The other day things got heated at home.
I don’t remember exactly how it started, but it ended with my 20 year old returned missionary son crying, shaking, bearing his Mormon testimony, and then leaving to “take a walk.” Between all that I said some things, while true, that I regret and that he’s not ready to hear. He and a couple of my other children shared a few LGBTQ LDS experiences, both positive and negative, and things got a little too sensitive.
Without even trying to accurately report the full conversation, I’ll say that at one point my son said that the LDS church is very different from what it was when I was part of it. In 11 years since I left, things have supposedly so dramatically changed from the previous 40 years that I wouldn’t recognize it especially with regards to LGBTQ issues.
I didn’t and I don’t buy it.
One of his biggest pieces of evidence for such a claim was Tom Christofferson’s book, That We May Be One; A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family.
I’ve had lots of opinions on that book and the unintended consequences of its publication but I’ve held off saying anything because I hadn’t actually read it.
So, I read it.
I read it after it was being used as a weapon to diminish my voice and my LDS experience or to support an imaginary world where the LDS organization and community is LGBT friendly and anything but homophobic.
I am clearly NOT it’s intended audience.
I had completely forgotten the sycophantic tone of LDS authors but this was a big slapping reminder of that. Every time there’s a grand point to be made an LDS General Authority quote is inserted and the reader is supposed to ponder it in awe that a human being could utter such goodness. Each time that happened my eyes rolled back into my head a little more.
If there’s a sweeping theme of the book it’s that we (and by ‘we’ he means anyone who is a believing LDS member with an LGBTQ person in their midst, family, friend or ward member) should love and accept one another. THAT I can get behind, except that it completely ignores the status quo in most LDS wards, families and leadership quorums. According to Christofferson we’re not supposed to worry about LDS policies or leadership and the damage that they can do. It’s the old, “I don’t know and I don’t care. It will all be figured out in the afterlife.”
That’s naive and not good enough for me.
Let’s face a few facts. This book would never have been published if:
- He were not the brother of an LDS apostle
- He had not returned to the LDS faith like a prodigal son in his advanced years
- He were still in a committed homosexual partnership like the one he was required to walk away from in order to get re-baptized and have his temple blessings restored.
As much as he and others pretend that the intention and message of the book is to honor any path and any choice, there would be no message and there would be no book without those 3 key elements. Those ARE the message. Given that fact, I’m left actually feeling sorry for the poor sap who, after 60 years, couldn’t break from the LDS homophobic indoctrination to remain committed to his loving partner.
The book reads like a tragedy to me for that reason.
It’s about the breakup of a family, but it’s just a gay family so the reality of that crisis never gets the full light of day.
It’s about an aging man who still so desperately wants to please his older brother that he’ll throw himself on the sword to do so.
It’s about the isolated goodness and kindness that some humans can show towards one another when there’s something that they don’t understand.
It’s about those very same humans not flinching at all when their gay brother, son, uncle and friend trades love for a solitary life to achieve their FULL acceptance.
It’s about the depths of indoctrination and how that thick muck NEVER leaves.
If the book was reflective of any sort of change in the LDS faith why didn’t his brother, the apostle, write it?
And let’s not let one little glaring fact escape this discussion: Tom Christofferson left the church and completely ignored the leadership for over 30 years during a time that many of us instead stayed. We followed the LDS plan of marriage, kids, callings, temple attendance, scripture study, etc based on our faith that it was true and that we and our families would be “blessed.” Instead of blessed, we got screwed and we caused a lot of collateral damage in the wake of our following the brethren. He escaped all that.
It strikes me as incredibly callous for someone like Tom to have avoided the pain of church activity and then to re-enter the picture later in life with a softened libido and tell his story of faith and family.
I was WAY more committed for far many more years when it was crucial and my divorce and financial ruin and raw emotions are all a result of following the brethren. His current life is only possible because he DIDN’T follow the brethren. His story, more than anything is a testament that leaving the church allows you you maintain some semblance of favorable attitude towards it.
I do believe that there are loving and accepting LDS members out there and I still desperately want to believe that my own children are counted among them. I’m glad those were exclusively the ones that Christofferson encountered in his east and west coast wards. My experience has been quite different for the most part. And yet I do recall my year long stint in college in a Manhattan ward that was much like he described even back in the 80’s. Nowhere else but in coastal metropolitan areas is it remotely like that.
But my point to my son and readers of this book is that for the most part it doesn’t matter. The end result will still be the same. Tom Christofferson is still alone. He’s still gay. Every single one of those “kind” and “loving” LDS members in Christofferson’s life and in my life will still walk into an election booth and vote exactly as the LDS leadership want them to, homophobic choice or not. They’ll still raise their hands to the square in obedience to the leaders in Salt Lake City even if it goes against their personal experiences and their own moral compass.
Yes, Brother Christofferson, we may all be one. It’s just that that one is in the image of a stale, tired and out-dated group of 90 year old homophobic dudes in Salt Lake City. That’s my perspective on your faith and your broken family.