Robert Johnson Christensen (1943-2005)
"Our Good Friend Forever:" A slide show tribute in memory of Robert (PPS format, 6.78 MB)
Robert Johnson Christensen passed away Saturday, July 30, 2005 in Taipei, Taiwan of complications of cerebrovascular disease.
Robert was born April 22, 1943 in Payson, Utah. He graduated in 1961 from Highland High School in Salt Lake City. Bob served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the French East Mission, and graduated with honors in 1967 from Yale University.
After beginning a graduate program in Chinese Art and Archaeology at Princeton, Bob went to Taiwan for additional language study, but stayed indefinitely. He taught English to ESL classes and private students, copy edited or translated for the Journal of Chinese Philosophy, Central News Agency and several other organizations, and contributed numerous articles to the Asian Wall Street Journal and various Asian publications. Some of the articles were commentaries on the Taipei arts scene or concert reviews, reflecting Bob's interests. Somewhat later, Bob completed an M.A. in English in 1992 at Taiwan National University, and then did additional graduate work at the University of Oregon before returning to Taiwan.
Bob had an enthusiastic, affable personality with seemingly endless energy. He befriended many people and had a genuine, enduring interest in them. He was always sincere and forgiving. Bob was preceded in death by his father. He is survived by his mother, two brothers, a niece, and a generous and supportive extended family.
We are especially grateful to Bishop Ross Chiles (Taiwan), as well as the many friends and associates who have assisted or befriended Bob over these many years.
Memorial services in Taipei were held on Saturday, August 27. Graveside services in Utah were held at Spanish Fork Cemetery on Friday, August 26, 2005.
We invite Robert's friends to
with tributes that we will posted permanently on this page.
Tribute by Alan Blodgett
I first became acquainted with Robert through his postings on Q-Saints in the mid 1990s, was impressed with his vision and insightfulness and found his messages interesting to read. It wasn't until we both attended planning meetings for the Affirmation Portland National Conference in 1998 that I got to know Robert well. Robert was living in Eugene and when he came to Portland he needed a place to stay and most often stayed at my place. Not only did Robert frequently stay at my house, he often accompanied me on trips to attend Sunstone, Affirmation and Gamofite events. Driving to such places as Tahoe or Salt Lake City, we had many hours to discuss the matters we considered important at the time. Being trained as an accountant, I tend to take the simpler and more practical approach to issues. Robert, on the other hand, a student of philosophy and literature, was inclined to delve much more deeply, exploring aspects of morality and ethics and often took issue with simple solutions.
Robert had a keen intellectual curiosity. He loved to read and has a
vast collection of scholarly books and papers. Hardly a day went by
that he didn't peruse the New York Times, often calling attention
to obscure matters that I would have readily passed over. He loved to
discourse on matters of interest to him either in person or by use of
the Internet. He had a wide field of acquaintances with whom he exchanged
Robert was an able writer. A drawback was, however, that he could never quite satisfy himself with the finished product, and tended to keep working on papers for months or years, sometimes never considering them quite complete. He wrote countless letters to newspaper editors and was often published. He enjoyed organizing sessions for both a Sunstone Symposium or an Affirmation Conference. He delighted in discussing controversial issues.
After finishing his degree at Yale University, Robert pursued Asian Studies in his graduate program. Initially his interest was centered on Japan, then he became interested in the Chinese. He took up residence for 25 years in Hong Kong and Taiwan, working as a copy editor, translator, and teacher of the English language. He had many friends and was revered as the eccentric American scholar. One of his objectives was to complete his doctoral studies and as a result, he left Taiwan for Eugene, Oregon to attend the University of Oregon. It was during the seven or so years that he was in Eugene that I came to know him so well.
Robert always aspired to returning to Taiwan where he felt most at home and felt he had the greatest opportunity to put his talents to work. Even though his health had begun to fail, he left Oregon in May 2002 to return to Taipei. Due to poor health he wasn't able to get the full time job he had hoped for, but took ad hoc jobs to earn enough to make ends meet. He suffered the effects of advance diabetes and had two strokes. It was just as he was beginning to think that he might have to return to the United States that the end came.
Robert was one of a kind. A friend described him as "A man without boundaries" because of his casual manner and dress and unconventional ways in social settings. In actuality, Robert was a man with well defined boundaries. He developed a moral code for himself that was in his mind was well defined and inviolate. Social niceties were not as important to him as adhering to the gospel of Jesus Christ as found in the Sermon on the Mount. Robert had a good heart. He often did things to help me, and others, at times when it required a great sacrifice on his part.
Robert and I often disagreed and didn't always treat each other as well as we should have, but even so, I consider him one of my dearest friends who added immeasurably to my life. Up until shortly before his death hardly a day went by that he didn't in some way contact me by e-mail. I am so very sad because of the void that Robert's death has caused in my life. I am, however, ever so grateful for his friendship during the past ten years.
August 5, 2005
Tribute by Nelson
Dear Robert's Friends,
Thank you for coming to Robert's ceremony service. I was Robert's closest friend in these two years. Robert was an optimist. He had a rich and colorful lifetime. Although Robert didn't own an abundance of material possessions in his old age, he had wonderful friendships with us. Robert always looked happy every time I saw him. Even when he was in poor health, he even remembered to remind his friends "take care of yourself or what can I do for you?". I am glad In the service we felt less sadness but keep hold of our happy memories as we remember Robert. Hope you enjoyed the music program. Thank you for it that you did the every thing for Robert.
Report of the Memorial Service Held in Spanish Fork
by Alan Blodgett
The following is extracted from a report I sent to his friend, Nelson, who was with Robert until the end. The service in Spanish Fork Utah went well, although I was disappointed that it was not held in Salt Lake City so more of Robert's friends could attend. As it was about 30 people were there, about five were Robert's friends and the rest were family and friends of his mother. Among the friends I was happy to see our beloved Millie Watts from Provo, a co-founder of Family Fellowship.
The day was beautiful. I rode with Robert's brother, Danis, mother and niece, Jamie, so I had a chance to get better acquainted with them and others in the family. They were very kind to me and allowed me to speak at the service. The program was as follows:
Conducting: Danis Christensen
Opening prayer: Danis Christensen
Speaker: Chun-hui Yang
Speaker: Alan Blodgett
Speaker: Danis Christensen
Dedication of the grave: Gary Kay
Before the service Robert's remains were buried between his father and grandfather's graves.
Speaker Chun-hui Yang knew Robert in Taiwan, married Frances, a woman he met while she was on her mission to Taiwan. They now live in Salt Lake City.
After the service family and friends lingered for an hour or more visiting. It was interesting for me to speak to an old acquaintance, Dan Ludlow, once a schoolmate of RJC's mother, later a church general authority and author of several books. Afterward Robert's uncle took us to lunch and on a tour by car of points of interest in the small towns of Spanish Fork, Salem and Payson.
Perhaps the best part of the day for me was a long talk I had with Robert's niece. As I was leaving to drive back to my hotel, she asked if she could walk out to the car and talk to me. She said she wanted to know more about her uncle Bob, things that his family didn't often talk about. For about an hour I told her of my experiences with Robert and answered questions. She is a delightful young woman who lives with her partner, a woman from Australia.
Tribute by David Knowlton
Bob came up to me at a Sunstone Symposium in 1992 or 3, huffing and
puffing with umbrage at a speaker who he found filled with pomposity
and political correctness, but little substance. That is how we met.
I did not agree with his assessment but found his enthusiasm, persona,
and intellect contagious.
Since then Bob paid me numerous visits when he would come to Salt Lake. We would have long conversations on the ideas and issues concerning him at the time. Bob was always interested in promoting the broader Mormon intellectual community and the gay community and had some scheme or another to bring people and ideas together. He was as passionately connected to his Mormonism as to gay studies. His energy and commitment to promoting ideas and collective endeavors always amazed me.
I remember well the last time he visited. He was not well. His face glowed unusually florid and yet pallid at the same time. He came to dinner, playing with the other guests and their ideas. He was always a bit of a provocateur. Of course he had a bundle of books and papers, held together by a thick rubber band. When I dropped him off at his brother's town house, Bob left two of the books with me asking me to read them.
He was always like that. As he worked for his doctorate he sought my advice many times. But it always felt more like he was the mentor and I the pupil. That is as it should of been. Despite my degree, I had much more to learn from him that I could offer in return.
I remember speaking with Bob for hours on the landing of my apartment at first and later in my home or office. Every conversation was a rich outpouring of his ideas, readings, and concern for people. This included the times he would have crushes or fall in love. in his blustery, intellectual way. Bob cared deeply for people, just as he cared for ideas and writing.
His contacts with intellectuals such as Hugh Nibley, and with general
authorities, such as Elder John Carmack, amazed me. Bob had no tolerance
for the ordinary boundaries and niceties that separated people. He managed
to pull together threads I could not. Bob cared for people. Many times
over he asked me to apologize to a general authority whose feelings
were hurt by something I had published which he considered private communication.
I never did apologize. I regret that now. Bob was right! I now owe him
an apology as well!
When I needed help. Bob was there for me! That I will never forget and will always honor! Thank you again Bob.
You will always be someone I am grateful to have known. You enriched my life and I trust that somewhere your curiosity and hunger for truth are still stirring things up. God bless you and may He also bring solace to your mother and your brothers.
Once You Were A Needle
To Robert J. Christensen
Sharp and shining in a skein,
Dangling in the wind of learning
Looking for fabric to stitch
And cloth to make whole.
Though with years
Your steel was less stainless
And you were curved from
Hitting nails, still you stitched.
You built a seam in me
And embroidered all kinds
Of questions in scarlet,
Violet, azure, and lemon,
A bouquet of questions
Colored and incisive.
But that you cared to stitch
A cloth threadbare and forlorn,
Where holes stretched
Warp and woof impossibly,
To make a field for
Not a single bloom,
But a field of blooming questions,
Makes me think twice
When I see thorns
Pulled off a rose's stem
Or burrs on the wool of my sock.
A bouquet of questions
Needs a needle sharp and shining.
David Clark Knowlton
August 7, 2005
Tribute by Frank Susa
Bob was an incurable sweetheart and a passionate intellectual. for years, he and I maintained correspondence with the same gay Mormon taiwanese young man. I have no idea if perhaps Bob was able to meet him in person upon returning there, but I am sure Bob now rests peacefully and joyfully in full remembrance of his "deliberately" lived life.
Tribute by Kraig and Chris
It was fun to visit with Robert at Affirmation gatherings. He was intelligent and gifted. He will be missed.
Kraig and Chris
St. George, UT
Articles by/about Robert on the Affirmation website:
Tin Ears and Hard Love: A Personal Response to Elder Boyd K. Packer's "Ye Are the Temple of God"
Who is Responsible?
"To Dance My Own Dance": Remembering Karl Keller, A Man I Never Met
Gay Mormons Face Dilemma
Letter to Disciplinary Council from Robert J. Christensen
Seattle Gamofite Retreat a Success
Letter to the Editor on Proposition 22
Wherefore Sex? A Discussion
Anti-Same Sex Marriage Tactics Sure to Produce Embarrassment and Scandal
Questing for the "Truth" of Respectability