Interview Transcript Available Below
Tom Christofferson is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who experiences same sex attraction. He is also the brother of Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Tom grew up in the church as a member, served a mission and married in the temple. His short marriage ended and he came out as gay and lived that lifestyle for many years. He started coming back to church with Bruce Larson as a bishop and David Checketts as his stake president. Tom’s story is told in his book, That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s Perspective on Faith and Family. As leaders we can learn a lot from his experience of coming back to church and being rebaptized.
- 6:30 Tom’s story from the beginning
- 9:30 His story of excommunication
- 10:50 How his family wanted their love to be perfect as they accepted him
- 13:20 Bishop Bruce Larson’s side of the story
- 16:00 Stake President David Checkett’s side of the story
- 18:00 Bishop Larson and President Checketts did not know at first that he was related to Elder Christofferson
- 20:30 Sharing with the ward coucnil how to make feel Tom welcome
- 22:30 Response of the ward council
- 24:00 Tom was welcomed and loved unconditionally
- 29:00 Tom attended the ward for 5 years before wanting to come back to live the commandments
- 31:45 During the 5 years how Tom felt welcome in the ward
- 33:20 Everyone focused on the the relationship with Tom and not his progress
- 34:30 Study sessions with Tom and President Checketts
- 38:00 Meeting with Tom’s partner
- 42:00 President Checketts meets with Elder Christofferson about Tom
- 45:00 Tom Christofferson’s rebaptism
- 48:00 How this experience has helped Bishop Larson to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ
- 50:00 How this experience has helped President Checketts to be a better disciple of Jesus Christ
LLDS: [00:02:30] Welcome back to the leading LDS podcast. My name is Kurt Francom and today I have the opportunity to be a in beautiful downtown Salt Lake City with and really, I’m across the world and we’ll explain that in just a minute. But, let’s start with you Tom. I’m in the home of Tom Christofferson. How are you?
Tom: Very well, thank you. Thanks for joining us.
LLDS: Yeah, well, I’m excited to, to have this opportunity. And, mainly this interview came to be as you release your book that we may be one, a gay Mormons perspective on faith and family and you’ve been on the interview circuit for.
Tom: It’s [00:03:00] been an interesting journey.
LLDS: I bet it’s been very fulfilling that to share your faith through, through this method.
Tom: It has been a unique opportunity to be able to talk about my feelings about the Savior and the journey that I feel I have been led along.
LLDS: Obviously we’ll get the, the obvious things out of the way. So, your last name is Christofferson and our Elder Christofferson’s brother.
Tom: And he is my brother.
LLDS: Oh, that’s right. You’re becoming more and more famous through this, these interviews.
Tom: So, we are a family of [00:03:30] five sons. He is the oldest and I’m the youngest.
LLDS: Nice. I’m the youngest too, so I can, I can empathize with that. That’s right. That’s right. And now, and we’ll get into your story in the book a little bit, but also interviewed the other member or they introduce the other members that are part of the interview. So, we’re going as far as Australia to talk with President David Checketts. How are you a President Checketts.
Checketts: I’m doing well.
LLDS: Good. And now you don’t live in Australia? I think many people recognize your name here in Utah, but you generally live in Connecticut. Is [00:04:00] that right?
Checketts: Yes. I’ve lived in New Canaan, Connecticut for the last 27 years but were about to change all of that. My wife and I are moving to London in July of this next year.
LLDS: Wow. And that’s to serve as a mission President and wife, right?
Checketts: Yes, we will. We received a mission called the be the mission President of the England London mission and I’m really thrilled about that and looking [00:04:30] forward to it, very humbled by being called to that special place. But in the meantime, I’m trying to finish up lots of business items and that’s what brings me to Australia today.
LLDS: Nice. I’m sure since the call you’ve been walking around with a ticking clock in your head, just knowing that you’ve got to put some things in order right before the summer.
Checketts: That’s exactly how it feels. Yes
LLDS: Nice. And then we’re headed to Hong Kong where a Bishop Bruce Larson is [00:05:00] joining us from the, how are you a Bishop Larson?
Larson: I am terrific, good afternoon.
LLDS: Nice. It’s late for us, but we’ll, we’ll imagine this afternoon. That’s great. And you two fit into Tom’s life that when he, I guess began his journey back to the church, Bishop Larson, you are his Bishop and President Checketts. You were his Stake President. So, we’ll definitely get your perspective and stories as we go through this. And my hope is as we make this recording that we can, you know, there’s [00:05:30] many opportunities and all linked to many of the interviews that you’ve done, Tom, of your story where you get into different details depending on what you’ve done. But it’s always been fascinating. I always enjoyed those. But I really want to dig into your experience. What you experience was I’ve in relation to the leaders you had in your life, both in your family. Obviously, your parents were a huge influence in their story and your relationship with them is so sweet. And then also with the priesthood leaders. Or the leaders in general in your life there. So, but Tom, let’s go back just [00:06:00] to your story, the book, and I know in most interviews you’ve taken over 60 minutes to go through the story, but just take 5 to 10 minutes, tell us your story and if people aren’t familiar with it and which obviously is just told it through your book.
Tom: Sure. Let’s go for the very short version of it. We’re done assumption that, uh, what I think people will get the greatest benefit out of this conversation is really the perspective of a leader and their desire to bless the lives of people who come to their congregation in unusual ways [00:06:30] and to be led by the spirit to make a journey possible. So just as a very quick background in order to be able to get to that point of the story. I knew I was gay from a young age but only came out after I had returned from my mission and after a brief marriage to a woman in the temple. And that was a challenging circumstance for my family and the journey that we went on, especially the first couple of years where it was hard for all of us to find our feet and had no what the new normal would be. But I think [00:07:00] the way I would characterize it is that my parents and I believe through revelation of their stewardship, where their family came to deal, that the approach that they were meant to take was to erect no barriers. That the love of the family should be unimpeded and that we should, over time as I came to a partner, my partner, I should be included in everything that family did in order to ensure that their love was clear. And I did everything [00:07:30] I could to make sure that mine was as well. After, I had been away from the church about 25 years. I had an increasing desire to find a spiritual center of my life. I would say we, my partner, I’ve had a very happy life with lots of the enjoyments that, that can come in life. But I really felt like there was a deeper meaning that was missing in a higher purpose and I knew from my when I left the church, it wasn’t because I didn’t believe it was because I didn’t think there was a place for me [00:08:00] as a gay person. And so that really formed the basis of my big question as I wanted to attend meetings and feel the spirit. So, what I started to do after we had moved to New Canaan was to sort of sneak in the back of the chapel as the meeting was beginning and a jet out. As soon as the amen was said at the end of the sacrament meeting without speaking to anyone, but in that our feeling of the spirit and the things I had hoped I would feel. And so, after some weeks of [00:08:30] that I had asked to be able to speak to the Bishop to see how he would feel about having a gay man in a, in a monogamous and faithful relationship with long standing. Probably about 12 years at that point. Come and attend his word.
LLDS: Yeah. It was in the eighties when, when you left the church and during that time, you weren’t necessarily, I mean you asked for the ex-communication. Was the process same that you basically wrote a letter requesting your names will be removed [00:09:00] or how did that process go and that interaction with that Bishop,
Tom: I felt that in order to be able to figure out whether I could be gay and happy, I needed to not misrepresent myself as a Mormon. And so, to me that felt like an important thing to do and I asked to be excommunicated and at that time saying that you were gay was an off. And so, it was but I felt that that process had been handled respectfully and the court, I was given an opportunity to bear my testimony and talk [00:09:30] about my feelings. And uh, that was, was not a bad experience. Yeah. So, when I left the church, I didn’t leave with any ranker. Or feelings that I had been treated poorly.
LLDS: That’s encouraging to hear because I’m. And was there anything specific about that that made it that way, that you remember? Or were they just polite and said, if this is what you wish, then let’s do it.
Tom: It that definitely a politeness But I think it was giving me the opportunity to speak for [00:10:00] myself. I don’t think any of us imagined that there was any doubt about the outcome, but it was a chance at least to be treated respectfully and say what was in my heart.
LLDS: Can you tell the story? I think there’s many lessons to learn from this. The story of this was a few years after you left the church, you were in a relationship and there was a family outing to a cabin. And what happened with that? Maybe. I think there’s so much that a leader to learn from that.
Tom: It was about two years after came out and we’re having a family reunion. [00:10:30] And there’s a bit of a backstory there, but I think that the point you’re referencing is that one evening we’d put the grandchildren’s a bed and gathered in our parent’s room. My brother’s there with my four brothers, their wives and me with mom and dad and had a prayer together and then dad talked about what he thought was the importance of loyalty and unity within our family that as we went through this training together, that we would keep foremost our desire to remain united and [00:11:00] love. And then her mom talked a bit about her feelings that she said, she had felt we were the perfect Mormon family when the boys were young and life happens and she’d come to realize that the one way we could be perfect as a family would be in our love for each other. And then she turned to my brothers and their wives and said, you know, the most important lesson that your children will learn from the way that our family treats their uncle Tom is that nothing they can ever do will take them outside the [00:11:30] circle of our family’s love. That really set the basis for how we related with each other and move forward together. From that point on.
LLDS: The part of the story that. Because at the beginning when it, in the book, you talk about that when they invited you, that family reunion you where you said, well, I don’t want to bring my partner, and that sort of caused some friction because there were some young children, they’re your siblings aren’t sure how that would work, but where they begged you to say, just come and we’ll talk about it. Right. Just come alone. We are going to talk about it [00:12:00] and I think there’s. I, I appreciate that. There’s sometimes where we don’t know what to do. Sometimes the best result was just create a scenario where we can talk about it and a scenario of love and the council of love.
Tom: You know what my parents did that with they said was if you’ll come this one time, it will just come for two days so that we have the in between by yourself. We’ll not ask you to do that again. Yeah. I think that also made a difference in terms of how I felt about the gathering, that there was something that I could contribute [00:12:30] and be a part of, that there was a respect for my life and where I was and you know, there was room in the family for what I was trying to do and be as well. Yeah.
LLDS: I love that. I think it’s a wonderful example. Well, the Bishop Larson. Let’s, uh, I got a question for you. I want to hear your side of the story when, uh, when Tom Walked in and was sneaking in the back and I remember being Bishop and you’ll see various people sneak in the back and you just can’t figure out how to get to them fast enough in order to talk with him before when the meeting’s over. So, what do [00:13:00] you remember from those first couple weeks and your interaction with, with Tom.
Larson: Tom was pretty strategic as he mentioned as coming in late and leaving early I actually had not, really notice Tom until I was given a note, tucked into a fast offering donation or something that said he would like to meet with me and play with my executive secretary to please schedule Tom to come by my house on a Tuesday evening or whatever night it was and I greeted this gentleman at the door that looked a lot like [00:13:30] people I worked with, a sharp looking guy in the suit, a little bit of gray hair and look like a perfectly reasonable guy. And we came in and into my office in my home and sat down and Tom told me his story, which, you know, you’ve just briefly recounted. You described very eloquently in his book and an included a conversation with, you know, the purpose of my meeting is to ask if I and my partner, welcome to come to church and to worship with you all. And I felt [00:14:00] a very strong spirit in that meeting. And you know, my very quick and I’m hesitating answer was, yes you are. We’d like to have you join us.
LLDS: Have you had. I mean I would imagine being a Bishop without having too many of those conversations. I’d be sort of scared with that inter interaction coming. I’m I going to say the right thing. I’m going to going to offend. Have you had other similar conversations before or did you feel prepared for that conversation?
Larson: To answer the first part, your question? No, I have not had any other conversations [00:14:30] like that before. However, it’s a pretty. Tom wasn’t walking in my office saying, can I go to the temple, was asking, am I welcome to come to church and you know, as a Bishop, what literally instantly flashed through my mind was all of the members of my congregation who through a variety counseling sessions and meetings I understood were far from perfect and that would go for the Larson family as well and we’re all welcome to church [00:15:00] and so who am I to be a roadblock to anybody who wants to come and worship and be on a path of trying to strengthen their relationship with their Father in Heaven? And so, it was really from that angle, the question was quite simple, you know, am I welcomed? It wasn’t more complicated than that at that point, and so I tried not to over-complicate it. Realizing that there would be a lot of other questions that would come up as we traveled down this path together, that I may not have the answers to and I wouldn’t have the experience to address, but with regards [00:15:30] to that very simple question, the answer was quite easy to come to.
LLDS: President Checketts, when did you get pulled into the loop as far as meeting Tom and interacting with and what was your side of the story and how this began?
Checketts: Well, I was the Stake President that called Bishop Larson through inspiration in revelation for a time and a congregation and it happened to be my own congregation is. I lived in New Canaan as well, but Bishop Larson was [00:16:00] you know, was really an outstanding, wonderful Bishop to so many people and so this is just another chapter in his, in his journal, but a very important one. I was sitting on the stand with him as I often did when I would visit the ward. There were nine wards in The Yorktown Stake at that point in time, but I did try to make it to my own ward is at least once a month and sometimes [00:16:30] more. I was sitting by him and he asked me if I could see this distinguished looking gentleman on the back row. It wasn’t the back row of the chapel. It was the back row within the chapel and it’s a place you usually sat Bishop Larson told me the story of the visit of what Tom had asked and what Bishop had told him and I just told Bishop I agree completely with his [00:17:00] approach and of course I wondered to Bishop Larson about whether or not to Tom was any relative to Elder Christofferson. I think at that time, Bruce, I’m not sure that you knew that or you would even raise that with him, so we didn’t know. Is that, right?
Larson: Yeah, that’s correct. I didn’t figure out until a month or two later that Tom happened to be related to Elder Christofferson. It didn’t cross my mind [00:17:30] certainly wasn’t being welcomed with not contingent upon being related to somebody important or anything else.
Tom: Can I jump into that for a second because I’ve always felt like that was a particular blessing of that circumstance that I didn’t have to wonder if my interaction with my church leaders was of who my brother was, but you know, there was really because of who I was and that this was the answer that they would give to anyone who had the same desire that I had and that I’ve been really grateful [00:18:00] for that in the timing of everything that happened to my relationship with Todd wasn’t known until months later.
Checketts: What he said wasn’t of concern to us at all. More importantly, we were just concerned that as a ward family, we gather round and a strengthen and bless and, and, welcome Tom and Tom got to know people in the ward and, and I [00:18:30] would see him there from time to time. I finally asked to meet with them and just support what Bishop Larson had said. And then we became friends over a period of time, including very a memorable dinner between he and his partner and my wife and I were. We talked about a whole bunch of things you’ve met at a restaurant in New Canaan and had a wonderful dinner together and the relationships we’re developing, both Tom with his Bishop and Tom [00:19:00] with his Stake President and we became close friends and that aided I think tremendously and the whole time.
LLDS: Ah, that’s beautiful. I love that. You know, I’m trying to figure out the best way to ask this, and I ask this because in it may, some people listening may not fully understand, but as a Bishop you’re sort of always thinking about different things because different opinions in the ward. What do people think and you know, was this person coming to just make a statement? Will they [00:19:30] make their relationship with their partner obvious to the point that makes others comfortable. So, I would guess for some Bishops, Bishop Larson, you know, sitting and having this individual coming into your home and say, I’d like to attend with the ward. And of course you can come. But did you feel tempted to saying as long as you do this and don’t do that, and I’d be sure to not draw attention there. You know, and again, I don’t. You want to be fully loving, but again, as a Bishop, as an administrator, you sort of, you think about those things that go through your mind.
Larson: Yeah. Look, [00:20:00] I think it ran through my mind a little bit. One of the things I did immediately following the conversation, that initial conversation meeting that Tom and I had was I asked Tom with his permission if I could share our conversation with the ward council so that they were both aware of the conversation I had and for the very clear what I had said to Tom in that ward council, a conversation it was not a discussion about is Tom Welcome. But it was a conversation with no prodding or encouragement at all for [00:20:30] me about how do we make Tom feel welcome and his partner. And so, the group was very embracing a, you know, kind of across the leadership of, of the ward. And I felt that was an important message to send and tone, tone to set. But at one point Tom asked me, what do I say if people ask me if I’m married and I, I sort of jokingly told Tom I didn’t think it was a good idea to lie at church. And so, he should be very open and transparent and honest. I [00:21:00] left in the back of my mind, you know, um, I could sense the intent of Tom’s heart in our meeting and it was not to barge in and make a statement. It was the come and worship and strength in his relationship with his Father in Heaven. So, in the back of my mind I didn’t really worry about, you know, what if he and his partner show affection to each other in Sacrament meeting that is inappropriate. I just have the thought. I would probably talk to him like I would any other heterosexual couple, you know, keep the hands [00:21:30] to yourself while we were in church then was, you know. But I never really worried about it because I didn’t sense in any way whatsoever that Tom’s intentions were anything other than what he told me they were, which was to come and worship and strengthen his relationship with his Father in Heaven and his Savior.
LLDS: Yeah. That’s great. And going back to that, that conversation had in ward counseled. Was this something that the ward counsel responded well to and better prepared them to talk about it?
Larson: Look, I think we benefited a lot from our geographic location, being out of New York City where you know, people [00:22:00] in our congregation, through their workplace from other places are familiar with much more familiar with the LGBT community and their various employers, diversity efforts, etc. So there really was no gasp or moment of ah. When people look at each other, you know, like what does the Bishop know what he is talking about? It really was a conversation around, gosh, should we assigned home teachers, gosh, how can we include him in this or that. It was, it was never a debate about is he welcome. It was really just a thoughtful conversation around how do [00:22:30] we do our best to make him and his family welcome.
LLDS: Love it I asked those in. It seems, I sounds ridiculous to me as soon as I asked that, but because at the end of the day, it’s not a big deal when somebody shows up to church, you know, regardless of their background, but, and, but you want to obviously bring your ward counsel up to speed, make sure that the questions are answered there to sort of get ahead of it, but at the same time not turning into this, ok, this really different persons coming and we’ve all got to be ready, right? [00:23:00]
Larson: Yeah, I feel the hearts of the ward members were ready to be kind and loving to Tom or to anybody else who walked through the door where, you know, we’ve seen that and witness that in the past, whether somebody with a different ethnic background or socioeconomic background, there was a lot of judgment there was just left at the door. And, I think that made it easy for the Ward members to deal with it. I think it probably helped in Tom’s ability to walk through the door and feel somewhat welcome. And I think an important other point, I would just empathize [00:23:30] you that welcoming and acceptance of Tom, was not conditioned upon him showing some measure of progress, progress toward becoming un gay or you know, anything. It was just he was welcomed and loved unconditionally.
LLDS: Yeah. I think it is difficult to. Sometimes it’s easy to fall into that trap of just saying, well you, you know, what’s your goal? Now you know, you’re here. Now. You know, what’s the next step, but to just welcome you and set no standard. Right? [00:24:00] And let you set the standard Tom of your personal progress, and President Checketts. Anything that you want to interject?
Checketts: Well, I think Bishop Larson has said it well, our Father in Heaven knew exactly what he was doing. By sending Tom here. Tom felt the pole. He felt the spirit prompting him to go to church. He went to church in a place where most of us are. You know, we work every day [00:24:30] among a gay population and significant gay population in New York and this is a big deal that the congregation was not afraid in any way and Tom gave them no reason to feel afraid, but we had enough friends. We had enough coworkers. We had enough people, Christmas cards that we had sent to that were a gay and lesbian couple that we had worked with that there was no fear here at all. [00:25:00] In fact, just the opposite. Everybody’s arms were held wide open and there was a tremendous acceptance, I think, offered right at the beginning. It was not unusual in that meetings that when I was there, and by the way, Tom’s partner did not attend. Even though we invited him to. It was not unusual to see a child take a book and run out of his family’s row and go back to Tom and [00:25:30] climb up on his lap and have Tom read the book to help give the child quiet during the sacrament meeting. We all saw that we knew about his gentleness, his meekness. The way that he approached all of us was with tremendous humility and so I went along the path because for the most part, Latter-Day Saint population is separated [00:26:00] from a LGBT community. There are a number of people who are afraid and who ask awkward questions or who developed silly philosophies and I think Bishop Larson and I approached those questions and it’s not like there were many that were just a few about where this was all leading. We just approached it with patience and love and you know, later [00:26:30], when we brought Tom back in when we restored his membership and started to get him ready to have his priesthood and temple, blessings restored. A member of our high council asked after he was re-baptized if he would still be gay? I just remember that moment because my first reaction was, “”you’ve got to be kidding. But my second reaction was to say that this particular brother had reasons [00:27:00] to ask what he was asking. And I just approached it with love and patience and said, “yes, he will be gay. But he’s been baptized because he is living commandments and has committed to continue to live the commandments and therefore is entitled to the blessings of his membership.”
LLDS: I would imagine that with you as people are showing you love these sort of after that and have patients with members that maybe aren’t familiar or [00:27:30] with the interactions with other gay people. Right?
Tom: There was so little that I have to say cold patients. Right. But one thinks I would just say is that my partner did come periodically. He had been raised in a protestant denomination where the attending at Christmas and Easter was 100 percent for the year, but he did. He did come periodically and enough that many members of the ward knew him and one of the things that I found [00:28:00] incredibly touching about that ward was that when he would come, they are so many people would make an effort to go and say hello. And to me, it never felt like they were trying to convert them and felt like they were trying to genuinely know him. Yeah. And show a desire to know where he was and to make him feel every bit as welcome as I felt.
LLDS: Yeah, I love that. So how long did you attend to award before you are starting to have these feelings of like, well, “maybe I [00:28:30] should make that progress and you just felt that pull of, of personal progress.
Tom: It was about five years. And I thought about that when I was writing the book that it suddenly occurred to me that for the bulk of the first five years has members came to know my partner as well as me. They easily could have surmised that I wasn’t living all the commandments as I walked through that door every Sunday. And yet for five year’s worth of Sundays walking through that door, I never felt anybody was judging [00:29:00] me or anything other than love and a delight than I was choosing to be there. Yeah. And as Bishop Larson said it earlier, you know, there was no required yardstick for progress, more speed of movement towards an outcome. But certainly, the spirit was moving toward an outcome. And as I began to be more involved in the word and to participate more fully, I would feel the spirit more frequently and that made me want to see a little [00:29:30] more and had, wanted, feel more strongly and more consistently. And so, you know, the path was, in my view, was really led by the spirit and the timing of the night had never as I began the journey, I always assumed there would be no way in this lifetime that I would be able to be a member of the church again. But my prayer for years was that I would be able to be baptized. I could go to the temple, I could play some role in building the kingdom by that my partner would feel what I felt and want to know what I do, that we can [00:30:00] make the hard decisions that would come together but I felt I had made a commitment to him about our relationship and I wasn’t free to make other commitments. Yeah.
LLDS: And you’re really just balancing these different commitments you’ve made both in your personal relationship with your partner. Also, you know, you want to make commitments with the church, but you don’t want to be that too rashly, that you caused damage to somebody
Tom: We could chat about that more if you’d like. But it was a real process when [00:30:30] it became apparent to me that perhaps I could be baptized. There was a further process of trying to really feel, gain confidence through the spirit that I could make him keep covenants and also that I felt like I didn’t really fit and it wasn’t so much being gay or being single or whatever it was, that my life experiences were so different than most members and I had overtime to resolve that. I didn’t feel that, that this could be a place where I could really contribute [00:31:00] in the fully engaged and not always feel like an outsider.
LLDS: I’m curious, maybe Bishop Larsen will ask you first then President Checketts and spent during that, those five years I would imagine you met with Tom on various instances. Was there a certain routine? Where were you Intentional about it or did you just check in with him from time to time?
Larson: Well look like any member who was on a trail, you try to help them along until you know. We would periodically touch base with each other. [00:31:30] We tried to find opportunities for him to participate more fully in the ward. We had a wonderful high priest group leader and we encouraged Tom to attend the high priest group. When he got to the point where he was staying for three hours with church and the high priest group leader asked if Tom could help teach a lesson one day, and so we counseled together and came up with a subject that we thought were the palm would do a great job at and it was. We tried to incorporate him in the ward and we’d, [00:32:00] we’d ask him to bless the pancake for the 4th of July award breakfast and we just did things to try to make him feel welcome. It wasn’t a scheduled, you know me, you know, once a month we had to have a meeting to make sure everything was okay. We sort of have a sense from being connected with your membership and how things are going and I would connect when we could and I remember one of my most memorable interactions with Tom was he and I happen to be in London [00:32:30] on business together separately and we realize that we ended up meeting and had dinner and had a wonderful conversation and talked about number of things. And so, it was really more just in the ordinary course of helping you walk as much as you can
LLDS: The message keeps going out that everybody was focused on the relationship, not the progress of Tom and it like staying there, did things happen, right. And love is felt rather than, oh, I’ve got your check-list updated checklist here and where are we at now? You know? [00:33:00] So I love that.
Tom: I also felt, and remember I’m not a member of the church at this point, so as I sometimes jokingly said, it was the most active member of the New King Ward. But I also, I felt most of the time that the Bishop really let me set the pace. He was always happy to visit with me. They kind of let me decide what the pace was going to be in those conversations.
LLDS: Yeah, that’s powerful. I love that principle and I want to say it’s an obvious principle, but maybe it’s not, you know, I think it’s one to [00:33:30] take away for sure and present with you. I know, you know, you can talk about the interaction you had over those five years, but also there came a time when, re-baptism looked like it could happen. And maybe it didn’t happen as soon as some thought.
Checketts: Before we ever even thought of re-baptism and I don’t know why all the time at these promptings come, but I felt prompted one Sunday when I spoke to Tom to invite him to [00:34:00] study with me on a weekly basis and just come to my home and study the gospel. Our family was really grown at that point and we’re out of the house and I’ve kind of always had, during the nine and a half years I was Stake President. I’ve had someone in the Stake that I had a regular study period every week and it just seemed appropriate. This was later, obviously in the five years it seemed appropriate to ask [00:34:30] Tom if he would come on Saturday mornings and study with me and I think it’s pretty well detailed in his book and, and we’ve talked about it, but those study sessions on Saturday mornings really became something that I looked forward to every week. Tom would come, we would talk about a subject matter and he would come enormously prepared with the pages of notes, scriptures, quotes by the prophets, and we would read through it. [00:35:00] We’d pray together. We would study the materials that he prepared and then invariably at the end it would turn to an update how he was feeling and the thoughts that I was having about all of this. And this happened over a period of almost a year where we were studying pretty regularly together. One of the things that happen in that study process was that he prepared [00:35:30] one Sunday, he, one Saturday, he came prepared with some materials about building Zion. just the whole concept of what Zion was, what it represents and what the prophets had said about it, including just some extraordinary talks that he shared by air will be led by Joseph Smith, by D. Todd Christofferson and I was always touched by what we studied together, but that actually changed the whole way I was [00:36:00] leading the stake and it became known materials that we taught in the stake over a three-year period. Changes that we had to make to build Zion, which included among other things not only one heart, one mind, but also no poor among you and this caused us to create a virtual Bishop’s storehouse for people who had access to put it online and the elders quorum, presidency [00:36:30] from other wards that ha that had numerous poor among them would come and pick up washing machines and mattresses and take them down to other places that this all came as a result of these study sessions with Tom as well as many other insights and blessings. Because doctrinally it was clear that over the years he had missed talking about these subjects. He was clearly doctrinally, so sound, and [00:37:00] it was in those study sessions. It was toward the end of those study sessions that I started to ask him, what about coming back? What about being baptized? What would the costs be? What would the lessons be and is it possible, and could we explore this? Could be patient about it? Those were very special days. Days that I will always cherish.
Tom: As will I obviously. I would love to hear you also [00:37:30] talked about the time you invited my partner to come in and speak to you about why baptism was so important to me because I think that showed such respect for someone not of our faith and you know, it could’ve been easy to disregard, frankly, what his feelings were and yeah, the President was so sensitive to that that he asked him to come and speak to them.
LLDS: Well, Clark is a really a wonderful stand up, articulate man, [00:38:00] well-educated. I met him at the dinner that we had together. I asked for him to come in to see me when we were contemplating the Tom we would take steps to get him ready to be baptized, knowing that, that, what that meant, what Tom was committing to do. I thought it was appropriate that I visited with Clark and I did bring him in to my office. I thought it was best to visit with him at the church and [00:38:30] he came into my office on a Sunday morning and yet along visit together and that visit, the, he expressed a lot of anger about the direction that this was going and who could blame him. He was losing his in danger unless he wanted to accompany Tom on the journey in some fashion. He was in danger of losing the relationship and the love that they had built up over 18 years. [00:39:00] So it was a very difficult conversation, and I was, I was not surprised at how angry he was. Some of it directed at me thinking that I had pushed Tom in this direction, which I have not, but I basically gave him the power to affect the decision. And I told him before he left my office that he and Tom were to counsel together and if Clark was a continued to be against [00:39:30] Tom being prepared for and being rebaptized then we would not pursue that direction. I gave him that much power in the decision and I believed at the time that it was the right thing to do because had 18 years together, they had built tremendous trust and love and their relationship and I didn’t feel it was appropriate to proceed if they were [00:40:00] a together and b Clark was opposed to that decision. And I felt like that was the right thing to do. I think it surprised him, but gave him something very important to think about.
LLDS: The lesson that stands out there is that it’s ok to validate a relationship. And that doesn’t mean you’re condoning the relationship. Right, and showing that respect to that relationship meant a lot to you and it meant a lot to you, your partner. And really. And it sounds like that at that [00:40:30] time the rebaptism didn’t happen because that, that anger was still there, should not have been made under that.
Tom: It was nearly a year later or frankly, that and my prayers changed during that year. I had been praying that he would come to feel what I felt and I appointed this, became apparent to me that the right thing for me to pray for him was that he would know a path of happiness. That somehow whatever that was going to mean would be made known to him. [00:41:00] and, over the course of nearly a year as we would talk about it periodically and I think he came to was still unhappy and angry. But I think he came to some feeling that the right thing was that I should do what I thought was best and that he would then figure out what was the right thing for him. And I think that that’s an incredibly loving, very willing to do to put their happiness second. Yeah. And to be willing to have their life changed in a way they wouldn’t want it to be or at least to take that [00:41:30] chance by saying what he did. I think again, it was because part of what set the stage for that was the respect he was shown by someone who was not his church leader, but someone who cared what he thought and felt and cared for him as a person.
LLDS: Yeah. It’s a powerful story. during this time that, was it during that year that you were sort of, uh, trying to decide how to help Tom in his progress towards rebaptism that you [00:42:00] had an, you met with Elder Christofferson, the sort of seeking some, some advice and direction.
Checketts: I was with Elder Christofferson two or three times during this process. Once a right at the beginning of the process. I was in Salt Lake, a fair amount back then back and forth, and yes, things started to turn and move toward baptism. I did visit with him as well then, and I can’t say enough about those [00:42:30] conversations because he was always. His door was always open to the discussion and he was so kind exactly as you might imagine, hearing him speak and observing him. He was incredibly kind every step of the way, but he did not give me any specific direction. He would ask questions about what I was thinking about, how my prayers were being [00:43:00] answered and when I was outlined to him, what I was thinking, including the idea that we would know the Clark came back and agreed to preparing Tom for baptism. That we would immediately start that process and Tom and I and those Saturday mornings, the discussions had gotten more in depth and personal and important, but Elder Christofferson would never give me specific direction on this. [00:43:30] He would say when I would lay out my thinking and what I was feeling an answer to my prayers, he would say, that sounds right. That seems like the right answer. That sounds like the right direction. Even though I felt like I was just and I also had two wonderful counselors that served with me all nine and a half of our year together. I did counsel with them often about this so between them and I’m having a chance to [00:44:00] run our thoughts. Past Elder Christofferson a way was opened, directed, and a natural process took place between Tom and Clark and then we followed the proper church procedures and protocols to get Tom ready to go back into the waters of baptism and that baptism, which they Bishop Larson and I both participated in Salt Lake City, was one of the more spiritual meanings of my whole, [00:44:30] including Elder Christofferson a great blessing. When he confirmed him a member of the church after Bishop Larson had baptized him.
Tom: It was a very small group. My four brothers and their wives and there was my second oldest brother’s wife had passed away earlier that year, so she was very much missed than our father had passed away earlier that year and mom the two and a half years before. So, we, it was, [00:45:00] they were very much on our minds and we, it was a President Checketts conducted the meeting. Bishop Larson baptize me at my request and my brother confirmed me and then I had asked each of my brothers if they would share their testimonies. And that was, it really was this perfect family and those who’d played such a significant role in this coming to pass. And it was a terribly sweet. Yeah, it’s been really wonderful.
LLDS: [00:45:30] Is there anything. I’ve got one more question to sort of wrap it up and the question for each of you to sort of a wrap up, but, uh, is there any aspect that we’re missing as far as leadership is concerned that any part of the story we haven’t touched on enough? Or what do you think?
Tom: You know, since this has happened in the bulk that I’ve had more opportunities to speak to a number of leaders and individuals and, and you know, you don’t have to have a brother who’s an apostle for this to happen but for the [00:46:00] spirit to work in someone’s life and for a leader to feel genuine love and a desire to play the Savior’s role of mercy and help that rescue and I think it’s, I think we can all be more courageous and trust that the Lord’s spirit will be felt the timing will be made known and that we don’t have to worry about the physical relationship or whatever. Yeah, there’s a massage parlor [00:46:30] aspect going on there anyway. but really, I think I trust that, that the spirit works in the lives of individuals and our job is to create an atmosphere where that can happen. An atmosphere of welcome and inclusion and acceptance and then allow and trust and have faith that the spirit will do his work and that our Savior will ensure that whatever timing is appropriate to him, things occur. But [00:47:00] each of us can play the role as in that wonderful verse in 3rd Nephi, you don’t know when they will come and repent with a full heart and I will heal them and that you can be the means of bringing salvation. And I think that that is such a glorious promise for all of us to participate in any way that we ought to be less worried and more eager to find those opportunities.
LLDS: [00:47:30] Bishop Larson for you, as you look back on your experience, you know, interacting with Tom and being a leader, a priesthood leader in his life during this time, how has that made you a better disciple of Jesus Christ? As you look back on that?
Larson: Well, it’s hard to not admit candidly that it didn’t have a pretty profound impact on me personally in extraordinarily positive ways as well as my family. And I think some of the lessons that I sort of took from that [00:48:00] are it’s ok to not have all of the answers to some of the very complex things that you have to deal with. And oftentimes we can simplify our ministry by focusing on the very basic, most basic element. And in this case it was, you know, what can I do to have this individual feel welcome walking through the doors of the church and strengthening his relationship with his Savior. And his Father in Heaven, despite not having answers to some of the more complicated questions [00:48:30] that I knew would come down the road that didn’t make me hesitate in embracing him and make him feel welcome at the early stages of what ended up being a beautiful, wonderful story. But I think neither Tom nor I nor present in all honestly could tell you that, you know, in those first month and a couple of years we would have ever imagined this is where the story would have gone. And that didn’t change the approach. The other thing I guess I would add is, you know, what a blessing it worth to [00:49:00] have a relationship with my Stake President with whom I could counsel about these issues in an open and honest and loving way and have him be on the same page that I was on with regards on how to try to minister. And so I guess the most basic, but I think perhaps the strongest lesson I’ve learned through this whole thing is what would the Savior have us do? And how can we be in a position to help his children? And sometimes that simply as basic as making them feel loved and welcome, [00:49:30] and that can have extraordinarily profound consequences when we do that.
LLDS: Awesome President Checketts for you. As you look back and he has alluded to some of the, the personal change and influence it had on you. But, how did this experience with Tom make you help you be a better disciple of Jesus Christ?
Checketts: Thank you first of all for allowing us to participate in this. It’s always a re reminder of how our Father really opened up the windows of heaven and [00:50:00] gave us insight and gave us the inspiration, this love and understanding and it really was the three of us together counseling about this and working toward a wonderful conclusion, painful for Tom many, many ways, a very tough decision many ways. And yet there was no question which way that he was going to go as a fulfillment of the way his life had been lived and especially the love of [00:50:30] his family. The best news about this whole thing is this whole history of this is the love that is families showed. They did not give up on him. They did not try to change him. They accepted both he and his partner as part members of the family and that’s just an extraordinary part of the story. But I think Bishop Larson has said just eloquently the whole [00:51:00] nice about being directed by the Savior. That’s the thing I would add to it is I do know the Lord loves whose children and I do know that he loves all of his children. I do think he has a special place in his heart for his leaders who tried to serve with the with love and compassion and humility and he directed our paths and he also allowed us to [00:51:30] exercise the priesthood in such a way that it was a life changing. Not just to us, Bishop Larson and I and not just to Tom, but to many members of our congregation both in New Canaan and also in the greater Yorktown Stake. And later on, when we had a bit of a crisis and Tom had moved out of our Stake where there was a church wide crisis about a change in policy, [00:52:00] specifically around children of LGBT couples. And the way that came out inelegant to say the last, the least. And we had a number of members of our Stake who started to really suffer as a result of what happened just several weeks before that had happened. Tom had called me and told me he would be in our Stake and it so happened that he was coming. Literally the week after that announcement got out, I did not think that was a [00:52:30] coincidence. I put together a fireside and invited any who were struggling with that issue to come and hear them speak. And with only three days of notice, we had nearly 500 members of our Stake come out on a Sunday night to hear him speak. That’s more than we did on a Saturday night Stake conference session. They came, they came with their hearts, opened. Many of the people who were in the audience [00:53:00] or people who had told their Bishops they were leaving. This was the last straw. They couldn’t be at odds with members of this community anymore. And Tom came and gave a masterful, masterful talk and just calmed everybody. And in our Stake where we had estimated that 75 people had told us they were leaving the church over what had taken place there and the hurt and the timing of all of it. No, we didn’t have one letter [00:53:30] that was written and I really believe it was because they came to that fire side. They open their heart and Tom was the influence and using the spirit and the acting under the direction of the priesthood, he healed. Those souls who came that night and his words, his message sunk deep into their hearts and they recognize that this was truly was an, [00:54:00] is the Lord’s work. And that what had happened in Tom’s life now had become a miracle in their own.
Tom: Well. Can I add one postscript?
Tom: President Checketts with his very generous comments. They heard a Stake President speak with love and compassion and understanding at that meeting who spoke of his times in his life where he had wondered or wrestled with our questions and to speak of [00:54:30] his faith and the things which he was sure. And the spirit definitely attended those remarks and I think the people who were there who had come with very heavy hearts felt that their leader knew their circumstances and loved them unreservedly and felt the confirmation of the spirit to his witness of that which was true.