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For week ended January 30, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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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 said.

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."


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