Tom Christofferson, friend and former board member of Affirmation, sat down with John Dehlin of Mormon Stories to discuss his book, That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family. Over the course of this three-hour interview, Tom explores his experience, faith, and perspective on being LGBT and Mormon.
In part one of the interview, Tom talks about his upbringing, family, and involvement in the church. He shares how he hoped his sexual orientation would be changed while serving a mission, and his disappointment when it didn’t.
“When I went on my mission, my whole prayer of it was, ‘Okay, I’ll do the best I can and then, if I’m a really good missionary, you’ll take this away from me.'”
Tom shares his thoughts about the unfair comparisons that are often made between gay and lesbian members of the church and other members of the church who are single. Tom discusses the difficulties of his trying to be in a mixed-orientation marriage.
“The decision to end the marriage part of that feeling of having gone as far as I could go down this road the way I’ve been traveling. At that point I felt like I had done everything I could to try to be Mormon and gay, with gay being said quietly. Now I needed to figure out if I could be happy and gay.”
Tom shared how once he decided to explore being gay, how he didn’t feel like he fit in with either the gay community or Mormon community. Much of his understanding of the gay community was stereotypical, and he discovered that those stereotypes were not true. He also found Affirmation.
“I discovered Affirmation right after I came out. That became my lifeline. There were people who spoke gay and people who spoke Mormon and I could learn in a setting where I could translate with other people who could understand what the translation was. That was hugely helpful to me.”
To end the first part of the interview, Tom talks about meeting the man who would become his partner of 19 years, his decision to ask to be excommunicated, and how he felt about that process.
“I was a pretty miserable Mormon pretending not to be gay. I was a really happy gay person not being Mormon. Now I feel like I’m a happy gay person who is Mormon.”
In part two of the interview, Tom discusses the gradual process of his returning to the church, the local church leaders who welcomed him with open arms, and how his returning impacted his relationship with his partner.
“We talk about the qualifications to enter the temple, but I think there are only two qualifications to enter the chapel. One is that you have some desire to know Christ and come closer. Two is that you’re willing to push open the door. That’s it. Anyone should be made to feel welcome, and wanted, and loved if they’ll make that effort to come in; whatever they believe or wherever they are. I think we can do so much better.”
Tom shares his feeling about obeying the Law of Chastity as a church member and living a celibate life as a gay man.
“I’m not trying to be the salesperson for celibacy…From my experience, it’s a qualitatively different circumstance if you feel that you are choosing to be celibate than if you feel it’s being imposed on you…My sense if that if it’s an internally directed course there can be happiness and fulfillment. If it’s an extrinsically directed course, I think that’s going to be extremely painful, and challenging, and probably unsuccessful.”
In part three of the interview, Tom discusses the feedback he’s received on his new book That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family.
“There are so many LGBT voices both in and out of the church that have great meaningful stories to tell. One of my other hopes for the book has been that if people can open themselves up to one story, I hope they’ll open themselves up to many stories.”
There is a lot packed into over three hours of discussion. You can access videos, audio, and find more about the podcast at Mormon Stories.