Monday, October 9, 2017

The Best Book that Wasn’t Written for Me

Over the past year and half I’ve gotten to know Tom Christofferson pretty well. What a pleasure it has been! He is kind, wise, spiritual, and just a great human being. Tom has many friends and I’m honored to be counted among them. I recently read his book, That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith & Family. It was an excellent read and my copy is filled with highlights (It’s also not terribly long which is a plus.).

As a gay Mormon I was dealt the easiest hand of cards. I have a loving and supportive family, friends at my side, and ward families that have openly embraced me. My gay Mormon journey has been easy compared to many. In Tom’s story I saw similar stories of people reaching out with unconditioned love. As I read his book there were times when I thought, “Yes! This is how a family should treat their gay loved one! Yes! This is how a ward should respond to a gay ward member!” The book is full of great anecdotes that teach powerful principles. Here is just one.  

Tom was going to bring his boyfriend to a family reunion which made some of his siblings uncomfortable. Because Tom would be there with his partner they weren’t sure if they should bring their families. Tom’s mom said to the family, “The most important lesson your children will learn from how our family treats their Uncle Tom is that nothing they can ever do will take them outside the circle of our family’s love.” Right on, Sister Christofferson! She set the example and the family followed. Tom and his partner were part of the family were treated like anyone else.

The book is full of little gems that really made me think. Like this one: “My resolve is that I might see the spark of the Divine in each person I encounter.” While that would make a great Pinterest meme, it’s an even better daily goal.

Tom’s book left me feeling inspired and uplifted. I wish every church member would read it because it gives real life examples of how we can love and care for someone who may be living their life in a way that doesn’t align with our beliefs. It’s a truly beautiful book. However, the book isn’t written for me. It doesn’t read as “how to be a gay Mormon.” In fact, Tom is very clear in multiple places that he doesn’t offer his life as an example, but that each person should seek their own path. I found beautiful principles in the book and was moved by the stories, but the book isn’t written for a gay Mormon like me. I see it as a book for the straight members of the church who want to reach out in love to their gay loved ones. I would totally recommend this book to the parents of a kid who just came out. I hope that every straight person in the church will read Tom’s story, especially if they work with youth. Bishops, Young Men's and Young Women's leaders, and other leaders will gain a broader perspective by following Tom and his ecclesiastical leaders on their journey. 

And now a recommendation. I would not recommend giving a copy to your gay son or lesbian friend who no longer attend church. Although well intentioned, this kind of gesture could be seen as saying, “You see! Tom lived the gay lifestyle and then returned to the church. You can, too!” If I were no longer in the church and someone gifted me this book it would feel like an attack on my life choices. But this book isn’t for gay Mormons, it’s for those with gay family members and those with gay friends. This book is an excellent resource to better understand one gay Mormon’s journey.

I highly recommend this book and hope that many, many church members will read it. I’ll happily lend you my copy, but I hope you’ll purchase a copy so we can vote with our dollars and show Deseret Book that we want more excellent content like this. 

You can buy Tom's book at Deseret book or here


Lisa Glad said...

Thank you, Ben! This book needs to be read by EVERY FAMILY, especially the ones who don't think they have LGBTQ+ family members, because they DO or WILL.

Nathan Kitchen said...

Ben, this is a genius review. Thank you for it. The other group of people you shouldn't give this book to are gay fathers who have had to make some difficult choices when they came out which includes divorce out of a mixed orientation marriage. In the process gay men in this category have to make difficult family choices, often alone and against church leader/family wishes. These choices are made with great care snd great thought despite the tidal wave of voices to the contrary that these men are selfish and covenant breakers.

The spectators of the very public changes a gay father has to make set themselves up as lifetime sentinels looking for any opening that the gay father will come to his senses and return. This is a gross mischaracterization of both the journey of the father and the reasons why things happened in the first place.

Parents and friends, former spouses and children all look at the journey the gay father had to go through to achieve wholeness and health and see it as the 20 years Tom spent away with his partner. Friends and family of the gay father completely miss the reason and message of Tom's book and inadvertently weaponize it as they give it to the gay father as a prodigal son tale. It is a "well meaning" gift that belittles the epic choices a gay father had to make.

If we all are not careful we will throw gay fathers under the bus as acceptable collateral for any good this book does for the LDS LGBTQ community.

Tristan said...

I highlighted that passage, too!