Summarized by Rosemary Pollock
Former pastor turned BYU professor teaches about understanding other religions
(BYU) NewsNet 25Jan00 P2
By Andrea Laycock: NewsNet Staff Writer
Roger R. Keller is not only the Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious
Understanding at BYU, he is an expert on the subject, having served as a
Presbyterian minister and a Methodist pastor. Keller's first experience
with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began 35 years ago
at the Defense Language Center in California when a friend of his joined
the church. "I was originally attracted to the LDS church because the
members were profoundly faithful to Jesus Christ, concerned about caring
for those in need and willing to talk about theology," Keller said.
Keller was soon converted and baptized, but upon returning home to
Boulder, Colorado started to attend the Presbyterian church with his
family. He later attended the Princeton Theological Seminary and was
ordained a minister in 1971. "I know that God called me as a
Presbyterian minister, but He has also called me beyond that," Keller
His calling as a minister was fulfilling as he saw the lives of those
around him change for the better. Yet, in his own words, Keller said, it
was "fulfilling but terribly lonely." He found it difficult to have
friends in the congregation. "The people in the congregation are pretty
sure they own you because they pay for you," Keller said.
Believing that God called him to be a minister to bring people closer to
Christ, Keller used his experiences to help further his understanding
of other religions. "God uses other people besides Latter-day Saints to
bring people closer to Christ," he said. "Wherever you find truth you
find the gospel."
Because of his experience as a Presbyterian minister, Keller later
accepted a job as a Methodist pastor. With the slight differences
between the two religions, Keller found it safer to avoid any doctrinal
confrontation by teaching sermons based on the Bible. His
ecclesiastical experiences continued as he served as the senior pastor
at the First Presbyterian church of Mesa, Arizona. While in this
position, Keller had his second powerful experience with the LDS Church.
The National Conference of Christians and Jews was reviewing "The God
Makers," an anti-Mormon film. After viewing the film Keller thought it
to be a religious travesty. In an editorial he wrote, Keller called the
film "religious pornography". The NCCJ asked Keller to research the
film and find out if there was any truth in it. It was during his
research and while talking to many Latter-day Saints, Keller discovered
the "truth" and the importance of interfaith relationships. It was this
experience that encouraged him to write his book, "Reformed Christians
and Mormon Christians: Let's Talk!"
"Through my research, I found what proper inter-faith dialogue should
be. I found that it is not just people in non-LDS faiths who do not
understand other religions, but LDS people do not understand non-LDS
faiths," Keller said.
Keller spent several weeks at BYU doing research for his book. He
rediscovered the feelings he had experienced 20 years ago when he first
joined the church. "One day after driving down the valley after being
at BYU, I had a powerful spiritual experience telling me that what I had
found 20 years ago was the truth," Keller said.
He now began an extensive investigation into the church. "I read the
Book of Mormon four times, the Doctrine and Covenants twice and all
seven volumes of church history," Keller said. In 1986, all members of
the Keller family were baptized. Keller soon discovered that his
employment opportunities as a paid minister were over. He began driving
a cab. "It was a minimum wage job, but I was still able to do a lot of
counseling and help a lot of people," Keller said.
Keller was soon invited to come to BYU and teach the world religions
class, a position that he still maintains. Keller encourages all LDS
people to seek out and understand other religions. "We need to be
prepared to talk about and understand other religions just as we want
them to understand us," Keller said. "We are very ready to tell others
what we believe, but we need to understand the depth of other religions
to understand truth."