I received my first vinyl Soundgarden album in middle school. I eventually fell in love with Pearl Jam, scorning Nirvana as no talent hacks. I was raised in a Seattle suburb, so I had some grunge cred even though I wore preppy shirts tucked in and leather shoes with matching belt. I even had a semi-grunge band during my first year at BYU. Just before I left on a mission to France and Belgium we released our self titled debut, Splendid Sun. One of the greatest lessons I learned during those years is that while angst makes great music it makes a crappy gospel. In the last couple of years I have learned further that it makes crappy Mormon Studies.
I once asked a prominent historian of Mormonism that happens to not share our faith if she ever went to Sunstone. Her response, “No. There is just too much angst.” Now, I just attended Sunstone’s Seattle symposium and really enjoyed several of the presentations. Bonner Ritchie’s account of Elder Hunter commissioning him to build bridges with Palestinians was an extraordinary example of what the organization can and should promote. I wish Sunstone success as I realize that there is a significant population of Mormons that find community there and they have done some really great things. My prescience suggests, however, that with the recent establishment of Mormon Studies associations (e.g., SMPT, EMSA, MSH, MSSA) that offer the scholar new and elevated fora for presentation/publication and the continued effort to grow older scholarly associations (e.g., Maxwell Institute), Sunstone will become, basically, a forum for popular culture and liberal community. This is a great niche, but even at the fairly conservative (by Sunstone standards) symposium this weekend, the average Mormon would have been very uncomfortable and perhaps would have been offended because it was assumed that anyone there was a “Sunstoner” and therefore a measure of commiseration and angst was acceptable as a reprieve from the trial that is regular interactions with Mormons. If Sunstone is to survive, it will be because they make a conscious effort to not wallow in angst. They have done this in print, but the symposia are a different animal. I consider myself a fairly open individual to aberrations within the standard Mormon model, but I can’t help feeling a measure of what my historian friend felt.
You can’t have angst and remain. You either get over your angst or you leave. There are tons of web communities that are antagonistic to Mormonism. These communities, sometimes referred to as the DAMU (Disaffected Mormon Underground) are cauldrons of angst and antipathy. We recently had several links to BCC from some popular DAMU sites and the decline in the conversation here was palpable. This isn’t because somehow the truth was more fully elucidated, but because these individuals aren’t interested in constructive discourse. The light can handle all things on which it shines, but truth is not flavored with angst. Without qualification the DAMU community is not welcome here at BCC. Additionally, the message board style handles and disrespectful discourse that is common on many internet fora are not welcome here.
Some might say that the truth will necessarily cause angst in many. I disagree. Look at the greatest institutions in Mormon Studies among us. At the Mormon History Association, you have individuals from all perspectives, from Dan Vogel to Susan Easton Black. The discourse is courteous and devoid of the hate and angst that so many love. This isn’t to say that there isn’t pain. But angst and pain are very different. I still weep every time I fully consider Jane Manning James. Mountain Meadows Massacre hurts. My own path out of the correlated worldview included some hefty bumps and bruises. This is normal and natural. But the difference between pain and angst is a choice. The study of history can yield compassion, empathy and forgiveness.
A recent new comer to the bloggernacle remarked to me how elevated she felt the discourse was compared to other electronic Mormon communities. Let’s keep it that way and improve.