I witnessed something recently that is a model for the ages and certainly for today. If we could bottle it, we’d achieve world peace and make a gazillion dollars in the process. It was a demonstration of profound mutual respect and the power of true friendship.
In an open dialogue at a public event sponsored by Brigham Young University’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies, the Rev. Andrew Teal — a chaplain and fellow as well as lecturer of theology at Oxford’s Pembroke College — and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles talked about the makings and foundation of their rich friendship.
What a privilege it was to witness an hour of delightful interchange that revealed the depth and breadth of friendship these two devoted, inspiring leaders share. Though they have walked different theological paths, their focus was clearly on the many beliefs, concerns and pursuits they have in common.
Remembering the first time he met Elder and Sister Holland at Oxford, the Rev. Teal said it was “like the inflaming of souls who have known each other and been committed to something forever.”
For his part, Elder Holland said of the Rev. Teal, borrowing liberally from the thirteenth Article of Faith: “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.’”
As they spoke, I thought about a recent visit I had with a woman I met just two years ago at the NAACP annual convention where President Russell M. Nelson delivered a keynote address. The Rev. Theresa Dear is an ordained elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and has a host of distinguished accomplishments to her credit in the field of human resources.
On the face of it, our backgrounds couldn’t be more different. But every time we’re together, I feel refreshed and understood. I always learn from the Rev. Dear. Because she has been places in her life I have not been, she broadens my point of view and understanding, even on the most sensitive of subjects. What a gift it is to feel safe to ask questions about race, culture and complex social issues without feeling judged or criticized. What a relief to discuss tender topics with the confidence that the discussion is meant to shed light and create bonds rather than lead to the division and acrimony we see so often in media today. I always want to do better and be better after time with the Rev. Dear.
And that’s how I felt after witnessing the genuine affection Elder Holland and the Rev. Teal modeled. They exemplified what Paul told the Galatians when he declared that the whole of God’s law is fulfilled in this simple commandment: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Galatians 5:14). As the Rev. Teal said, “Friendship can change the world.” Which of course is true because friendship is the embodiment of the Second Commandment. When all is said and done, it all comes down to love.
Read more: How Elder Holland and the Rev. Teal of Oxford became friends and what this interfaith friendship means to them
In another setting, Elder Holland said that “true love requires action. We can speak of love all day long, we can write notes and sonnets that proclaim it, we can sing lyrics that praise it, and we can preach sermons that encourage it, but until we manifest that love in action our words are nothing.”
Love means allowing each other to learn, grow, start over and try again. It even means striving to understand another’s point of view — one that, at first, may seem nothing short of crazy.
In a recent BYU Forum address, the Rev. Teal said that social media has “democratized dissent.” Therein lies a root problem affecting every one of us today. Social media has given anyone so inclined a bully pulpit that can be used to tear down, criticize and shout angry retorts.
But Elder Holland and the Rev. Teal showed a far better way forward — the joy of a friendship that has emerged not despite differences, but because of them. Neither leader backed away from his personal beliefs, yet the demonstration of love was positively palpable. They didn’t just preach about the Second Commandment, they showed us what it looks like.
The Rev. Teal has said that one of his favorite quotes is from St. Benedict: “Every day we begin again.” So quoting the Rev. Teal and St. Benedict, might we each begin anew to forge bonds of friendship with those who may see the world differently than we do.
Such is the essence of the Second Commandment. And the Second Commandment will indeed change the world.
— Sheri Dew is executive vice president of Deseret Management Corporation and the CEO of Deseret Book Company. She served in the Relief Society general presidency from 1997-2002.