SALT LAKE CITY — A crowd of about 700 gathered to listen to a panel discussion featuring Tom Christofferson, author of a new book that chronicles his story of life as a gay man away from the Mormon Church and his spiritual journey back.
Christofferson, brother of LDS Apostle Elder D. Todd Christofferson, was joined by his former local religious leaders, Bruce Larson and Dave Checketts, for Thursday’s Deseret Book sponsored panel discussion at the University of Utah's Libby Gardner Hall.
This was one of many recent speaking events for the author of recently released book, “That We May Be One.”
Thursday’s event at the U. was not about him, Christofferson said, but about his LDS ward, or local congregation, members in Connecticut.
Tom Christofferson was born and raised in an active LDS family as the youngest of five brothers. The youngest Christofferson served a mission and was married in 1984, but soon realized he needed to come out as gay, he shares in his book.
Christofferson dedicated the book to his parents, whom he calls the “foundational blessing of his life.” Love was given without any qualifications, he said.
“My parents sought answers and received them about how best to lead their family,” Christofferson said. “And it really ended up with the idea that nothing anyone could do would take them outside the circle of our family’s love.”
Christofferson was part of a committed same-sex relationship for 20 years. His oldest brother, Elder Christofferson, never pressured him to return to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He decided to return to the church after he was warmly welcomed and accepted by an LDS ward in New Canaan, Connecticut, outside of New York City.
“I felt the spiritual elements of my life needed to be strengthened,” he said of his decision to return to church.
Larson was bishop of the ward, or congregation, Christofferson attended in 2008. He said from his first meeting with Christofferson, he could he tell “this was a special soul.”
“There were dozens of people in the ward who, in their own way, were trying to figure out how to be helpful and ‘How do I make Tom feel welcome?’” Larson said. “And they mostly treated him like a friend. And the kinds of conversations we had over a long period of time — about things that were very deep and very personal, and many of which neither one of us had answers to — couldn’t help but bring us close together.”
Checketts was Christofferson’s stake president, assigned to preside over the group of congregations in Christofferson's geographical area. The two met together every Saturday morning. Checketts described intense study sessions during which Christofferson would arrive with pages of scriptural references.
“We would study and pray together, and it doesn’t take very long doing that to really grow close to a person, and we became great friends,” Checketts said.
Christofferson hopes all of LGBTQ people feel welcome at LDS churches, whether they are members or not, just as he and his now-former partner were welcomed in the Connecticut ward.
“In my ward, everyone wanted to know me and wanted me to know them,” Christofferson said.
He urged LDS members to ask themselves how they can create "an environment where anyone who comes through chapel doors will feel like they’re at home.”
Christofferson believes his book can help build bridges and create unity “that we may all be one.”
“That’s LGBTQ people, that’s people with faith challenges, that’s people with any other challenge, because we all have something that we’re dealing, right?” he said.
Christofferson’s book, “That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family,” is available at Deseret Book.
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