Six years ago this month, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints instituted a policy labeling same-sex married couples “apostates” and barring their kids from baptism. The policy later was abandoned, but the pain among LGBTQ members and their allies has persisted.
In these excerpts from The Salt Lake Tribune’s “Mormon Land” podcast, Tom Christofferson, a prominent LGBTQ member and author of “That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family,” discusses the November 2015 policy and subsequent developments.
Where were you when the new November 2015 policy became public and what did you think at the time?
I was in a business meeting with clients in the Bay Area of California, and as the meeting was going on, my phone started vibrating constantly. … When I got out of the meeting in the car on the way back to the airport, I discovered all the texts that I had about people saying that the church had instituted a new policy. … I couldn’t believe it was true, so I dropped a note to a close friend at the church and said, “Is this right?” And he said, “Yes.” … I kind of had to come to the conclusion that I believe in “prophets, seers and revelators” and I’m willing to believe they can see something I may not. But in my personal experience, marriage among my friends, same-sex marriage with their children has been a really positive thing. It strengthened families and communities. So, it was a real challenge in my own mind about some things I couldn’t resolve.
Within days, apostle D. Todd Christofferson, your brother, gave a video interview explaining some reasons behind the policy. What did you think of that interview?
When I was writing about that in the book, what I had originally written is that as we talked that night, he said, “I just concluded this taping, and it will satisfy no one.” And I said, “Shall I put that in?” And he said, “Oh, I don’t know.” And then after I’d taken it out, he said, “You should put it back in.” But at that point, it was too late. So now we’ve put it back in the record. But just recognizing that in that very difficult circumstance, there was no way to provide a rationale that would provide peace to everyone.
The policy is gone, but do you think that such attitudes and harms have lingered in the church?
In the general authority leadership session at the October 2019 General Conference, [Dallin H.] Oaks [of the governing First Presidency] made a statement that eternal gender is the gender of birth. That has been very challenging to my transgender brothers and sisters. They have felt, I think, a measure of peace in the proclamation on the family, which says that gender is eternal, ...The gender they feel in their spirit, which does not match the gender they see in the mirror, but that that spiritual gender [rather than birth gender] would be eternal. We’re cautious to say that doctrine comes from the unified voice of all 15, but nonetheless, that was a very painful moment for many people that I love.
So have you seen some positive changes in the church since the policy was rescinded?
Yeah. I would say the last five years, it’s striking to me. And again, my frame of reference is in the developed world.... It seems to me that I see at the grassroots, at a congregational level, enormous change in the desire to welcome everyone.
Do you think that Latter-day Saint theology is big enough for same-sex couples, not just the practicality of it?
We have a lot of room [to change] the practicality of it. But the theology is going to come when the Lord is ready to tell us more or when we’re ready to receive more, and he will then tell us.
What did you think of apostle Jeffrey R. Holland’s August speech at Brigham Young University, where he called out valedictorian Matt Easton and BYU professors who, in his mind, weren’t supporting to the level they should, I guess, the church’s family proclamation?
My sense of Elder Holland’s talk was that [he had] a desire to lower the temperature to say, “Look, let’s be much less quick to fight each other.” The “musket references” were unfortunate, but I think his point was, let’s not be quick to condemn the LGBTQ kids, and let’s not also be throwing a rainbow flag on everything in sight. I think it was a plea in a sense to both sides to just, you know, take the temperature down a bit and let things sort of find a better solution than we currently see.
Do you think it had the opposite effect and actually raised the temperature?
I do. I was on campus like two or three weeks later and it felt to me like it had encouraged everybody to cement their positions and be more vigorous.
What do you think the church could do to heal some of these divisions that have erupted?
I would have given you a different answer a few months ago before President [Russell] Nelson asked us to take advantage of the miraculous vaccination that was offered and to use masks. I was sort of surprised that some portion of the church felt that was an inappropriate statement on his part. … It may not be as straightforward as I once thought it would have been to have a plea for greater compassion and understanding and empathy, but really greater engagement and inclusion and acceptance. I’m not sure exactly how that takes place. Maybe it has to be a matter of individual hearts and minds.