Tom Christofferson and Dave Checketts: How Inclusion Leads to Christ
“There were parts of my journey that were solitary,” Tom Christofferson said. “But it is a journey towards Christ, and that’s not solitary.”
Christofferson, author of That We May Be One: A Gay Mormon’s perspective on Faith and Family, spoke at Southern Virginia University today, together with his close friend and former stake president, Dave Checketts. Their discussion was facilitated by Jeff Benedict, director of Southern Virginia University’s Institute for Writing and Mass Media.
Benedict asked Christofferson and Checketts to share their perspectives on how members of Church communities and families can better follow the teachings of Christ and learn to love and make others feel accepted.
Christofferson began by summarizing some of the events in his life that initially led him away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
“I fasted and prayed for years that I would change before I would have to tell anyone about it,” Christofferson said, referring to his homosexuality. After serving a mission, Christofferson married a woman in the temple. However, his marriage was annulled several months later. “I felt that I had come to the end of my road of trying to be gay and Mormon — I couldn’t figure out a way to do that.”
Christofferson left the Church and eventually began a relationship with a long-term partner. While the change in his lifestyle presented a difficult adjustment for his family at first, they chose to respond with love and inclusion. As Christofferson explained, “My parents decided that the measurement of their success was whether, as a family, we were united in love for one another.”
“Life happens and you discover there’s no perfect family,” Christofferson recalled his mother saying, “But I really feel like we can be perfect in one way, and that is that we can perfectly love one another.”
As the years went on, Christofferson felt a desire for a greater spiritual presence in his life and began to attend sacrament meeting at a ward in New Canaan, Connecticut. He asked Bishop Bruce Larson if he was welcome to join in their services. “Yes, please come,” Larson responded. “Bring your partner; we want to know both of you.”
Larson explained that the ward was on a mission to become more effective disciples and they would welcome Christofferson’s contribution. For the next five years, Christofferson became, in his own words, “the most active non-member of the New Canaan Ward.”
“All I felt was that they were glad to see me, and that they were pleased that I would choose to be there, and I hope that’s something we all do with our families and friends and our congregations,” Christofferson said. “Other people don’t owe us an indication of their progress; we owe them our love and support as we move forward.”
It was around this time that Christofferson met Dave Checketts, a renowned businessman who served at the time as the stake president of the Yorktown New York Stake, which included the New Canaan ward Christofferson attended.
For Checketts, who had interacted frequently with members of the LGBTQ community while working in prominent sports and entertainment companies in New York City, Christofferson’s attendance at church came as an answer to prayer.
“I had been praying, as a stake president, for an understanding of where there was a ‘place of peace’ as I called it — an intersection where we could really find a way for those who were in that place to have a place in the Church, and then along came Tom,” Checketts said.
The two men became friends, and Checketts invited Christofferson to come to his house every Saturday morning, where they would study the scriptures together. According to Checketts, their studies and discussions influenced his leadership of the stake, and, eventually, led Christofferson to make the decision to be baptized again.
Christofferson’s journey required following daily guidance and doing his best each day. “This is my journey, and everybody else’s will take its own path,” he said. “[But] I felt guided by the Spirit on a daily basis, although I couldn’t see where we were going.”
Checketts agreed. “If you really want to understand the love that the Savior has for you and you truly want to follow Christ, it has to be with all of your heart. And so even though I have had questions and concerns to face, I have managed to trust him, and I think the rewards are incredible.”