of other Christian traditions. He also gave a Christmas sermon at Pembroke College Chapel in November 2018.
The Rev. Teal will never forget the first time Elder Holland and his wife, Sister Patricia Holland, pulled up outside Oxford’s University Church. “It was like the inflaming of souls who have known each other and been committed to something forever,” he said of interacting with Elder Holland.
As he reflects on his genuine friendship with the Rev. Teal, Elder Holland said he regrets times early in his life when as a young missionary he was interested in people only as long as they were interested in investigating the Church. He recalled living in areas later in his life where only a few within the ward boundaries were not Latter-day Saints. “I am afraid we were too unmindful of the isolation those people must have felt when so much of the neighborhood’s social life revolved around the Church. I am sure we were not as inclusive as he could have been.”
“Friendship transcends that self-interest that can sometimes unwittingly preoccupy us,” he said. “We should all remember why we want people in the Church. It is because their souls are precious and we want the blessings of the gospel available to them. So let us begin that process by being true friends. Those not of our faith are not ‘proselyting objects’ or ‘baptismal objects’ They are sons and daughters of God. Befriending them permanently is friendship with a capital F.”
When speaking of interfaith relations, the Rev. Teal said he prefers advocacy over tolerance. “Tolerance just reinforces the past structure. I think it’s really important to have freedom and to have advocacy as well.”
For those who come to Pembroke, “we will not just tolerate you — we will advocate with you,” the Rev. Teal said. “We want you to stand up for your Muslim friends. We want you to build an understanding in our community. We want you to help Jewish people. We want you to flourish. In other words, it’s a place of hope.”
The Rev. Teal’s experience at BYU
The Rev. Teal is very familiar with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He has read the Book of Mormon multiple times. In London, he accompanies the missionaries on contacts. Every month, he invites a Latter-day Saint ward to Pembroke College. His favorite hymn is “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” and he admits he has even cooked funeral potatoes.
When the Rev. Teal first arrived at BYU earlier this semester, he had ambitions of doing research and writing a book on the Prophet Joseph Smith as an outcast. “I was really looking forward to that, but obviously other things happened. … I was humbled and healed,” he said.
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 association with doctors, nurses and fellow patients deepened his understanding of community building.
Delivering a forum address at BYU was “an extraordinary experience,” the Rev. Teal said. “When it was happening, I knew they weren’t my words. And the message was ’Don’t get in the way. Don’t block this. Don’t make this about the performance of you.’”
In closing, the Rev. Teal expressed gratitude for his experience at BYU. “I will never forget the unexpected ways in which you have reached out and healed me. Thank you.”
Elder Holland closed this historic conversation by commending the Rev. Teal for his charity and kindness. “He personifies as beautifully as anyone I know this language revered by Latter-day Saints: ‘We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous and in doing good to all men. … If there is anything virtuous, lovely or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.’”
Brett G. Scharffs, director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, moderated the discussion between Elder Holland and the Rev. Teal.
A previous dialogue between the two men about gathering light and truth keynoted BYU’s 31st Annual International Society Conference held online earlier this year.