Sunstone SLC 2012 Recap

I apologize for not liveblogging Sunstone this year. I was staying in my son’s apartment up near the capitol building, and I really didn’t want to be schlepping my laptop around. So now that it’s over but still fresh in people’s minds I thought I would post a retrospective on it and give others the opportunity to contribute their thoughts as well.

This year it was held in the Olpin Student Union building on the campus of the University of Utah. I liked the location; I thought it was fun to be in an actual academic setting (I didn’t go last year at Weber State, except for one session). There were issues with it; the one parking lot we could park in for free was kind of hard to find at first and still a pretty good walk from the venue (but the latter was to me a feature, not a bug, because I like walking, especially on a university campus), if you didn’t have a car, then dinner (and lunch on Saturday when the Union food court was closed) was an issue, and the closest lodging wasn’t all that close. Personally, I was fine with these things (I got the lay of the land quickly enough, I was staying with my son anyway, and for lunch on Saturday I fell in with a great group and we went to the Corner Bakery for a wonderful lunch).

I didn’t do any of the workshops on Wednesday (I never have), and I blew off the opening plenary to take my son and a friend out to eat and to see Dark Knight Rises (first time for them, second for me). So my experience started on Thursday.

My first session was by Randall Smith on Branding Mormonism, which I thoroughly enjoyed. He showed pictures of the widely variant ways the Church presented itself, and how he and his team worked on creating the first official logo. A Seventy had asked for a uniform building welcome sign, but they leveraged that request into the logo project. He gave lots of inside baseball details on their work, and also talked about the logo redesign (which he himself was not involved in). I thought it was interesting that the 1P mandated the new logo for every dept. of the Church except their own; they continued to use letterhead with just the full name of the Church written out across the top of the page.

Next was Connell O’Donovan on the letters of Augusta Adams Cobb to her husband Brigham Young. She was a woman from Boston who, although already married to a guy named Cobb, was one of Brigham’s first plural wives. There are extant some 140 letters she wrote to BY, which means we get a pretty good window into her relationship with him. She really disliked polygamy and kept asking to be sealed to almost anyone but Brigham. Her main request was to be sealed to Jesus Christ (!) Failing that, her sealing to BY was undone and she was sealed to JS. (She would pen entire lists of men she would like to be sealed to.) When this gets fleshed into an article at some point, be sure to look for it.

Next was a panel I was on, on apologetics, which I’ll return to in the comments.

After lunch I went to a screening of Joseph Smith and the Mormon Quest for the White House. The movie was interesting, but really had very little to do with his presidential run and more to do with the final days of his life, so I think people were confused somewhat by the title.

Then I went to a session on Wilford Wood, eccentric and visionary. I was aware that Wood had been instrumental in collecting church history artifacts and historically significant land, so I wanted to learn more about his life. He was quite a character.

Next was a panel titled Heavenly Mother and the Letter of the Law. I felt a little bit silly about this one, because I hadn’t bothered to read the abstract and just assumed it was going to be a scholarly panel talking on the subject of Heavenly Mother. Rather, it was more of a poetic panel, with people sharing letters they wrote to Heavenly Mother. Which I quite enjoyed, the nature of it just took me by surprise.

I blew off the evening plenary to go to dinner with some friends at Cafe Trio. But I was late because I got lost. I know, I know, it’s supposed to be impossible to get lost in SLC due to the grid system. But when I left the university, every street I turned onto was named, not numbered. By the time I finally found myself on the edge of the grid system, I was a long way away from my destination, so my assumption that it was going to be easy to find cost me a half hour.

Friday morning I went to my old friend Todd Compton talking about the polygamy in Mitt’s family tree. He had a nifty handout for us, and told lots of great stories. My thought was that if some engaging reporter could get a hold of this and turn it into an entire series; she would win a pulitzer!

Next was a presentation by Gary James Bergera on student activism at BYU in the late 60s. Attendance was on the light side, but that is a subject I am thoroughly interested in, and Gary always does such a great job with that sort of thing. I enjoyed the paper.

Next was a plenary session on Why We Stay (a Sunstone tradition initiated by Toby Pingree). This featured Rhonda Roberts Callister, John Dehlin, Anne Arnold, Phil Barlow, and Carol Lynn Pearson. I really like the Why We Stay sessions, and think Sunstone is wise to make them a continuing institution. When anyone is able to work through things sufficiently to want to actually stay, I find that inspiring.

Then I went to see John and Zilpha Larsen talk about Mormon Expressions. I was on a ME podcast once and was treated well by John (and as I recall, most of the commenters said it was “boring,” which for an apologetics-based podcast I took as a great victory!) It was interesting to learn about the nuts and bolts of how they got their podcast started.

Then I went to a presentation on interracial marriage and the priesthood ban. This is a thesis that Connell has pioneered and makes pretty good sense to me, that it was the prospect of black men marrying white women that really drove BY over the edge and accelerated the ban. Rick Bennett argued that but for those intermarriages the ban might not have even happened. Marguerite Driessen, a black woman, said she wasn’t convinced. It wasn’t miscegenation that resulted in the ban, but plain old simple RACISM. It was an interesing contrast in perspectives.

I blew off the last session because my wife had just arrived in town, and so she, my son and I went to the Desert Edge at Trolley Square for dinner.

After dinner I went to Pillars of My Faith, which was fantastic. It featured Don Bradley and Maxine Hanks both telling their stories of how they came back into the Church. And in the middle there was a choir who sang Praise to the Man to its original, more somber and funereal tune, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

On Friday I went to Devery Anderson on Willard Richards and Nauvoo polygamy, which I found very interesting. He showed a picture of Willard with his first, rather sickly wife, Jeanetta (as I recall) and their son. I loved that picture; she was sitting on his lap, with her arm around him. That was the coolest daguerreotype (sp?) I think I’ve ever seen.

Then I went to a session on Catholic-Mormon interfaith dialogue, which is a topic I’m interested in. The respondent, a Catholic woman, Jill Peterfeso, asked whether such dialogue is necessarily a good thing, which engendered a vigorous discussion.

Then I went to Matt Harris and Newell Bringhurst give papers on the race issue in the light of Randy Bott and Mitt coverage. I not only enjoyed the presentation, but had lunch with them both.

Then I attended a panel discussion that traversed two time slots on a little Bloggernacle navel gazing. I quite enjoyed this, because I care about the blogs, but the sessions were not well attended, so it was mostly an in-house discussion. On the plus side I got to meet the two Taylor sisters I had not yet encountered in the flesh, not to mention the Taylor mom, so it was worth it for that alone.

The final session was a panel on teaching Mormon studies courses, with Bob Rees, Warner Woodworth, Patrick Mason, Doe Daughtery, and Richard Bushman, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I normally don’t attend the banquet, so some friends and I went for dinner at the Copper Onion (or something like that), which was quite good.

Thus endeth another Sunstone. Please share your experiences and stories in the comments below.


  1. Kevin Barney says:

    BTW, this is my 399th post at BCC. The next one will be number 400!

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Our panel on apologetics was chaired by Kaimi, with me, Bridget Jack Jeffries and John-Charles Duffy. Kaimi spoke first and sort of framed the issues. Then I spoke. I didn’t have prepared remarks, so I can’t tell you exactly what I said. As I recall, I explained what “apologetics” is, and told how FAIR often gets confused e-mails from people wanting to know “why are you apologizing?” I said people often use “apologist” as a slur, but that I don’t take it that way (which may have something to do with my background in classics, and for instance reading Plato’s Apology). I explained that I wear different hats at different times; sometimes I’m an apologist, sometimes a scholar, sometimes a regular member, sometimes a social critic in the Nibley vein (witness much of what I write here at BCC).

    Then I suggested that I see apologetics in the Mormon tradition as operating in three spheres (which tend to overlap at the margins). Engagement apologetics is focused on the critics; it is engaging with them directly; it is rhetorical hand to hand combat in the octagon. Much of it takes place on message boards. Scholarly apologetics is sort of classic FARMS, heavily footnoted, adherence to high scholarly standards, peer review, dead tree publication. It is geared mainly to other scholars and to educated, interested Saints. Educative apologetics is geared to the hoi polloi of the Saints themselves, to the Primary teacher who stumbles over something weird while preparing a talk, to the father chagrined that his son has lost his faith and he is overwhelmed by the issues that are new to him underlying that loss.

    I opined that there is a role for all three spheres, but that I personally am only interested in the scholarly and educative approaches. At least part of this is a realization that I would suck at engagement apologetics; I just don’t have the personality for it.

    Jack talked about broader Christian apologetics, and then talked about thinks she both appreciates and dislikes in MOrmon apologetics (an example of the latter being the too-free use of the epithet “anti-Mormon”).

    John-Charles gave an academic’s perspective on the topic, and ultimately urged Saints to have the strength to hold to their faith, no matter what the scholarly issues that seem on the surface to contradict it.

    We had an excellent Q and A session afterwards, but I don’t remember any specifics; you’ll need to go to the tapes for that.

    A number of people told me afterwards how much they enjoyed the session and how enlightening it was for them, which was gratifying to me.

  3. Mark Brown says:

    Thanks for the recap, Kevin. I always appreciate your perspective.

  4. Droylsden says:

    You’re my favorite BCC blogger, Kevin. Great write-up and here’s hoping for another 399!

  5. I was really grateful for the two sessions I was able to be a part of on Matt Bowman’s and Sam Brown’s recent books–in both cases, I had some critical things to say, and in both cases, the resulting back and forth taught me some things, and gave me some good and new ideas. I love Authors Meet Critics sessions, especially when I’m the one the authors get to push back against; I like learning how I’ve misread something.

  6. Seth R. says:

    Wish I could have been there.

    And Kevin, I can’t vouch for anyone else, but that Mormon Expressions podcast interview certainly wasn’t boring to me.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    Well, it wouldn’t have been boring for you, Seth, since you were on that podcast with me…

  8. I love that the “Why We Stay” panel now includes people who have not stayed.

  9. Sharee Hughes says:

    I really enjoyed the Pillar of My Faith session. I actually cried. And every time I told people about it, I cried again. Both Don and Maxine had very touching stories to tell. I was a volunteer and spent most of my time at the registration desk, but, as I am a writer (or a wannabe one, anyway), I attended Phyllis Barber’s panel on Mormon writers. In addition to Phyllis, who is an old friend, I enjoyed meeting Joanna Brooks (I had read her Book of Mormon Girl) and Steve Peck (I had read about his short stay in hell, and hope I never have to go there). I had wanted to attend Why We Stay, as Carol Lynn Pearson is an old friend (from my student days at BYU), but it was not a good time for me to get away from the registration desk. SO I have the CD and will listen to that.

    Thanks, Kevin, for this post. I always enjoy Sunstone (I didn’t go last year, either), and meeting each year people I have met in previous years. I met one woman this year who noticed my name tag and said she had always enjoyed the comments I made on BCC. That made me feel good.

  10. Thanks for this, Kevin. It was great to meet you too.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Sharee, I just finished Steve’s Short Stay in Hell last night (I know, I’m inexcusably late to the party). It was both fascinating and haunting all at the same time.

  12. Kevin: Thanks for the write-up. I really enjoyed Sunstone this year too. The sessions I attended were great, but my favorite part (as always) was being able to hang out with friends like you. Looking forward to post #400.

  13. The talks from Why We Stay are here:
    I recommend John Dehlin’s and Carol Lynn Pearson’s, if you only have time for a few.

  14. I absolutely love and prefer the original setting for Praise to the Man. It tempers the defiance of the lyrics in just the right way.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    I love it, too, Joanne. (In fact, I’ve sung it to myself a number of times now while driving around in the car.) My friend Mike HIcks, with whom I spent much of the day yesterday, was actually the one to determine that that was the (probable) tune originally intended by Phelps.

  16. Another highlight of Sunstone was the lunchline where I met the faces behind the names of “Kevin Barney” and “John Hamer.” Reminiscent of my very first Sunstone when I met Leonard Arrington.

  17. So why does BCC live blog Sunstone and not the FAIR conference?

  18. Kristine says:

    This wasn’t liveblogging; it was one participant’s summary. He’s at the FAIR conference, too–maybe he’ll post about that when it wraps up.

  19. Paula, I appreciated the link, but I’m not as enthusiastic in your time-saving recommendation. I’m not sure how one tells exactly when a person is actually “staying”, but it seems to me that if you can testify against the falsehoods in the church and have no capacity to testify of its truths, you’ve probably left. It’s not a matter of doubt. It’s a matter of certainty. If it’s arrogant to say “I know the church is true”, it’s equally arrogant to proclaim you know it’s not. If the _only_ message is “I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the church was and is wrong on XYZ, but I value my good friends and family, and see some good in the church and hope it eventually comes around”, I guess that doesn’t exclude one from fellowship, but I’d prefer not to have you as a hometeacher and I certainly don’t want you teaching my kids in primary.

  20. it's a series of tubes says:

    Yes, reviewing that link, it seems difficult to characterise the positions of certain individuals there as having “stayed”.

  21. Kristine says:

    “he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.”

    Sounds suspiciously like God wants everyone, even unbelievers (or folks whose beliefs don’t meet your standard for hometeaching eligibility).

  22. Kristine, the fact that God remembers the heathen does not imply the sheep should turn their backs on the wolves in the hope they’ll learn to eat grass.

  23. Karen M. says:

    Martin, I also took the time saving approach suggested by Paula and feel perplexed at your reaction to John Dehlin’s and Carol Lynn Pearson’s remarks. Wolves? I would say that I felt the Spirit strongly when I listened. I think they are a great asset to our church.

  24. Sharee Hughes says:

    I’m with those who want FAIR to be blogged, too. I attended for the first time this year and enjoyed it very much.

  25. How do I find/buy audio of all the sessions?

  26. Am I in the spam queue here too?

  27. Kevin Barney says:

    Sharee, most of the FAIR talks are up and now available for reading:

  28. StephenC says:

    Inviting somebody to come to him and partake of his goodness doesn’t mean that they’ve actually come to him. And you can’t come to somebody if you’re not quite sure who or what they are.

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