Can Sunstone ever become legitimate?

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.


  1. ya know, saying that Sunstone is perceived as illegitimate based on vague generalizations is a little akin to saying the nacle is borderline apostate based on vague generalizations

    just sayin’

    (and now, I return to lurking)

  2. Nick Literski says:

    Perhaps I’m getting too semantic, Steve, but I can’t help but notice that you seem to equate “mainstream” with “legitimate.” What is it that makes a “non-mainstream” publication somehow “illegitimate?”

    That said, I have observed over the years that many LDS only consider something “legitimate” if it has at least an implied approval. For example, books published by Deseret Book are not explicitly approved by the LDS church, yet the membership knows that the LDS church owns Deseret Book, creating an implied sanction. Therefore, many members trust Deseret Book publications as “legitimate.” I’ve run across a very few extremists, in fact, who consider anything regarding the LDS church that is not published by Deseret Book (or by the LDS church directly) to be automatically suspect.

    This seems to be a common thread. Many LDS seem to have a strong desire for this sort of sanction. They want sanctioned versions of Mormon history. They want sanctioned statements of LDS doctrine. They want to be told what to trust, and what not to trust.

  3. Nick, while I think you’re overstating things, from the perspective of the average member of the church there will probably be a large overlap between a mainstream LDS publication and a legitimate one, but not necessarily so. Specialized publications are an obvious example of a domain that can be legitimate but not mainstream. For a mormon publication of general interest such as Sunstone, the concepts of legitimacy and mainstream begin to approach each other.

    Plus, my post is sloppy and I don’t properly distinguish as I ought.

  4. Steve,
    I think you’re probably right about several of the obstacles between Sunstone and the mainstream of [M]ormon thought. I’d offer one more: aesthetics.

    I admit that the only issue I’ve seen in years was the one a few years ago about the Church and technology. And it was horrible. Not in terms of content; for me, that was merely not memorable. But it reminded me of the self-published writer’s magazine I interned with during college: every page was a uniform heavy glossy cardstock, with a nomial Quark-inspired layout. So, before I even opened it, I was unimpressed; it felt low-budget and amaturish. (Contrast that to Dialogue or BYU Studies, both of which look like professionally-produced journals.) (And, lest I be accused of bias, I’m much less likely to open the Ensign now that its design is so dumbed-down.)

    It may be that the one issue I’ve received and read in the last ten years is an abberation; however, it’s not at newsstands anywhere I’ve lived in ten years, or anywhere I’m likely to ever live. So I can’t pick it up and be surprised at how much it’s improved, and I’m not going to order it based on that memory (so maybe that’s a second reason: Sunstone can’t really get a second chance: most of us can’t buy it on impulse at Borders, so it never has the chance to change our minds).

  5. I think there is a core to the mormon religion (things like the book of mormon as a true record, joseph smith as a true prophet, Heavenly Father as who we pray to, Jesus as our saviour, the current church leadership is inspired, the order of the priesthood as true, etc.) which forms the perspective of reality for the mormon world view, and thus anything which strays outside this sphere is considered illegitimate. A trick is that this sphere is not static, but is constantly changing, so it becomes necassary to keep up or to fall out of legitmacy. An example of this would be statements made by BRM or BY which were very legitimate in their time, but have fallen somewhat out of legitimacy since. On the flip side, The Truth way and the Life by BH Roberts was considered legitmate and not published when it was first written, but has gained a certain level of legitmacy since that time.

  6. In response to Matt W.:

    I think the biggest issue the Church had with Roberts’ TWL was his views on evolution and pre-Adamic man, which, when compared with today’s studies on evolution, are definitely dated. I see wisdom in the decision to not publish that part of the book; they hoped Roberts would concede to remove those particular sections, but Roberts, I love the guy, stuck to his guns.

    the reason I mention this is it seems you almost thing B.H.’s views in TWL have been vindicated, when in reality the rabbit hole has only gotten deeper.

  7. For example, so long as prayers are uttered at Sunstone symposia to both Father and Mother in Heaven…

    Is this a regular occurrence? (My question here is genuine; I’ve only been to one symposium, and I don’t recall any prayers.)

  8. LifeonaPlate:

    You are correct. I didn’t mean that BH was vindicated, but it is more socially acceptable now to read TWL than it was then. Or atleast it seems that way to me. I was looking for an example of something moving from illegitimate to legitimate over time. Perhaps a better example would be the idea that the priesthood ban was about racism instead of cain’s curse. this used to be considered illegitimate, but has moved into legitimacy.

  9. I want to add that I ultimately do not think I understand what the mission of Sunstone is. It just seems like “Faith Seeking Understanding” doesn’t seem to cover it for me.

  10. Justin,

    At the Pillars of my Faith session this year, the opening prayer was addressed to “our Heavenly Parents” and the closing prayer to “Heavenly Father and Mother”.

  11. I think Nick makes a nice point. Just like most people check a movie’s rating before they go (for various reasons), in the same way most Mormons want some sort of approval or screening on books or journals before they buy. A book purchased at Deseret Book carries (informally) a “Deseret Book seal of approval.”

    It may sound odd to some people who read lots of LDS books, but a large chunk of the Mormon population doesn’t know the difference between BYU Studies and Dialogue, or between various authors and publishers of books aimed at the LDS market. But they don’t want to give a book from the wrong side of the faith spectrum as a Christmas gift, or even for personal reading. The “DB seal of approval” solves their problem.

  12. Isn’t the whole existance of Sunstone (and similar) tied up in not being “legitimized?”

  13. Steve, I’m not sure what you felt was so overstated about Nick’s comment. I’ve run into the attitudes that Nick summarized quite a bit. I help run the Rocky Mountain Retreat, and there are many women who won’t come because it’s not “official”, even though they hear from friends about how much they enjoy it, etc. Another example is the folks who didn’t know how to react to the comments in PBS’s “The Mormons” because they didn’t know what the speakers’ background in the church was.

    And, I’ve been to Sunstone off and on, to parts of about ten symposia, and that’s the first I recall any prayers to heavenly parents.

  14. Steve,

    I agree with your point about how the publication is used/quoted/referred to by the general membership, but I don’t think you can separate this from readership so easily. How is anyone going to use/quote/refer to a publication they have never heard of? That is the real problem for Sunstone, Dialogue, and even BYU Studies. No one in my ward has ever heard of Dialogue. Okay, a few of the older people who used to live in Utah have heard of it, but none of the people my age have ever heard of it. I know from having asked them.

    In one sense, this makes it easier on Sunstone. If they can find a way to break through with the membership, there are lots of places where they don’t have to overcome negative perceptions. They have the chance to make a good first impression. But, even though I have seen Dialogue and Sunstone doing a lot to attract new and younger readers (free issues, blogs, back issues available over the internet), they still haven’t even made it onto the radar of anyone I know in my ward. Everything else is moot unless and until that can be overcome. (Although probably it is a different situation in Utah)

  15. Steve,

    It could be someday seen as more legit. I am not sure though if the powers that be want Sunstone to be like BYU Studies though.

    Also the prayer issue is the kind of thing that in my view casts doubt that the TBM’s could see Sunstone as legit.

    I also think that within reason there is a place for more edgy LDS writing and thought. Its more interesting thats for sure.

  16. Both Dialogue and Sunstone do have the problem Nick mentions, that they do not have an easy way to tell if they are pro or anti-mormon. BYU Studies is easy enough, and so is Farms, they both say LDS all over them. Even FAIR is pretty easy to put in the “Pro-LDS” camp with a little checking. Dialogue and Sunstone, in a lot of ways, look “anti” to the church.

  17. #14 Dave

    That is why as a kid I always got a novel for Christmas about some guy who fought international drug lords in between Elders quorum, home teaching, and searching for an eternal companion.

  18. Sorry i keep commenting, but I was actually planning on a post aobut this, and now I am going to use this opportunity to get all my thoughts out. I think another issue with Sunstone and Dialogue, at least for me, is that I don’t want to give money to people who are going to use it to publish stuff like the new “boys are better than girls in the evil eyes of the mormon church”. I’m willing to read that stuff online and consider it, but I’m not comfortable with paying for it.

  19. Steve Evans says:

    I’ve amended my comment and removed the Nick/Steve bickering. Mea culpa.

    Jacob, I agree that readership levels are a factor in perception, but I don’t know that they can be the determining factor. They seem so intertwined that it’s hard to distinguish whether legitimacy comes from readership, or vice versa. I think there’s a strong hypothetical argument to be made that if Sunstone’s readership multiplied by 100,000, then issues of legitimacy would disappear.

    Sam, I agree re: aesthetics.

    Paula, I defer to your knowledge of what’s been done at past Sunstones, but my understanding is that the prayers from the recent symposia aren’t the first of their kind.

  20. Steve Evans says:

    I would also note that there is very likely to be a lag between the legitimacy in a publication’s content and perception of that legitimacy. For example, I believe Dialogue has been fairly mainstream and legitimate for years, but people don’t yet realize it.

  21. Matt, I think that you need to be a bit more careful in your characterizations (e.g., #21). I don’t think any of us would associate with such material.

    RE: This year’s prayers at Sunstone Salt Lake (and the Tanner session for that matter). If Sunstone ever wants to be a legitimate voice in Mormon matters, then they will have to dump the Symposia. I realize that there is loads of good stuff there (e.g., many of our good friends like Kevin, Blake and Sam presented), but it seems as if the well is poisoned.

  22. Steve Evans says:

    J., I don’t know that Sunstone would have to abandon symposia altogether; that seems like a drastic thought — and for many, leaving the symposia behind would kill the very heart of Sunstone.

  23. Steve, there very well could have been other prayers like that in the past, but that’s not been the norm as far as I’ve seen. There have been some sessions in the past about praying to Mother in Heaven, if I remember right. I just am not bothered by it– there’s enough other good stuff at Sunstone that it doesn’t bother me, and, well, weird stuff happens at church too. But then I’m not exactly mainstream either.

  24. At the Pillars of my Faith session this year, the opening prayer was addressed to “our Heavenly Parents” and the closing prayer to “Heavenly Father and Mother”.

    Thanks for the report, Mark IV. I was under the assumption that public prayers of this type went out of vogue in the mid-1990s.

  25. J. I apologize if what I said seemed to mischaracterize. I was referring to the current issue of sunstone.

    I am here freely admitting I don’t subscribe to any LDS publication besides the Ensign. Why? Because I am Poor. That may delegitimize my comment, but to expand it somewhat, I also would personally prefer to not buy books published by signature books, because they publish some books I don’t agree with. I don’t think they are all bad, but I don’t give my money to them.

    Of course, this is all hypocrtical of me, because Deseret Book also publishes some books I don’t agree with… I guess I see the two as apples and oranges though… Not sure why.

  26. Nick Literski says:

    As I think about this further, not even an implied “stamp or approval” is always enough to make a publication appear “legitimate.” When I was in a married student ward at Utah State University, we had a bishop who was a CES employee. One of his counselors, a student, was upset to find (years after the fact) that BYU Studies had published D. Michael Quinn’s article on prayer circles. This student/counselor thought it was inappropriate discussion of the temple. The student/counselor took the article to the bishop, to share his concern. The bishop, a full time CES seminary instructor, was equally offended, and soon announced that based on the publication of that article, he would have to “rethink his position on BYU Studies.”

    To be perfectly clear, this bishop was an oddity. He also had dreams in which he saw himself as a messianic figure, coming to “rescue” the members of the student married ward, and he shared those dreams over the pulpit. He also stated over the pulpit that in his opinion, none of the married students (ranging from early 20s to early 30s) were “old enough to handle [their] callings.” In other words, I am not, by any means, saying this bishop was representative of typical members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Opinions expressed by this bishop do not represent the opinions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its management or ownership.

  27. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 24 Poisoned??? I was only there for one day and maybe I went to different sessions than you did, but that seems like a terrible mischaracterization. It’s hard to imagine anything less “anti-Mormon” than what I heard there, the majority of which came from active members.

  28. Nick (29)- That was funny.

  29. There are probably lower bars to hurdle, but we can definitely say that Sunstone will be legitimized when someone quotes from it in GC (even if not by name but as part of the footnotes in someone’s talk).

  30. Steve Evans says:

    Nick (#29) – that was funny, and I think you could be on the mark. That fact is, no indicia of legitimacy will be necessarily be enough to satisfy.

    p.s. did the bishop happen to speak for Intellectual Reserve, Inc.?

  31. Justin, I didn’t attend the symposium this year, but got my information from Dallas’ blog.

  32. Queuno: My Wife did quote Jana Reiss in Relief Society a couple weeks ago. Her statement, which I think is pertinent here was “Truth is truth, regardless of the source.” (She was not referring to Jana, but to sunstone. I told her Jana Reiss is awesome.)

  33. John Mansfield says:

    Has Sunstone ever printed an issue without any contributions by former members of the church or members whose participation is limited by church discipline?

  34. Nick Literski says:

    Unfortunately, this bishop was a serious oddball. On another occasion, he got up in sacrament meeting and released every woman in a Relief Society calling, with the sole exception of the president herself, and presented new names for every calling. This came as a complete surprise to the Relief Society president, who was never advised, let alone consulted. In conjunction with this action, he announced (remember this was a full-time seminary instructor) that for the first time in his life, he had received a personal revelation, and he now believed in such a thing.

    I don’t think he was speaking for Intellectual Reserve, but he certainly reserved his intellect. ;-)

  35. Kevin Barney says:

    John Dehlin rightly has noted that Sunstone used to have some more mainstream participation among Mormon scholars. For instance, I know Dan Peterson presented like three times in the past. The “alternative voices” speech by DAO basically put a stop to any BYU participation, which was pretty much a death knell to moderate voices, which really hurt Sunstone. I go to Sunstone and read the magazine and enjoy it, but I’m something of an anomaly among faithful scholars. Most will see something like the session lionizing the Tanners at the recent symposium and simply refuse to come and support something like that.

    I’m not really sure whether there is a way to rehabilitate the reputation of Sunstone without at the same time pissing off its existing base that likes things just as they are. If there is, it will be a very fine balance that will have to be found.

  36. DAO? You mean DHO?

    As an interested bystander, what is it that makes sunstone symposium worthwhile to you kevin? I mean, you even fly out there to do it on your own dime. That’s a pretty large committment. Is it just the friends and associations you already have there? Why should someone like me, a person with no friends or associations there, be interested in forking out my cash to go?

  37. J. Stpley: I Have to agree with Mike: your statement about the symposia seems way off without further explanation. Of course, I’ve only attended one as well, so maybe you have more experience with them than I do.

    Sam: Feel free to make your impulse buy here.

    My experience with Sunstone has been only positive. My one attendance of a symposium was excellent and the limited reading I have done in the magazine has been thought-provoking and inspiring. I still remember one issue from my college days in the 80’s where the cover story was entitled: “Do you still believe in magic?” Fabulous.

    Whether this means that Sunstone will ever be “legitimate” or “mainstream” (two very different concepts IMO) is beyond my ability to predict, but it appears to me that attempts are being made to move in that direction, which I welcome.

  38. Kevin Barney says:

    Yes, Matt, DHO. Thanks for the catch.

    I’m sort of a Mormon conference junkie. I go to MHA, FAIR and Sunstone when I can. My favorite aspect to this is social; I enjoy the people. And I don’t get rattled by negative sessions; I can let that stuff roll right off my back. Most people do not have that capacity and would go nuts sitting through a presentation like that.

  39. Interesting topic, Steve, I’d like to offer a few thoughts:

    First, Sunstone isn’t necessarily seeking to become “mainstream” in the sense you are using it. In fact, I think an official stamp of approval is not something Sunstone would want, and the fact that you can’t read from the magazine in Sunday School is certainly okay with the Foundation. The goal with this push is simply to reach those who value the inquiry and the discussion, nothing more.

    Sunstone certainly suffers from a perception that is hard to shake. Yes, it publishes those disaffected or disciplined, but it doesn’t advocate a specific issue or platform – it’s a forum for discussion and exploration. As kevin noted, the loss of the more “mainstream” participation after DAO’s address did result in less balance, but we recognize that there is value in a balanced and spirited discussion and we’re working on that (and making progress).

    Also, one clarification, the magazine and forums are not trying to become more “faith-promoting”, as you use the term above, but rather we are trying to emphasize an approach that is faith friendly (for lack of a better term). There’s a subtle distinction there, but an important one. It speaks to an approach that values faith, but is still independent and can explore that faith, to be critical in the examination of that faith in constructive ways.

    Constructive is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but I hope you will read me charitably in this sense.

    As to the prayer issue, I chaired this year’s Pillars – a great session that combined a very fascinating address by John Kessler about his journey in Mormonism, and a touching and personal address by Jana Reiss as she talked about her conversion to Mormonism in the midst of her theological training (Dialogue and Sunstone figured prominently in her journey).

    In our efforts to be ecumenical, what if we had a Rabbi offer a prayer in Hebrew? Or a Native American blessing? Would we recoil and criticize? Or would we be humbled and appreciative of such a public offering? I think it is only that Mother in Heaven is such a touchy subject in Mormonism that we condemn and criticize those who find real spiritual meaning and strength in such an expression. I have faith that God is more charitable than we are, and that those prayers are accepted with love.

    The rehabilitation of Sunstone is ongoing and it will take time. Yes, it will require a very fine balancing act, but at the same time it has a solid foundation and a rich history to build on. Some skeletons? Certainly. But also a great deal of good. It’s a narrow market, to be sure, but a market that desires this type of offering.

  40. Honestly, I don’t think my remark is off. The Seattle Symposia that I have attended have been great. However, when you start doing things that the current Church president has asked us not to do (like pray to MiH) then it is like bringing beer to the ward party…you lose the body of the Saints.

  41. Hmm. I was composing my response right after Kevin, and I repeated the DAO. It’s DHO.

    And, using those letters in the words of Homer: Doh!

  42. Rory, you actually, by invoking other faith traditions, underscore the problem. Would the average Mormon go to a bunch of Hindus, Buhists, or Evangelicals to learn more about Mormonism?

  43. J. in his #42 is right — since when is Sunstone trying to be ecumenical?

  44. One more note before Steve slaps me – there is a video on SunstoneBlog with J. Bonner Ritchie, wherein he describes the reason that he supports and participates in Sunstone. He’s a retired BYU professor, former chair of the board at Sunstone, and continues to sit on the board. A short video, but a good one.

  45. re #42 – No, but we certainly invite Helen Whitney, or Jan Shipps, or Jeff Needle, or any of a number of people from other traditions with a perspective on Mormonism.

    Is that a bad thing? Is inviting a non-Mormon to pray, or a non-traditional Mormon to pray, something to be criticized? Aren’t we bigger than that?

  46. Rory, I think the concern is not that of learning from people who are not mormons, but rather that of trying to transform mormonism to suit the desires of those who are not mormons. Religion-making, in other words. I don’t think anyone’s concerned that the rabbi offering a prayer in Hebrew is out to give women the priesthood or get mormons to start worshipping the Divine Feminine.

  47. Steve is correct. Honestly, why not just say, “we don’t want to be legitimate and mainstream”? I can respect that, though you seem to be close to admitting that in #39.

  48. Kevin Barney says:

    Honestly I wasn’t bothered by the prayers myself. (I’m not sure how Sunstone would control prayers like this; people are asked to pray and they get up and say whatever they want.) When people from the CoC tradition pray, they give a more Protestant form of prayer, but it doesn’t bother me. I actually kind of appreciate the diversity in prayer practice; I guess I see it as kind of an interesting novelty. (But I understand that most members wouldn’t be quite so ecumenical about it.)

    The Pillars of My Faith session was a real spiritual highlight of this year’s symposium, and if Sunstone is trying to appeal to a broader range of Mormons, this is the kind of thing they will want to do more of. The session was absolutely terrific. Not something you would ever hear in a sacrament meeting, but very spiritual, very faith-affirming.

  49. Steve Evans says:

    Kevin, fair enough. I don’t mean to sound like I hate Sunstone or anything — as I mentioned, I didn’t attend the SLC session, and everyone I know who was there has said it was fantastic. I’m purely speaking in terms of barriers to more widespread acceptance, which may or may not be desirable.

  50. J. and Steve, you are coming across as narrow-minded here. We don’t pray to MiH in church, but outside of church, if someone wants to do so, why should we insist that it’s beyond the pale? I don’t see Sunstone as “religion making” at all. There’s no advocacy. No one asks you to pray their way.

    I see Sunstone as allowing a diverse group of people, with interest in a certain religious faith to come together and discuss and explore that faith. Isn’t that what we’re all doing here in the nacle? Honestly, I can’t fathom the difference.

  51. #46 – Understood, Steve, which supports my contention that the issue is one of proximity. I have to say I really like Kevin :) (It was good to meet you, BTW!) His approach is the one we hope to nurture in everyone, a willingness to explore, to participate, and to let some of the oddities roll off your back.

    #47 – Close? Yes, as long as you define the terms. I’m thinking of official sanction, of appealing to the broad, full membership. That’s simply not the plan, nor realistic.

  52. Steve Evans says:

    MCQ: “but outside of church, if someone wants to do so, why should we insist that it’s beyond the pale?”

    Ask your Stake President. Seriously — I bet you get a definite “no.”

    MCQ, part of the reason why I am coming across as narrow-minded is because for purposes of this post I am trying to figure out what it would take for widespread acceptance of Sunstone by members of the Church. IMHO that is a pretty narrow band. My own personal view of Sunstone is different from the question I’m examining here.

  53. Rory,

    I just wanted to say that I think you and Wotherspoon and the rest of the board are doing good work, and I appreciate it. And I agree with you, the rehabilitation will take some time, but in my opinion, you are making progress.

  54. Yeah, I get that now Steve, thanks for the clarification.

    As for the Stake President, What question are you suggesting that I ask?

    “Is it OK if I pray to MiH?” (I know the answer to that one). Or:

    “Is it OK if I sit in a room with someone who prays to MiH?”

    Really, what is the alternative? Denounce them? Leave? I guess I would wonder what any SP would do. Or better yet, What would Jesus do?

  55. Steve Evans says:

    MCQ, Jesus would probably ask His Mom about it.

  56. Correct as usual, Supergenius.

  57. Steve,

    Weirdly, I had exactly the same thoughts.

    At the major session, John Dehlin talked about reaching out, bringing Sunstone to new audiences. It was a good talk, I thought, and a good vision.

    That session started with a prayer, to Father and Mother in Heaven. I was sitting next to bloggers Matt Bowman and ZD Lynnette, and we all sorta looked at each other like, wow. That was unexpected.

    And it was a weird juxtaposition. On the one hand, John Dehlin, anxiously discussing how to make the magazine more palatable for broader LDS audiences. And on the other hand, prayers to Mother in Heaven — one way to all but guarantee that it will never reach those broader audiences.

  58. Having no experience whatsoever with Sunstone, I have stayed out of this discussion, but (for me) MCQ just nailed the question being asked.

    I “value” others’ perspectives deeply; I have learned tons over the years listening to and reading about different views; my testimony due to that exposure has deepened greatly – and, I believe, broadly. However, I would never ask someone who I know prays to Heavenly Mother to offer the prayer in Sacrament Meeting – or any other official church meeting, for that matter.

    If the Foundation wants to value “dissenting” views, I have no problem with that. None, whatsoever. However, if doing so is, in any way, an attempt to help those views become more “mainstream” or acceptable to the broader Mormon community against the direct counsel of the Brethren – then I don’t see how that attempt can be classified as anything other than “anti-Mormon” in a purely linguistic sense. (and I use that term rarely) There might not be any open hostility by the Foundation as a whole, perhaps, but the agenda would be in direct, public opposition to the Church. I just don’t know what else to call it.

    If this analysis is off-base due to my ignorance, I would like to know – since I am fairly representative of the audience Dehlin says he is hoping to reach.

  59. Sorry, it was Kaimi, not MCQ. My bad.

  60. Ray (#58),

    I guess I would put this question back on you – where is the line between valuing dissenting views, which you have no problem with, and attempting to help those views become mainstream? That seems like such a fuzzy line to me, and speaks to some underlying intent.

    Is the intent of the Foundation to advocate views in direct opposition to the Church? That would be absolute folly, and would be rightly deserving of criticism. But to have an open forum is not an easy thing – the Foundation must be large enough (in a maturity sense, not a physical sense) to allow for dissenting views, to engage them, to examine and learn from them, without advocating for them. At the same time, it must be large enough to allow for mainstream views, to engage them, to examine and learn from them, also without advocating for them. Ritchie nails it in his interview – Sunstone is not a place for content or advocacy, but a process, an engagement with the ideas.

    Too often Sunstone is criticized for having nefarious purposes, for an underlying conspiracy. I’m not sure how to dispel that, or even minimize it.

  61. Ray,

    One quick note – I’m not trying to be confrontational, I think you ask good questions. They are questions we wrestle with, and I’m interested in what you and others think.

  62. Rory, it’s your inheritance from the early 90s. Not sure how to shake that without some disavowals and distancing from the characters of that time.

  63. Ray: (this is me, not Kaimi, you can tell by my relative lack of karaoke skill).

    Sunstone leaders can speak for themselves and their organization, but as for me, I don’t think Sunstone can fairly be characterized as anti-mormon.

    Even linguistically, or intellectually, or philosophically, or whatever. That term has so much negative baggage associated with it that you should leave it outside when discussing things like Sunstone. It’s not helpful and it will not move the discussion forward.

    The agenda of Sunstone (do they even have one?) is not, IMO even close to being in “direct public opposition to the Church.”

    Your comment is apparently conditioned on your question as to whether Sunstone is attempting to “help those [dissenting] views become more mainstream or acceptable to the broader Mormon community against the direct counsel of the brethren.”

    Sunstone provides a forum, much the same way this blog does. How is that helping dissenting views to become more mainstream? IMO, If Sunstone seeks out the mainstream, it would only do so to seek balance in the views presented, not to advocate for specific views, “dissenting” or otherwise.

  64. This is an interesting post. I agree with those who say that as long as things happen and are discussed that run counter to the mainstream, and particularly counter to what leaders teach, I doubt it will appeal to the mainstream audience. But I echo the question that has been posed — is that what Sunstone wants?

    I also think that even the name itself will always create a sort of instinctive negative reaction from mainstream folk, because the sentiment has always been that Sunstone is, well, not mainstream. (Just had a conversation with a man in my ward who, upon finding out that I blog, mentioned his lack of trust in Sunstone. If the powers-that-be wanted to really change the audience and range of content, they might have to consider changing the name as well. But again, if the content, name and audience changed, would it still be Sunstone?

    I personally like a range of exploration, but to be honest, Sunstone is not something that appeals to me much, although some of the classes have sounded interesting and the chance to meet with people I have ‘met’ would be interesting. (I would have enjoyed the choir, too.) It’s a bit too edgy for my liking (for lack of a better word).

    When listening to the bloggernacle panel, one of the things that bothered me quite a bit was when comments were made about ‘conservatives’ and people laughed. There was a sense of ‘us vs. them’ and ‘this is a safe place for me and church isn’t.’ I felt like the enemy a bit as I listened, although I realize that is not wholly the case (although in some situations, I dare say I have been perceived as such).

    I realize some people feel they need this kind of outlet, but if that is the case, then I don’t see how Sunstone could appeal to the mainstream because there would be a potential conflict of interest.

  65. m&m: You are not the enemy. The enemy, if there is one, is intolerance, and that goes both ways.

    I agree that Sunstone does not want to be “mainstream” (I think Rory said as much) in the traditional sense and I agree that it shouldn’t be. Full mainstream acceptance would make Sunstone very boring. We have the Ensign, it’s valuable, but we don’t need another one.

  66. Rory, “where is the line between valuing dissenting views, which you have no problem with, and attempting to help those views become mainstream?” is a very good question. I don’t have any magic bullet answers, and I certainly don’t hold up my preferences as the “one and only” approach, but I go into it a bit differently than what I have sensed here about Sunstone.

    My approach is to analyze others’ beliefs or perspectives from the standpoint of how they can help me see the big picture more fully without putting me in opposition to the Church in any way. To use the example at hand, I support the idea of Heavenly Parents because I see it as perhaps the second most inspirational and empowering concept in the history of religious thought – right behind, and not far behind, the concept of the Atonement itself. Given that belief, I want to understand whatever I can about feminist theology – to see if the way others speak about the divine feminine helps me envision and understand my own Heavenly Mother (and Heavenly Father) better.

    OTOH, the Church has requested explicitly that its members not pray to HM, so I would never support a “Mormon” meeting (official or quasi) that encouraged such a prayer – or knew it would happen in advance and simply turned a blind eye. Prayer in the setting of a symposium focused on Mormonism is a communal practice, where the one who prays speaks for those who participate. I would welcome a discussion of why some people feel compelled to pray to HM, with contributions by those who do, but actually modeling the form (with the implied assumption that those in attendance shouldn’t have a problem with saying “Amen” at the end) crosses the line between valuing and attempting to mainstream – or, at the very least, the perceptual line for the broad Mormon community. The Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, whatever prayer is different, since nobody sees those prayers as challenging or attempting to change Mormon practice.

    I hope I was able to express that the way I mean it. I know it is too much “I know it when I see it” – that it can be a bit fuzzy, but, at heart, it’s no more than the perception of seeking to understand vs endorsing and/or promoting. It would be similar to discussing why some people struggle with the WofW due to research suggesting that daily and moderate use of wine has positive health effects for many (which I would welcome) – or choosing to begin such a discussion by having someone distribute wine to the participants and asking the participants to participate in the experience in order to understand it better (which I would oppose).

  67. Thanks for your input, MCQ. That helps a lot. My response was meant to apply very narrowly to the question of how prayers to Heavenly Mother in a Sunstone sponsored meeting appear to “average” Mormons who know nothing about Sunstone. I used “anti-Mormon” in that sense only (as a perception). I also used a big, long disclaimer about intent, since I don’t have first-hand knowledge of intent, but I understand your concern.

    If I seemed to be claiming that Sunstone itself should be seen as anti-Mormon, I apologize. That was not my intent. I only meant to reinforce what Kaimi said – that if even those who participate, are very tolerant and let things roll have their heads snap back, then those who don’t participate will react more strongly. m&m’s comment essentially said the same thing, I believe.

  68. Here’s a different tack: Rather than speculating about what sort of tone or subject matter would be “legitimate” or “mainstream,” maybe we could ask whether there is any tone or topic that Sunstone (either the magazine or the symposium) would decline to publish or sponsor. Is there anything about Mormonism that Susntone won’t publish?

    Now I’m not suggesting Sunstone ought to have such a “won’t publish” topic list. But Sunstone is the one announcing a change of approach. It seems like a key component of any real change of this sort would be an editorial commitment regarding what conversations or topics the magazine or symposium would not publish or host. I haven’t heard anything like that. Maybe that list is kept in a safe in the Sunstone President’s office. Or maybe there is no such list.

  69. Dave, that’s an interesting idea, but I wonder how to implement it. It’s tough to envision a topic that would be taboo if treated in the proper way. Even the most sensitive of materials can be discussed within proper strictures, I would think…

  70. Again, Steve says it much more concisely and clearly than I.

  71. Hello All!

    There’s so much here…so I’ll just dive in with several potentially disjointed comments, replies, and observations:

    — I am very grateful to Steve for hosting this discussion. Thank you, Steve.

    — I am also amazingly grateful for folks like Kevin, MCQ, Kristine Haglund, DKL, Kaimi, fmhLisa and others who have been willing to give Sunstone a chance.

    — I have attended around 5 Sunstone symposiums in my lifetime, and every time I’ve attended I’ve felt incredibly uplifted (spiritually), and more committed to both the church and the gospel than beforehand. For me, Sunstone is a spiritual boon in a very traditional, conservative LDS sense. I feel spiritually uplifted in spades when I attend Sunstone symposia. That’s why I go.

    — As I have gone back to listen to past symposium presentations (via the MP3s), again I have found some of the most inspiring, faith-affirming material of my entire life.

    — As we discussed a few weeks back, In my estimation, a strong majority of the Sunstone board of directors/staff/presenters/writers are active LDS, including former mission presidents, members of stake presidencies, bishoprics, etc. (just a data point, fwiw).

    — As I’ve gone back to listen to some past Sunstone presentations, I now fully understand why Sunstone has the reputation it has in some circles. I do believe that there was a time when some of the most prominent voices at Sunstone were overly strident, critical and negative. Since I’m friends with many of these people now, I do empathize with what they were feeling, and what they were trying to say/do — but I do feel that in some ways, we (Sunstone) were partly responsible for the reputation we now have (bad and god) — and must fully absorb the lessons of the “September 6” to keep them from happening again.

    — I will add (humbly) that if the church should be able to move on from things like Mountain Meadows, post-manifesto polygamy and the black priesthood ban (which I believe they should) … I am hoping that Sunstone is allowed a 2nd chance as well by at least some of the membership.

    — Bonner Ritchie’s discussion of Sunstone as a process phenomenon (open forum) is spot on for me. We don’t want to have a “position” at Sunstone. We don’t see the organization as a “critic” of the church, or as a dissenting voice. We see ourselves as an independent forum for open, thoughtful and constructive conversations about Mormonism (this is our new mantra/slogan — though it remains pretty consistent w/ the original founding principles).

    — I also agree with Bonner that Sunstone is not for all members of the church. In fact I estimate that Sunstone is likely only appropriate for 2-5% of the church population at best (at any given time). In that sense, I don’t ever really see Sunstone becoming “mainstream.”

    — I don’t envision a time when Sunstone is “supported” or quoted by the brethren (at least in public). My biggest aspiration in this regard (perhaps) is that we can manage Sunstone’s affairs such that the brethren will never again feel the need to caution or warn folks about us. It would also be wonderful to have healthier participation from church employees — and there are some positive developments in this regard — but this is only a hope/dream.

    — In my opinion, the biggest obstacle to Sunstone becoming more accepted by the membership has much more to do with relevance than with anything else. For the most part — we’re all quite happy with what Sunstone has done up to now — but we all realize that if Sunstone doesn’t become more compelling to “the rising generation” of Mormons — it will likely vanish. Consequently, Dan Wotherspoon (the editor), Rory, the board and myself have decided to work very hard to focus our future on the following type of mantra: “Is it relevant? Is it interesting? Is it constructive?” Our audience is not just past subscribers — but anyone interested in a thoughtful approach to Mormonism…regardless of age, relationship w/ the church, etc.

    — In line w/ this mission, we have identified some topics that we’re looking to pursue over the coming months for both the magazine and online stuff (podcasts, video interviews, etc.).

    This working list includes: The Mormon Soldier Experience, Spirituality of the Rising Generation, Mormonism and Politics, Addiction and Recovery, Raising the Bar: The 21st Century Mormon Missionary Experience, Historicity and Scripture, Diverse Mormon Spiritual Paths, Humor and Mormonism, Disability and Environmentalism.

    We would very much welcome the active participation of anyone who cares about these issues, and is willing to contribute

    — Finally, I think that the biggest determinate of whether Sunstone becomes “legitimate” will be us (in this community). If we decide to make Sunstone legitimate, in many ways it will become so. If we decide not to — it will have a much harder time.

    I, for one, strongly believe that a well-managed Sunstone has been and can be a very positive influence in the lives of thousands of Mormons worldwide — which is why I took this job.

    So far, it has been the most fulfilling non-family related experience in my life (along w/ the Mormon Stories stuff). And fulfillment comes directly from the associations w/ the people — this blog included.

    Thanks so much for the opportunity to discuss.

  72. P.S. One more thing. A handfull of traditional Sunstone supporters have expressed concerns to me about my tone and description of Sunstone’s future — fearing that I/we are going to take Sunstone in too much of a “faith promoting” direction. A few people came up to me during the symposium and said, “Is Sunstone going soft? Are the disaffected still welcome at Sunstone?”

    Here’s my take on this.

    Our goal is to make Sunstone a place where all sides of the faith/orthodoxy spectrum feel welcome — including conservatives, apologists, moderates, liberals, inactives, the disaffected, and even non-Mormons. This, of course, is a very difficult balance to strike.

    Our hope/strategy is that if we can focus our energies a bit more on directly relevant, practical topics (see the list above) — we can avoid at least many of our historical pitfalls. In some ways — it kinda means moving beyond the “true/not true” discussions — into discussions about issues that affect all of us in very meaningful ways on a daily basis.

    As Bonner said — open forums are always “dangerous”. Education is “dangerous”. Free speech is “dangerous”. And I imagine that we will never fully escape the risks associated with openness, candor and free speech (just as a bishop cannot guarantee that an embarassing testimony or two won’t get through in fast and testimony meeing).

    That said, we are very committed to bringing this vision to light. It will be hard, but it will be very rewarding if we can pull it off.

    It’s true that my early emphasis has been to make sure that “conservatives” and “the faithful” feel welcome at Sunstone — but we are all very committed to doing our level best to make sure that ALL folk who are committed to open, thoughtful, and constuctive discussions about Mormonism feel welcome.

  73. Thanks, John.

    I always tell those who are interested in the Church to talk to a member, so I appreciate your input greatly. Having no prior experience with Sunstone, and given what I have heard of (and now from) you, I probably will take a look at some point in the near future.

  74. Perhaps this is a naive question, but…

    Why do there have to be prayers and things-resembling-the-bearing-of-testimony at the Symposium?

  75. William,

    How many Mormons does it take to change a light bulb?

    It doesn’t matter, as long as there is at least one to organize the meeting, two to say the opening and closing prayers, two to lead the music and play the piano and one to provide refreshments.

  76. Aaron Brown says:

    This post confirms my long-standing suspicion that Steve Evans and Matt Evans are really the same person. :)

    My own reaction to Sunstone is a lot like Kevin Barney’s, I think. I just enjoy the give and take, and I don’t really care where the participants and presentations fall on the orthodoxy scale. I just want the presentations to be good (i.e., well-argued, thought-provoking, etc.). There’s a part of me that understands the issues everyone’s discussing, but there’s another part that just doesn’t.

    Sunstone’s future success is by no means guaranteed, but I wish it well. And if anyone can make it happen, John Dehlin can…

    Aaron B

  77. Wow,

    What an interesting discussion. I’ve been lurking, but I now think I’ll toss in a little of my personal experience. Before moving from Utah some 14 years ago, I had attended severak Symposium over the years, and generally felt positive about the proceedings. I had some great experiences, listening to Gene England and Wayne Owens, among others. I never subscribed to the magazine, but used to pick up copies at Sam Wellers, and still have many back issues.

    Things changed with the September 6. I even attended once or twice after that, but the tone changed, in my perception. There was a greater sense of apartness about the proceedings, and there was to me a greater sense of presenters and attendees with axes to grind. I attended one Symposium up here in Seattle shortly after moving here, but kind of got away from it, as it no longer felt as comfortable.

    Fast forward to the last 12 months. I’ve discovered the bloggernacle, and the first site I went to was Sunstoneblog. I started to occasionally make some comments. One of the early ones was a response to a Sunstone hater who used a broad brush, calling all of us who had commented as apostates or worse (might have been the ever popular jetboy). Mostly, I was offended for the poster, and I jumped to the defense, wildly claiming, without much actual knowledge, that many, if not most, of the visitors to Sunstoneblog were actually mainstream or near to it.

    This happened on more than one occasion, and so after some time, and even some offline conversations with the folks behind Sunstoneblog, I just felt that the perceptions were too negative. I still believe that Sunstone is more mainstream than it’s reputation may allow it to be for some time.

    I appreciate what John Dehlin and Rory and the others are saying here and trying to do. We desperately need to have some forums for the kind of discussions we aren’t always able to have at church. I applaud their efforts, and wish them well. The orthodox reaction, however, is that it is a bad thing. And even though I believe in the need for Sunstone and forums of that type, I can’t help but look at some of the issues that Ray and Stapley have raised and sense that it’s a real uphill battle. Good luck, Rory, John, and Dan.

  78. This post confirms my long-standing suspicion that Steve Evans and Matt Evans are really the same person.

    Dude, I thought so too, but after I spoke with Matt at the Sunstone bloggersnacker I was forced to reevaluate: Matt had no man-purse and was clearly not hip enough by half (sorry Matt). For example, he didn’t say “word up” even once.

  79. A visiting authority, who still serves among the Brethren (and therefore will go nameless so that readers do not lose their testimony) quoted from Randal Quarles’ piece, “A Religion of Clerks” once or twice, when he visited our stake about 15 years ago.

  80. I can’t believe how much intolerance exists to those of us who pray to both of our Heavenly Parents. Why do I pray to my Mother in Heaven? For the same reasons my children come to me. For love, counsel, and nurturing. I didn’t come from a single parent heavenly home. I have a Mother there that loves me and watches over me. If you don’t think it’s right for a child to talk to their mother, then perhaps you should instruct your children not to communicate with their mother here on Earth. We are trying to emulate heaven here on Earth, right? You might also want to refrain from singing “Oh My Father”, otherwise known as Eliza R. Snow’s poem, “Invocation; or, the Eternal Father and Mother”.

    When I leave this frail existence–
    When I lay this mortal by,
    Father, Mother, may I meet you
    In your royal court on high?
    This is a beautiful prayer to our Father and Mother.

  81. My recollection is that the “ban” on praying to Heavenly Mother is a rule in official Church meetings. I do not recall that there is a “ban” on praying to Heavenly Mother or Heavenly Parents outside of official Church meetings.

    Of course, my memory may well be wrong, and someone can point me to a website or a posting that includes an exhaustive survey of various statements by Church authorities regarding prayers of Heavenly Mother or Parents.

  82. Amanda,

    My own mother talks with her Heavenly Mother on a regular basis, but she prays to Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ. I applaud and support 100% anyone who wishes to commune with their Heavenly Mother; I just don’t support them doing it in a PUBLIC, communal setting in a way that directly contradicts what we have been asked to do by the Church leadership. I have seen my mother do it in a way that does not contradict that counsel, so I know it is not hard to do.

    I really don’t want to turn this into a discussion or debate about prayer and HM, but, as one of those whose comments you seem to have misinterpreted (because I never made what I just wrote explicit), I think “intolerance” is WAY too strong to describe my feelings. It is exactly this type of label that provides the tension in what Sunstone now is trying to do. The assumption that “if you don’t agree with me you oppose me” is too prevalent on both sides, IMO.

  83. John (71),
    The list of topics sounds interesting, FWIW.

  84. David H.
    m&m posted at least some words from President Hinckley on this thread:

    comment #107

    maybe she’ll pull some more quotes out of her hat too.

  85. DavidH, I don’t think there’s an official rule (though, of course, I’m not allowed to check the handbook to be sure). I believe all we have is then Elder Hinckley’s slightly strained interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer as being definitive for the proper address of prayers. Given the Mormon departure from other Christian churches on the use of the Lord’s prayer, this is a somewhat surprising source for a defense of current practice.

    And Amanda has it exactly right–the original title of “O My Father” was Invocation (Justin will correct me if I’m misremembering). And it was only in 1989 that we managed to get rid of the last Primary songs that suggested praying to Jesus. Current practice is just that.

    I found the prayers to Heavenly Parents surprising, as I did the prayer for our soldiers “fighting for the sake of righteousness” abroad. I think it’s better to be surprised by a prayer than lulled to sleep.

    Must we really be so suspicious and petty? Do we really, really think God is offended by any sincere and earnest prayer?

    I’m very, very happy to be quiet and supportive when someone who has been hurt and marginalized by a church she loves manages to offer a tender and deeply felt plea to God in a way that connects her with her childhood’s faith. Indeed, I’m awed and grateful to be included in that kind of religious experience. I refuse to believe that Mormonism is too small to contain all of our strivings towards heaven, however stumbling or unorthodox.

  86. Putayto, putahto…”religion building”–“a religion’s understandings’ evolving”

  87. Going back to my comment about my mother, I will end my contribution about HM with the following, after which I am done. I apologize for the length.

    There is a difference between formally approaching an authority figure when you need a worthy intermediary, through a proxy form in which you are allowed to address that authority figure as if you actually were the worthy intermediary, and talking directly with someone you believe can hear and comfort you when there has not been an intermediary relationship established between you. Without the invocation of the required intermediary, it is not prayer. It might be communication, but it is not prayer. Part of the purpose of prayer is supposed to be an avenue for the confession of sin and request for forgiveness. There are times when it is a “formal” communication with specific purposes that goes beyond simple communication, when we need the worthiness of the intermediary to justify our requests – and that is true particularly of our group prayers, when we are praying for other people of whose individual worthiness we are unaware.

    This might sound a bit harsh, but the apostasy effectively killed off the Father by melding Him into the Trinity and replacing Him with the single entity God of this world – Jesus in name, but either alternative by specific theology (like strict predestination). Joseph Smith restored HF to His place as the Supreme Being, then subsequent prophets accepted the implications of that restoration and broadened the understanding to include HM.

    I and my wife can go to our Bishop’s wife (or the RS Pres.) and seek guidance, counsel, support, a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, etc. – but I shouldn’t go to her and confess my sins, ask for forgiveness, discuss disciplinary action, or any number of other issues. We can communicate with her about many things, but we should not do so by invoking the name of an intermediary who has not given His blessing to do so.

    Theologically, my concern about praying to HM is that I know of cases where that practice effectively has eliminated HF all over again – and I believe the central glory of the restoration was that it restored a proper understanding (thought limited still) of Him and the nature of eternal existence, not that it allowed us to circumvent Him once again. My mother’s relationship with each Heavenly Parent is slightly different than with the other one, and that is, I believe, how it has been revealed to be. At least, I should say, she has been able to create her relationship with deity without coming close to questioning or criticizing or complaining about “being forced to pray to HF” in any way.

    I find it ironic that she has learned to value her relationships within the current teachings of the Church specifically because she refused to fight about it. Basically, she said, “OK. This is what I cannot do. What can I do instead?” It worked beautifully. For her, it wasn’t complicated at all, since she never saw it as sexist and never fought it.

  88. Ray, I’m with you–I think it’s fine for official prayers to be limited, and if I were a bishop (hee-hee), I would certainly not allow prayers to Heavenly Mother in Sacrament Meeting. I’ve never had the faintest inclination to pray to HM myself.

    My point is only that to condemn an entire project because a few people involved do not meet whatever standards of orthodoxy we find necessary to enforce in the official church is needlessly limiting. When I hear some otherwise bright folks who tend to reason in an evidence-based about most issues say “I won’t be involved with Sunstone because I’ve heard that someone once said x at a Symposium,” or I didn’t like the title of one article in the one issue I once glanced at,” I find it surprising and frustrating. It’s like refusing to go to a restaurant because even though you’ve never been there, never tasted any of the food, never even looked at the menu, because you heard from a friend of friend a few years ago that the Times restaurant critic had not enjoyed one of the appetizers there a decade ago…

    I was there–those prayers were lovely, and, more importantly, they occupied about 2 minutes of a weekend largely devoted to people exploring gospel topics of interest to them, sharing experiences that have deepened their faith, and working together towards an understanding of what the rich legacy of Mormonism means and ought to mean in our lives. It makes me sad that more of my friends weren’t there, and it makes me even sadder when people who don’t really know what they’re talking about discourage others from finding out what it’s all about.

  89. MCQ (way back in 37),
    Thanks, but no thanks. My point is, when I impulse buy magazine, I have to be able to pick it up, flip throw to the table of contents, see how the pictures and articles and design stand up. My magazine impulse purchases are tactile, and an internet store doesn’t give me that. Because my past tactile experiences with Sunstone weren’t impressive, an online thumbnail of the cover isn’t going to undo that.

    That’s not to accuse Sunstone of anything; clearly, they’re not going to get on the shelves in places with miniscule LDS populations. Which means they won’t change my mind unless, by some strange chance, I’m in Utah and pick one up and it’s different.

    (Also, last time I lived in Utah, in college, and was interested in Sunstone, they were running at least several months behind on their production, I couldn’t get one, and didn’t want to subscribe. Again, I wouldn’t doubt for a second if you told me that was no longer true but, because I can’t run to the local Barnes & Noble to see for myself, my opinion probably isn’t going to change.)

  90. John Dehlin:

    When will the “new” sunstone be evident in the magazine? It seems very unfortunate to me that you are here and at the symposium asking for the interest of the rising generation and preaching a sunstone which advocates nothing but open discussion, while at the same tame the cover story of your current magazine is a Margaret Toscano piece which is available for free online, and is advocating something, and I would definitely put in the “critical and against” category.

    So when will the first “new” sunstone magazine come out? I’d actually be willing to check it out based on my faith in you alone, but if the current issue is the “new” sunstone, it has “same as the old sunstone” written all over it.

    Maybe you could have Julie Beck or someone like her do a response to Toscano in the next issue…

  91. Kristine,

    I believe the original (1845) title was “My Father in Heaven.” When she published her first volume of poems in 1856, she gave it the new title of “Invocation, or the Eternal Father and Mother.”

  92. Matt W.,

    I’m helping to put together the next issue, and there are lots of people responding to Margaret’s article in the next issue, from all over the ideological landscape. Why don’t you write a response or a letter to the editor and send it to me in the next few days?

    If we could get Julie Beck to write something, we’d do it in a heartbeat.

  93. Even if it was called “Invocation, yadda yadda” The Text is obviously a prayer to HF… I mean it’s “Oh My Father…” not “Oh my Parents…” or “Oh my Mother…”

  94. Matt, “Father, Mother, may I meet you…” is a pretty direct address to Heavenly Parents.

  95. Kristine: Is the article in the mag really exactly the same as the one she has on her website? (I was jsut assuming because the titles are the same.) If it is, I’ll consider it (or at least encourage my wife to consider it, as my main issue is I am a man and thus don’t feel comfortable in my credentials taking on Margaret Toscano. That’s why I named Julie Beck. She has the credentials. Does that make sense? I will seriously consider it though.)

    Can’t John ask Joel to ask Julie or something? (joking, of course.)

  96. Matt–I don’t know; does she have her own website? I don’t think your maleness should disqualify you from responding.

    And, believe me, I know it’s a little scary to argue with Margaret–I did at the symposium, and I was quaking in my boots (well, actually my excellent platform pumps) the whole time :)

  97. Margaret’s Website is here. I actually was surprised when I was peaking at the sunstone cover and it looked to be advertising an article already published online. It struck me as odd.

    and good point in 94.

  98. John Dehlin,

    I recently pulled out several Salt Lake Tribune articles from the 1990s that discussed Sunstone’s “pariah image,” including efforts by Sunstone officials to change that image. One such article is entitled “Sunstone Edging to the Center.”

    Do you see your work taking a different direction from efforts undertaken in the past to move Sunstone in a new direction? I would be curious to know how you view Stan Christensen’s involvement with Sunstone, for example. Have you communicated with him?

    Excerpts from a July 1999 article:

    A Harvard-trained international negotiation adviser and mediator, [Stan] Christensen has an agenda: To mend the rift between church leaders and Sunstone.

    To that end, he is behind a decision to ban discussion of Mormon temple worship from the magazine and symposiums and is seeking to establish criteria that would ensure no forum is provided for attacking the church, criticizing its leaders or “otherwise contributing to apostasy.”

    “We seek and value the advice of the leaders of the church on these topics and find it useful,” Christensen said. “I’ve had many meetings with general authorities in the past year and have found their guidance invaluable,” he said.

    In fact, Christensen said, a member of the church’s Quorum of the Seventy he declined to name has been assigned to meet regularly with him, and Christensen expressed great optimism about “the possibilities for dialogue.”

    “I think the perception that the church is looking to squelch any alternative voice is a misperception. I don’t find any evidence of that,” he said. “I think if the church had actually wanted to get rid of Sunstone it could have done so.”


    Christensen conceded that not everyone within the Sunstone community is thrilled by his initiatives. And [Elbert] Peck, whose differences with Christensen were apparent in an excerpted discussion between the two in the December 1997 issue of Sunstone, has made it clear that temples will be the only out-of-bounds topic.

  99. I don’t really want to continue this threadjack, but I have a question about what Gordon B. Hinckley said about our Heavenly Mother. Here’s the passage that I’m questioning.

    “It was Eliza R. Snow who wrote the words: ‘Truth is reason; truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there.’ (Hymns, 1985, no. 292.)

    “It has been said that the Prophet Joseph Smith made no correction to what Sister Snow had written. Therefore, we have a Mother in Heaven. Therefore, [some assume] that we may appropriately pray to her.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “Daughters of God,” Ensign, Nov 1991, 97)(FMH)

    It’s my understanding that Eliza R. Snow didn’t write those words until a little more than a year after the death of the prophet Joseph Smith. Would anyone like to offer some clarification on this?

  100. The Sunstone article is a revised and significantly enlarged version of the paper posted on her website.

  101. Dear Sunstone,

    You will never be mainstream. I’m glad Rory recognises that. What you want to aim for is the day when Joe Mormon can announce to his friends that he reads Sunstone and they simply shrug their shoulders.

    I have a few copies of the magazine and was struck by the thought that Sunstone seems to help keep people connected to Mormonism who would otherwise have drifted far away: gays, excommunicants, cultural Mormons. This is no bad thing, actually. Let Zion widen its tent.

    More to the point is this: how will you get your younger demographic (many of whom read these blogs for free) to pay for your magazine in an era when people don’t like paying for media? I think the symposia — by fostering face-to-face connections — have a fairly solid niche. But I think you need to figure the magazine out.

    I wish you well.

    (BTW, I like the magazine, but I’m not going to subscribe right now because your international rates are too high!)

  102. Kristine, Amanda,

    Perhaps on a normative level, prayers to Heavenly Mother _shouldn’t_ evoke such a reaction. That doesn’t change the fact that, on a descriptive level, they _do_. Very much. In fact, in the present environment, they’re one of the most volatile red flags that anyone could put up.

    People have already laid out the reasons why they believe it should be okay to pray to Heavenly Mother, in multiple places. Those reasons have been rejected by modern church leaders to date, and mainstream Mormons follow that lead. Repeating one’s reasons for praying to Heavenly Mother doesn’t change this fact on the descriptive level.

    We may think that the current environment is wrong. But if the goal is making the forum more legitimate among mainstream members, then one basic step is avoiding practices that are likely to antagonize mainstream members.

    To illustrate, let’s say my wife and I are feuding, over some issue. She absolutely hates my purple necktie, which I wear every day. I think her hostility is silly. I explain to her again and again why I think it’s silly for her to dislike my tie. She responds with counter arguments. Our fights escalate, until we’re in counseling over it.

    I make an announcement. I’m going to try to repair our relationship. It will be a new day. No more fighting.

    The next day, I wear the tie again. When someone says, “I thought you were trying to fix your relationship?”, I explain that I’ve got very good reasons to wear the tie, after all, and my wife is just too silly to see them. And so I’m just going to explain my reasons to her once again. Sound like a good way to repair things?

    Rapprochement sometimes means dropping or minimizing an issue — even if you think you’ve got the better argument, and can explain it nicely, and even if you think the other person is being unreasonable — if that issue triggers intense negative reactions in the other party (such as reactions due to negative past interactions).

  103. Amanda,

    For some discussion of ERS’s poem (including its date), as well as an earlier poem by W.W. Phelps discussing Heavenly Mother, see .

    You’re right on the basic point. Neither was published until after Joseph Smith’s death.

    It is possible that Eliza’s poem was written earlier, but not actually published until 1845. This possibility has been suggested by Linda Wilcox. However, it is rejected by both Jill Mulvay Derr (1996) (36 BYU Studies at 100) and Charles Harrell (1988).

  104. Kaimi,

    I have no objection to prayers to Heavenly Father being normative–as I’ve said, I have no personal inclination to pray to HM, and I’ve never been able to get worked up about it as a meaningful issue for women in the church (we don’t care enough about theology for such a move to have a big impact, and I’d rather devote our efforts to getting men to stop beating their wives and to having women’s voices heard and respected in more places within the church). Nonetheless, I think the Church is big and well-established enough to tolerate such minor heresies once or twice a decade in a public forum clearly marked as unofficial and unsponsored.

    Also, fwiw, the collective intake of breath at those prayers was palpable and, I think, audible. I suspect it would be a gross error to think that such prayers are considered “mainstream” by most in attendance at Sunstone.

  105. Steve Evans says:

    Kristine, is it a minor heresy?

  106. Steve beat me to it. When EVERY scripture we have and EVERY prophet who has addressed it, including Jesus Himself, tells us to pray to the Father in the name of the Son, I have a hard time calling praying to ANYONE else a “minor” heresy.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Kevin Barney that Sunstone probably fills a valuable role as a connection to the Church for many who otherwise might not have the positive support Sunstone can provide, but I also believe that calling something (no matter what it is) a minor heresy that the vast majority of members feel is a MAJOR heresy only can antagonize those members. I am willing to give John Dehlin the benefit of the doubt after what he said so eloquently, but I am not willing at all to do so if I end up feeling like major heresies are being taught and/or encouraged. I still have an open mind at this point, but that is a line I simply cannot cross.

  107. I’m brain-dead the last two days – up way too late dealing with house maintenance issues. Sorry; it was Ronan and not Kevin Barney with whom I agreed. Yikes!

  108. Ray,

    Better theologians than me could probably construct an argument that Father=Mother, and that praying to Mother <em>is</em> praying to Father (and vice versa). All we have left, then, is a question of nomenclature.

    (The argument at its fullest, btw, would be that “God” = Father and Mother.)

    But I don’t care, actually.

  109. Question: Why are there prayers at Sunstone? I’ve seen prayers in classes at BYU, and I thought they were funny sometimes, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any at any other conferences or academic gatherings.

  110. Thanks, Kaimi! I know that Eliza also wrote of having Joseph visit her after his death, and him giving her further light and knowledge. Perhaps that was what President Hinckley meant, although I doubt it.

    I also found this in “The Women of Mormondom”.

    “Excepting the Lord’s prayer, there is not in the English language the peer of this Mormon invocation; and strange to say the invocation is this time given to the Church through woman–the prophetess and high priestess of the faith.” (p. 194)

    The above statement would probably antagonize the average member today, but was at one point sent out by the Church to defend Mormonism. Times change, and I hope they change again soon. I long for the day that we can once again have a prophetess and high priestess of the faith.

  111. Ray, it would be a major heresy if someone stood up and talked about why the prophet was uninspired because he hadn’t yet received revelation about praying to HM in church. The fact that one person gets up, and with no warning or approval from anyone, offers an unconventional prayer is a different animal altogether.

    But I’ll bow out of this argument now–it’s actually not one I’m terribly interested in, and somehow I’ve ended up defending the opposite side of what I actually think…

  112. Kristine, I agree. I said so in my original disclaimer about motive way back in #58.

  113. Steve, Ray, it’s not a major heresy. BR didn’t include it in his list of seven!

  114. I think a problem Sunstone has is that a lot of what used to happen at Sunstone has moved to FAIR’s conference for the apologetic or has moved to MHA for the historically minded. As for Mags, Sunstone has to compete with Dialogue, JBMS, BYU Studes, the MHA journal, the little mormon philosophy journal (I can’t remember what it’s call) and Blogs. and Sunstoneblog is pretty insignificant in the bloggernacle. (I mean it’s posts are relatively rare and it gets very few comments). It’s like Sunstone is an old wooden rollercoaster with a bunch of other newer rides all around it. People love it and say it’s a classic, but John D. is right, it needs to widen it’s audience. I wouldn’t be surprised if John’s Mormon Stories has a bigger audience than Sunstone mag at this point…

  115. Re 109: I asked the same question up in #74.

    I’m going to rephrase the question — and I’m asking it in all seriousness — what would be lost if some of the more “personal” expressions of belief were to not be featured at the Symposium?

    They seem to be the occurrences that tend to get the most negative (and perhaps, sensationalistic) press and turn off those with an interest in Mormon Studies but that are, shall we say, more Orthodox in practice and personal expression of faith while liberal in inquiry and conversation.

  116. Dan Wotherspoon says:

    Just a note of clarification that from the very beginning of its symposiums, Sunstone evening plenary sessions have had opening and closing prayers. It certainly has since I began attending in 1992, and I know at least earlier than that. It’s a tradition that I fully support.

    I am listening to the voices in this discussion that are noting that if Sunstone’s goals are to be more accessible and less suspicious to wider, perhaps more moderate audiences than at present, that prayers addressing Heavenly Mother along with Heavenly Father work against such goals. I am also hearing and appreciate why some feel caught off guard by such prayers (as I’ll admit to being when I first started attending), and also why some would go so far as being offended by this. All of us on the Sunstone staff and board appreciate this great discussion in this thread about this concern and others raised. Know that much said here will be part of coming internal conversations.

    On a personal note, let me offer that I know and love the three people whose prayers during our four plenaries (eight total public prayers) invoked our Heavenly Parents. In conversations with them, I know that the opportunity to pray meant a great deal to them, as, in two cases, they are not often asked to do so in local LDS settings. In none of these cases, however, was their invoking Heavenly Mother driven by a desire to make a political statement or to hasten change in Church policy concerning who Latter-day Saints are to address in prayer. Each prayer was a simple expression of love, hope, and gratitude, and came from deeply spiritual and beautiful hearts.

  117. Dan,

    (Having said above that I don’t care!)

    I don’t doubt the sincerity of the prayers, but consider this:

    Praying to Heavenly Mother is taboo for 99.9% of Mormons. Now, that taboo may be misguided (in view of the theological discussion I outlined above), but it is what it is. It reminds me of my summer at the Hebrew University: when reading the Hebrew name of God, I respected the Jewish taboo and never said “Yahweh.” I personally do not subscribe to that Jewish taboo, but it would have been both bad manners and alienating of me to have broken it.

    Perhaps the same goes for praying to Heavenly Mother in a public gathering of Mormons.

  118. Some responses….

    — Kaimi (57) and Kevin (77): I agree — this is a very challenging tightrope to walk. It reminds me of raising children, frankly — or perhaps the U.S. Constitutional Convention. But if we can make it happen, how gloriously enjoyable it might be.

    — Ray (73): If I can assist in any way, please let me know.

    — Aaron (76): You are too kind. :) I owe you an ice cream or something. See you in Seattle?

    — M&M (83): Very glad to know that the topics sounds interesting to you! If you have ideas about subtopics, potential articles or authors, etc., please don’t hesitate to let us know! We’re very eager for new voices/contributors.

    — Matt W (90): I agree that the latest magazine cover does not align very well w/ our future vision — as much as I love Margaret (and I really do). But that’s just my opinion — others on the board or staff may feel differently.

    In fact, the idea for the upcoming magazine (that Kristine Haglund is co-editing) sprung out of this very discussion. Dan and I were brainstorming about the new direction — and realized that a full response to the current magazine, and maybe even an “update” on women and the church, would be a great first step towards this new approach (if you will).

    Consider the upcoming magazine as a giant first step towards what is to come. We’re going to try to aggressively ramp up these changes over the next several months — but we don’t expect to be in “full swing” until early 2008.

    I should mention that if any of you want to participate on an internal advisory board (we’re calling it “Friends of Sunstone”) to help guide and deliver on this new vision…please just email me offline, or sign up here:

    Regardless, thanks so much for your willingness to consider us.

    I’ll answer the other questions in separate post.

  119. I tend to agree with Ray and Ronan on the prayers to HM. They are quite controversial and somewhat heretical to most Mormon ears.

    John D I look forward to Sunstones new direction.

    I tend to agree that having Toscano featured recently may not have been a good move if your are to move in a more moderate direction. She was recently a somewhat (she also had some positive things to say as well) critical voice in the PBS documentary. It was probably the first time that most LDS people were exposed to her.

  120. In fairness, Mormons are pretty picky about their public prayers. How “Amen” is pronounced is enough to create comments. The various grammatical uses and abuses of thee, thou, and thine are on full display in Mormon public prayers (not to mention “bless that”), but to just use “you” and “your” would be a major faux pas, no doubt offending at least half the congregation or audience.

    I have attended an interfaith event at an LDS chapel at which pastors of other faiths offered prayers from the pulpit in their own quite different prayer styles. Mormons in the congregation for that event were obviously not offended. So it’s not just alternative styles of prayer that cause Mormons to take offense, it’s that someone who was once a practicing Mormon (or who still is) would choose or elect to pray in a different style … at an event which is not an LDS service and not held in an LDS building!

    So I’m not sure this issue is really a Sunstone problem. Sunstone might have to deal with it, but it’s probably unfair to blame them for the problem.

  121. I agree that it’s unfair. It’s not that Sunstone asked people to pray that way or even knew they were going to do it. These people were asked to give prayers and they did. Why can’t we be as tolerant of our own as we are of those outside our faith. No one is saying that anyone else should pray that way.

  122. What you want to aim for is the day when Joe Mormon can announce to his friends that he reads Sunstone and they simply shrug their shoulders.

    This may largely be a function of location. I’ve read from a Dialogue article (OK, not Sunstone) as part of a priesthood lesson on many occasions, and no one batted an eye.

    Is it a Texas thing, that so many people I know shrug at the mention of Sunstone? Did the heat here burn off the dissidents? Or have we in the Great State of Texas assumed a sense of pragmatism where we just don’t care? Or are we all just ignorant? (Our current mix of active elders and HPs in our ward is probably 55% BYU graduate, so it’s not like people haven’t *heard* of Sunstone.)

    I wonder if geography plays a part in one’s feelings toward Sunstone. If it has an anti-Mormon “image” (one I am not assigning), does that make more or less difference in Utah/Idaho vs. the South or Southwest? Frankly, in Texas we have enough problems with the local Baptist churches to care … my gut feeling is that the average active Mormon here with any knowledge of it might be more tolerant than the average active Mormon in Utah.

    Is indifference a step up from hostility? If so, maybe the indifference toward Sunstone in the people I know means that the early 90s are just a memory. Of course — maybe it’s that indifference = irrelevance, which is unfortunate.

    I love the Ritchie bit, and I agree with the sentiment that Sunstone (as well as Dialogue, to whose history I have family connections) is maybe only for 2-5% of the active members.

  123. Kristine,

    In #104 you state, “I have no personal inclination to pray to HM, and I’ve never been able to get worked up about it as a meaningful issue for women in the church (we don’t care enough about theology for such a move to have a big impact, and I’d rather devote our efforts to getting men to stop beating their wives and to having women’s voices heard and respected in more places within the church).”

    I think praying to our Heavenly Mother, or even learning about her AT ALL as a goddess beside Heavenly Father with a real identity and actual status, would do wonders for helping women’s voices be heard and more respected within the church and within the homes of the church members. I also think it would help some of those weak men who think they are superior to their wives enough to beat them to think twice about what their wives are worth.

    As it stands now, it seems (judging from comments on this thread alone) that most men are taken aback by the thought of HM getting any public recognition like the minimal kind she gets in a prayer directed TO her. It obviously to many feels unnatural and wrong to direct words directly to HM in public. . .and I find this too bad. It would do wonders for the women (and men) of the church if Heavenly Mother were more prominent.

    If my eternal reign as goddess beside my husband as god were to play out like the reign of our God, I’m hard-pressed to find a good reason why I would aspire to being the unmentioned, unnamed, forgotten, hush-we-don’t-talk-about-her parent in the lives of my children…

  124. Queno,

    You may be right. We are far removed from the SL valley here.

    I feel able to look at the actual Sunstone articles and judge them on their merit not on SL Valley inter-faith squabbles.

    I have close ties to the SLC valley but I am glad to avoid the weird dynamic that exists there.

  125. –Justin (98): You bring up a very interesting, and quite controversial time in Sunstone’s history. Last night I grabbed the Sunstone issue to which you refer, and read the exchange between Elbert and Stan that was published therein (I highly recommend it, btw).

    My short answer is that at Sunstone (or anywhere else involving open, candid conversations), we can’t succumb to the “tyranny of or”. We need to strive for openness AND inclusiveness — but must do all we can to eliminate disrespectful and offensive speech. As I read Elbert and Stan’s debate — I felt myself agreeing with BOTH sides of the argument — which tells me that the focus needs to be on balance — not picking sides between open or closed, inclusive or exclusive, faithful or questioning. We must be continually vigilant about finding the best balance we can.

    As to Stan’s overall approach (as cited in your quote):

    1) From a purely practical standpoint, I don’t really have a relationship with anyone at church hq (other than my brother and a cousin — and I would never encroach upon them in this regard), and can’t imagine a GA ever pro-actively contacting me, or anyone else from Sunstone (for that matter). I’m sure it’s possible, but I’m struggling to envision the scenario when this might happen, and how the church could possibly benefit from such a conversation.

    2) If I had an audience w/ a general authority, I’m not exactly sure what I’d say — especially on behalf of Sunstone. I couldn’t ask for their support. I couldn’t ask them to encourage folks to attend. That all seems impossible to me — and I’m not sure it would be good for all involved anyway (us or them).

    I guess all I might say would be, “Sunstone has done some wonderful things in the past, and has made a few mistakes along the way (just like the church). All I want you (Elder XXXXX) to know is — we don’t see ourselves as critics of the church. We respect your office and the difficulty of your position, and will do our very best to eliminate all disrespectful and destructive content. Our only goal is to help Mormons in their respective faith journeys — to live happier, healthier lives — and all we ask is that you consider not doing anything that would intentionally make our job more difficult (in this regard). What else could we say to each other?

    3) Last month I interviewed Elbert Peck about his time at Sunstone, and he told this wonderfully interesting story about the time he and Daniel Rector had an interview w/ Gordon B. Hinckley back in Sunstone’s heyday. I’ll publish it on youtube in the coming month — but all I can say is, there seems to be MUCH more to potentially lose than gain by such a meeting.

    4) Perhaps most importantly of all — Sunstone is nothing if it loses its independence. If we become apologists, we’re dead (that’s FAIR/FARMS). If we become anti-Mormon, we’re dead (that’s the Tanners, the exMormon foundation, and 1/2 of the Mormon Internet). Most importantly — if we become correlated, we’re really dead (that’s the church/Ensign). And so a big risk in trying to have some formal, direct advisory relationship with the church — is that people might start to doubt our independence.

    We do believe that there’s a special niche to fill in ATTEMPTING to navigate this neutral, independent space: definitely not trying to push people out or tear down the church, but also not trying to push people “in”, or blindly defend it. Instead — we want folks to feel comfortable sharing, exploring, thinking — and then making whatever choices they feel are best for them (in their respective journeys).

    And I must say, so far it’s been both amazingly fulfilling, and a complete blast. :)

  126. Ray (106) — I just want to make it clear that we have NO interest in teaching or encouraging heresy. The only question is — when you allow folks to speak openly at the pulpit (just like in sacrament meeting) — how to you balance freedom/control, candor/compassion, risk/reward, etc. It’s definitely a tough job — and just like fast and testimony meeting, sometimes something will slip through.

    But I give my commitment (and I think I have Dan’s and Rory’s as well) that we will do all we can to support and encourage thoughtful, respectful, constructive and charitable speech at Sunstone symposium, and in the magazine. We won’t be perfect, but I think we can do a respectable job.

  127. Matt W (114) — Mormon Stories currently pulls between 3,000 and 5,000 downloads per episode, though it’s hard to know how many folks actually listen (though I guess you could say the same about the magazine).

    The only (somewhat monumental) difference is, Sunstone has around 2,500 paying subscribers (give or take a few hundred), and Mormon Stories is free. :)

  128. William Morris (115) — I can only speak from my personal experience/preference here. Some of the Sunstone sessions like “Pillars of my faith”, “Why I stay”, and many many other personal presentations have been monumental in my own personal spiritual development — and (in my case) helping me stay an active, healthy, committed church member.

    If we lost the personal stories at Sunstone — I fear that we would become MHA or John Whitmer — which would beg the question as to why we were needed at all. Most importantly, for me, these are the most rewarding and fulfilling parts of Sunstone — when the saints truly connect heart to heart.

  129. Thanks, John, for sharing your thoughts. Do you know if anything came out of Stan Christensen’s efforts, i.e., did they bear any lasting fruit? Did he make any progress? I suppose I’m wondering how those at Sunstone view his tenure on the board.

  130. No disrespect/trollishness but… Isn’t it Heavenly Mothers?

  131. Justin,

    My understanding (and I could be completely wrong here) is that Stan served as board chairman for around a year or so.

    I don’t know the direct results of Stan’s efforts — but Dan might (if he’s still checking in). Whether he’s allowed to share is a totally different question. :)

    I need to meet Stan someday soon — maybe by phone? It might be very valuable to find out (for me).

  132. Gary Bergera did a symposium discussing a draft of the second part of his history of Sunstone. If I remember correctly, Stan played a significant role in the board’s decisions that eventually led to Elbert Peck resigning as Editor. About a month after Elbert’s resignation, Stan himself resigned from the Board. Gary did not mention why Stan left.

    (Dan, or anyone else, please correct me if I’m misremembering.)

  133. klh: I don’t know about you, but I only have one.

  134. Randy B. I haven’t listened to this, but the symposium session you’re referring to is probably this one, at ($1.00 to download).

    SL01212, ‘Only Your Hearts Know’: Sunstone during the Rector/Stephenson/Peck Years–Part 2: The Elbert Peck Years – All particpants: Gary James Bergera, Eric Jones – symposium: 2001 Salt Lake Symposium – excerpt: ”This paper, the second half of a history of the Sunstone Foundation during the years Daniel Rector, Linda Jean Stephenson, and Elbert Peck served as publishers and executive directors, treats the period Elbert headed the foundation. During this tumultuous time, Sunstone had to confront the impression that it somehow threatened the faith of the members of the LDS church. This included, on a perso (and summary ends there.)

  135. FWIW…we’re in the process of making pre-2004 MP3s free again. More on this soon.

  136. For those interested:

    Part 1:
    [audio src="" /]

    Part 2:
    [audio src="" /]

    Listening to them now! :)

  137. Paula, that’s definitely the one.

    Back then (2001), Dan and others, I believe, were saying exactly what John is saying now — there have been some mistakes in the past, but we hope to do better. As near as I can tell, Dan has done a great job moving in this direction. Sounds like John intends to carry that torch.

  138. John (#135)

    I love you man.

  139. Randy (#137)

    As near as I can tell, Dan has done a great job moving in this direction. Sounds like John intends to carry that torch.

    Exactly – and that is a message that we can’t allow to slip through with all this new energy. Dan has done a marvelous job, and he will continue to do what he does so well with the magazine and symposium.

    John brings a new dynamic and a great deal of skills that are needed to now take this to a broader audience. So, while we will continue to tweak and refine and adapt, this isn’t by any means an about-face.

    It’s fascinating to watch John and Dan work together, there’s an interesting dynamic involved and they complement one another well. There are certainly some spirited discussions. It’s going to be a fun ride. :)

    And John, just so you know, I see your numbers in print above – that Sunstone should be somewhere in the 2%-5% of Mormon homes. I’m gonna hold you to that!

  140. Pre-2005 Sunstone Symposium MP3s are now for free at:

    We hope you enjoy.

  141. You pose a very good question, Steve. I do, however, object to your presumption that there is something about Sunstone that must change in order for it to become mainstream.

    In fact, Sunstone as a magazine and an organization strikes me as much more constant in its outlook than the church, its doctrine, its policies, or its membership.

    J. Nelson-Seawright pointed out in a recent Mormon Matters podcast that Hugh Nibley said of the court papers that documented Joseph Smith’s treasure digging something to the effect of, “If these documents are legitimate, then this is the most damaging evidence facing Mormonism” (please clarify with the exact quote, J). This may have seemed to be the case in the 1960s, but the perception of Joseph Smith has changed among a large segment of the membership to accept Joseph’s youthful follies. It’s outlets like Sunstone that lead to this kind of gradual reshaping.

    In my opinion, the church will never be happy with it’s retention numbers until it is able to bring itself to embrace the Sunstone outlook openly.

    Wouldn’t it be great if the leaders of our church encouraged people to engage and embrace all things Mormon? Thomas Monson can quote common poetry or a song from the Les Miserables musical. Would it really hurt the church if he quoted an article from Dialogue or Sunstone?

    And let’s be honest: The DHO talk discouraging Mormons from reading “alternative voices” was totally retarded (sorry, I know he’s an apostle, but if anyone here can come up with a better word than that, I’ll use it). Especially since (a) neither the church’s membership nor property are under threat due to persecution, and (b) the internet has made the church’s century-long attempt to exert control over the availability of church-related information utterly futile.

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