Sunstone: more scholarship, less religion-making, please

We are all familiar with the tired formulation of “I don’t have anything against x. Some of my best friends are x.” For my purposes these two sentences fail more than average. While some of my best friends do attend Salt Lake Sunstone (enjoying themselves as I type, actually), I apparently do have something against it.

First let’s be clear, as usual, there looks to be some high quality presentations this year. And the digital archives of yesteryear’s Sunstones hold some magnificent gems (like Sam Taylor and Ron Esplin discussing the relationship of Brigham Young and John Taylor, or Kathleen Flake riffing on the JST). At its finest, Sunstone SLC features presentations with lasting importance.

Besides the interesting panels, it is also my impression that Sunstone is a place where people disaffected with Mormonism in some way can gather and be angsty together. [1] If it were a strictly scholarly conference, it wouldn’t particularly matter what the composition of attendees was. But Sunstone isn’t necessarily about history, anthropology, sociology, scripture studies, or any other discipline. As I understand it, Sunstone is about letting people talk about whatever interests them with respect to the Mormon tradition, including how they choose to currently envision their religion. This is coupled with a tradition among many that views the event as a public therapy session.

Looking at this year’s program, I’m actually pretty surprised. As I said, there are many presentations that look great; but a significant portion also looks like it was planned in 1994. I understand that Sunstone is in the midst of an existential crisis. But here is a hint: if you want more legitimacy among more Mormons, why would you think it would be a good idea to host a panel on how premarital sex is great thing for female single twenty-somethings? If you don’t want more legitimacy, well, that is another matter completely. I am also guessing that Sonja Johnson is probably not going to be a great “Mormon Feminist role model.” [2]

I am a bit biased, it is true. I prefer studies of spiritualism not promotions of it. I also tend to like my devotionals to use as texts traditional devotional literature, not things like The Sacrament of doubt. I think topics like female ritual healing should be the subject of rigorous scholarship, not a segue for a discussion of modern new age homeopathic evangelism.

I tend to not care about people’s personal heterodoxies. If people want to set up a website where they can wax effulgent, by all means, wax on. But when you have one opportunity a year to be host and define what you are to the broader Mormon community, the religion-makers, antagonists, whiners, and loop-de-loos ruin your possibilities, and unfortunately taint, in the minds of many, the real scholarship done.


  1. I once asked a prominent non-Mormon scholar if s/he attended Sunstone. This person responded with a simple “no,” indicating that it was too full of angst.
  2. There are many folks where I live that remember her chaining herself to the temple gates. Good times.


  1. Right on. Preach it Brother Stapley.

  2. J. My sentiments exactly and more eloquently expressed.

  3. Whatever happened to John Dehlin’s Sunstone redo? Is he still doing Sunstone?

  4. Well said. I agree.

    Ditto on the good friends enjoying themselves there and not caring about others’ personal heterodoxies. And I don’t begrudge anyone finding a comfortable environment.

    I’m very glad the archives are online.

  5. Ha! I swear I was contemplating writing this very post. Thanks for saving me the effort Stapley.

  6. J., about two years ago, I was working on a research project in Mormon studies, and as part of my tasks had to read all the back issues of Sunstone, Dialogue, and other Mormon-themed journals & magazines to look for certain themes.

    I learned a great deal from that summer’s reading materials all around, and enjoyed many articles in Sunstone. However, in general I found that Sunstone stood very far apart from the other Mormon journals in a way that I found less palatable; so sue me, but I just couldn’t swallow the ratio of (what I perceive to be) “religion-makers, antagonists, whiners, and loop-de-loos” to “studies of spiritualism” in that mag, and I’ve never been able to generate a renewed interest since.

  7. Thanks for this J.

    After attending FAIR for the first time, I thought I would be obligated to go to Sunstone for the first time, but after looking over the program, there was little that caught my attention, at least, not enough to pay the ticket to get in. I should have taken advantage of free student admission while I had the chance.

    However, I may try and crash one or two of the post-hours parties to see friends.

  8. J.,

    I think there’s a lot of merit to the idea that Sunstone should have more scholarship and less hand-wringing. I’ve said so myself, more than once.

    But the dismissive attitude of this post is way over the top.

    You write, “I tend to not care about people’s personal heterodoxies.” Dude, you blog at a Mormon blog. You write about altars and feminist manifestos, at this site. You authored a piece in JNS’s “What Next” series, which was nothing if not a collection of peoples’ personal accounts of their spiritual journeys, including a whole lot of heterodoxy.

    You’ve gotten a ton of support for your own positions — and yes, some of them are heterodox — from readers here, many of whom are participating in Sunstone. And now you’re pissing on Sunstone.

    You don’t need to draw these lines, man. You can criticize Sunstone and encourage change and improvement, without the cheap shots. Not everyone has had five years in the nacle to work through heterodoxy and questions. Don’t be so quick to pull the ladder up behind you, now that you’ve decided you’re done with it.

    (And yes, The Sacrament of Doubt is not a good book — though I would probably say the same for most any book that was a grab bag of 10-year-old op-eds and e-mails.)

  9. J., you said what needs to be said. I can’t think of anyone with more credibility to say it, either, because of your particular blend of scholarship, general record of kindness around the bloggernacle, and unmistakable but non-preachy brand of faithfulness. Thank you.

  10. Thanks all.

    Kaimi, I appreciate your comment. Though I’m not sure I see the obvious disconnect in my participation on Mormon blogs and my generally not caring about individuals heterodoxies. I’m not sure how a historical treatment of extra-temple altars would be similar to a site, for example, that encourages the building and use of altars in the home. A similar difference would be writing about polygamy vs. practicing it. And I’m also not sure which of my positions, heterodox or not, that have gotten a ton of support from readers either. I don’t generally see what I write as political; though I do appreciate the supportive comments on pieces like this post, which are position pieces. I just don’t see it as pulling up the ladder as you say.

    That said, I don’t feel like I am drawing lines. And I don’t think these are cheap shots. A panel, for example, advocating for premarital sex as good for Mormons is a fair example, don’t you think? I think my comments are fair. I think if you read my post closely, you will find that I believe there is a lot of great stuff at Sunstone. It is worth making better.

  11. Latter-day Guy says:

    I agree with much of what you say here, J. (Are there strictly scholarly conferences available for Mormons?) However, I do wonder if during the “Alternate Voices” era, had the church encouraged (or hadn’t at least anathematized) participation in this kind of activity, whether the nature of these conferences wouldn’t be very different. By basically describing it as an activity not appropriate for the faithful, Church leaders might have helped define the kind of audience and content which this post finds (most understandably) troubling.

    In any case, Sunstone’s tendency to be a group therapy session seems to me to be, in some ways, a very Mormon characteristic. Surely these kinds of conferences could only grow out of a faith that holds Fast and Testimony meetings every month. ;-)

  12. J.,

    Is it really “a panel advocating premarital sex as good for Mormons”? The abstract of the D’Arcy presentation (which is, I assume, the one you’re talking about) is:

    “The LDS Church has long advocated virginity and sexual abstinence until marriage. Has virginity become a type of cult? This paper will also explore the connection between chastity and pornography for both men and women. What happens when a woman’s primary value is sexual, through motherhood, wifedom, and chastity? Is there a way to defend your sexuality, take control of it, without breaking the commandments set forth? How should young women be taught about sex? What should they be taught about their bodies? How should single women live their lives without
    being nuns and burying sexual desires?”

    Whatever one’s take on D’Arcy’s conclusions, there are a lot of questions there that are certainly fair game. “Does church culture or doctrine put unhealthy emphasis on womens’ sexuality” is a legitimate question for scholarly analysis. Heidi Harris’s work (she was at last year’s Sunstone) explores similar questions, and there’s no doubt that she’s scholarly. Now, I can’t say whether D’Arcy will nail the landing. I’ve heard a lot of good Sunstone talks, and a lot of bad ones. But I don’t think the topic of womens’ sexuality is out of bounds.

    I don’t want to quibble with you; as any of a dozen mutual acquaintances can attest, I’ve pushed for more scholarship and less dream-interpretation at Sunstone, too.

    I’ve characterized the post as taking cheap shots, in part because I don’t think that an early-morning talk (who is going to be there at 8 a.m. the first day, anyway?) and another single-person talk (not a true panel) on sexuality should be the defining points.

    Hell, the Banquet — the real main event of the symposium — features Jan Shipps. Another plenary session features Quinn, Jana Riess, and Darius Gray.

    But again, I think we agree on a lot of broad points. I like a lot of this conference — it has more cohesiveness than any in recent memory — but I agree that it includes a good deal of 1994 rehashing. I wish that there were more participation from more orthodox scholars as well. (I don’t know if that’s possible — the church’s policy may have chased away more orthodox participants.) You read the magazine in 1987, and you see a range of participants that aren’t there these days, and that’s unfortunate. It’s definitely worth making better.

  13. Steve Evans says:

    J., a good post – but it would seem there is a need in our religion for some sort of community-building experience, even if this is not the one. What should it be?

  14. OrthoMo’s have been Kaimipowned!

  15. Sleep with me, gst.

  16. This is so very awkward.

  17. Kaimi, you make good points; and perhaps I misinterpreted D’Arcy’s no-longer-public essay describing her conclusions. I only read it quickly. Human sexuality is certainly fair game for scholarly study. I’m not sure what isn’t. And yes, it appears that we are in agreement that there is a lot of great stuff at Sunstone this year.

    I don’t know Steve.

  18. We just moved to Utah. I’m going to Sunstone for the first time this year, for as many sessions as I can scrounge up babysitting. I’ve read Sunstone and Dialogue for years, and I’m excited to finally meet the some of the people who read and write for these publications (and the bloggernacle).
    But I’m not looking for “group therapy”. I want interesting discussions. I want to learn.

  19. Kaimi, D’Arcy’s post (which has been removed so I can’t quote from it) went a great deal farther than the abstract you quote, and there would have been no reason for her self-revelation there had not a “redefinition of chastity” to include approval of premarital sex been at least one major point of her presentation. It certainly was the main point of her post.

    I don’t know what the church’s current policy is on employee participation, except that I note the participation of at least one BYU professor. But the current inability of orthodox scholars to participate isn’t caused solely by any lingering policy. Orthodox speakers — me, for example — can’t scrape together an audience at Sunstone anymore without at least the appearance of fringe-iness (my paper titled “Church Hounds Woman to Madness” drew a decent crowd, but it would not have done so had my abstract stated my orthodox conclusions). I give good presentations, funny and dramatic, but my last Sunstone audience was three–count-’em–three, two of whom were friends who came to support me. The people who go to Sunstone don’t go to Sunstone to hear orthodox Mormon scholarship.

  20. I would attend any talk that you gave, Ardis. :)

    (Unless it were scheduled against a real doozy, like Margaret Young, or Mike Quinn, or the Mormon nudists from last year.)

  21. (And I should note that attendance is always kind of dicey. I was on a panel a year ago with exponent-Jana, fmh-Janet, and Dooce (whose mommy blog draws tons of traffic and who is known as very edgy). And still, there were maybe twenty people in the audience. Including Stephen and Mary Ellen.)

  22. I admit to being extremely selective in what I attend and what I present at Sunstone, and appreciate the fact that those in charge know not to even ask me to sit on a panel which would demean rather than build faith.

    I must say that I was rather disturbed by the way some at FAIR characterized Sunstone. The word “whiners” was used, and rather dismissive gestures employed. Unkind. Unkind. We can do better.

  23. Ardis, I think Kaimi is more accurate in his description of the post. I followed it, and I ended up taking a break from the blogs for a few days because the discussion was so distressing. The original post included a single line that stated her personal conclusion – that chastity need not be equated with abstinence. Outside of doctrine? Yes. But it was _one line_ in an otherwise rather interesting set of questions, and yet it was the only line that commenters isolated and seized upon to derail the discussion and define the entire session to be outside of Mormonism. We tend to draw our lines fast and hard.

    As for Sunstone, it consists of 90-some-odd sessions over four days. I agree that there are sessions that are rather poor in quality, silly, sometimes angry, or simply uninteresting, but the number of sessions and the range of participants could offer everyone a place to find a worthwhile experience. What’s more, the best way to get accepted to present at Sunstone is to propose a topic that is smart and that appeals to a large cross-section of Mormons. Yes, there are heterodox sessions. But orthodoxy is absolutely welcome, you simply need to engage with the discussion.

    Might I suggest some topics?

    How about a session on why the church counseling young people to marry is a bad thing? That holding off on marriage until they are older is better?

    Or a session on the fact that we have lost the gifts of the spirit? That we no longer really believe the things that made our early church vibrant? And to encourage us to lay claim to speaking in tongues, performing miracles, and faith healing?

    I’d even like to see a session that talks about CES, and for a little spice, refers to them as a modern-day priestcraft.

    Or would those sessions be criticized as more of the same?

  24. Speaking of more scholarship, let me know if this “premarital sex” panel has any real data, or if it is just claims. Are they basing this “good idea” on hard numbers or just some cleverly worded opinions?

    There is real data supporting the idea that abstinence education doesn’t work that well,, but I have never seen anything definitive stating that women in their 20s are better of if the start having premarital sex.

  25. J., I was reading your post, and disgesting your concerns about how Sunstone is perhaps too much just a place for disaffected Mormons to be angsty. OK, got it. I agree. And then suddenly, at the end, I perceived you taking a slight turn. You said, “But when you have one opportunity a year to be host and define what you are to the broader Mormon community, the religion-makers, antagonists, whiners, and loop-de-loos ruin your possibilities, and unfortunately taint, in the minds of many, the real scholarship done.”

    So, would you expand on that? I agree, that for better or for worse, Sunstone is probably forever marred as illegitimate to the orthodox. However, you seem to be saying that Sunstone is possibly doing damage to scholarship? More on this, please? And are these two issues for you, or do they conjoin at some point?

  26. This is how felt when I read last summer’s program, and it included a session on Nudism and how it fit so well into Mormonism. Seriously? When reading the program, sometimes I feel like they get desperate, and take any abstract, no matter how absurd and incompatible with Mormonism-just to fill in the time.

  27. I read the Exponent II post slowly and carefully and then followed the comments. I agree that what Kaimi and Rory describe would have been much more interesting and useful to talk about. I found Starfoxy’s comments on virginity interesting and enlightening and Lynnette’s observations about the paradigm shift from “saving one’s-self for marriage” to covenental celibacy to be, well, paradigm shifting.

    However, I think Ardis’s assessment of what the post actually presented is more accurate.

  28. Well played, Rory.

    Hunter, I don’t think it is a doomed cause entirely. But I think that otherwise great things don’t get the circulations they deserve.

  29. Why is that, J.?

  30. Meh. Sunstone has in general tone not been my cup of tea and I have not been to any of them.

    #23 Rory, honestly any one who writes a thesis knows that one line makes all the difference in the world. Reading the article I was turned off before it even started into the comments.

    Um… after realizing I was writing a tome which was going on and on… I thought I would just link to this and post a link in the comments… otherwise I will take up more space than the original blog post.

  31. @Jon W:

    I think we are talking about the same blog post, but if we are not I am going to be very embarrassed.

    The blog post was – well, a blog post. Informal, conversational. The author pasted the abstract, which did not contain any advocacy of premarital sex. She also riffed a little informally, where she included that line. I read the post as a series of questions – those that Kaimi highlighted above – with an almost parenthetical about what she thought. It could have gone either way, but the first two comments ignored the great questions and set the tone for the 70+ comments I stomached before turning off the computer.

    It was unfortunate and ugly. I am certain it is due to the impersonal nature of pixels on the screen and the courage we feel online. But I hope we are all more charitable in real life.

  32. Steve Evans says:

    Rory, the post has evaporated now, so our retellings will have to suffice, but the author’s informal riffs and subsequent comments made it clear that she was definitely “outside of doctrine.” I would note that the title of her post was to the effect that chastity need not mean abstinence — are we to ignore her title in light of the great questions?

    Yes, many of the comments were unfortunate and ugly. Some of the unfortunate and ugly ones were mine. Some were the author’s. But the post itself posited some interesting questions, mired in an overall stance towards chastity that is in direct opposition to the teachings of the church. You can only do so much with such questions.

    Charity towards the author? Yes, please – I agree. Charity towards sexual relations outside of marriage? No, thanks, and given how important an issue this is for LDS you needn’t be surprised at the results of her post.

  33. Steve I agree, and Rory that post is what I was referring to. I did not get into it too much because I knew where it was headed. Like Geoff’s discussion about Gods ability to be able to control history with free will. Sometimes I have to step away before I say something really stupid ;)

    Anyway here is my larger take which got out of control earlier.

  34. Steve, I’m not surprised, I just wish for a different result. Not a different conclusion on doctrine, simply a more patient reaction and a better discussion.

    And I honestly do not recall the title of the post. I can only refer to one section of the body that I copied for an email discussion. If it was as you said, which I am not disputing, that makes the focus on her riff a little more understandable.

    With that, I think I have derailed this discussion more than sufficiently to obfuscate the Sunstone topic. I trust you will all be at the blog party on Friday night? Somebody said BCC was bringing the keg…

  35. Eric Russell says:

    The biggest problem with Sunstone Conference is that there’s no one to delete people’s comments.

  36. Quasi-related question, J.

    What about community-building or other non-scholarly sessions that don’t seem disaffected?

    For instance, what’s your take on the session that I’m in with Kristine — discussing online teaching resources? Or the talking-about-the-Longfellow-Park-chapel session? Or the various meet-the-bloggers sessions? Are those objectionable as well, for their lack of scholarly content?

    That is, I don’t think that Sunstone is a simple two-array universe (scholarship and disaffected whining) with no overlap. Rather, there’s a fair amount of material that’s neither A nor B; and there’s at least some that overlaps (heterodox scholarship).

    Your post doesn’t make clear whether you’re opposed to everything outside of group A (scholarship); or whether you’re opposed only to panels that are included in group B (disaffected whining), and so would be okay with other non-scholarship presentations (me on online resources) as long as we don’t start whining.

  37. Just a note, the reason the post was pulled was primarily due to privacy concerns for the author. Obviously nothing is ever really gone on the internet and anyone who is really interested could put 2 and 2 together, but I think it would be considerate and go a long ways towards making her feel safer if people here could discuss this without naming names.

  38. (Other presentations at this symposium or the recent past that are neither scholarship nor (at least in many cases) disaffected whining include Jeff Burton’s Borderlands discussions, John Dehlin’s How To Stay, the Why We Stay panel, the This I Believe panel, the Dehlin workshop on working through issues, and the Dealing with a Crisis of Faith panel from last year. None of these are MHA material, and they all fall into the “personal explorations” meta category, but it’s hard to characterize most of this as disaffected whining).

  39. I think you can find whatever you are looking for at sunstone. Im sure there are people that are disaffected and with angst but there are also many people who truly are seeking to be better disciples.

    This is my second year presenting and the presentations I have done have been strictly related to scriptures and lds theology. The crowds were decent 20-30 people and the other presentations I attended Margaret and Darius presentation, Mack Stirling’s presentation on René Girard’s work, and a few others have all been faith promoting. If a presentation doesnt do it for you, skip that one. I find there are enough interesting and good ones that its worth attending., but thats just me.

  40. For me, the appeal of Sunstone is the hybrid between scholarship and personal experience. I certainly don’t agree with probably the majority of opinions expressed at a Sunstone conference (nor, for that matter, do I necessarily agree with the majority of opinions expressed in the majority of sacrament meetings I’ve attended). But for me, that’s part of the excitement of it. Seeing the incredible diversity of people who consider themselves, in one way or another (either religiously or culturally), “Mormon,” and hear the broad spectrum of experiences, ideas, and beliefs. There are some great places for scholarly Mormon studies, and Sunstone is often a wonderful contribution to the field–but perhaps even more beautiful is their chronicling of the individual lives and experiences of Mormons, past or present, mainstream or non.

  41. I thought that post about how sex outside of marriage is totally hunky dory (well at least for women over thirty if I remember correctly) was really funny. And then they had to go and delete all the amusing snarks and it got all boring and serious. (I happen to have copies of the deleted snarks in my inbox though and I’m sorely tempted to share them…)

  42. I look forward to seeing all three of you tomorrow.


  43. Blair,

    You just need to retitle your presentation:

    “C.S. Lewis, Mormonism, AND SEX.”


  44. I was thinking about going this year…mostly to see people I have wanted to meet for years, but I can’t for practical and scheduling reasons.

    But I agree with J on many counts, even though I don’t think something like this has to be all scholarly. I think personal experience is important, too, but it does feel like there is such a wide continuum w/ Sunstone that “Mormonism” as it is defined in a more traditional way can sort of get lost, and, as such, imo, Sunstone loses lose some of what could appeal to a wider array of people. It is still very ‘alternative’ from my point of view…speaking collectively, not individually. There are individual sessions I would LOVE to see, but there is still enough other stuff that leaves me not sure I want to be there at all (except, again, to mingle with and meet ‘nacle people).

    It’s not that I am against a way for bridges to be built and for people w/ different perspectives and experiences and varying degrees of in-the-church-ness to associate. And maybe Sunstone will continue to be that place. I suppose if Sunstone changed gears, then something else would form that would run the same course and run into the same challenges.

    My thought, though, is that as long as Sunstone continues to have such a wide variety, it will continue to have a reputation that will limit its audience and appeal, and there will always be a raised eyebrow from many a member about it. And because there is a lot of good there, I think that is unfortunate. But maybe there is too much baggage there anyway — even the name triggers a lot, no? Maybe the answer is another symposium that tries to be something different?

    Nothing will ever be able to be all things to all people. But then we shouldn’t be surprised when it’s not. To be honest, sometimes I think people are more surprised than they should be that Sunstone still is not something a lot of members are comfy with. Count me as one who is closer to the middle on this than some might think…thinking a lot is really good (again, the ‘nacle connections make it more of a draw, too), but still very uncomfortable with a fair amount of what is included.

  45. A good Christian friend of mine once expressed that he viewed Mormonism as finding every obscure reference in the Bible and creating some doctrine around it (1 Cor. 15:29 for example). I found that as evidence of restoration — he found it as a disturbing, unorthodox “wide variety”.

    So maybe Sunstone is to orthodox Mormonism what Mormonism is to more mainstream Christianity:

    “… as long as [Mormonism] continues to have such a wide variety, it will continue to have a reputation that will limit its audience and appeal, and there will always be a raised eyebrow from many a [Christian] about it. And because there is a lot of good there, I think that is unfortunate. But maybe there is too much baggage there anyway — even the name triggers a lot, no?”

  46. Kent, if your analogy weren’t completely backwards it would be apt. Mormonism is more conservative than mainstream Christianity, not less.

  47. Latter-day Guy says:

    “Mormonism is more conservative than mainstream Christianity, not less.”

    Politically, sure. Speaking about doctrines? Not so much. Mormonism is quite liberal theologically: no creeds, no TULIP, continuing revelation, etc. Mormonism’s conservatism is really dependent on the measuring stick you use.

  48. Continuing #47’s comment in making LDS doctrinal “liberals” (though social conservatives), we have a near-universalist salvation, a non-literal hell (i.e. not much in the way of fire and brimstone), etc.

    That said, I also find Kent O’s analogy a bit off, and I’m highly uncomfortable with the seeming all-comers attitude of the symposium. What do the rejected topics look like, I wonder?

  49. Mormonism would be radically liberal if you see it growing out of garden variety Christianity. But if you see it as a restoration of doctrines and rites practiced anciently but abandoned through apostasy, then it’s pretty dang conservative.

  50. “I think topics like female ritual healing should be the subject of rigorous scholarship, not a segue for a discussion of modern new age homeopathic evangelism.”


  51. Not to threadjack, but where might I find a transcript of Sam Taylor and Ron Esplin discussing the relationship of Brigham Young and John Taylor?

  52. Nitsav, Ld-G, agreed…. but I think there’s a strong argument that the socio-political conservativism of Mormonism is currently its defining element.

  53. If the BCC crowd wants more scholarship at Sunstone, then maybe people here (especially J. Stapley and Ardis, whom I have met and personally invited to present at Sunstone) could PONY UP.

  54. Ah, but there’s the dilemma. Why should they pony up to support something that they don’t agree with?

  55. #49,

    The (LDS conservative) viewpoint expressed in your comment takes some liberality with which ‘doctrines’ and ‘rites’ can reasonably be established to have existed ‘anciently’ however you define anciently (probably as late as the 2nd century but not so far as the third and certainly not the fourth, right?). So your conservatism is pretty dang liberal to me. But now I am kind of getting confused as to what I am even talking about. Nuts.

  56. And would Stapley and the BCC group crowd out the other elements, or just be added to them?

  57. Mary Ellen, I explained to you in person and have explained again in my #19 here why I no longer PONY UP. For three years I did support Dan’s effort to swing the symposium in a direction where more orthodox members might find something of interest — but Sunstone doesn’t attract enough orthodox audience members to make the effort worthwhile.

    I’m a spotlight hog. I gladly speak to any audience anywhere that will sit still long enough to hear me, because I love the live response. I would speak at Sunstone — but there is no audience there for my material.

  58. StillConfused says:

    I don’t really do conferences and the like. Mainly because I have a hard time paying attention for that long. And I have a hard time having opinions on lots of things. It was my understanding that Sunstone was designed to allow people with non-mainstream thoughts and interests to have a place to express those. I think that is healthy. So many people feel repressed — perhaps allowing them to speak their peace allows them to remain in a religion which otherwise makes them feel repressed.

  59. I have a question.

    How many people will attend a Sunstone presentation? what is the total attendance? Just curious.

    My gut tells me that if lots of my fellow bloggernacclers have serious reservations about Sunstone then there is something to their concerns. I take JS, Ardis and SE seriously on these things

  60. “But it was _one line_ in an otherwise rather interesting set of questions, and yet it was the only line that commenters isolated and seized upon to derail the discussion.”

    Yes, but besides *that*, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy “Our American Cousin”?

  61. I’d also note that some of the BCC crowd will be at Sunstone.

    As I see it the essential dilemma for an enterprise like Sunstone (and to a lesser extent something like the AML annual meeting) is that you are working with two basic continuums here: the first is professionalism vs. amateurism. The wonderful thing about Mormon Studies is that is has traditionally made room for “amateur” participation (and I put that term in quote marks because it’s difficult to say where amateurism ends and professionalism begins. No would suggest, for example, that Ardis is an amateur. But let’s say those who have significant post-graduate training in a discipline and those that don’t. Although even that isn’t quite right because certainly if one doesn’t have a tenured or tenure-track position, certain amateur things come in to play [such as self-financing and trying to find time for scholarship]). But making such room doesn’t come without some cost. For example, except for, perhaps, the field of history, Mormon scholars with university support have not always fully embraced Mormon studies as practiced by Sunstone, the AML and even Dialogue.

    Add in the other continuum of relationships to the LDS Church (as measured in terms of activity, orthodoxy, etc.) and you get a very difficult set of parameters to work with. How do you appeal to enough folks on that continuum to create an organization, a journal, an event that can support itself?

    The AML made a conscious decision to try and become more scholarly to attract back some of the academics who had cooled down participation because the AML began to be seen as more interested in authorship and less in criticism. The result was that its writer’s conference and role in supporting fiction writers and collating publishing news was reduced and (to a certain extent) usurped by LDStorymakers. And actually, I’d probably add in another continuum of old — young (and that’s less age and more interest in topics and attitudes towards technology). For example, the AML holds to a print journal and older forms of electronic communication even as a generation of younger folks interested in Mormon culture have taken up the tools and done their own projects (to their credit, the AML has reached out somewhat to some of these whippersnappers).

    Sunstone has even more of a struggle (as evidenced by this post and the comments it elicited as well as other discussions that have arisen over the years) and even more of a financial obligation (to staff, to donors, to longtime subscribers). The trick for them is to be controversial enough to attract media (and blog) coverage and create the excitement and religion-making that attracts a certain portion of their crowd and the energy of the affair (because let’s face it, a dry scholarly enterprise isn’t likely to draw enough numbers) while still maintaining enough credibility with the orthodox and scholarly types to add enough legitimacy to the whole operation that it doesn’t seem like “just a bunch of whiners” e.g. enough cover that people like Kaimi and Margaret feel comfortable participating. And I don’t mean cover as a negative thing — there are virtues to the big tent approach. But I don’t envy them their task.

  62. @#54 Wm Morris – But stating that Sunstone is something that “they don’t agree with” is not entirely correct. Even the original post is careful to point out that this is a mixed bag, that there are some real gems and a real contribution made, even if it has elements that they might disagree with. Further, the comments throughout, from those who do not attend, acknowledge the spectrum of individuals and the need for places that serve them. I don’t think this is a for/against proposition, but rather complex. You strike at that complexity in your comment #61, a very good analysis.

    #56 Nitsav – Sunstone has a mission to support open forums for Mormon thought. But it is also an entity that seeks to survive and grow. It will choose topics and session proposals that are consistent with its mission, and that help to build the audience. This is a gentle way of saying that with a limited number of sessions available, it will choose the highest quality that appeal to the largest audience. Contrary to some of the depictions out there, Sunstone does not exist simply to seek controversy.

    There have already been a couple of good articles reporting on sessions this week. One on Mormon Times detailing a workshop yesterday on debt reduction and living frugally. Not scholarship, perhaps, but definitely relevant today. And one in the Deseret News about the plenary last night featuring Mary Farrell Bednarowski, a professor emerita at United Theological Seminary. Both of these sessions explore elements of Mormon faith, one as it relates to how we live, the other how we fit in the larger religious world and – consistent with the theme – women’s religious experience.

    There are many more like that, and if you are within driving distance, there is still time to attend! (end shameless plug)

    I joked with BHodges last week that I’d have to use the same disclaimer he offered for the FAIR conference: A lot of interesting sessions and great people, but the outliers get all of the attention from those who do not attend.

  63. Latter-day Guy says:

    Re: 52,

    Yes, I think that argument could be made… and, to me, that’s not a little troubling!

  64. “This is a gentle way of saying that with a limited number of sessions available, it will choose the highest quality that appeal to the largest audience.”

    Indeed. One way to read Mary Ellen’s post is that the reason for the current choice of topics/presenters is the lack of more scholarly and/or orthodox presenters. I am seeking clarification on that point.

  65. Rory: Exactly. Thus it’s not so simple as saying “pony up” either. I understand that all the organizations get sick of the whiners and the critics and at some point it’s get involved or don’t (and shut up about it). And I don’t think that Mary Ellen was being super rude.

    To be honest, I have very mixed feelings about this whole “real gems” thing. Does anybody care to share what percentage they’re willing to tolerate? (and, of course, at any academic conference you’re going to find sessions that you simply roll your eyes at *cough*MLA*cough*).

    I ask because I am a major waffler on this point. I avoided Sunstone for a long time, but recently entered one of its contests because although there may be articles that don’t work for me and my worldview, on the whole, Sunstone’s track record for plays and fiction is pretty good. On the other hand, I fretted about the fact that my “Speculations: Trees” will be read as much less ironic and funny than it is “supposed” (yes, yes, authorial intention, etc.) to be because of the short stories it ran alongside in Irreantum. And Irreantum doesn’t have quite the set of baggage Sunstone does.

    I think that the default response should be engagement, but I completely understand those who don’t want to engage (and you won’t see me spending my meager resources on the Sunstone Symposium anytime soon — several subscriptions and other conferences are in line ahead of it. Although I no longer automatically rule out the possibility like I did four, five years ago).

  66. When I used to live in Utah, I looked forward to attending a few Sunstone sessions each year (80’s and early 90’s), and remember some many of them with great fondness.

    The last couple of years, Sunstone has corresponded to some family vacation time in Utah, but the mix has been less attractive to me with the limited time available. This year, I arrive in Utah Saturday, and won’t really overlap with Sunstone, and I don’t feel like I am missing much. What I might miss is meeting more of the blogging folks in real life.

    To me, there is some value in providing a forum for asking questions and exploring ideas outside of the mainstream. What J and others are reflecting on is the perception that the fringe is now the center, and the mainstream has been pushed to the edges. And that makes me less interested in going.

  67. It seems to me that that those most reinterpreting Mormonism are the Scholars.

    What was that quote about making fools of the wise…

  68. nice piece….now consider EMSA – where else could you get Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans and Mormons, attorneys, doctors, scholars and CES allo in the same room in perfect(ish) harmony…I don’t think they can even do that in general conference….

  69. #67, how so and how do you define “scholar”?

  70. And how do you define “reinterpret” for that matter? Examples?

  71. I have never been able to attend Sunstone, but I have been grateful for its existence for two reasons. The first is that it does allow people to express opinions and ideas about the church/gospel/religion etc…that are not allowed anywhere else. Yes, you can start a blog or something like that, but that assumes you have time, adequate computer/internet access and the money to pay for a site or access,etc… My guess is that if Sunstone feels to some like it is more alternative than orthodox and scholarly, could that be because orthodoxy is acceptable in any mormon setting while scholarship and experiences that vary from orthdoxy are not. (Is orthodoxy a word?)

    The other reason that I am grateful for Sunstone is that in some ways it leads the church toward more enlightened behaviour. As members attend and hear some of the complaints mentioned by dissatisfied members, they learn more about how the church members practice the beliefs. I really believe that it is the more liberal minded members that are more willing to give other members the ‘benefit of the doubt’ which makes it much easier for disabled members, single parent members, etc…and these members make it easier for others and strengthen the testimonies of those who struggle in a church that can appear to have many discrepancies or hypocrisies depending on the members that practice it.

    Ardis- even if only three people show up… isn’t that worth it if what you are discussing is important? “Where two or three are gathered” and all that. If you want Sunstone to change, wouldn’t it be better to create change from within than complaining from without? (Not trying to pick on you in particular as others have expressed your opinion- just interested in your thoughts on audience.)

  72. “The first is that it does allow people to express opinions and ideas about the church/gospel/religion etc…that are not allowed anywhere else.”

    I realize this is your way of saying that Sunstone feels like a comfort zone for some people, and I’m sure that’s true and good. But in my view, most of those opinions allowed NOWHERE else are explicitly really far over the line. Would you expect BYU Studies or Dialogue or FARMS or SMPT etc. to give time to someone advocating that “chastity need not mean abstinence”?

  73. Addendum- I note you’re talking about the periodical, not the conference. The periodical has been more measured and balanced in recent years than the conference, and I can get behind it more.

  74. I really believe that it is the more liberal minded members that are more willing to give other members the ‘benefit of the doubt’ which makes it much easier for disabled members, single parent members, etc…

    This to me makes it sound like the only place people who have open minds and open hearts can be found at/in/among the Sunstone crowd. I don’t think that is really accurate, or fair.

    I know plenty of people who aren’t comfortable with Sunstone who are very kind, loving, and aware of people who may feel like they don’t fit in some way or another.

  75. aloysiusmiller says:

    Isn’t it interesting how people can take themselves out of Mormonism but they can’t take Mormonism out of themselves. I could accept that as a definition of hell. Nasty things these ancestors do to people.

  76. Jared (#69 #70),

    I’d have to think for a while to find much writing (outside of a few prophets) that has been worth reading.

    For just one example, consider hermeneutic analysis. I have seen so many bizarre conclusions based on word analysis that I’m amazed intelligent people consider it valid. I consider it to have done more harm than good.

  77. Don’t forget that the Longfellow Park retrospective will include heavy-hitters like Phil Barlow and I suspect will be strongly faith-affirming. I have presented at Sunstone a couple of times, once on Egyptian and pure language, once on an LDS ethic of heroic medical therapy. Both were mainstream and well-attended. I just don’t go to the sessions I’m not interested in but am glad to give people space to congregate over whatever strikes their fancy.

  78. #76, Tony. Ok…interesting answer. Enjoy the bloggernacle, I guess.

  79. Ardis- even if only three people show up… isn’t that worth it if what you are discussing is important? “Where two or three are gathered” and all that. If you want Sunstone to change, wouldn’t it be better to create change from within than complaining from without? (Not trying to pick on you in particular as others have expressed your opinion- just interested in your thoughts on audience.)

    No. It most definitely is not worth the time (which isn’t limited to presentation; a far greater expense is carried in researching and writing). You don’t “create change” when no one hears you. And fanatic though I am, I am not so arrogant as to confuse the history I practice with the spirit/gospel/salvation that is associated with “where two or three are gathered.”

  80. Some very good points here. Wm., I think you bring an important perspective having negotiated a somewhat similar situation.

    smb, that Longfellow Park retrospective looks amazing (even for one who has never attended there) and as I have repeatedly said, there are always great sessions. I just think it is too bad they won’t have the audience they might otherwise. I’m not trying to draw lines in the sand.

    Ardis, I have a testimony of the work you do.

  81. I have only attended a couple of Sunstone conferences. I consider myself fairly openminded, but there were presentations at both that made me distinctly uncomfortable. But I was intrigued and enjoyed the vast majority of the presentations. And I like the wide cross-section of attenders from most if not all points on the spectrum. The points of the spectrum that seemed least represented are the TBM crowd (who might find nothing bad to say about the Church) and the RFM crowd (who might find nothing good to say about it).

  82. Ben- not sure, but think you might have meant some of the discussions not most. You are right in that I am not sure that the chasity talk was for me (it might have been helpful for someone else- I do not know), but many things discusses at Sunstone (such as disability inclusion at church) are TABOO at my ward. My ward firmly believes that only the mildly physically impaired are supposed to come to church- all others God wants to stay at home. Some people in my ward believe in mild torture and near total shunning for the female who breaks chasity, but the male can still pass the sacrament. Having a forum to discuss things like this for some of us is very spiritually affirming as we are able to see that it is a failure in member behaviour and not a true gospel teaching. If Sunstone were to limit itself strictly on topics many legitimate topics might be left out. So I feel it is good to have both even though many topics that I might not appreciate are listed.

    Also I have never read the periodical- my Sunstone experience is living it through the notes, recordings, blogs, etc that my family and friends give me.

    M&M- I am sorry that you thought that I was suggesting that only members of Sunstone can be loving and kind. I was suggesting that they are more likely to be so in my experience. I am glad that your experience has been different. I have found that the members who make fun of Sunstone are also the ones that breathe fire and brimstone from my pulpit and also push the members who are not ‘perfect like them’ out of the church. (They also read the articles in the Ensign on disability inclusion and ignore them or say that situation is different’). Whereas, the few members I know that go to Sunstone bring me notes and all sorts of stuff from the conferences and are also the few that think that the ward is better with all of us and not just some of us. These members are more likely to question “how come?”, “why?” Etc… and that is how I see change happen and how better behaviour is passed onto the church at large. Again that is just my experience and not meant to take the place of anyone elses.

    Artis- I am sorry that you thought I was suggesting that you might be arrogant or something. I guess I feel that all change happens one person at a time and so sometimes I prepare and teach lessons for only one because (imo), if that one enjoys the lesson and learns and spreads the lesson, than I have done my job as a teacher and I feel fairly satisfied. That was where I was coming from.

  83. ” I have seen so many bizarre conclusions based on word analysis that I’m amazed intelligent people consider it valid. I consider it to have done more harm than good.”

    I won’t stand for anyone abusing Hugh Nibley like that!

  84. Sonia, I didn’t mean to offend. If it were a matter of teaching someone something essential to their salvation or even useful in their lives, one-on-one is obviously worth the time.

    But that just isn’t the case when we’re talking about a conference presentation about, say, 19th century efforts of the U.S. State Department to encourage foreign countries to harass missionaries, or the murder committed by a grandson of Brigham Young that had negative consequences for the church, or the 19th century use of codes and ciphers by Mormons. Anyone who comes to hear that kind of session is there for curiosity or amusement, or possibly to poach sources for his own work. It is not worth a presenter’s time to provide entertainment to one or two or three people that way.

  85. StillConfused says:

    I hope that there will be some reviews and discussion on this forum about the event. I learn a great deal from BCC.

  86. Ardis- not offended at all- I thought I had offended you! I sometime have a hard time figuring out how to put my idea in written form which actually covey the meaning I wanted. Your lectures sound amazing… Can I get transcripts? Especially of the state department/missionary lecture?

  87. Adding to one another’s faith is a worthy criteria to use when evaluating a post, comment, Sunstone presentation, or Dialogue article.

    Of course, it’s important to hear from those whose faith is being challenged and why, but at the same time the Bloggernacle doesn’t have to be a platform for those who want to bear testimony of their loss of faith.

    Without care the Bloggernacle could devolve into an offshoot of cyber-church(es) having no affiliation with Salt lake.

    Regarding Sunstone:

    Paul and Margaret Toscano should willing ride off into the sunset if Sunstone wants to do a face lift. There are a few others who should join them.

  88. Sorry Ârdis, I am a historian so you only whetted my appetite with your teasers! I probably souldn’t have asked.

  89. Sonia, that’s in three parts here, here, and here.

  90. Jared, do you just copy and paste your comments? I’m tired of hearing you say the same thing over and over again. Especially when it’s gibberish:

    “Without care the Bloggernacle could devolve into an offshoot of cyber-church(es) having no affiliation with Salt lake.”

    That’s the second time I’ve read that comment from you and it’s still meaningless.

  91. clarkgoble says:

    Ardis (79) really good point. My first presentation at a Sunstone unfortunately was at the same time as Nibley. Needless to say it was not a terribly full room and I found the whole thing a big waste. (The second presentation was overflowing, so I guess that made up for it) Of course I’m much more ambivalent about it all now and I don’t think I’d ever present at Sunstone again. Honestly I prefer the more technical conferences like SMPT.

  92. Clark, conferences certainly do have different styles and moods, don’t they, totally independent of where they stand in relation to the church. There are technical ones, and academic ones, and folksy ones, and let’s-sing-kumbayah ones.

    The style at Sunstone would actually suit me quite well as a presenter — generally, people are bright and want to know that the speaker knows her business, but relaxed and wanting to have a communal experience as well as an intellectual one. That kind of audience is easy to engage and gives me the feedback I want.

    But then, it’s Sunstone, and we’re back to the problem J. described in the original post: the heterodoxy and religion-making and hand-wringing of Sunstone is too entrenched for much else to gain a toehold.

  93. J. The title of the Sonia Johnson panel is “Feminist role model or cautionary tale”. It would be fair for you to mention that. I was supposed to be the third person on the panel Saturday, and I was going to be mentioning that I thought that she was probably not as effective in bringing about change in the church as the culture around us has been. I would probably have come down more on the cautionary tale side. However, my father died earlier this week and I’ll be at his funeral. I’m not sure what the folks who are left will say. And, I’m against bringing up the same topics again and again at Sunstone, but since this was the 30th anniversary of the excommunication and the conference was about women, it seemed like a necessary topic to discuss.

  94. #90 MCQ said:

    Jared, do you just copy and paste your comments? I’m tired of hearing you say the same thing over and over again. Especially when it’s gibberish…
    I’ve said this exactly twice. I’m sorry you’re so easily tired.
    You might consider a vitamin. :D

  95. Paula, I’m very sorry to hear about your father. Peace be with you and your family.

  96. Steve #46, etc. — my analogy probably was conservatively backward, though not what I was trying to point out.

    In adapting #44 m&m’s observation to my own, I was struck that Christians view Mormonism as highly heterodox — while many Mormons view much of Sunstone as highly heterodox (“characterized by departure from accepted beliefs or standards” — had to look that up for myself).

    We’d love some empathy from the greater Christian community at times. And I’m sure Sunstoners would appreciate it from the more orthodox LDS as well. But, as J. points out in the original post — the symposium presentations will define Sunstone to the broader Mormon community. If legitimacy to that community is a goal, then his advice might help. Otherwise bask in the angst. It’ll be hard to escape.

  97. Jared (twice): Without care the Bloggernacle could devolve into an offshoot of cyber-church(es) having no affiliation with Salt lake.

    Well I’m glad you have identified this problem with your blog early. Good luck fending that result off.

  98. To Common Consent Admin:

    It appears I have a few detractors who want use this blog to carry on a disagreement they have with me. I don’t want to exchange barbs with them. I invite them to disagree, but to do it respectively. To that end I will ignore them–for now.

    What say ye?

  99. Jared, nobody likes a whiner. Fight your own battles. And for what it’s worth, I’m not a detractor, I just thought that comment was answered the last time you made it and was baffled to see you raise it again. And it’s “respectfully” not “respectively” in that context.

    Getting back to the actual topic, I have not been a very prolific attendee of Sunstone, but it always seemed to me that the virtue of a conference like that is that you can pick and choose which topics suit you and attend only those. If you somehow get hornswoggled into attending a discussion that you find too “angsty” for your taste, just get your butt up and walk out of the room and into another one. Problem solved.

  100. @Paula ~ my condolences to you and your family. I hope you find all the support you need.

    @Geoff J and MCQ ~ Pretty snarky.

  101. This apparent snark threadjack has gone over my head. That said, let’s call it finished.

  102. I hope it isn’t too much of a threadjack, but I too, would send condolences to Paula.

  103. I have a different perspective on the roll of silliness. In evolution what allows adaptation to new environments is the underlying genetic variation. Most mutations are harmful or do nothing at all, but without those mutations evolution stops and speciation grinds to a halt. One of the fundamental theorems in evolution is that the rate of change in evolution is proportional to the amount of genetic variation. Sunstone it seems to me plays a similar role. Without forums where variation can flourish, where new ideas can be aired, discussed, and embraced or discarded I suspect that intellectual evolution is stymied. If only seminars that adhere to certain religious, scholarly, or any specified type are allowed, then expect the institutionalization and channelization of Mormon thought. In science it’s the free-for-all of many people exploring ideas, some of them crazy, that leads to its advances. I think the conversation should continue and flourish. I like the mix of serious, amateur, flighty, scholarly, exploratory, speculative, religious, necessary, superfluous, contrary and everything. Let the variation be wide and Mormon thought evolve into wonderful things.

    Ardis, I had FIVE at my talk on Mormonism and the Environment several years ago. Ok, so two were my parents, but they still count.

  104. haha Kaimi, #43. Awesome.

  105. SteveP – Hey, I was there! I talked to you briefly after, but I didn’t make the connection that you were the SteveP here. That timeline is reversed. Ok, let me try again – when I started following your writings on the Organon and now here, I didn’t make the connection that you were also the mormonism and the Environment presenter. Cool!

  106. MCQ #99: “The virtue of a conference like that is that you can pick and choose which topics suit you and attend only those. If you somehow get hornswoggled into attending a discussion that you find too “angsty” for your taste, just get your butt up and walk out of the room and into another one. Problem solved.”

    Amen and amen.

    I’m a first time poster here. I attended Sunstone today and found much of value. I selected my sessions carefully and was rewarded with good, solid presentations that did not offend my orthodox sensibility in the least.

    Ardis, I think you are wrong when you say that there is not an audience for your orthodox scholarship at Sunstone. I actually think you are very wrong and that you should re-think your stance and reconsider presenting something that is carefully selected and presented next time.

  107. Kudos to Blair and Margaret who gave one of the very solid (and very orthodox) presentations I attended today. And it was well-attended, by the way. There is an audience for an orthodox presentation. Of course there is.

    Blair your presentation was very well put together and delivered. I learned a lot. Margaret, you are really a model of gracious intelligence. It was so cool to see you in person. You are someone I have admired from afar and I was not disappointed by the goodness you radiate in person.

    I see and feel more angst and hand-wringing here about Sunstone than I have witnessed hand-wringing and angst about the Church at Sunstone. I recognize that it certainly goes on there…I have just learned how to steer clear of it as MCQ explained is so easy to do. And I, for one, am hungry for good, orthodox scholarship and I know many of my fellow Sunstone attenders are as well.

    It simply won’t do for someone to insist that one past experience is representative of the entire reality. It is not.

  108. StillConfused:

    One review / liveblog of the symposium is at:

  109. Whereas, the few members I know that go to Sunstone bring me notes and all sorts of stuff from the conferences and are also the few that think that the ward is better with all of us and not just some of us.

    I understand your concern and the need to have more willingness to not dismiss questions, or especially to not dismiss the people who have them. I am just anxious for people to realize that there ARE (for lack of a better label…even though I don’t really like labels) non-Sunstone people who have open minds and hearts. I have met a lot of them.

    I guess part of my concern is that if Sunstone is presented as the only way people with questions can get answers or support, in a sense, we continue that divide that you talk about. We perpetuate this notion that “the Church” and the “typical” member who doesn’t like Sunstone is closed-minded and judgmental and uncaring, ready to reject anyone who has a question or a concern or a desire to dig a little. I know that is *sometimes* the case, but I keep hoping that more people will have experiences with people in their wards, with people in other circles, so they can see that it’s not just ‘the Sunstone types’ vs. everyone else. And maybe some of that will require giving people more chances. Or giving different people a chance.

    For example, consider this recent post by Seraphine at ZD. I was nearly moved to tears. She voiced her struggles, questions over the pulpit. She was afraid she would be rejected. She was instead embraced, loved, supported. In her ward. It’s not just on the ‘nacle or at Sunstone where this kind of love happens.

    I know you didn’t mean it quite to the extreme to which it sounds like I’m responding…and I’m doing so not to take you on personally, but just to bring up a general concern I have had for a long time.

    There’s also a flip side, I think…when Sunstone has material and presenters who tend toward more extreme views that don’t really mesh with (or sometimes even tend toward the challenging of) mainstream Mormonism, that can keep the divide pretty strong, too. It can also seem to suggest that those who don’t NEED to dig or to have viewpoints outside of the mainstream are somehow “less than.” Not everyone’s spirit speaks the language of “why?” to the same degree; not everyone has the need to know about all the varying perspectives on our faith. Some people don’t need the same level or type of exploration to be satisfied in their journey. And that needs to be respected, too.

    Anyway, I appreciate J’s willingness to raise a flag and say, “Look, not all of what goes on there is the kind of stuff that will get more people to have less of a knee-jerk reaction to Sunstone.” If that is really the goal, then I think there are things that could be done differently. Again, the question is what Sunstone really wants to be, and for whom.

  110. M&M- not at all worried about your comment and I think that you worded it quite well. I know it sounded like generalizing on my part. I really didn’t think that breaking it down on this forum was very useful. I have now spent quite a few years (7) holding my breath and trying to teach and help change discrimination, lack of tolerance and prejudice in my ward. In the end, the males who are the biggest problem are in charges of everything. Their wives are in charge of everything else. So when I asked for instance for sacrament bread that I can eat and I am not allergic too, the problem is put on me (nobody else is allergic God understand why you can’t it- don’t worry about it) or (even if you are allergic, God wouldn’t let you get sick if you took it because its the sacrament). I will admit that is an extreme example.

    So in the last few years as I have looked for kindred souls at church, I have found a few and as we have worked together, we have discovered that we enjoy Sunstone together. Whereas several talks over the podium at church have apparently discussed the ‘evils’ of Sunstone- I haven’t been there to hear them this year, but I have listened to them on other years.

    I think that Steve P I right and just worded it much better than I did in his comment on evolution. There are good and kind people it there who are great people and detest Suntone. But most of them in my experience are not willing to stand up and be counted to make appropriate change in the church. Decades ago, the church as a while did not discuss or appropriately deal with family abuse. Over the years the church has changed to allow that abuse can be talked about and should be dealt with. Now the church is trying to understand and change to be able to encompass dealing with mental illness, disability, etc… All of these issues were brought up at Sunstone years before the church really began whispering about the problem (imo or experience).

    So I do agree with you- Sunstone does have some issues and there are great people who do not attend or care about it, but again I really believe that those who go to or follow discussions at Sunstone are more likely to ask the ‘hard’ questions. Because do any of us ask questions about things that are not in our experience? Things we have no reason to think about? Things we have never heard of?

    I hope I explained this well enough??? I just want to explain my experience without being offensive as well.

  111. “So when I asked for instance for sacrament bread that I can eat and I am not allergic too, the problem is put on me ”

    So were there real solutions discussed? This is interesting to me, since I’ve never heard of this problem coming up in church before. I think it is too much to expect the 14-15 yr old boys to buy a special type of bread, since in many cases just getting any kind of bread there on time is usually an issue. If I were expected to come up with a solution I would probably ask you to bring a slice of your bread every week before sacrament and make sure the Teachers know to put it in the first tray. Then of course you would have to sit in a seat where you would be sure to be served out of that firs tray. Seems like a pretty easy solution to me.

  112. also by puutting it in the first tray, the Bishop who oversees the ordinance can be assured every week that your special needs are being met by the aaronic priesthood, since he is also being served out of that tray.

  113. Daniel (106) — Having given four Sunstone presentations in three years, I think I’m a better judge than you are as to whether I can draw an audience there. Please don’t discount my experience quite so glibly, or assume that I don’t select and prepare carefully.

  114. And of course Darius and Margaret draw a crowd at Sunstone, regardless of their orthodoxy! They’re talking about race, which, like polygamy and Mountain Meadows, will always draw a crowd no matter what point they’re making.

    My material isn’t that sexy.

  115. Steve G – there are many easy solutions as you point out. But they are only easy if someone feels that it is worth implementing them and fighting for them. Otherwise, every easy solution is thwarted. Some wards only serve the bread that works for the allergic person, some separate it. I have spent a lot of money on bread to have the ward clerk throw it away because he doesn’t belief other bread should be used. The bishop isn’t really willing to argue and isn’t willing to fight the issue when people mess up on purpose. To him, the issue isn’t discrimination – its the fact that something is being asked for out of the norm. His job as he sees it is to keep the norm going -all others can look at staying home or looking at other churches (and yes he has said that).

    I am part of a part member household and as a female, I can only advocate to the priesthood- I can beg but I cannot make them do the right thing. I used the sacrament as an extreme example because it is an easy fix. So if the majority of the members of my ward are unwilling to help make the little steps to make this happen, it isn’t that big of a leap as to why my ward believes that the disabled members should stay home… or the members with hyper kids should leave them home, etc.

    The mormon church may have other forums for discussing these issues outside of Sunstone, but I confess to ignorance of what they are. I guess that is one reason that I am so thankful that it exists as a forum. Certainly discussing this issues with my ward during fast and testimony hasn’t been helpful, discussing with the leadership hasn’t helped. Only the members who go to these conferences and come back with fresh ideas and are willing to question and advocate have been helpful to me. I suspect that in a decade, my ward will look very different than it does now, but I do credit forums such as Sunstone for making that happen.

  116. Steve Evans says:

    Ardis, you’re a Material Girl.

  117. Ardis,

    I apologize for coming off as “glib.” I did not know your full history presenting at Sunstone and I do not presume to know better than you what your own experience has been.

    Also, I did not mean to imply that you don’t select or prepare material carefully. I’m sure you are a master of your subjects and that you present with great skill.

    It appears from reading your comments thus far that your specialty is Mormon history, and even “obscure” Mormon history at that. Maybe that isn’t “sexy,” and maybe large crowds won’t attend presentations oriented around that kind of material the way they would at a Mormon History Association conference.

    But my sense is that you have enough knowledge of the Sunstone crowd and sensibility to fashion a presentation that might have more widespread, general interest there. A presentation that is soulful in place of being sexy. My sense is that you could do that if you really wanted to, and maybe you’ve lost the desire to even try having had four negative experiences. That is too bad, because I would love to have seen one of your presentations as I am entirely unfamiliar with you or your work. I was simply trying to say that I did not feel it was right to make the sweeping statement that “people don’t show up to orthodox presentations at Sunstone.” In my limited experience, they do and they have.

    Now Margaret was not presenting with Darius yesterday. She was presenting with Blair and her topic had nothing to do with race. It was about C.S. Lewis and it was enlightening, uplifting, and orthodox. I am glad that people like Maragaret and Blair don’t shun Sunstone and am only meekly requesting that others here re-consider their views based on the fact that the future can be very different from the past if we want it to be.

  118. Ardis – I loved the material I read last night that you wrote (State Department/ missionaries). It was well written, seemed well-researched and very thought provoking. My husband and I read it and discussed it for about an hour- we hadn’t ever even thought of some of the challenges that you presented. Anyway, I loved it. Do you have a specific site that you post on? I would love to read more…

  119. I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but …

    Daniel, despite what you might say here this morning, even you, faced with deciding between a session of “obscure” and upbeat history and a session that looked somehow titillating with its edginess, I have little doubt that you would skip my session. You’d think you can get my stuff in lots of church venues, while Sunstone is your one chance for anything naughty.

    People who go to Sunstone don’t go to Sunstone looking for the kind of stories I tell. That’s a fact, and no amount of your earnestness is going to change that. I know what I’m talking about through experience; you don’t.

  120. Daniel, since you’re new here, we can be patient to some degree. That said, there are a couple of things one should never do, and lecturing Ardis about what, where, and how she should present is probably near the very tip-top of that list.

  121. Sonia, click my name. That will take you to my blog, Keepapitchinin. Then click on “Topical Guide” at the top left corner of Keepa’s main page, and you’ll see a list of the stories I’ve posted.

    Thank you, BCC, for letting me advertise on your site. If you’ll have your marketing people talk to my marketing people, we’ll arrange a settlement.

  122. Ardis- thank you. I didn’t know that site was yours-I use mobile internet so I do not see everything that is easily seen on a bigger screen. I am looking forward to some good reading!

  123. Ardis: On a somewhat serious note, cave you considered BYU education Week as a venue? Or do you have to work for the church to present there?

  124. SteveP, Your comment at 103 is right on the mark as far as I am concerned.

    I suspect that many of the Brethren fully agree, and that is why Sunstone is “tolerated” and why, even the “cautions” or “condemnation” of the symposia in the early 1990s was not directed to the entire enterprise, but only to discussion of temple ordinances and a general (although somewhat ambiguous) admonition for greater sensivity in discussing other matters that might better be dealt with in private.

    I have mentioned that, in the Sunstone conferences I have attended, there have been times when I have been distinctly uncomfortable, and where I felt the discussions were “over the line” that I would personally draw. However, it is for this very reason that I think Sunstone provides a valuable function in the Restored Kingdom of God, allowing a diversity of views to flourish and to be tested in a Mormon-related forum. Some of those ideas may be flatly wrong, but I don’t think that can become clear until they are fully thought out and challenged in an environment where they are not automatically rejected before they are discussed in an openminded way.

  125. I love this. And PS—Ardis, your blog is super fab! SteveP and DavidH, well said.

  126. Once, a cousin I know, visited a local Provo bookstore. Whereupon he and his friends discovered a booklet with the entire endowment ceremony contained therein. Upon approaching the bookseller who is a member of the Church, they questioned him as to why it was for sale. He responded by saying: “I cannot control what people write about, discuss, or publish.” They answered, “But you control what is marketed and sold here.” After which he became frustrated and disappeared into the backroom. Thinking that something should be done, they left a paper note on his counter that read:

    Do you sell your tokens and signs for money?

    Just a little story that resonated again with this current discussion.

  127. #103: While I agree with you, I will add there is a part of Nature that fights against the “ugly duckling”. Nature often sees “difference” as a danger and seeks to destroy it, even if, in the end, it may have been helpful.

  128. aloysiusmiller says:

    Sunstone’s demise (at least if we can accept the testimony of several who have posted responses here) would seem utterly predictable. The church’s mission is unity and atonement. All other missions are diversity and schism.
    I am sure that there were good faith attempts on the part of some to make Sunstone an an encompassing entity that was just a bit bigger unity but what is unity without some standards?

    Sunstone dies. The church moves onward.

  129. @aloysiusmiller

    Just taking a break from a well attended symposium to tell you that the rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerrated. Now, back to my Friday “Pillars of my Faith” plenary.


    sent from my iStone

  130. I presented this morning at Sunstone and was surprised by a very healthy turnout. It was great to see people I met the year before (this is my second year attending and presenting).

    Im not sure where aloysius gets the demise part but I found that everyone was very attentive and the discussions were very gospel centered and faith promoting. I would call what I presented scholarship and Im not sure if it fits into J.’s definition although it focused on anthropology, sociology, scripture study, and history.

    I also attended what could be labeled “therapy sessions” (I assuming Why we stay fits into that mold?) out of curiosity to see what others on this blog were talking about and sure there was some edginess but there was also testimonies of the restored gospel, honest seeking for truth, and expressions of love and charity for the opportunities the church provided. In some regard, it reminded me of Eugene England’s essay, why the church is true as the gospel. I think there is a place for those discussions and if it helps one person stay then maybe its worth it.

    I prefer scholarship myself and although I havent seen one I assume presentations can go over the line as some have suggested here, but on a whole I think sunstone is a worthwhile endeavor.

  131. This ran in BYU’s Daily Universe (student newspaper) this year:

  132. #119, 120: Ardis, neither should you presume what choices Daniel would make.

  133. Thanks, gillsyk. I’ve bit my tongue so hard today I won’t speak here again. There is a lot I might say but won’t.

  134. Daniel,

    I’m sure you meant well, but I must say I felt your comments to Ardis were very off-putting as well. I don’t know Ardis and she does not know me, but from reading her numerous blog posts and comments I see she has garnered tremendous respect in the bloggernacle for her well reasoned, fair minded and incredibly thoughtful expressions of her mind.

    Consider this: You are a new commenter here and straight away say how “very wrong” she is on a subject she obviously has a lot of eperience with, and then advising her to “rethink” and “reconsider” her obviously (in your mind) wrong opinions, followed by your saying in effect that her firsthand experiences at Sunstone were not positive only because she needed to make “soulful” presentations and that she could make them better “if you really wanted to”.

    Do you still not see that these comments of yours are off-putting and invite a perhaps strong yet measured retort?

    If you do not see that, then I agree with you totally that would be best to keep biting your tongue and not say the lots of things you might say but won’t.

  135. Sonny,

    I think you’ve described it very well and I accept your description and your conclusions. I regret anything I wrote that was off-putting and can totally see how my tone and words could be viewed as offensive. It was not my intent, but clearly was the result. I wrote quickly without editing myself the way I would normally.

    I, too, do not know Ardis and was not aware of her work or reputation. I had no intention of picking a fight with her or anyone else. I’m sure her excellent reputation is well-earned and I was sincere in expressing that I would welcome the opportunity of hearing her present.

    Now, having said that, I don’t have much else to say. I hope that this matter will be closed and discussion can continue on the main theme of this thread.

  136. Ron Madson says:

    #127/ Aloysiusmiller,

    Unity? I attended the “Why we Stay” presentations at Sunstone (and the crowds were larger this year than last) and I heard moving and powerful arguments and testimonies as to “unity”, ie, unity and loyalty that involves “staying” with their tribe/clan/covenant and not heeding the voices in the much larger and spacious buildings that would who proclaim “unity” while seeking to marginalize if not exclude those voices within our family of faith that have every right to be a part of us (and are just as needed–if for no other reason that to challenge our narratives) as the most orthodox demanding member who insists on his/her version of “unity” that seeks to exclude those who do not fit their perspective as to what the Father of us all expects us to think, talk and act like….I believe unity involves inclusiveness and celebration of differences and not a demand for uniform opinions and words—our families are or should not be that way in regard to “different children if we desire to remain one and unified so why would we demand that of our covenant faith?

  137. I am late to the game, but just wanted to leave a comment. I presented yesterday, my presentation was scholarly and NEVER (not even in my post at exponent) advocate premarital sex. I was surprised at the concentration that got.

    I’d love to send you a copy of the paper so you can read even the first few pages. I feel my ideas have been sorely misconstrued and I’m a little tired of all the assumptions surrounding the paper. If you would like a copy, let me know.

    I attended J. M.’s presentation on the Atonement, it was my first presentation and my first time at Sunstone and I only had positive experiences. There was a lot less snark there then there seems to be on the bloggernacle.

  138. I recommend you attend the sessions that appeal to you. No one is forcing you to attend the others. As for religion-making… if you think scholars are not involved in this, think again. In fact, I recently read an apologist-scholar’s wonderful essay on Mother in Heaven in which he explicitly engaged in religion making. It was a wonderful piece. Different strokes, I guess.

  139. J. Stapley,

    Have you ever actually attended Sunstone? Your critique was briefly discussed at the Bloggersnacker event, and someone who should know suggested that, to their knowledge, you have not. It seems a little unusual to critique an event based on a mere reading of the program, which is what you are doing with respect to this year’s symposium even if I am mistaken and you have attended previous symposia in the past. Incidentally, the Sunstone staff seems quite open to specific suggestions that are presented constructively. If you can formulate any, they might just surprise you by implementing them.


    Much has changed since you last presented. Namely, you now have a very popular blog and a large number of online followers. I’m sure that any session you choose to put on would be well-attended.

    My own sessions have not always been well-attended (though I got a sizeable crowd at Sunstone West this year), but I do not gauge the value of the experience solely by the number of people who hear me talk. For me, Sunstone is an opportunity to meet wonderful people who share my interests, and to listen to thought provoking ideas from some of the greatest minds in the field. By that standard, my experiences at Sunstone have been very worthwhile. Perhaps it is approaching the conference as learner as well as teacher that has made the difference?

    One of the things I’ve learned is that when I make friends with other people and find value in the work they’re doing, they will attend my sessions and find value in the work I’m doing.

    All the best,


  140. I highly recommend listening to D’Arcy’s presentation, especially if anyone has a calling with youth in the Church. She never talked about premarital sex, and gosh, she had example after example of how young women are objectified–particularly those (outside of the Church) who are preaching abstinence. I want all my children to hear such a presentation when they’re old enough.

    And, I worry that a number of people seemed to have skimmed her post or Sunstone abstract, zeroed in on a question she posed to her readers (not a pronouncement or even a recommendation) and missed everything else.

    I appreciate that Sunstone was a place where I got an exegesis of Tamar’s rape and a sing-along with with beautiful string and piano accompaniment. Where else could I find such diversity?

    And, Ardis, I would love to listen to you speak, anytime, any place.

  141. Chris, I have attended and enjoyed regional symposia, but you are correct that I have never attended at SLC. That said, I have greatly appreciated the splendid archives which Sunstone has made available online. I think that if you read the original post, you will find constructuve criticisms. If my criticisms are not valid please let me know. I don’t really see how fussing over the messenger really helps things.