People Who Helped Me Stay Mormon Part II: Roger Keller

John NilssonBYU, church, curiosity, doubt, faith, inter-faith, LDS, Mormon, questioning, religion, testimony, theology 15 Comments

There are BYU professors, and there are BYU professors. Brother Keller is in a class by himself. His life story alone fascinates me. Converted to the church as a young adult, then left the church,  became an ordained Presbyterian pastor in Colorado, converted back to the LDS Church as an adult, and continued to maintain an interest in other religions, to the point of living in a Zen Buddhist monastery for a time, where he learned meditation and other lessons he later imparted to his students.

Three incidents come to mind which endear him to me:

I took his “Gospel and World Religions” class and he introduced us to the art of Zen Buddhist meditation. For about six minutes (which seemed like an eternity), the classroom was entirely silent while we meditated. I left the classroom literally laughing for joy from the stress relief, it being around final exam time and all. It was the most concentrated experience of peace I had found to that point in my young life.

In the same course, we were discussing the idea of blood and presumably DNA literally changing upon baptism in order to make a convert one of the house of Israel. This idea was propagated in a book by a respected LDS author at the time. Professor Keller’s response was perfect when challenged by a student who was advocating the idea: “I don’t believe it. And you don’t have to either. No matter who says it.” This was a shock to some in the class who were accustomed to a much more authoritarian theory of truth.

I took a follow-up course from Brother Keller called “American Christianity and the LDS Church” along with a friend of mine. Both of us were on intellectual trajectories which could very well have taken us out of Church activity. Brother Keller said something very perceptive at the end of the semester: “I know some of you have taken this class to get away from the LDS Church, but I hope that what you have learned here will help eventually bring you back towards it.” It did, Brother Keller.

I can’t say enough good about this man, although I’m disappointed that he shaved off his trademark mustache. 🙂

Do you have examples to share of teachers who’ve helped you stay Mormon, or just inspirational teachers in general?

Comments 15

  1. God has helped me stay Mormon because he answered my prayer. I asked him if Joseph Smith was indeed his prophet, and the answer was as clear as anything I have ever received. That answer helped me through some of the toughest times I’ve had as a member of this church.

  2. I worked with Bro. Keller when I was in a BYU Elder’s Quorum Presidency and he was our assigned High Councilor. I too have enormous respect for this man.

    IIRC, Nitsav, his original conversion was as an young adult… while in England in the military if these graying neurons can be trusted to fire properly.

    Oh, and if you ever have the chance, sing in *anything* that lets you sing alongside him. His highly-trained deep bass voice fills the room.

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    Chad and Nitsav,

    He rarely spoke about his conversion experience, but when he did, it was affecting. As regards his voice, I second the recommendation. I told him once he had a genteel accent as well, which he seemed to enjoy. It reminded me a bit of a toned-down Billy Graham.


    Touche’. Some of us are wired differently and appreciate human teachers who have influenced us profoundly.

    Anyone else had teachers who helped you stay in the faith? Or helped you in other ways?

  4. I liked Gerald Hansen. Hansen is on the religion department faculty at BYU-Idaho. I took a New Testament class from and it was by far one of the best classes I have taken period. Hansen eschewed much of the Mormon Culture see coming out of places like Deseret Book and dominates most LDS books stores. He was, however, faithful to the Gospel and served in the Church. He is also one of the lone Democrats in Idaho’s religion department. The lesson Hansen taught me was you don’t have to go along with the culture to be a devoted disciple of Christ.

  5. Ironically, the teacher who helped me the most (outside of one particular Seminary teacher who taught me for three years – Bro. Cowan) was Harvey Cox. It was amazing to me that a man who was SO respected by so many in the Protestant world could flat-out inspire and blow away budding theologians and ministers in training – mostly by teaching stuff that I had learned in my home, Primary, Sunday School and Seminary. I mean that with **absolutely** no disrespect, since I truly loved his classes, but the juxtaposition of his scholarly insights with that of my local primary teachers opened my eyes in a way that I never will forget. He taught me things in ways that I had never considered, and my greatest claim to fame was being the random student with whom he was talking in the main photo included in an article that was published world-wide (fame by random association!), but at the most basic level everything he taught I had learned as a child and youth. That realization was the beginning of my intense study of the apostasy.

    He also was a fabulously engaging lecturer; his graduate seminars were deep and profound; his approach to the NT was inspiring.

  6. John,

    I hope my comment didn’t come across wrongly. I was merely saying that I didn’t have anyone out there who helped me stay strong in the church, except for God. Outside of my wife, I’m quite alone in the church, and have been since I came home off my mission in February 1997. My mom and my sister left the church while I was on my mission when we were living in Utah. Only my Eastern European stubbornness and God’s answer has kept me in, because dang it, it’s true. And sometimes I hate that.

  7. Post


    Understood. Thanks for the explanation. I’ve enjoyed your comments here on MM.


    Tell us more about Harvey Cox. I had no idea you took his classes. Can you give an example of a concept he taught that you learned in Primary?

  8. Frederick G. Williams, III – Professor of Portuguese at BYU

    Prof. Williams was gracious enough to let me invite myself to lunch on numerous occasions. I look back now and think about all the time I wasted talking to him about trivial things. The man is a treasure-trove of knowledge and wisdom. I had my first major crisis of faith while doing an MA in Spanish. My issues were more epistemological, as in what can we really know, rather than any particular issue with church history. I was really depressed and nihilistic. One day, I spit out a list of injustices and atrocities in the world and basically said I felt like anarchy was the only option. He validated those concerns and then explained why he considered himself an optimist. He did not attempt to discount my feelings, but he listed all the goodness that had occurred in the world, which he attributed to the restoration of the gospel.

    I don’t know if I will ever be able to match his optimism, but it certainly helps to remember that no matter how bad things look, they’re never as bad as they seem. Muito obrigado, professor!

  9. Thanks for sharing that about your professor. I’ve never been on a similar path out of the Church, but I have a similiar love and respect for Stephen E. Robinson. He was my religion teacher for one full year at BYU, and I wish it could have been more.

    My respect for him grew before I knew him personally. While on my mission I was able to borrow my mission presidents’ copies of “Believing Christ” and “Following Christ”, and I’ve never been the same since. I had always had a testimony, but after reading those books my understanding of the gospel just “clicked”, and everything in the scriptures suddenly made so much more sense. My faith in and relationship to our Savior was deepened, and it was also a liberating and enlightening experience to understand my covenant relationship to Him. I became not only a better missionary, but also a better person. It has made me a better disciple, friend, husband, father—you name it. I have since given away many more copies of those books. If you haven’t already done so, I invite you to read or re-read “Believing Christ” and the sequel “Following Christ.” Or if you want to read or listen to the talk that led to the book, it’s on the BYU speeches website. Here’s the link to the text version: “Believing Christ: A Practical Approach to the Atonement.” You can also download and listen to it as an mp3 file. To not just believe in Christ, but to believe Christ, has turned on the power that faith in Christ can have on one’s life. This concept is explained much more eloquently by him in the book “Believing Christ”.

    I feel great satisfaction in knowing that I was able to come back from my mission and take classes from him at BYU. That was an added bonus and more enjoyable than I would have ever expected. I was never one to miss classes, but I especially made sure never to miss one of his. I still have the class notes. I took New Testament and then The Doctrine and Covenants from him. Those were my favorite days as a student at BYU.

    He was always very kind to let me visit with him one on one in his office and never made me feel rushed as I thirsted for more and asked questions and received insightful answers. His personality is one of a kind. I miss that time and hope life is treating him well.

    His gift, talent, skill, knowledge, frankness, and humor as a teacher has meant so much to me and always will. And his teaching opened up the scriptures to me in a way no other has—in a way that has made me think back so very often to the things I learned from him when I study the scriptures, teach, or participate in any gospel discussion. I can’t say that about any other religion class I ever took at BYU, or any other teacher. Then again, he wasn’t our typical BYU professor. I remember him bringing in his 32 ounce soda pop to class (obviously from some mini-mart off campus). One day some student finally asked him what he was drinking. (Remember, BYU doesn’t sell caffeinated drinks on campus.) He looked up with a sly look and said “Root Beer, and unless you taste it you wouldn’t know any different.” He taught without any pretense—he was the only BYU professor that would occasionally swear in class (mildly), and I even loved him more for it. He was a breath of fresh air. He got us to think about the gospel in a way very few can. Whether it was “stomping like an elephant” or “walking as if on egg shells”, the doctrines he taught have sunk deep into my soul and enriched my personal testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ– the greatest source of peace, hope, comfort, assurance, and joy.

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    Jimmy and Clean Cut,

    Thanks for sharing anecdotes from your professors. I think one thing BYU and BYU-Idaho do well is hire student-centered faculty, not just research superstars. I really enjoy the teaching focus on those campuses and the closeness of students and faculty (for the most part).

  11. My mother has been the greatest teaching influence upon me regarding gospel principles. She was also a school teacher by vocation for over 30 years. Teaching is her divine gift. She possesses the ability to clearly define right from wrong, and teach complex doctrine in simple ways. Thus, certain concepts are embedded deeply in me which have helped me hold on through some extreme testing times. Here are a few of her words of wisdom

    “The Church is True, but the people are not”.

    “Never allow your testimony to be based upon an individual. When they fall, you will fall right along with them”.

    “When something happens that hurts your feelings, makes you angry or offends you (AND IT WILL HAPPEN), it does not matter what happened, it is how you handle it that becomes critical. That person may be a complete idiot. You may be 100% justified. But you have to decide if it is worth losing all of your blessings just to prove a point. Leaving the church means allowing Satan to win. He sits back and has a great laugh at your expense. Denying the church means that you are selfishly willing to not only sacrifice your own personal exaltation and happiness but also that of your children and all future generations to come. How awful to have to look them all in the eye someday and be held accountable for that!”

    I could quote my mother on just about any topic, because her words are engraven into my heart. Her faith never wavers. She never worries about the small stuff. She knows that whatever the latest controversy or media hype or criticism is today, it will all pass away. She knows what really matters.

    “The Church is True. Period. You don’t have to know all the answers. You don’t have to prove anything to anybody. It stands on it’s own. It either is true or it isn’t and every person who has ever lived is allowed to choose for themselves. Once you choose that it IS true, everything else falls into place, and there is peace.”

  12. Pingback: Taking Back Sunday: A Call To Put Up Or Shut Up at Mormon Matters

  13. I have listened to Mr Keller’s teachings on “The Apostasy” as a Protestant who is investigating- seriously- the LDS Church. I am shocked that you people appreciated “Zen meditation” without understanding the spiritual ramifications of this practice. I am hurt that the Church I was looking to where I hoped to find solace from the new age movement and syncretistic beliefs (which are very prevalent in Protestantism) in His “restored Church”. Perhaps then this isn’t true. This man is teaching that other faiths are being led to Jehovah through Jesus *within* their current faith system and calls them “brothers”. I hear this all the time in my current Church circles- except we call it “liberalism”. Many call it “apostasy” funny enough!!

    So what am I to make of this? Do the LDS now worry so much that they aren’t, indeed, the true Church so much that they must become one within the swathe of religious waters in the world today? Must we confess that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God *and* that other religions also contain salvific truth? Or is Jesus Christ the only way?

    Do these other religions contain the ordinances and the authority restored- so I began to believe- through Joseph Smith? Then are they true or do they (as I believe) contain some truth. They cannot bow the knee to idols and statues (something that the Book of Mormon mentions) and at the same time be allowed to believe that all is well “brother”.

    Look- I am outside the LDS Church and yet can see the direction the ship is going in and it isn’t good people. I would recommend a book by Seraphim Rose (Orthodox Priest) who tried to warn his own denomination about TM, Buddhism, meditation and so forth many years ago (and apparently failed). His is a wake-up call to the Orthodox of his time to smell the roses.

    So I am shocked that a man converted from Presbyterian ministry and denominational trapping (many of these are liberal in any case) to the restored gospel given through Joseph Smith as found in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints should be allowed to introduce his students to the practice of meditation and so on. It’s scary.

    Oh well. I guess I should keep looking!

  14. Paul,

    I read your comments about the actions and teachings of one member of the only true and living churchg This one man and a few of his maybe or maybe not followers will not slow down, stop or bring down the mighty arm of God. If this man is teaching or preaching false doctrine in any way someone in authority will shut him down. The Holy Spirit will make sure of that through personal inspiration to the appropriate leaders. Always remember that this church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) belongs to Jesus the Christ.

    I don’t care for some of this man’s beliefs or teachings. He definitely has a different view of how to stay valiant in one’s quest to follow Christ back home to our Father. I don’t know him but I keep getting a feeling that he’s a good man whose teaching Christlike principles. But either way he does not effect me or my (proven to be true) beliefs.

    I have spent 30 years of my life trying to get and stay close to my sweet brother Jesus. I’m close right now and I want to share what I know to be true.

    Paul, with all my heart and soul I want you to know the following: Through hard knock experiences, deaths, births, temple marriages and sealings, serving others and from others serving me and through a myriad of close personal moments with the Holy Spirit I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is indeed our Redeemers’ church. It is His vehicle to help us obey and live the holy commandments.

    I know God the Eternal Father lives. I have had this burned deep into my soul by my friend the Holy Ghost. I know without a shadow of a doubt that my brother and your’s Jesus Christ lives. He loves you and me so much that he “freely” suffered our sins, our pains, our sorrows, all the negative, hurtful, destructive experiences that we have lived or will ever live.

    I have a firm testimony that Joseph Smith was the man that was called by the almighty to be the physical instrument in the restoration of Christ’s church back to earth.

    I know that Thomas S. Monson has been molded and prepared by Christ himself to be our prophet, seer and revelator at this time. I feel this man’s spirit when he speaks. The Holy Ghost has revealed to my soul that he is a righteous and humble man and a worthy valiant leader.

    My friend you have found the truth, don’t let any man get between you and God. If this man makes you feel like your losing the Spirit then I strongly suggest you simply avoid him or his teachings. He should only be teaching church approved curriculum in whatever capacity he is in. Again, if he isn’t he will be dealt with as the Lord sees fit.

    I promise you that you will experience more joy and happiness by being a member of the true kingdom of God than by any other person, place or thing on the earth.

    He lives, our loving compassionate Redeemer lives and he wants you to come home. I know you can do it Paul simply because I saw how firm you were when you stood up for something that you felt was wrong. I call that valiant traits. I hope you sincerely pray for spiritual help in your decision making at this time. Your decisions most definitely will have eternal consequences. You need to make sure your in tune with our Father in Heaven.

    God Bless You,

    Dave Pruett

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