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.