In “That We May Be One“, Tom Christofferson (brother of Elder D. Todd Christofferson) shares perspectives gained from his life’s journey as a gay man who left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and then returned to it. After having asked to be excommunicated from the faith he was raised in, Tom spent two decades in a loving relationship with a committed partner. But gradually, the love of family, friends, and strangers and the Spirit of the Lord worked on him until he found himself one night sitting in his car in front of the bishop’s house.
In this excerpt from the book, Tom shares his reaction to the 2015 policy changes that affected many LGBTQ members and friends around the world.
On November 5, 2015, I was in California on business, and during my last meeting my phone vibrated nearly constantly, indicating a considerable number of incoming messages. As I was being driven back to the airport, I saw that many messages were asking whether the reports rapidly spreading across social media about a new Church policy were accurate. That policy included for the first time gay marriage as one of the cases for Church discipline under the heading of apostasy, indicating that the children of gay unions could not receive any ordinances until their eighteenth birthdays, and then, only upon condition of renouncing same-sex marriage. I was certain these were only rumors, and I texted my brother Todd to check. His reply indicated that indeed a new policy had been released, and the copies of it online were accurate. I was stunned. I think many people were.
While apparently the policy’s coverage of children of a gay union was borrowed from an existing policy covering the children of a polygamous union, I doubt that very many people at that point were familiar with those provisions. As painful as the concept was of adults I loved being labeled apostates – my conception of apostasy at that point was of an active effort to dissuade others from their faith – the thought that somehow the actions of parents would have bearing on our willingness to offer ordinances to children seemed to me completely at odds with basic gospel concepts.
I could not wrap my mind around it. As I boarded a flight to return to my home in Salt Lake City, the thought came to me that I should spend the flight delving into the scriptures to see if any peace could be found. I turned to a favorite chapter in the New Testament, the sixth chapter of John’s gospel. It begins with Jesus feeding the five thousand; then at evening His disciples without Jesus went to the Sea of Galilee, on which there were high winds, and rowed out some distance. They saw Christ walking on the water toward them and were afraid. At Capernaum the next day, the Savior taught the people that He was the bread of life, telling them, “This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he eateth of this bread shall live forever” (John 6:58). Many of those who followed him said, “This is an hard saying; who can hear it” (v. 59), and “from that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (v. 66). And then this glorious passage:
“Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (vv. 67-69).
In times past when I had read those verses, I had heard in my mind a ringing declaration of faith, of Peter’s certainty. This night as I read them, the message seemed to be that when we are presented with hard things, things we do not understand, we are left with Peter to cling to what we do know: that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
The next evening, I was attending a concert by the Utah Symphony, a powerful performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. It is a long work; a performance will last over an hour. After its premiere, the composer is reported to have said, “Nobody understood it. I wish I could conduct the first performance fifty years after my death.” I had a similar feeling about the policy: I wished I could fast-forward fifty years and be able to see and understand the impact of the policy with the benefit of hindsight.
At the interval, I saw that Todd had tried to reach me. I returned his call, and he said that he had just taped an interview with the managing director of Church Public Affairs, Michael Otterson. He then said, “If you feel you need to distance yourself from me, I will understand.”
You can read more in, “That We May Be One.”