I was talking with some friends the other day about mormon journals (1), and in particular the legitimacy divide between ‘mainstream’ or ‘sanctioned’ publications such as BYU Studies and ‘independent’ or ‘fringe’ publications such as Sunstone. The question arose as to whether Sunstone could ever be accepted as a mainstream publication by members of the Church. (2)
It’s a difficult question. First you’d have to determine what you mean by “mainstream,” which isn’t a term with obvious meaning. Arguably, no academic magazine or journal is mainstream in our church; statistically, we read the Ensign/Liahona but little else. Readership aside, I don’t believe that the Church seal of approval is required for a given publication to be accepted by mormons as being mainstream. Nor, I believe, should we definitively tie the notion of mainstream legitimacy to Church funding, or else there could never be a legitimate and independent mormon magazine or journal. Weep, ye Meridian readers!
Perhaps an appropriate notion of mainstream for such a venture has little to do with readership numbers and more to do with a sense of how the publication is used/quoted/referred to by the general membership? This measure is unsatisfyingly vague, but I believe it to be a fair litmus test. Mention BYU Studies in your Sunday School class, and you might get some eye-rolls from the anti-intellectuals, but no one questions your testimony. But start reading from your latest edition of Sunstone, and you may as well have publicly torn up your temple recommend.
Putting aside the thorny issue of defining legitimacy, I wonder if Sunstone can ever become legitimate or mainstream under any common use of the term. I am not sure that simply adopting more faith-promoting content would be sufficient to accomplish this. There are more issues of religion-making at play, and those quasi-apostate tendencies are the most public affronts to Sunstone‘s acceptance by Joe Mormon. For example, so long as prayers are uttered at Sunstone symposia to both Father and Mother in Heaven, legitimacy will be completely off the table. I would also suggest that in order to be welcomed by the average mormon, Sunstone would also have to dissociate itself from prominent ex-mormons and those antagonistic to the Church. In other words, it might have to reinvent itself and disavow some of its own history.
It’s an open question as to whether it is necessary or desirable for Sunstone to become legitimate. Much of what I have suggested above as steps towards mainstreaming would kill the heart of Sunstone for many (perhaps including myself). But I greet with cautious optimism efforts to ‘bridge the gap’ or other reconciliatory gestures by the foundation, and wonder if these can be effective in the long term.
Those more versed in Sunstone‘s history and current administration can comment and rebuke me for my ignorance. I know more about how Sunstone is perceived than about Sunstone itself.
(1) ‘mormon’ uncapitalized just to tweak Danithew.
(2) Some people ask the same thing about mormon blogs.