“Nothing will take them out of the circle of our family’s love”: Tom Christofferson’s book on being Mormon and gay

I have been waiting in anticipation to read Tom Christofferon’s book That We May Be One ever since it was announced. Tom Christofferson is the brother of the LDS apostle D. Todd Christofferson. He is gay, and spent 19 years married to a same-sex partner outside the Church. Now as a member in full fellowship, he has shared his story in a desire to help LGBT brothers and sisters and their families. I was able to meet Tom last year at the Northstar conference where he was a keynote speaker. To me, he had a quiet and humble faith about him that gave one a sense of his spiritual maturity. I feel that comes out very well in his book. He doesn’t try to draw attention to himself. He also is very charitable in his remarks about Church members and the institutional Church. He states at the end that “I am not a psychiatrist or a trained mental health professional. I am not a general authority. I do not hold myself out as a role model… I am simply one who aspires to become steady and trustworthy disciple of my Lord. I am a son, a brother, an uncle, a friend.

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Tom’s sharing of his experiences to me is holy. It is in such moments of vulnerability that we can come to grow and embody Christ’s love. Tom’s story is ultimately a story of conversion, not just a story of being Mormon and gay. When I first put my own story to paper, I tried to express this concept myself, that my experience being gay is an integral part of the faith I have today.

The book begins in a poignant moment with Tom and his partner driving past a local LDS church building as they looked for a new home in New Canaan, Connecticut. Tom comes back to this moment multiple times in the book, and I think that moment reflects the draw that all LGBT members feel towards their membership in the Church. Even when we distance ourselves because we feel hurt or rejected or lost, we feel drawn to our spiritual roots and a place we called, call, or wish to call home.

The part I found the most moving in Tom’s story was the depth of his family’s love, and their willingness to express it. I was trying to calculate when these events were occurring– perhaps in the seventies or eighties. Even in a time when the topic of homosexuality was still anathema, his family in their own private circle were showing a mature and full level of Christlike love.

In their first family meeting after Tom came out, his mom expresses their family’s resolution to love and keep Tom and his boyfriend in the family circle: “I’m ashamed to say it, but there was a time when I thought we were the perfect Mormon family… I thought we really had it all figured out. But then life happens, and I realized that there is no perfect Mormon family. The only thing we can really be perfect at is loving each other. The most important thing your children will learn from how our family treats their Uncle Tom is that nothing they can ever do will take them outside the circle of our family’s love.” The family embraced them, not shying away or hiding it from the kids. This gave me a deep sense of awe.

The part I found most profound was Tom’s theme of living in paradox. This has been my own experience, and reminded me of similar discussions found on LDS Perspectives and Fowler’s Stages of Faith. Tom included a quote from Bob Rees that expresses that sentiment:

I distrust two kinds of Mormon: those who only think, and those who never think; I distrust two kinds of Mormon: those who only feel, and those who never feel; it is living the tension– any member of any religion will tell you if they are vitally engaged in that religion there is tension, and we can’t escape it and so therefore we should embrace it. Christ’s life is an embracing of tension, Christ’s life is an embracing of paradox and conundra and enigma, it’s trying to make things work that don’t seem to work.

On some days I have felt that being gay and Mormon doesn’t seem to work. But Christ’s incarnation, the ultimate paradox of being both god and man, shows that God is big enough to contain multitudes. We really do believe in an infinite Atonement, and it is in such experiences when I get vertigo from realizing what infinite really means.

I was also touched when Tom included a chapter entitled Daily Bread. I first came across this concept from Tom’s brother Elder Christofferson in a video of the same name. This principle has given me hope and sustained me in times of trouble. Elder Christofferson explains through his own personal experiences that we can only live one day at a time accepting the daily bread that the Lord provides, as the Israelites did with the manna from heaven. When I first saw this video, I felt a deep and abiding confirmation that I would be a faithful member and disciple of Christ if lived by daily bread. Daily bread reminds us that we can’t be perfect all in a day, neither will we ever have all the answers. The just live by faith.

The one aspect I wish Tom would have been able to express more is his experience during his 19 years outside the Church. He spends very little book time here, partly for understandable reasons of wanting to respect his partner’s privacy. In the end, choosing to exclude those chapters of his life perhaps make the book an easier read for members just barely beginning to wrestle with the complexities of the LGBT-Mormon interface. Tom’s book adds a lot to the discussion imbuing it with both honesty and charity without a need to speak with a “tell it how it is” tone.

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