Sunstone 2006

Sunstone is well underway here at the Sheraton in SLC. I’m here with my son (a couple of years ago I brought my daughter). In fact, I’m skipping a session so that I can write this.

The Smith-Pettit lecture last night was really fun. Bengt Washburn gave a hilarious stand-up comedy routine on Mormon themes. John Hatch prepared a video montage of about a dozen representations of Mormons in recent movies and TV shows. And then Mark Pinsky, a journalist from Florida, gave a lecture on religion and pop culture. I love that kind of stuff, so I really enjoyed the evening.

This morning I went to a presentation of short films/coming attractions. First was a prize winner called Muzzle, a very strange film that as far as I could tell was an allegory about masturbation involving a chocolate cake. Next was a clip of The Untold Story of Black Mormons, done by Alex Nibley (apparently deriving from the loins of Hugh–there is a strong resemblance). This was excellent. Then was a clip from The Smith Interviews, which told the story of Joseph Smith from various perspectives using the actual words of the participants. I thought this was well done. Finally was a clip of The Natural Family, about one of those silly natural family resolutions that was passed in Kanab.

Then I went to the Brew and View type place for a screening of States of Grace. I was loathe to do this to some extent, because it burned up two sessions, but I hadn’t seen the movie and I wanted to. I thought it was very well done; I think it may be my favorite “Mormon” movie so far. There was still stuff that I thought was too weird for a non-LDS audience to appreciate. [SPOILER ALERT] For instance, I’m sure most people who do not know Mormon culture would be scratching their heads about why the one missionary would try to kill himself, just because he had slept with the next door neighbor. (Quoting his father’s statement that he would rather him come home in a casket than without honor didn’t cut it.) Still, all in all I liked it.

After lunch, I went to Dennis Potter’s presentation on the Americanization of Mormonism Reflected in Pop Culture. I went to this one mainly because he was showing in toto the South Park All About Mormons episode.

That’s it so far. This afternoon I’ll be on a panel discussing Ed Kimball’s Lengthen Your Stride. Tonight will be a screening of Greg Whiteley’s New York Doll, with comments from Greg; I’m looking forward to that one. And there are still two more days of sessions to come.

I’m starting this thread as a placeholder for anyone here to add notes or comments about the sessions she has attended. I’ll try to add more later, but my access is limited, so no promises.


  1. I saw on the program that you were on that panel. I hope it goes well, and would love any of the notes/insights from it. It is a great biography and I haven’t heard much from Kimball himself.

  2. S. P. Bailey says:

    Sounds like much more of a film/tv/entertainment event than I would have expected!

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    I just came back from the Kimball panel. I don’t have any notes, as I was sitting up front on the panel. I was afraid we would have way too much time, as two of our panelists couldn’t make it (Boyd Petersen is having knee surgery, and Devery Anderson couldn’t come for some reason), so John Hatch filled in a little, and it was me, then Greg Prince, and then Ed. John complained a little about the topical format, which was really the only complaint I heard; Greg and I were both very positive on the book.

    I started with my story from last year at this time, when Mike Hicks took me into his garage and showed me SWK’s music collection that Ed had brought over for him to sort through. Among the usual MTC, Lamanite Generation, Hawaiian music, classical symphonies, etc., there was actually some Beatles, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Ed’s theory is that the boys bought those records and they migrated to SWK’s collection. I wanted to take the Dylan album, frame it, and hang it on my wall as SWK’s personal copy of a Dylan album. But I didn’t do it.

    Like many of his generation, SWK was a frugal man. There were a number of symphonies on 78s that had belonged to Spencer Levan, SWK’s oldest son. When SLK moved to New York, he couldn’t take them with him. One in particular was a favorite of SWK, and Mike showed me the name Spencer L. Kimball written on the inside cover, where someone (presumably SWK himself) had overwritten a “W” over the “L.” That was hilarious to me, and I had my son take a picture of it.

    Ed talked about the publication process. Early on Deseret had serious problems with it and didn’t think they could publish it. So Jack Welch was going to do so at BYU Studies. Jack ran into (mental block–the powerful woman at Deseret) at an airport, and she decided they should take another look at it. Ed went through the list of 60 some changes they wanted him to make; about half were good changes, and of the others, rather than delete things he was more willing to add or clarify the point being made. It worked out in the end.

    Got to go to dinner now.

  4. Aaron Brown says:

    Am totally jealous of those in attendance. Wish I could be there. Boo-hoo.

    Aaron B

  5. Thanks Kevin. Any further details on the Deseret negotiation would be very much appreciated. Bon appetite.

  6. You did a very good job on the panel.

    It was Sheri Dew who ran into Jack Welch in the airport, I believe.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Right, Sheri Dew. I just couldn’t remember her name.

    Last night was the screening of New York Doll, which is a really fun movie. Greg Whitely was great in the lengthy Q&A afterwards. He is now the bishop of the ward that Arthur Kane had gone to. I overheard one middle aged woman saying “He could be my bishop anytime.”

    As it turns out, my son and I had lunch with some friends in Highland a few days ago. We had mentioned the screening, and they told us that Greg was their cousin. My son got a DVD signed by Greg last night, and he confirmed it. It’s a small church.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    This morning I attended a session on marketing research regarding member attitudes on the BoM. I didn’t get a lot out of it.

    Then I attended an interesting session on faithful scholarship, with insightful comments by John-Charles Duffy and response by Brian Birch. John-Charle’s thesis was that faithful scholarship has come to dominate Mormon studies.

    Next was a panel on Big Love. I particularly enjoyed the commentary by two polygamist women (Anne Wilde and Mary Batchelor [former polygamist]).

    Then I took my friends Mike and Pam Hicks out for lunch, and we talked through the next session slot.

    This was followed by sessions by John Dehlin on the promise and the peril of the internet and a panel on spirituality in music. (No time for further details.)

  9. Brad Kramer says:

    I’ve also spent time at Sunstone this year, attending different sessions than Kevin. Notably, I attended a panel on Joseph Smith biographies (a comparison of the relative strengths and weaknesses of Remeni, Vogel, and Bushman) featuring Mike Quinn, Don Bradley, and Maxine Hanks. All I’ll say about this is that the discussion was about six times as informative and productive as a similar panel at MHA. Devid Knowlton’s presention on comparative Mormon erotics, with a response from Quinn, was excellent. A fascinating sociological and anthropological analysis of Elder Holland’s “Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments” with some reference to the Family Proclamation. A really interesting and informative discussion that managed not to devolve into a polemic on gay marriage, homosexuals in the Church, etc. This afternoon, I attended a discussion on artistic depictions of the darker corners of Mormon life with Brian Evenson, Neil LaBute, and Richard Dutcher. I thoroughlly enjoyed it (Neil LaBute is hilarious). Tomorrow I’ll attend a panel on Vol 2 of Blake Ostler’s Exploring Mormon Thought series. I haven’t met Blake, but I admire his work so I’m looking forward to it.

  10. I was there all day Friday, and am really sorry that I can’t be there all three days. I was at John’s presentation– it was really well attended. The session that I thought was best of the whole day was three couples who have differing levels of church activity/belief. They discussed how that’s affected their relationships. They were extremely honest, and all were very interesting and touching.

    Anyone who’s missed Sunstone and would like to hear some of these sessions can download them from in a few days. There is a fee for these recent ones.

    I’ve been to Sunstone off and on for 20 years, and I think that this was by far the best one in the last ten years.

  11. My experience has been a fascinating juxtaposition of homosexuality and feminism. On Wednesday I attended Carol Lynn Pearson’s workshop Circling the Wagons. A lot of pain came out in this session, but Carol Lynn infused all with hope and incited everyone to activism. It was obvious that the Church had indeed made steps (albeit too few) to come to terms with homosexuality. Much has changed since her book Goodbye I Love You came out. Saturday there were many sessions on the subject, and it was affectionately being termed “Gay Day.”

    In stark contrast was a session I attended Saturday, Women in the Ministry. Susan Skoor of the Council of the Twelve for the Community of Christ (RLDS) spoke candidly and with much presence about her call and the effects upon her church of ordaining women. She was followed by Nadine R. Hansen and Vickie Stewart Eastman. Both women seemed discouraged and disillusioned by their years in Mormon feminism. The Church has made no discernible progress, even going backward in many instances. Women still lack power and a voice in LDS theology and practice. Vickie said, “The fight for equality is over. Equality & status is worse than when we started. Patriarchy has prevailed.” Nadine noted that the Proclamation on the Family locks women into a subordinate role for eternity. The two speakers had little advice for questioners who asked, “What can we do?” The only possibility projected in this session was to develop allies in the existing power structure. It was noted that we might have to wait for a few funerals to take place.

    Other sessions on feminism, including Janice Allred’s theological treatise All are Alike Unto God seemed subdued. Margaret Toscano’s session, Are Boys More Important Than Girls? remarked that equal treatment could not exist under the current system. She also stated that 70% of LDS women were content with their role in the Church. It makes sense from their perspective to ignore inequalities. Margaret noted the attitude among LDS women that “if I err, I want it to be on the side of obedience,” making the leader accountable. Woman is thus absolved of her spiritual responsibility.

    On the whole, I found the outlook bleak. Though I am not an advocate of women being ordained to the male model of priesthood as it now stands, I nonetheless feel a lack of power and voice in the Church. I see the women who have led out on these issues feeling tired and resigned. These pioneers have taken too many losses.

    More hopeful were the young men who attended feminist sessions and seemed supportive. All I can say to them is, stay feminist, and STAY IN THE CHURCH. Get a call as Stake President or General Authority. Then, we’ll see…

    One single bright spot of light for feminism was the session on Feminist blogging. Personally, I see Mormon feminism as represented on the Bloggernacle as being quite mild and not too activist. But a woman at the Symposium (you know who you are!) stood to prophesy that if there were to be any changes, they would come about through the internet. And I believe her.

  12. More hopeful were the young men who attended feminist sessions and seemed supportive. All I can say to them is, stay feminist, and STAY IN THE CHURCH. Get a call as Stake President or General Authority. Then, we’ll see…

    I’m one of those young men, but unfortunately those of us in support of increasing the role of women in the church are usually some of the least likely to be ever put in a position to make change.

  13. Bored in Vernal,

    It would be interesting to know where Toscano got the 70% number – not that I question it, it seems about right to me, but the research behind it would be fascinating.

    Sadly, since it only involves those still in the church, it does not take into account the unknown number who have left.

    I do not doubt that the Internet has been a great help to some women in the church as they find others who share their concerns and are able to communicate among themselves. Everybody needs a friend, right? But I am curious about what you mean when you say that change would come about through the Internet. It is hard for me to imagine someone at the COB reading the feminacle, then smacking his palm to his forehead and saying “Eureka, NOW I get it!” I doubt that is what you meant, either. Can you elaborate?

  14. hahaha!
    No, that’s not what I meant. And one thing stated at the Symposium was that change could not be expected to come from the top. In addition, in a hierarchical Church, real change _can only_ come from the top. So I think what was being expressed was a change in that 70% number. (margaret didn’t say where that came from) Getting together on the “feminacle” can help us identify those vague feelings that Something Is Not Right. And support women who think that I Am The Only One Who Feels This Way. And bring back together in some fashion those who have left (but can’t leave the Church alone!) And help us share with others how we have handled stubborn Bishops…

    If more women are aware of the feminist issues in the Church, we might have more influence on our priesthood-wielding husbands. As one of the speakers stated: “I can’t believe one of the wives of the GA’s didn’t grab hold of her husband and say, Look at the implications of that wording in the Proclamation!”

  15. If more women are aware of the feminist issues in the Church, we might have more influence on our priesthood-wielding husbands. As one of the speakers stated: “I can’t believe one of the wives of the GA’s didn’t grab hold of her husband and say, Look at the implications of that wording in the Proclamation!”

    I don’t know about anything behind the background of the Proc., but history has shown that a signature on a church proclamation or manifesto does not mean that the signer agrees with or actually supports the document.

  16. Jothegrill says:

    I’m part of the 70%, but if more of the men in the church were like my sweet husband, the women in the church would have nothing to worry about.

  17. I attended on Friday and saw John D.’s presentation, among others. He did a great job.

  18. FYI: I personally know the individual employed by LDS Public Affairs in SLC whose job it is to monitor the bloggernacle for content “of interest” (and no…he doesn’t just read blogs ALL day…bloggernacle watch dog is only one of the many duties he has). He passes along the information to his immediate superiors…and beyond that he is not aware how high up the information goes.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    Maria, if it is someone’s job “to monitor the bloggernacle for content “of interest””, no wonder he doesn’t read blogs all day. That sounds like a five minute job to me.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    I’m finally home from vacation and have regular internet access. (I was doing the above at the hotel business center at $4.00/15 minutes, so I was trying to be as quick as possible.)

    Here’s what I did on Saturday:

    – A very nice and positive presentation by Jennifer Jones on human sexuality.

    – Carol Lynn Pearson’s Goodbye, I Love You Twenty Years Later. (Her daughter Emily, who has been in the news recently over her own experience being married to a gay husband [Steven Fales, who was also at Sunstone, but I didn’t attend his session], was there and made a comment or two. She was sitting with a guy who was quite good looking and hunky, so you don’t need to cry for her anymore.)

    – Mormon Cinema at Six: A Progress Report. This was an excellent panel on Mormon films, including the omnipresent Richard Dutcher, and a fine new addition to the fraternity, a recent convert named Kevin Foxe (producer of the Blair Witch Project). In another session they showed a clip from a movie he is working on, The Joseph Smith Interviews, which I thought was excellent.

    Although the panel itself was good, I got so annoyed during the Q&A that I left early. It seemed like everyone who went up to the mike didn’t actually have a question, but just wanted to pontificate, droning on and on in an inarticulate way. There seems to be a lot of this “type” at Sunstone, and it was annoying the hell out of me at that particular moment.

    – Over the lunch break there was a fuller set by Bengt Washburn, doing a Mormon-themed stand-up routine. He was very funny.

    – I attended the session on Mormon urban legends by Bob Rees, with a response by Allen Roberts. Bob focused on those arising after 9/11.

    – Then I went to a great presentation on Hitchcock’s Mormon Plot. It focused on the presenter’s journey to try to figure out why Hitch inserted several passages from the BoM in a funeral scene in his last movie, Family Plot. He had done his homework in film archives and with Hitch historians, and while there was really no way to know for sure, the journey was very fun.

    – The last thing I went to was a film screening of Peculiarities, by BYU playwrite Eric Samuelsen. There was mixed reaction from the audience, but I liked it. It was an interwoven collection of six stories, all centered around LDS phariseeisms regarding sex. For instance, one of the stories was entitled NCMO, for Non-Committal Make-Out. Another was entitle Tahoe. Most people didn’t understand this one, thinking it was about pregnancy or abortion. I saw right away that it was about a couple who had gone to Tahoe, gotten married, had sex, gotten divorced or annulled, and then were driving back to Utah when we see them in the film.

    That was it, I didn’t attend the banquet that night.

    I had a great time, saw some old friends and got to hang with others, enjoyed most of the sessions I attended, spent some time in the hotel pool, ate at the Spaghetti Factory in Trolley Square. It doesn’t get much better than that.

  21. There seems to be a lot of this “type” at Sunstone, and it was annoying the hell out of me at that particular moment.

    I was recently speaking with a non-Mormon scholar of Mormonism, who is well published and active in accademic circles. I asked her if she ever attended SunStone and her response was basically that there was too much angst and whining for her tastes. I’m not sure how you temper that, but it is a bit of a problem, I think.

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    J., I just thought of another detail Ed shared about the negotiation regarding his book. He tells a story about a GA who went early to the dedication of a stake center or some other building on a Sunday. They were working hard to get it ready for the ceremony, and were still laying sod on a Sunday when the GA arrived. The GA complained to SWK, whose reply was “Next time, don’t go so early.” Deseret asked Ed to remove the name of the GA, and he agreed, since the specific identity of the GA involved didn’t matter to the story.

  23. It seemed like everyone who went up to the mike didn’t actually have a question, but just wanted to pontificate, droning on and on in an inarticulate way.

    Well, the same could be said of Fast and Testimony meeting, in my ward. But the positive far outweighed the negative in the sessions I attended, and I’m very glad I went. A couple of the sessions left me feeling much better about my own position in the church and reminded me of why I stay, despite the irritations– particularly the “Pillars of my Faith” on Saturday night. The session on couples who have different levels of belief/activity in the church was also very well-done without any complaining that I noticed. I’m in that situation myself, and it was very comforting to me to hear from others in similar situations, even if there wasn’t particularly any resolution to their situations.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    pjj, I wanted to go to the couples session, but I had a conflict. I noticed that one of the couples in the session was Tom Kimball and his wife. I know Tom and met his wife at MHA in Vermont a couple of years ago. What was their situation as described in the session? Just curious.

  25. Kevin, I kind of hate to speak for anyone else about the state of their belief in the church. And I’m thinking that you might be mixed up about how they met– I think Tom said that they met in Virginia about 15 years ago. My quick summary of how they described their marriage is that Tom has recently felt more and more comfort with the church, while his wife, Paige, has been having her own doubts, and is feeling less comfortable in the church. She’s willing to keep going to church for him now, since he stayed somewhat active for her earlier.

  26. pjj, Kevin said that he met Tom’s wife a couple of years ago, not that Tom met his own wife a couple of years ago.

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks, pjj, I just wanted to know between the two of them which was the one more comfortable and which less comfortable with church, and you answered my question. (Since this was a public presentation given by the Kimballs themselves and was recorded for sale, I don’t view this as gossip at all. And John F. is correct that I meant to say I met Tom’s wife a couple of years ago, not that he did.)

  28. Hi Kevin, now that I reread your comment, I see what you meant. I’d just gotten home from Utah, and was apparently brain dead. I did feel comfortable talking about what they said since it was publicly announced, but was a little worried about accidentally reporting their words incorrectly. Since people sometimes really get smeared on the internet, I wouldn’t want anything I said, re their committment to the church to make someone else decide they’re bad people.

  29. I’m interested in the conclusions that came out of the presentation of the various Joseph Smith biographies. How has Bushman’s book been received overall? Has there been a local review of any substance of the book since its pubication in Nov 2004 (besides the one in the Nov 2005 Sunstone Magazine)? I understand that many among BYU’s religion faculty were not pleased with the book but I have no way to substantiate that. Any responses would be appreciated.