Book Review: That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective On Faith and Family

When I was in college, in the early 90s, a friend commented that she wished that gays were better treated in church. Another friend asked what that might look like. She responded that she hoped we’d come to a point where someone could say to a ward member, “Please stop trying to set me up with your daughter—I’m gay,” and that that person would still be welcomed in the ward.

I remember thinking that that would never happen.

I’m painfully aware that some LGBTQ saints are treated very poorly, but I’m pleased to be at least partially wrong in my thinking. I certainly would not have thought that I’d see the day when a member of the Quorum of the Twelve would talk approvingly of a gay seminary teacher in General Conference, and I absolutely positively did not think that Deseret Book would ever publish anything including these sentences: “Being gay is one of the great blessings of my life” and “If you are the parent of a gay child who decides to marry a same-sex partner, I encourage you to be there, to participate fully and with happiness for their happiness.”

But here we are.

Tom Christofferson has written a book called That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective On Faith and Family , and Deseret Book has published it. The book will have an added measure of moral authority with many members of the church because Christofferson’s brother, D. Todd Christofferson, is a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, and much of the book concerns the reaction of the extended Christofferson family to Tom’s coming out, asking to be excommunicated, and then living for decades with a male partner. (The story of the extended family’s loyalty to Tom and his partner is one of the best parts of the book and wrung tears out of even my cold, shriveled heart.)

The book is largely a memoir, with a few sections devoted to spiritual lessons that Tom has learned. The power of the latter sections is such that I hope that even people with minimal interest in LGBTQ issues would read the book.

Tom’s journey back to the church is a fascinating one: it involved a ward who welcomed him—and his partner—with open arms. Tom argues against the idea that shunning is somehow necessary to remind gays of the commandments and points out that, when he was ready to return to full activity, he did not have to overcome the additional barriers of bitterness and pride that family or ward ostracism would have created.

I was continually surprised by how amazing Christofferson is. Here he is responding to “a common tendency of those who feel that they need to disaffiliate from the Church” to choose to violate commandments in order to show the world that they are not LDS. He writes: “If reading this book is your last stop before throwing in your towel, I appeal to you: if you feel the need to show you are different from Mormons, then please be a more consistent Christian than we sometimes are.”

Ouch. And: wow. He also writes, “If your gay, lesbian, or bisexual loved one has decided to look for a same-sex partner, I think you might suggest trying to select someone with whom he or she can kneel in prayer each day.” And this is one of my favorite passages:

“I find myself a member of two tribes. I love equally my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer brothers and sisters, as well as my fellow Latter-day Saints, and I so desperately want each to love and esteem the other. I love my Mormon brothers and sisters for their eagerness to help one another and the wider world; I love them for their devotion to duty; I love their decency and their reverence for things sacred. I love my queer brothers and sisters for their zest for life; I love their humor and sensitivity to others; I love that they seek fairness for all; I love their loyalty and their optimism for a better tomorrow. This Zion we are venturing to create needs all of these strengths and all of these gifts. Every individual is needed and wanted in His kingdom.”

I hope that this book reaches a wide audience; it has the potential to actually move the conversation forwards on LGBTQ issues in the church. It is true that the prose is more workmanlike than transcendent (Christofferson is a businessman, not a professional writer), but this book is truly a gem. It is required reading for LGBTQ LDS and the people who love them—and I would hope that would be all of us.

 

29 comments for “Book Review: That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective On Faith and Family

  1. kaeley.scruggs
    September 29, 2017 at 10:03 am

    This was a lovely article, and I’m glad it was helpful. I also have faith it will benefit many people, many of my relatives at the very least. I was quite put out about how you called people who are gay, “gays” that’s not very respectful and I ask that you choose different wording in those instances. Thanks for reading the book, I hope eventually a large majority of people read the book.

  2. Jerry Schmidt
    September 29, 2017 at 10:11 am

    As the parent of one has ostensibly separated spiritually from the LDS church over LGBTQ topcs, and having myself maintained a distance from the church over this and other topics, this review is encouraging. Again referencing Clark Goble, this continues the dialogue, and helps set the tone for future dialogue, at least for the topic of LGBTQ community identifiers, their family, friends, and larger community still learning to adapt to this phenomenon.

  3. Julie M. Smith
    September 29, 2017 at 10:28 am

    kaeley.scruggs,

    The two instances where “gays” is used in the post are where I am indirectly quoting others: my college friend in the first instance and a hypothetical shunner-of-LGBTQ-people in the second. It’s not language I would choose to use myself, but I use it to reflect those perspectives.

  4. Aaron Brown
    September 29, 2017 at 7:58 pm

    Thanks, Julie. I look forward to reading this.

    Aaron B

  5. September 30, 2017 at 12:52 pm

    I don’t plan on reading the book. I don’t want to read about someone who had to give up the person he loved so he could join the Church. This is just plain wrong. When I was young, we used to criticize the Catholic Church for imposing celibacy on its priests. And now, here we go imposing celibacy on the LGBTQ community. I wish Tom well, but I’m sorry he had to make the sacrifice that he did.

  6. MTodd
    September 30, 2017 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks for this review. I am glad this book exists and hope it helps reduce instances of the evil practice of shunning.

  7. Cameron N.
    September 30, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    @rogerdhansen, he didn’t have to. He chose to.

  8. September 30, 2017 at 10:38 pm

    This sounds encouraging. Thanks for the review, Julie!

  9. Brian
    October 1, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    Cameron N., in context, what rodgerdhansen wrote is true: Tom had to give up the relationship to become a member again. But yes, he chose to rejoin the faith.

  10. Old Man
    October 1, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    Julie,
    Kaeley does bring up a point about vocabulary, and I hope you do not perceive this as a thread-jack. But I am absolutely ignorant when it comes to selecting an appropriate vocabulary to discuss this issue in church. If “gay” bothers Kaeley and others, what do I say? “Gay” means different things to various people. Does it mean one who is homosexual? Does it refer to an activist, critical of conservatives and the values of the LDS Church? Do I refer to Tom as “gay,” “homosexual” or what? How does an old man like myself handle speak with clarity without offending anyone?

  11. Lee Williams
    October 1, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    I am a gay man about the same age as Tom. I was excommunicated 3 decades ago for being a gay activist—not for any sexual transgression. Like Tom, I was re-baptized into the Church 3 years ago. Like Tom, I also teach Gospel Doctrine in my ward. Tom left a nearly 20 year committed, loving relationship with his partner Clark. Unlike Tom, I was never so fortunate—nor blessed, with the kind of relationship Tom had. But I bear witness that if God so likewise led me to a rarefied relationship that Tom knew with Clark, I would leave the Church to have it, to hold it, and cherish it. Despite my membership in the Church, this is the hole in my life. Membership in the church filled the hole that was in Tom’s life.

    He reports that the break-up of this relationship was painful. But there is no equivalent consideration had that relationship and its dissolution been of opposite sex partners or even more profound, an actual marriage. All stops would have been pulled out to save such a relationship with overwhelming angst should it fail.

    Next Sunday, Tom and I will be back teaching our Sunday School classes. Both of us will be grateful for our callings. But one of us, deep in his heart, will be longing for what the other had, and left behind to be teaching that class.

    What appears to be presented in the book as the conclusion of Tom Christofferson’s journey is hardly that. He’s not dead yet. His story will take a very different twist should he fall in love again.

  12. MH
    October 2, 2017 at 12:27 am

    Lee: thanks for such a sincere comment.

  13. Walker F
    October 2, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Great review, Julie! I am excited to read this, and I hope to share it with friends and family.

  14. October 2, 2017 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks Julie for bringing this up and your review. Wonderful as usual. I cannot imagine growing up gay in this culture and Church. There have been long strides…and long strides to go.

  15. p
    October 2, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    Bro Williams, that’s one of the more extraordinary comments I’ve ever read on any Mormon blog & miles off the approved talking points of the official LDS script. As you correctly imply, the Brethren, and in particular our current expert, Dallin Oaks, do not consider same-sex relationships fully human, and so disparage these at every turn, despite ample evidence to the contrary that a one-size-fits-all approach is harmful. FYI there are many in the straight camp who deplore this abject lunacy and the damage it does to individuals and our beloved church.

  16. Mortimer
    October 4, 2017 at 1:09 pm

    I haven’t been able to read the book yet, but I’ve listened to Tom’s podcast on Mormon Matters and read several reviews online. I’m struck by how logical, thoughtful and disciplined Tom is when he makes life decisions. It reminds me a lot of Todd. I think both men are exceptional in that way.

    As much as I like many of the themes in his book and appreciate the caveat he repeatedly gives that he does not advocate his path for others (leaving a partner/spouse, etc.), I can’t help but be annoyed at the fact that this is more of a white-washed faith-promoting story as opposed to a true memoir. His is a rose-colored story of finding opportunities and of being quite blessed and frankly, lucky. I think it would have been more valuable if he had drawn out more of the pain, more of the ostracism and experienced more of a typical response from neighbors, PH leaders and ward members. More realistic struggles would have made the narrative more relatable. I wonder whether having a close GA relative makes a difference in his life experience. Who’s going to throw darts at a GA’s brother? I don’t think that he is the “norm” and additionally, I think he has high emotional intelligence and looks past the pain to focus on the goal. He didn’t “go dark” in his book by describing the psychological/social torture in vivid detail. He instead focused on the “helpers” in his life, the outcome, and the steps he took to get there. Ok. Fair enough, but the epic looses value without the trauma. The end result of this approach is yet another super positive example held up to the saints that many/most are not capable of obtaining. If people find solace, inspiration, and value to it, then great, but I think that it lacks the emotional vulnerability to help LGBT people who have been far less fortunate in our midst. Maybe another way of saying all this is a guy talking matter-of-factly instead of someone writing with their heart on their sleeve. His action and intent were extremely vulnerable and admirable, but I’m not convinced that his writing or narrative is.

  17. Suzanne Neilsen
    October 7, 2017 at 2:04 am

    Amen, rogerdhansen, Amen.
    And that is as charitable as i can be.

  18. Johnny
    October 8, 2017 at 10:57 am

    Julie:

    I think it is nice that this book was published by Deseret Book. However, how does this square with the separating policies of the church concerning LGTBQ couples and their children? Also, the church still looks down on these individuals as sinful and clearly less than. E. Oaks validated these policies and attitudes recently in Conference. So, publishing the book seems to be more about the church wanting to be seen as “lovingly” and condescendingly putting the LGTBQ community on restriction. The church still “loves” these poor wretched souls that are still lost. It puts out its hand but still has the other hand clenched in a fist.

  19. Cameron N
    October 8, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    Johnny, you’re seeing what you want to see. The policy is intended to prevent dissonance from harming children’s emotions and reduce or prevent enmity between the two. Individuals may look down, but the church does not, nor do its leaders. The church didn’t publish the book–Tom did. It seems clear he did it out of personal motivation, not that he was approached by anyone. The church is a group of millions of people. Many members still have much improvement in this area, but from my standpoint things have improved quite a bit over the past 10 years, and will continue to do so.

  20. p
    October 9, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    “The policy is intended to prevent dissonance from harming children’s emotions and reduce or prevent enmity between the two.”

    Are we talking about the same “policy” here? – b/c I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  21. Aaron K.
    October 12, 2017 at 3:06 pm

    I wonder how many gays listened to Jesus as he delivered his Sermon on the Mount.

  22. Ted B
    October 12, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    There is no doubt a part of the LDS leadership and membership hates being called homophobic. But at the same time, they drive policies that can simply not be aptly described without using the word homophobic. They want so desperately for the LDS church not to be blamed for indirectly driving LGBTQ youths to suicide. But why is the teen suicide rate the highest in Utah? It can’t be altitude since Colorado and New Mexico have lower suicide rates with similar altitudes.

  23. John Mansfield
    October 13, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    The Utah suicide counts in the 15- to 19-year-old bracket for the years 1999 through 2014 were 27, 27, 26, 27, 28, 27, 18, 22, 23, 25, 26, 26, 24, 37, 36, and 55; a total of 428 over those 16 years. How many of those 428 are thought to have been homosexuals? It is hard to understand the model that people are using when they look at a statistic involving an entire population and try to tease out matters involving a small subset of that population, but it is one that is being gestured at repeatedly. Why was there a large increase in youth suicide in Utah in 2012? Whatever it was wouldn’t be something stressing only a few percent of youth, unless the response to that stress multiplied suicides among that subgroup by a couple orders of magnitude.

  24. Ted B
    October 13, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    Go on the ex-Mormon subreddit. You’ll read story after story from LGTBQs talking of the hardship and distress that they have faced because of Mormon culture. Any notion that Mormon culture and the Mormon leadership is somehow loving and accepting toward LGBTQs is pure unadulterated nonsense. Beneath the veneer of tolerance and love hides a thick underbelly of homophobia.

  25. Clark Goble
    October 15, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    John, it’s worth reading FAIR’s recent post on the suicide rate. I’ve not looked closely, but I do think confounding variables often aren’t carefully adjusted for.

    Ted, there’s no doubt there are homophobic people who conflate the law of chastity into a fear or loathing of those who are gay. How many people do that I’m a bit more skeptic. But of course you don’t need many people doing it for people to encounter it. On the other hand there are many people who do love unconditionally as well. Part of the problem though is that some demand as love full acceptance of the act, which most members are not willing to do given their commitments to the law of chastity. I’d fully agree that we, as members, still struggle here and still could definitely do a better job. But I also think, as past discussions here have attested, there’s a certain unbridgeable gulf as well between expectations.

  26. John Mansfield
    October 16, 2017 at 11:56 am

    Clark, the data in that FAIR post is mostly state youth suicide counts without any breakdown into subgroups. Down in the comments there is a link to a CDC summary which links to a report: “Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 — United States and Selected Sites, 2015” That report has no data regarding suicide. It only deals with self-reported thoughts, plans and atttempts. Suicide attempt is an unhealthy behavior in its own right, but the connection between suicide attempts and actual deaths is very weak. The suicide rate for 15- to 19-year-olds in 2015 was 9.76 per 100,000 in the WISQARS database, but the report linked above says 8.6% of youth attempted suicide during the 12 months before the survey. That’s 880 youth who attempted suicide for every one that died. Suicide attempts are a common phenomenon; suicides are rare and not even usefully predicted by attempts.
    The CDC report has 29.4% of homosexual youth attempting suicide compared to 6.4% of heterosexual youth. Does that 5:1 ratio also extend to completed suicides? Maybe, maybe not. The same tables indicate that the percentage of girls who attempted is almost twice the percentage for boys, yet boys who killed themselves outnumbered girls 3 to 1.
    Even supposing that the suicide rate among homosexual youth is five times the heterosexual rate, in line with the ratio for attempts, and supposing that homosexual youth are 3% of all youth, they would still be only 13% of all suicides among their age group. No one can look at statewide suicide counts and discern anything from them about homosexuals.

  27. Clark Goble
    October 16, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    I think the main issue was that Colorado and Utah were similar, suggesting the cause is environmental rather than ideological (since Colorado is much more liberal than Utah and with far, far fewer Mormons). I can’t recall if FAIR mentioned it, but I suspect this is tied to the relationship of altitude to depression and suicide. A secondary factor is that both states have lots of rural areas and that also correlates strongly with suicide due to loneliness (although moreso with middle aged white men rather than youth) As for the increase in suicides starting around 2012 there are lots of thoughts as to why. It is happening in many more places than just Utah. Some think tensions from the recession were affecting it (although one could ask why the 4 year delay) while others ascribe it to social media and ubiquity of mobile devices.

    But I agree with your larger point that we need more detailed data to draw conclusions.

  28. Bruce F.
    October 19, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    I have often wondered if those called to guide the church are called because of specific experiences they have had, and because of those experiences we as a church will hear them as they speak on those topics. One Apostle has identified himself as having personal experience in surviving depression, and we listen to him a little harder on the topic because we know he’s been there. I cannot help but think that we might listen to Elder Christofferson a little more carefully, should he ever speak on this topic. It makes me wonder how many conference addresses are a result of their personal life experiences.

  29. October 20, 2017 at 1:53 am

    A few years ago I authored a post for the Mormon Chronicle, entitled “Homosexuality and the Gospel: A Scriptural Refutation of Modern Propaganda.” You can find it here:

    https://www.mormonchronicle.com/homosexuality-and-the-gospel-a-scriptural-refutation-of-modern-propaganda/

    A correct understanding of the scriptures should precede any commentary on this issue, whether or not one’s brother is a General Authority. Judging by most of the comments on this page, few people have turned to the scriptures to seek guidance on this issue, yet we know that the Lord does not give new revelation on issues that He has already addressed elsewhere. I have many more things to say on this issue, but they have basically all been said in the article. I hope you will read it.

Charitable Comments Welcome