SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – Tom Christofferson is an avid art collector, but one piece in his home speaks to him the most.
“I love that painting,” he says, gazing at “Other Sheep Have I” by Elspeth Young. “To me, that’s what we are all about,” he says.
The painting depicts a woman kneeling at the feet of the resurrected Christ. “Wherever we are,” he says, “we are still a part of his flock. We can connect with him wherever we are.”
Christofferson describes himself as a “happy gay Mormon,” a status he said he has achieved after intense trials. The younger brother of Mormon apostle D. Todd Christofferson, he came out to his family in 1985. He said their reaction was positive, even as he told them he was going to pursue a same-sex relationship.
“We had a family meeting,” said Christofferson. “The gist of it was my mom saying to my brothers and their wives – ‘The most important lesson your children will learn from how our family treats their Uncle Tom is that nothing they ever do will take them outside the circle of our family’s love,'” he recalled.
And nothing took him away from that bond, including his 20-year relationship with his same-sex partner.
“I asked to be excommunicated from the church,” he said. “I hadn’t been able to come to the conclusion of how to be gay and Mormon. I just wanted to figure out if I could be gay and happy.”
Christofferson says he was happy with his partner, living all around the U.S., including Connecticut, where he and his partner frequently attended an LDS ward. He says members there embraced the couple and accepted them. Still, they could not fully participate in church ordinances and rituals because of their relationship.
After a 20-year relationship, the couple decided to separate. Christofferson says he felt the urge to be re-baptized into the church. The transition was painful.
“[My partner] definitely felt that I had chosen the church over him,” he recalled, saying the couple tried hard to maintain the relationship.
Christofferson was reinstated as a member of the church shortly after the split.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long opposed measures to legalize same-sex marriage. Last weekend at the church’s semiannual General Conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks reaffirmed the church’s official position about marriage and the family.
“God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife,” said Oaks, citing the 1995 Latter-day Saint document “The Family: A Proclamation to the World.”
Oaks affirmed that position while recognizing many states and governments are now accepting of same-sex marriage.
His speech angered many in the LGBTQ Mormon community. Christofferson says he “appreciated” that Oaks took the time to address the topic. Still, he feels there are few answers for LGBTQ individuals who strive to remain in the faith.
“We believe that God will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the kingdom,” said Christofferson, quoting the church’s 9th Article of Faith. Christofferson said he hopes church leaders and members will keep their hearts open to receive more information from God about His will toward LGBTQ individuals.
His book “That We May Be One” hit Deseret Book shelves recently. He said it’s not an autobiography, nor is it a “recipe book” for how to live a “happy gay Mormon” lifestyle. His story is his alone, and in the book he said he simply set out to show his family’s journey as he came out, as well as the journey of his church family as they grew to accept him and his partner into their congregation.
The hardest part of the book to write, he said, was about the November 2015 church policy change, which officially prohibited children of same-sex couples from being baptized. The “November Policy,” as it’s called among LGBTQ members, also labeled same-sex married couples as “apostates.”
The policy came a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. Many in the LGBTQ community felt hurt by the church’s announcement. Some left the faith.
As soon as the news broke, Christofferson says he got a call while he was enjoying a Utah Symphony concert. It was his brother, Elder Christofferson.
“[Todd] said ‘if you feel you need to distance yourself from me, I will understand,” he recalled. “What I think he meant was, ‘this is gonna hit hard for people you love.’ I said to him, ‘Look, it can’t have been easy for you to have a gay brother who doesn’t seem to shut up,” Christofferson said with a snicker. “And you never distanced yourself from me, and I am not going to distance myself from you.'”
Christofferson said his relationship with his brother and other family members works because they communicate with each other about hard topics.
He is openly supportive of his LGBTQ friends. Still, Christofferson knows his story might leave some wondering why he re-joined a church whose teachings prohibit same-sex relationships.
He said the decision to leave the church or to stay is a purely personal one – a point he tried to emphasize in his book. Christofferson says he hopes the book will help church leaders, members and families seek unity surrounding a sometimes divisive issue.
“Have the courage to be together, learn from each other,” he pleads with gays and Mormons. “Make a place in every pew.”
“That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family” is available now.