Sun and Stone

For some of us, lapsed subscriptions are a way of life. The parade of reminder cards, the inevitable gaps in coverage — they are as familiar as morning and evening. On rare occasions, this trait leads to vistas the zealously up-to-date subscriber will never see.

After my Sunstone subscription lapsed, the letters began. “Did you know that your subscription has lapsed?” Like a kindly, not-too-insistent home teacher, the letters reminded me that Sunstone missed its inactive sisters and brothers. A later conversation over tacos further highlighted the absence. All that remained was for me to settle up the financial side of things — that once-a-year ritual, not unlike tithing settlement.

The package arrived a few days later. It was a large, stuffed manila envelope. I wasn’t sure what it would contain. Some book that I had ordered a few weeks ago and forgotten? Beanie babies Spare motorcycle parts and other very manly things, ordered from eBay? A package from the grandparents?

The care package contained two issues of Sunstone, no doubt sent to commemorate my return to full activity.

The arrival of two issues in a single package created severe moral dilemmas. Should I first read John Remy’s piece on Japanese and Mormon funeral rites? Robert Rees’s piece on Mormons and urban legends? The Dennis Potter article? The Harry Potter article? Or should I just skip to the comics, as usual?

The thousand individual resolutions of these dilemmas have been fun and informative. I’ve really enjoyed reading Blount’s piece about the women in Jesus’s lineage. Each of the four pre-Mary women was independent in her own way, and they each defied cultural norms to one degree or another. Blount’s piece ties it together in a fun way.

I also enjoyed the interviews with three couples discussing faith issues in marriage. The piece doesn’t give any clear-cut answers, but instead sets out some of the individual journeys and decisions of different couples. Seeing how others navigate these questions was interesting and informative.

Rees’ piece on urban legends was great. I had heard some of these urban legends before, such as the World Trade Center rumors. I enjoyed the thorough debunking Rees provided of some of these, as well as the questions and discussion on why such rumors seem to take root so easily in Mormon soil.

I would have missed Louis Moench’s piece on Mormonism and mental health, except that my wife drew my attention to it. I’m glad she did. Interlaced with discussions of the experiences of many individual members with mental health issues in the religious context are broader observations like this one: “”Religion in general, and Mormonism in particular, do not cause mental disorders. However, because of its central position in the believer’s life, religion often becomes the matrix on which psychopathy finds its expression.”

(And yes, John’s article was an interesting read as well. I was disappointed, though, by his failure to examine the similarities and differences between funeral potatoes and sushi.)

In general, I’ve been enjoying the new abundance of suddenly flowing waters. I know that they’ll subside in time; but by then, I’ll be looking for another issue in the mailbox. I can’t say for sure that this abundance is truly enough to convince me to leave behind my lapsed-subscribing, vagabond ways — old habits die hard — but it’s a pretty good argument in favor.

Recently, Dan Wotherspoon posted some thoughts at Sunstone Blog, in response to criticisms of Sunstone’s recent tone. He wrote that “remaining true to Sunstone’s core mission, to its commitment to faith and to the good that’s in Mormonism, is the only recipe for continued Sunstone success (or even survival) as a relevant and constructive forum.”

I’m too young to remember any of the long-lost glory days; I’m one of the five percent (or is it seven?) who are under thirty-five and who read Sunstone anyway. I’ve read about some of the past upheaval, and I know that various stages of tone have played a significant role in the magazine’s evolution.

What matters most to me at present, though, is that I get a magazine that discusses interesting issues, in interesting and informative ways. And I think I’ll be quite happy, as long as I continue to receive issues that regularly remind me of my newly-activated-member care package.

113 comments for “Sun and Stone

  1. Jonathan Green
    February 27, 2007 at 7:44 am

    Kaimi, I’m glad you enjoy reading Sunstone. I look at it about once every ten years, and then swear I’m never going to look at it again. But your description of Rees’s article sounded interesting, and the article was available in PDF, so I gave it a quick read. I have now re-committed to never reading Sunstone again, although my commitment might waver in another decade or so.

  2. Ronan
    February 27, 2007 at 9:55 am

    Boo! Hiss! Jonathan! Must the Bloggernacle always take swipes at Sunstone? Considering the drek we produce (not T&S, of course!), what exactly is it that annoys you so?

  3. February 27, 2007 at 10:42 am

    FWIW, a Sunstone subscription costs money, whereas I can pick and choose the drek of the Bloggernacle without paying a cent. And I kind of agree with Jonathan–every few years, I get an issue of Sunstone in hopes that I’ll want to subscribe, and I’m always disappointed. Partly it’s the articles, but partly it’s the aesthetics of the magazine itself.

    But a lot of it comes down to the fact that I’ve just let my subscription to the Atlantic Monthly lapse (for the same reasons Kaimi describes–not that I want it lapsed, but I always ignore the subscription letters), I need the New Yorker, I want to have Harpers again, I need Gourmet and Food & Wine, I’ll be subscribing again to Time Out New York again, etc. Although I’m fascinated by Mormon Studies stuff, blogs and books from U Illinois P have served that need sufficiently for me.

  4. Matt W.
    February 27, 2007 at 11:25 am

    commitment to faith and to the good that’s in Mormonism Is there any evidence that this is actually the mission of sunstone? It always seems to me that it’s more of an artificial window dressing. There’s always the one “Why I stay” session which follows the hour after hour of “Why it sucks” sessions, but isn’t that more of a political maneuver to placate the masses?

    I am genuinely sincere in this query. I’ve never been to sunstone, and all I’ve ever seen of it has been very negative, with very few positive slices tucked in.

  5. Jonathan Green
    February 27, 2007 at 11:40 am

    Ronan, it could be a statistical fluke. I flipped through an issue in a friend’s apartment back in the early 90s and read an article about how the changing steeple designs of LDS meetinghouses reveal something nefarious about the church. So I rolled my eyes and swore off Sunstone. Maybe I should have checked it out again before now, but then there was that time, in connection with the run-up to the SLC Olympics, when the editor was quoted on CNN to the effect that Mormons are particularly dishonest people. That took care of any interest in Sunstone until the present, when Kaimi’s sketch of the topics in the last couple issues suggested there might be some articles worth reading. There probably are, but the article I chose struck me as tendentious and unsympathetic to the subjects of discussion. For me the good points of the article don’t outweigh the irritating factors, but perhaps I’m misreading the author. I suppose I’ll find out in another decade or two.

  6. Kaimi Wenger
    February 27, 2007 at 11:43 am


    I think you’ve provided our new tagline. “Sure, it’s drek — but it’s free, ain’t it?”


    I’m happy to be of service. I’ve scheduled “write another post about Sunstone” on my calendar for 2017, to keep the trend alive.

  7. Jonathan Green
    February 27, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    I’ve got it penciled into my calendar, Kaimi. Thanks.

  8. Kaimi Wenger
    February 27, 2007 at 12:09 pm

    Matt W,

    FWIW, I’ve always heard the same tales about how Sunstone is full of discussion about how awful the church is. I’ve only subscribed for a few years, now, but I haven’t found that description to be particularly accurate.

    There are some parts of the articles I’ve read that would make some members uncomfortable. But a lot of it — well, let’s see. Skimming down the table of contents:

    -Rees on urban legends. Not a “why it sucks,” though it does take some shots at the wackier urban legends Mormons pass on. (And, Jonathan found it tendentious).
    -Firmage on Harry Potter — not “why it sucks”; not all that church related.
    -Moensch on religion and mental health — does discuss how certain parts of LDS culture and doctrine can interact with (and at times exacerbate) mental health conditions. Based on actual patients who clearly held really weird beliefs.
    -Paulos on political cartoons and Reed Smoot — historical stuff, no “why it sucks.”
    -Lamb on book review of Levi Peterson — praises Peterson (who is pretty heterodox and somewhat heteroprax), but I don’t recall any “why it sucks.”

    Haven’t yet read Hale, Potter, most of the fiction. (Though I’m not really expecting a “why it sucks” from Dennis Potter).

    -Remy on funeral rites — no problems.
    -The three-couple “faith issues” piece. Some members would be really uncomfortable with this one, I think. I didn’t see it as a “why it sucks.” But it does discuss how three different married couples have handled crises of faith — and the resolutions are not all “and we all came back to church.”
    -Blount on women and Jesus. Some criticism of the way women stories are typically handled at church, but mostly just discussion of Rahab, Ruth, etc.
    Samuelson play — not problematic, though parts of Utah culture are mocked.

    Haven’t yet read most of the rest. (Some is from sources, like Michael Ash of FAIR, that I’m not really expecting to say why it sucks.)

    That’s my read of the two most recent issues, both of which are close at hand. Your mileage may vary; personally, I didn’t see much to put into the “why it sucks” category.

    For my money, the closest to “why it sucks” in issues that I can recall (including these) generally comes in the little cartoons and the miscellaneous news-blurbs section. Some of the cartoons are pretty sharp-edged. (E.g., one of a church spokesman saying “we protest this preposterous accusation that the church is involved in politics” while wearing a pin that says “ban same-sex marriage.”) And the news blurbs can also be snarky.

    Perhaps goofy cartoons about the church’s political position (“we’re politically neutral opponents of SSM”) and snarky news blurbs about Mitt Romney constitute the nefarious Sunstone boogeyman. If so, I guess I find the boogeyman substantially less frightening than its reputation would suggest.

  9. February 27, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    I’ve been to 4 Sunstone Symposiums (symposia?) to date. 2 in SLC, 1 in Phoenix, and 1 in Seattle.

    They have all been very uplifting to me personally — and without fail have helped to renew my commitment to activity the church in a very strong way. Just communing face to face with sincere, thoughtful, struggling saints is, in and of itself, an incredibly uplifting experience.

    To be honest, the symposia programs often mirror the content in the bloggernacle. Lots of faith-affirming stuff. Some discussion of the tougher things. Some academic stuff. Some anger and frustration.

    But for me, the most important element by FAR is the community. At a Sunstone Symposium I can walk through the halls and have meaningful discussions with Greg Prince, Levi Peterson, Molly Bennion, Armand Mauss, Margaret Young, Darius Gray, Grant Palmer, Michael Quinn, Dan Wotherspoon, J. Bonner Ritchie, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Jennifer Dobner, Anne Wilde, Dan Vogel, Matt Thurston, John and Jana Remy, Richard Dutcher, Bob Rees, Buckley Jeppson, Jana Reiss (sp?), etc. It is amazing that way. Say what you want about all those people — they are all important parts of Mormonism, and are incredible interesting and even uplifting to meet (if you really seek to get to know them).

    I would sincerely LOVE to be able to include the likes of Dan Peterson and Louis Midgley in that list as well — but church employees often feel discouraged to attend, which naturally skews the conversations a bit towards the liberal. (I did see John Fowles at the last Sunstone, which was fun. Along with lots of folks from spockwithabeard).

    Regarding balance, Dan Wotherspoon is fond of saying that the easiest was to get a Sunstone submission accepted is to submit something orthodox or conservative — Sunstone is DYING to offer a good balance (I’m on the board, by the way), but as you can imagine, it’s tough to get conservatives to participate sometimes. Sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy — though there was a day when Hugh Nibley, Dan Peterson and Richard Bushman actively participated.

    Anyway, Sunstone is still an amazing community. Any one of you, if you went with your heart open, looking for good — would find it. I am confident of this. If you went looking for the negative — you’d find it as well.

    In fact, that reminds me a bit of Sundays, and the bloggernacle, for that matter. :)

  10. Ronan
    February 27, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    What Kaimi said.

  11. Dan
    February 27, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Re Jonathan #5:

    I can’t recall being interviewed by CNN during the run-up to the Salt Lake Olympics nor in my life ever suggesting that Mormons are a dishonest people (I can’t recall even ever thinking that). From your other comments, it doesn’t sound like Sunstone is for you, but I’d sure appreciate only having to be held accountable for things I’ve really said and done.

    Dan Wotherspoon
    Editor, Sunstone

  12. Ivan Wolfe
    February 27, 2007 at 12:32 pm

    I can say that among my current peer group of “LDS graduate students in varying fields” that during conversations, we all talk about our “Sunstone” period, where we all used to read it faithfully. And then we got married and started having children and realized it wasn’t very interesting to us and didn’t speak to us anymore. Basically, to most of us, the “Sunstone period” was a time we outgrew.

    Your mileage may vary.

  13. Justin
    February 27, 2007 at 12:41 pm
  14. Ardis Parshall
    February 27, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    Sunstone is DYING to offer a good balance … it’s tough to get conservatives to participate sometimes. Sort of a self-fulfilling prophesy

    I tried to help out with the balance for three years, and when I chose topics I tried to make them edgy enough for Sunstone. My first paper was on the Brigham Young correspondence before it was opened to the general public; the second one was about a woman who had had a mental breakdown after/because of the stress of a series of church trials over her right to possession of a piece of land; the third one was about the State Department’s war on Mormon missionaries (which I’ve posted here on T&S). What could be more Sunstone-y than Brigham’s more outrageous comments (I rehearsed reading his “Kiss my @ss” letter until I could say it without stumbling), a woman driven nuts by her priesthood leaders, and covert politics? And I’m not that bad of a public speaker, either.

    But I just couldn’t draw an audience at Sunstone (year three’s audience was limited to one stranger and three friends who came only as moral support for me — can you say “humiliation”?). People who go to Sunstone don’t go there to listen to people like me — it’s the “why it sucks” sessions that get the crowds. So I gave up.

    Sunstone can offer balance, but that isn’t what the attendees want.

  15. February 27, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Regarding Jonathan Green’s comment #5 and Dan Wotherspoon’s reply, see “Utah’s wheel greasing history“, Guardian Unlimited, January 25, 1999:

    Elbert Peck, editor of Sunstone, an independent Mormon periodical, said: “There is something in Mormonism that we’re willing to make compromises politically to achieve what we want.

    “I mean, we were willing to pay bribes to get statehood.”

  16. Matt W.
    February 27, 2007 at 1:11 pm

    Kaimi and John. Thanks for your responses. I really appreciate it. I find it highly improbable there will be a symposia in Texas anytime soon, and if I am going to pay to go to an LDS conference, it’s gonna be the general one, but If I ever write something which I think is worthy of more than a blog post, I’ll let you know.

  17. claire
    February 27, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    Well, there’s Sunstone the magazine, and then there’s Sunstone the “Symposium”/social gathering. Two very different animals, IMO.

  18. Matt Evans
    February 27, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    I just read the steeple story quickly — what a yawner. It’s emblematic of Sunstone’s problem. The author, Martha Bradley, tries to make the tendentious claim that the declining role of steeples in Mormon meetinghouses is symptomatic of a declining spirituality. Then what, one year later? — she leaves the church altogether. Martha chose to forget that God doesn’t communicate through architecture, or whirlwinds and fires, but through a still small voice. Errors like that litter every issue of Sunstone I’ve come across — the authors seldom share Mormon assumptions.

  19. DavidH
    February 27, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    I have been to two Sunstone Symposia, one in Phoenix and one in SLC. I also heard John Dehlin’s presentation in SLC. I concur with John’s comments.

  20. makakona
    February 27, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    i was surprised to see ka’imi reference himself as being one of the 5% under the age of 35 who read “sunstone.” i had always assumed the readership was largely under that age, even a bit younger!

    perhaps this is a good place to ask… were you to subscribe to only ONE “mormon thought” journal, which would it be? if you could choose two? it’s been years and years since i’ve subscribed to any and i want to get off on the right foot.

  21. rd
    February 27, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    Matt Evans wrote:

    “the authors seldom share Mormon assumptions”.


  22. February 27, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Here’s a link to an article dated January 17, 1999 on the CNN/Sports Illustrated web site. It is a bit longer than the Guardian Unlimited piece linked in my previous comment, and it includes the same Elbert Peck quotation. It looks like Jonathan Green’s memory of this is pretty good.

  23. Ivan Wolfe
    February 27, 2007 at 2:13 pm

    Here’s another reason some people are turned off by Sunstone, on this blog even:

    Read that casual and baseless smear of Orson Scott Card by a Sunstone staffer (as well as the follow up discussion). While it likely isn’t reflective of the organization as a whole, it speaks to a lot of people’s perception of the mag.

    Me, I have some fond memories of reading it as an undergrad. But I’ve “moved on” and can’t find anywhere in my life that it fits.

  24. Ivan Wolfe
    February 27, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Maybe I should modify my last comment – I seem to have recalled incorrectly – the person in question was a Signature staffer, not Sunstone. S

    So, ignore all but the last sentence in my last comment.

  25. Madden
    February 27, 2007 at 2:40 pm

    I agree with Ivan – I dabbled with Sunstone as an undergraduate; however, I left it behind as I grew older. Sunstone has no place for me for three reasons:

    1. I don’t like the tone. It’s elitist, narcissistic, and often grossly misguided, which is why I loved it as an undergraduate. See Unsupported assumptions is something undergraduates love and embrace. See All Research Papers Graded by First-Year Writing Instructors.

    2. I don’t want my kids to think I believe in Sunstone’s claims. Granted, many articles are friendly and instructive; however, I don’t want little Johnny to flip through the Sunstone he found on Dad’s desk and think his Dad believes that a Church’s political stance is incorrect. Look, I may be able to weed through Sunstone and pull out the gems and throw away the garbage, but that doesn’t mean my kids can, and I don’t want to have to lock my Sunstones away in a liquor-cabinet like setup.

    3. I don’t like cynical, armchair Mormon intellectualism. If I wanted to read a bunch of hacks questioning the tenets of Mormonism, I’d read the New York Times’ coverage of the Romney campaign.

    I understand the Sunstone appeal, but I think it’s potentially pernicious.

  26. Tony
    February 27, 2007 at 2:48 pm

    I’m a 42-year old who converted to the church with my family about 18 months ago. I have a strong testimony but due to my political leanings I quickly identified myself as a “Sunstone Mormon” after reading a few articles online and receiving a free trial issue. Even though I realize that I’ll probably never fill any high callings of any sort due to my political beliefs, Sunstone at least lets me know that I’m not alone in the church in my progressive thinking. Further, it reinforces that there’s nothing wrong with being a progressive Mormon, either.

    Thanks for the post, Kaimi. It reminds me that I need to subscribe to Sunstone. I’ll do it today!

  27. DavidH
    February 27, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    I, like John Dehlin, don’t find the “spirit” of Sunstone, the magazine or the symposia, any different from the “spirit” of the Bloggernacle. As John put it, “To be honest, the symposia programs often mirror the content in the bloggernacle. Lots of faith-affirming stuff. Some discussion of the tougher things. Some academic stuff. Some anger and frustration.”

    I suppose the difference is that as audience members (or Sunstone readers) we can’t immediately call a presenter on the carpet for not sharing what we think are Mormon assumptions or for having subscribed to the lies of the Bush-hating, tree hugging, nonthinking, peacenik leftists. We can do that with relative freedom and promptness here, and we don’t have to pay!

  28. Tony
    February 27, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    Re: no. 25…
    “…I don’t want little Johnny to flip through the Sunstone he found on Dad’s desk and think his Dad believes that a Church’s political stance is incorrect.”

    Hmm, so instead you want Johnny to be a good little bundist who grows up to blindly follow every edict unquestioningly? I prefer that my children develop the critical thinking skills that come from gathering information from a variety of sources and then develop their own testimony based on personal revelation and prayer. That’s how I came to accept the restored gospel.

  29. Mark IV
    February 27, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    John Dehlin, # 9,

    Just communing face to face with sincere, thoughtful, struggling saints is, in and of itself, an incredibly uplifting experience.

    John, I don’t know if you meant it this way, but what your statement says to me is that Sunstone has a corner on sincerity and thoughtfulness, and the people who don’t attend are somehow less authentic and less thoughtful. It really does come across as pretty smug. And if I want to find some struggling saints, I need look no further than my home teaching list. Would it be more accurate and less condescending to say that when you attend Sunstone, you encounter people who share your same struggles?

    But for me, the most important element by FAR is the community. At a Sunstone Symposium I can walk through the halls and have meaningful discussions with Greg Prince, Levi Peterson, Molly Bennion, Armand Mauss, Margaret Young, Darius Gray, Grant Palmer, Michael Quinn, Dan Wotherspoon, J. Bonner Ritchie, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Jennifer Dobner, Anne Wilde, Dan Vogel, Matt Thurston, John and Jana Remy, Richard Dutcher, Bob Rees, Buckley Jeppson, Jana Reiss (sp?), etc. It is amazing that way.

    This kind of name-dropping is off-putting, as well. I recognize most of the names on the list, respect them, and would probably like them if I knew them personally. But I simply cannot muster the sort of awestruck hero worship which so often is displayed. I agree with you, many of the people on your list are amazing, but I can name you 15 people in my home ward who are just as admirable and whose lives are just as interesting, and who deserve a lot more respect than they get. To the extent that Sunstone helps us build community in our own neighborhoods and wards, I want to be counted as a supporter. My concern is that the Sunstone community might supplant our sense of commitment to those among whom we live.

    Having said all that, I want to be clear that I think Dan W. and the current leadership are doing excellent work, and I wish them well.

  30. Mark IV
    February 27, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    Tony, # 28,

    I’m glad you have found a home in the church, and I wish you well. Please allow me to suggest that your experience might go more smoothly if you can somehow manage to dump the attitude that your fellow worshipers are sheep and you alone possess the ability to think.

  31. Jonathan Green
    February 27, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    Dan Wotherspoon, it looks like everybody’s a winner. My memory was more or less accurate, but didn’t involve anything you said. Your magazine is still in the doghouse, though. Sorry. If it’s any consolation, I’ve also done my utmost to avoid CNN since then. You’re probably right that I’m not a good Sunstone reader. It sounds like it works for other people, though. Maybe I’ll check back in only five years and change my mind.

  32. Madden
    February 27, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    “Hmm, so instead you want Johnny to be a good little bundist who grows up to blindly follow every edict unquestioningly? I prefer that my children develop the critical thinking skills that come from gathering information from a variety of sources and then develop their own testimony based on personal revelation and prayer. That’s how I came to accept the restored gospel. ”


    I didn’t say I was locking him up in the closet.

    First, Sunstone isn’t for kids or those who aren’t able to decipher truth from fiction. In that sense, Sunstone is a problem. It tends to confuse rather than clarify.

    Second, you have to drink milk before you eat meat. I don’t sit my kids down (all under 5) and tell them about the Adam-God Theory either, but that doesn’t mean I don’t teach them to think critically and to ask questions. I will say this, however; it’s important to me to be a spiritual beacon for kids. No wavering. To do this, I’ve sworn things off that might be questionable, although not necessarily bad.

    Finally, Sunstone, in my opinion, tends to be fringe (sometimes fluff) topics I don’t want to waste my time with. It’s armchair intellectualism at its worst. It’s escapist material with little value.

  33. February 27, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Mark IV (#29): I embraced Sunstone precisely because I felt alienated from my local ward community (I was active and very service oriented, but didn’t feel like I was of a like mind with my fellow ward members, and I felt very alone). I find that the Sunstone community is not a replacement for local Church community, but is in some sense like being a member of a professional association. You create friendships with people who are geographically dispersed but who have similar intense interests as you, and you delight in your regular correspondence and occasional collaboration and face-to-face meetings.

  34. Tony
    February 27, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Mark IV, re: 30…

    I made no such blanket comment that all of my fellow worshippers are sheep incapable of independent thought. My fellow worshipers are a cross-section of society in general in that some are more accepting and others more questioning, and I would never label any of them “sheep” because it simply isn’t true. Please do not put words into my mouth.

    The attitude problem seems to be yours, sir, in that you seem all to willing to label anyone with a differing opinion as some sort of apostate who won’t have a “smooth” experience in the church. Gotta go along to get along, huh?

  35. greenfrog
    February 27, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    …Mormon assumptions.

    Please provide a list and advise which are required and which are optional.

    Maybe I’m not a Mormon, after all.

  36. February 27, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    Thanks, Kaimi, for my next research topic: comparative funerary foods. :)

    Unfortunately, there is no sushi at most Japanese funerals. The bereaved (generally) eat a completely vegetarian meal prepared (or catered) by the Buddhist priests.

  37. Kaimi Wenger
    February 27, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    Jonathan (5),

    I just read the Bradley article. If that’s the one that you’re talking about, then I would disagree with your summary that it’s “an article about how the changing steeple designs of LDS meetinghouses reveal something nefarious about the church.”

    The piece is 80% descriptive – just describing different styles. It’s maybe 10% broad stuff on the purpose of architecture, which she draws from other sources.

    Yes, she’s thrown a conclusion on the back end, basically saying that she’s sad that we don’t have the steeples we used to have, which carried different symbolic meanings.

    I can understand disagreeing with her conclusions — personally, I think that many articles that try to draw societal conclusions from architecture are bunk, and I’m not sold on her conclusions. But I don’t see that she’s saying anything nefarious about the church.

    Matt (18) writes:

    “Martha chose to forget that God doesn’t communicate through architecture,”

    Yes, of course. How silly of Martha to talk about such a strange subject as the potential spiritual or symbolic meanings in the design of the buildings where we worship.

    She should have remembered that church leaders (from Solomon to Joseph Smith to Brigham Young) have never spent a moment’s time thinking about or discussing architecture, and that no instructions or descriptions of architecture are contained anywhere in scripture or revelation, or in historical discussion among church members.

  38. Mark IV
    February 27, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    John Remy, # 33,

    Hi John, thanks for your response. I’m glad Sunstone works for you, I really am. I had a longish exchange with Matt T. over on the Sunstone blog a while ago about this very topic, and which I thought was enlightening. Briefly put, I am wary of the sort of schism that can develop when people start identifying themselves as this or that kind of Mormon. One of the great things about us is that we don’t have an orthodox wing and reform wing. (Although you might argue, and I might agree, that this is because we are overwhelmingly orthodox. :-> ) I think the charitable and most effective way to approach it is to say that some of us struggle in ways that are more or less predictable, and that communities like Sunstone can be helpful. I want Sunstone to be part of Mormonism. I want to situate it in the larger context of our religion, rather than outside of it.

    And although I mentioned it in my earlier comment, let me say to you personally: Thanks for the work you are doing, You, Dan, and the rest of the board deserve some credit.


    Aww, hell, Tony. Sorry for saying sheep – I thought it would be less inflammatory that repeating bundist. And no, I don’t think you are an apostate (did I say that?), and I don’t object to differing opinions (did I say that?). However I do get tired of people who are anxiously engaged in a sort of taxonomy that divides the body of Christ, and that is what I understood you to be doing with your “Sunstone Mormon” announcement. If I misunderstood you, I apologize.

  39. Ronan
    February 27, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    If Sunstone is suspect, why on earth do you frequent this den of vipers?

    Again, what Kaimi said.

    I’ve found myself defending Sunstone quite often recently which is weird because I’ve never been to a symposium and have only read a few magazines. I’m just amazed that those of us who dwell in the Bloggernacle can take such cavalier swipes at Sunstone. Is it really only because the blogs are free that they are qualitatively “better”?

  40. Justin
    February 27, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    Re 18: as far as I know, Martha Bradley has not left the church.

  41. Mark IV
    February 27, 2007 at 5:14 pm

    Ardis, # 14,

    Brigham’s more outrageous comments (I rehearsed reading his “Kiss my @ss” letter…

    Pray tell – where might an interested party find this letter? Somebody else wants to know.

  42. Kaimi Wenger
    February 27, 2007 at 5:54 pm


    That’s awesome that you needed to rehearse that letter.

    For some of us, alas, no rehearsal would be needed. Either that, or we’d claim to need _lots_ of rehearsal time — and choose to rehearse, loudly, in the back row during priesthood. :P

  43. Kaimi Wenger
    February 27, 2007 at 6:01 pm


    I can tell you, through amused experience, that googling the phrase “Brigham Young kiss my ass” is (as of about 5 minutes ago) not an effective way to locate a copy of the letter.

    It is an effective way to locate a lot of angry undergrads who don’t much like BYU.

  44. Jonathan Green
    February 27, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Yeah, well, Kaimi, I read the article a long time ago. Maybe 15 years ago. Details are fuzzy. All I remember is not caring if I read another word of Sunstone, which may not have been due to the steeples article at all, but something else in the issue.

  45. bbell
    February 27, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    I think if you asked the average member what they thought of Sunstone you would get the following 2 responses

    1. large majority saying “who is Sunstone again?”

    2. A much smaller percentage who had heard of Sunstone making comments about apostacy amongst its ranks.

    As for me it makes for interesting reading but I do not ascribe to that particular LDS worldview.

    One quick comment about the list of Sunstone contributors in number 9……….. quite a few who are either exed, resigned membership, or inactive contributes quite heavily to my #2 above. To get more LDS mainstream acceptance Sunstone would probably need to prune the tree so to speak.

  46. Matt Evans
    February 27, 2007 at 7:00 pm


    Find the spot in Martha’s article where she says the church has strayed from God’s instructions on architecture. Her examples for good architecture are soaring gothic cathedrals, for hexakes. That’s the kind of assumption Mormons don’t share (Gothic cathedrals don’t remind most Mormons of heaven). When complaining that some Mormon church steeples cost only $3k, she conveniently forgot to include the prophetic warning to the latter-days, “ye do love . . . the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy.”


    “If Sunstone is suspect, why on earth do you frequent this den of vipers? . . . Is it really only because the blogs are free that they are qualitatively “better”?

    Look more closely at John’s list, Ronan:

    “At a Sunstone Symposium I can walk through the halls and have meaningful discussions with Greg Prince, Levi Peterson, Molly Bennion, Armand Mauss, Margaret Young, Darius Gray, Grant Palmer, Michael Quinn, Dan Wotherspoon, J. Bonner Ritchie, Lavina Fielding Anderson, Jennifer Dobner, Anne Wilde, Dan Vogel, Matt Thurston, John and Jana Remy, Richard Dutcher, Bob Rees, Buckley Jeppson, Jana Reiss (sp?), etc. It is amazing that way.”

    To my knowledge no bloggernacle site has offered a platform to a single ex-Mormon, let alone given 20% of their slots to them, as John’s list does. The T&S permabloggers have decided to not invite any ex-Mormons to blog. Looking around it appears most bloggernacle sites have done the same thing. Sunstone has taken a different road, and many people, Madden included, have noticed.


    I heard that Martha Bradley left the church from one of her former colleagues at BYU, whom I have no reason to believe was speaking without knowing.

  47. Kevin Barney
    February 27, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    FWIW I like Sunstone, both the symposium and the magazine. It just has never bothered me the way it does so many others.

    What I want to know is why Elbert insisted on “symposiums” rather than “symposia.” This was one of the 100 things he wrote that he learned from being the editor of Sunstone, but he never explained why such a preference. That one has been bugging me ever since he left.

  48. February 27, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    Mark IV, #41 — You took the bait, thankyouverymuch, although I understand you did so because of the interest of someone else. I’ll write a post about it, and you can refer your anonymous friend.

    Kaimi, #42 — If you think that’s awesome, you’ll love this: When I was a 16-year-old receptionist in a law office, I didn’t understand what a caller wanted so asked if he’d like to be transferred to Peggy, one of the secretaries. He pleasantly agreed. Peggy came out a moment later and asked why in the world I had transferred an obscene phone call to her.

  49. Kristine Haglund Harris
    February 27, 2007 at 7:15 pm

    Matt, you know better than to pass around hearsay about anybody’s church membership. Also, I would have thought you would know better than to take church standing as absolute evidence of someone’s worthiness, intelligence, or anything else relevant to the value of their scholarship. T&S has most certainly published the views of people who are no longer active in the church–doesn’t mean that they didn’t or don’t have worthwhile things to say.

  50. Kaimi Wenger
    February 27, 2007 at 7:16 pm


    “she conveniently forgot to include this prophetic warning to the latter-days, ‘ye do love . . . the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy.'”

    Come on, Matt. You’re above this kind of nonsense. Surely you’re aware that there’s a long tradition of spending money to beautify places of worship, even when that money could have been spent on feeding the poor.

    Are you really questioning the across-the-board validity of any suggestions that the church should spend money to construct beautiful and symbolic places of worship? (If so, I suppose it’s your funeral.)

    Or is your critique limited to those people who make such suggestions in Sunstone?

  51. Matt Evans
    February 27, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    Kristine, church members should know when a critic has chosen not to affiliate with the church. There is no worthy purpose in confusing people about others’ church membership. Martha would no doubt agree — only wolves need pretend to be sheep.

    T&S has a longstanding policy of not inviting ex-Mormons to blog. Presumably you were part of that discussion, unless it was before you joined us. We of course recognized that there is more to ex-Mormons than their ex-Mormonness, but I don’t remember anyone objecting to our adopting the policy.


    All of Martha’s complaints focused on her desire for more expensive steeples, and that the church relied on cost-cutting measures like standardized building templates and cheap “flag pole steeples.”

    It’s my policy, whether at Sunstone or anywhere else, that any whining about the Mormon church spending too little on buildings should be dismissed unless it addresses Mormon’s warning about the very subject.

  52. Kristine Haglund Harris
    February 27, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    I’m very curious about the standard that seems to be applied here. I can easily imagine that several people participating in this thread would think I was a complete idiot if I said “I read a single article in a single issue of First Things (the Ensign, National Review, Journal of the Gottfried Herder Society, BYU Studies, Harvard Business Review, whatever…) ten years ago, and on the basis of my opinion of that one piece, I’m willing to say in a public forum that First Things is a worthless publication.” I’ve got to think there’s something else going on besides the kind of serious, critical thought that most of you apply to most of your reading material.

  53. Kaimi Wenger
    February 27, 2007 at 7:44 pm


    Out of deference to a current co-blogger’s likely discomfort, I won’t name names. But the sentence “T&S has a longstanding policy of not inviting ex-Mormons to blog,” standing alone, is probably factually incorrect. At best, it’s highly misleading.

  54. Matt Evans
    February 27, 2007 at 8:03 pm


    It is factually correct that the T&S policy is to not invite ex-Mormons to blog.

    Kristine (#52),

    I’m sure you’re right that there’s more going on here. Using Jonathan only as an hypothetical typical bright RM, prior to picking up his lone issue at BYU, Jonathan probably already knew Sunstone’s reputation for publishing articles critical of the church, and for giving a platform to ex-Mormons.

  55. Kaimi Wenger
    February 27, 2007 at 8:12 pm


    Only in lawyer-land. That statement is sufficiently misleading that you might as well just lie. Let me make it a little more accurate:

    “T&S policy — which has been subject to exception — is to not invite ex-Mormons to blog.”

  56. Kristine Haglund Harris
    February 27, 2007 at 9:39 pm

    Matt (#54), that’s exactly my point: a fair reading of something approaching a representative sample of Sunstone’s work does not bear out the reputation that is being uncritically upheld by many commenters on this thread. I’m surprised when people who are otherwise unsatisfied with superficial or shallow considerations of other publications and questions are willing to dismiss Sunstone after such trifling engagement.

  57. Matt Evans
    February 27, 2007 at 10:46 pm

    Kaimi, it’s not misleading at all. The current policy of T&S is not to invite ex-Mormons. Before we had the policy, back in our first months before we had really developed policies about anything, we did invite a blogger who was an ex-Mormon.

    Kristine, how much of the Libertarian Party platform did you read before deciding they weren’t for you? : ) I actually don’t think the cases are that different — Sunstone is not just a magazine, it’s a movement.

  58. Kristine Haglund Harris
    February 27, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    Matt, you’d be surprised at how much research I did into libertarianism before I registered Socialist when I was 18 :)

    And I think it’s a stretch to call Sunstone a movement. Movements need an agenda. Also, even if you think people who read Sunstone are dumb, most of them are smart enough to recognize that they’re not going to effect any significant change in a gigantic, top-down organization of which they form *maybe*.01% of the membership.

    However, “it’s not just a magazine; it’s a movement!” ought to be the caption of a cartoon–cute, teddy-bearish Dan Wotherspoon leading the 15 greying subscribers and 2 nerdy bloggers charging into an army of 12 million*

    Yeah. Be very afraid.

    *one recognizable Sunstone presenter can be in the corner, trying to do statistical analysis of the opposing army, demonstrating that there are actually only 5 million members of the army that’s going to roll over him momentarily.

  59. paula
    February 27, 2007 at 11:22 pm

    “she conveniently forgot to include this prophetic warning to the latter-days, ‘ye do love . . . the adorning of your churches, more than ye love the poor and the needy.’”

    So does this mean that the recent trend by the church to add steeples to existing buildings was wrong? I don’t know what official logic or thought went into it, but steeples were added to several buildings I’m familiar with, in the last couple of years. I heard that all buildings which had those free standing steeple things were to have steeples added to their roofs instead. So far, the freestanding steeple in my ward is still there– but it’s a very 70’s building with a flat roof, and would look ridiculous with a steeple on it. But then, the chapel in Amalga Utah, where my parents attend is a very low-roofed building built in the mid 80s, and it looks pretty odd with its New England style steeple that was added a couple of years ago. Anyone know more about that particular program or idea?

  60. Aaron Brown
    February 27, 2007 at 11:27 pm

    What is strange to me about this whole debate (played out here, and in 101 other Bloggernacle threads over time) is the notion that the orthodoxy of the arguments/essays/articles/personalities in Sunstone should define whether it is worth reading or subscribing to. Granted, if it was a complete anti-Mormon rag, I probably wouldn’t waste my time with it, but as long as there’s a chance that it will contain something of intellectual interest, I’ll probably keep subscribing and reading.

    I just have different criteria for maintaining my subscription, I guess. But then, I just bought solid platinum rims for my S-class Mercedes and added an extra wing to my beachhouse, so I guess I’m too wealthy to ever consider dropping a magazine.

    Aaron B

  61. Kaimi Wenger
    February 27, 2007 at 11:27 pm


    It’s true that a policy is now in place. It’s also true that our ex-Mormon former guest (who blogged fondly about her “apostasy”) remains a regular commenter around here, and her posts are still available on the site.

    John Dehlin’s statement, which you criticized, began “At a Sunstone Symposium I can walk through the halls and have meaningful discussions with . . .” Now, given our trail of past guest-blogging as well as continued comment participation, it would be fair to say “At T&S I can walk through the halls and have meaningful discussions with . . . ” and that person would be on the list. That is, any comparable T&S list would have at least one ex-Mormon on it.

    However, you’re right to suggest that our ratio is less than John’s. We’re at 5% or 2% or something, while Sunstone may be (just to use John’s number) at 20%. That’s a real difference, and perhaps the difference that keeps some bloggernacle types from regarding Sunstone positively.

    Two other points make me wonder about that, though.

    First, T&S was willing, even post-policy, to allow at least one other church member who was subject to what appeared to be ongoing church discipline (disfellowship) to discuss that topic, as well as a number of other substantive topics, at length in a post on the blog. I’m not sure how different this is from a panel with Mike Quinn or Lavina Fielding Anderson.

    Second, bloggernacle threads regularly endorse discussion or reading of some work by former Mormons. When T&S ran a poll/discussion a while back asking what the most important books in Mormon studies were, Magic World View made the top 5. (This was pre-2005, so perhaps MWV would be bumped by recent bio’s — but it’s still likely to be discussed, on the blogs, as an important part of Mormon studies.) Similarly, FMH is currently running a book group on Women and Authority, which includes essays from several former members.

    Given those, I’m surprised that you would think that there’s such a bright line between Sunstone (which allows Mike Quinn to speak at events) and the bloggernacle (which allows the podium to fewer ex-Mormons, and which only endorses Quinn’s work as being important).

  62. February 27, 2007 at 11:43 pm

    So – what happens if one of the T&S permabloggers leaves the church?

  63. February 27, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    Re: #61

    Yeah….don’t necessarily take those ratios too seriously. Those are just the names that I could pull out of my head on first thought. I’m active with 2 callings — but I still enjoy learning from the likes of Quinn, etc. I’ll admit it.

    Dan Wotherspoon may be able to give a more accurate ratio. I’m sure it’s much much less than 20%.

  64. Kaimi Wenger
    February 27, 2007 at 11:52 pm


    At that point, the universe implodes.

  65. Julie M. Smith
    February 27, 2007 at 11:57 pm


    public flogging.

  66. February 28, 2007 at 12:06 am

    [Kristine] writes:
    However, “it’s not just a magazine; it’s a movement!” ought to be the caption of a cartoon–cute, teddy-bearish Dan Wotherspoon leading the 15 greying subscribers and 2 nerdy bloggers charging into an army of 12 million

    I take exception to this characterization. As one of the Sunstone bloggers, I will admit that we can be nerdy. But the difference between us and the more orthodox bloggers is our ability to see the different shades of nerdiness, to share our angst at being nerdy, and to revel in our claims to sometimes being a more cool nerd (or less nerdy nerd). We will always be nerds, it’s our culture – our people.

    What happens, though, when the really nerdy nerd suddenly experiences a crisis of cool? Ah ha! Then you will be happy we are here! Yes, then we will be appreciated!

    Oh, and there are more than 2 of us. Not many, but a few.

    Otherwise, great comments [Kristine]. Carry on.

  67. Kaimi Wenger
    February 28, 2007 at 12:14 am

    By the way, I’m glad that John Dehlin, Dan, John Remy, and Rory are weighing in with the Sunstone viewpoint — often the nacle does turn into a “why Sunstone sucks” symposium panel (hey, there’s a panel for you, Dan!), and it’s nice to get feedback from the folks whose magazine we’re discussing.

    I appreciate everyone else commenting here, as well. This is a good discussion, and I’m sorry that the comments are moving too fast for me to respond to them all, individually. But I really like some of the viewpoints that have been expressed, both as to the potential value of Sunstone (John Dehlin, John R., and others) and as to the criticisms of what people dislike (Jonathan, Ivan, others). Constructive conversation about Sunstone seems, optimally, to lead to a better magazine coming into my mailbox — and I really have no problem with that.

  68. Kristine Haglund Harris
    February 28, 2007 at 12:47 am

    Hi Rory–I was actually kind of thinking of me and Kaimi as the nerdy bloggers, and I meant my caricature to be affectionately tongue-in-cheek. Sorry if it didn’t come across that way.

  69. February 28, 2007 at 12:56 am

    Kristine – not at all, I liked it and understood. I just used it as a (hopefully) fun jumping off point for some self-deprecation.

  70. Kristine Haglund Harris
    February 28, 2007 at 12:59 am


  71. February 28, 2007 at 1:01 am

    I was a big supporter of Sunstone–the symposium and the magazine–back in the day; my wife worked at their offices one summer, and we liked the people there much. I was a pretty regular part of that scene in the early 1990s. I haven’t been to a symposium or read the magazine–or even seen a copy–in ages though. I can’t say I miss it much, but that probably has more to do with my and my family’s changing needs and opinions than anything particular to the magazine. Though I actually do remember that Martha Bradley article which has been brought up; I liked it. But then, I also think we should all be attending church in small, white, clapboard chapels crowned with steeples with bells in them that ring out the hour, so I’m probably part of the author’s target audience.

    But what I really wanted to say, going back to Jonathan’s original, critical comment, is that his relationship with Sunstone is very much like mine with Kentucky Fried Chicken. Every two or three years, it seems, I see a KFC commercial, or drive past a restaurant and smell their chicken, and I’m filled with a desperate hunger for some extra crispy. I resist for a while, then eventually break down, sneak out, and grab myself a KFC lunch. I eat the first piece of chicken with delight, and usually the second one too. But then, I get to biting into the third piece, and suddenly realize that it’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever put in my mouth, and that it’s making me sick. I throw the rest of the lunch away, and forget about KFC…for a while. But then, eventually, the desire returns.

    To be fair, I should note that I’m certain Sunstone is far more nutritious for you than your average piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken, or at least contains significantly less grease.

  72. DavidH
    February 28, 2007 at 1:50 am

    As RAF states, I suppose we all go through stages of liking and disliking different types of periodicals. I used to read Time and Newsweek regularly, now I rarely look at them. The same is true for The New Republic and the National Review.

    During the period we were raising our children, I had little time to read Dialogue, BYU Studies, Journal or Mormon History, or Sunstone. Moreover, there were times in my life when I chose not to read them because, frankly, I did not believe they strengthened my testimony. They created too much “cognitive dissonance” for me, similar to what Elder Bruce Hafen refers to as “ambiguity.” Not only did I not feel a need to listen to “alternate voices,” I had enough trouble hearing and attempting to assimilate the “official” “orthodox” voices that I felt it would not be productive or healthy for me to spend much time with critical articles or ideas.

    I do not think there is anything wrong with deciding not to engage with forums or speakers whose ideas make us angry or extremely unsettled. That is why I make it a point not to listen to President Bush or Vice President Cheney when they speak, and why I have not seen Saving Private Ryan or the Passion of the Christ.

    I attended two Sunstone Symposiums for the first time last year. There were a few presentations that made me extremely uncomfortable, some of them I left early, and others I just squirmed. But by and large it was a positive experience. For me, at this time in my life, the good outweighed the bad. I may not always feel this way, and may “outgrow” my interest.

    With respect to the membership status of a particular Sunstone author, my understanding is that the policy of the Church is that such matters are private, unless the individual has chosen to make them public or the Church has determined that there is a need to know. I “googled” that author’s name, and that search disclosed no public information as to that individual’s membership status (or activity or inactivity). If making such assertions about an individual’s membership status, which is a personal private matter, is not against the T&S comment policy, it should be. It also strikes me as an ad hominem attack. (Unless, of course, the argument is that not only should Sunstone not publish anything by an exMormon, it should not publish anything by anyone who may (at least within one year) become an exMormon.)

  73. Tony
    February 28, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Re: 58- Make that sixteen greying subscribers as I just signed up yesterday (although at 42 i’m not that grey yet)!

    Re: 72- “…it’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever put in my mouth…” Oh, c’mon, it’s not that bad. I happen to like KFC. How about next time you ask them to hold the grease while I ask you to hold the hyperbole! : )

  74. Dan
    February 28, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    It’s been fun revisiting this thread, which I hadn’t checked since midday yesterday. Wow! Over at SunstoneBlog, a “hot” post generates about thirty responses. It’s been a long, long time since I’d checked out T&S, and I now see that this is not even a large thread!

    Quick reply to Kevin in comment #47: My memory of Elbert’s explanation for using “symposiums” over “symposia” was that it was a sort of fun way of deflecting the 1991 First Presidency “statement on symposia” away from those who thought it was specifically aimed at Sunstone. A sort of, “Hey, we don’t host ‘symposia,’ we put on ‘symposiums’!” kind of thing. Since then, it’s been just something I’ve kept going, though I admit that when I write to speakers and others who I’m introducing to Sunstone for the first time that I will generally not call attention to our use of the alternative and write the plural as “sympsosia.”

    My thanks to those who have shared their own experiences with Sunstone that have moderated some of the more extreme characterizations than were showing up among many of the early comments. To those who have had a less-than-positive view of Sunstone, whether from afar and occasional interactions or from more extensive experience with the magazine and symposiums, please know that I’m sympathetic to your experience as well—especially to those of you who have expressed the sentiment that Sunstone has perhaps played a positive role in your life at some point but that stage-of-life changes or other experiences have made it less important for you to stay connected. I feel that that is a very important point, for Sunstone forums serve a wide variety of needs but that, as needs change, its ability to connect or feel as vital and important certain can and will wane.

    J. Bonner Ritchie, a member of our board, has often expressed in meetings and correspondence that it isn’t Sunstone’s content that he values—as he’s moved beyond “needing” the kind of conversations it hosts for his own spiritual journey or as an aid in negotiation his own healthy relationship with the Church—as much as its very existence that’s important to him and that keeps him going as an active supporter and champion. Though I still very much enjoy most of the content of the magazine and discussions at our symposiums, I’m quite sympathetic to what Bonner is saying and often think how my own relationship with Sunstone has shifted from a “need” to an “enrichment” in my Mormon life and how the idea of Sunstone as a symbol within Mormonism of open exchange and a place where all views respectfully offered are welcome has moved up a few notches higher in my thinking about why I am involved with it and work so hard to see it thrive.

    Dan Wotherspoon

  75. Mike Parker
    February 28, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    There’s been some very good stuff published through Sunstone over the years, some of which I’ve recommended to people who have questions or concerns about various aspect of Church history and belief.

    I guess my problem is summed up in Dan W’s statement (#75) that Sunstone is “a place where all views respectfully offered are welcome”.

    According to the recollection of Daniel Tyler, Joseph Smith taught, “When you joined this Church…you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it.” While there are many things that are debatable — the nature of the apostolic witness, when the Word of Wisdom became a commandment, if the priesthood ban was based on revelation or interpretation, etc. — there are some things that are not.

    I think the list of undebatables is fairly short, but it includes affirmations that Joseph Smith really did see God the Father and Jesus Christ, that he was visited multiple times by an angelic being who was the last prophet of a race of people who kept a sacred record, and that he translated this record by the power of God.

    As long as Sunstone continues to offer a forum to those who dispute the reality of these claims — not the minutia about them, but their verity — I have no interest in participating.

    Oh, and I’m also turned off by articles and presentations that are simply “the Church abused me and I’m here to whine about it.” Abuse is real. Healing is needed. Whining is is not healing.

  76. Kaimi Wenger
    February 28, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    Mike Parker,

    I agree at least in part with your descriptive claim — that at least some Sunstone articles contain assumptions or conclusions or analysis about which I will disagree, sometimes strongly, with the article.

    I think Dan’s characterization (all viewpoints welcome) overstates the reality — I don’t think that _all_ viewpoints are welcome at Sunstone or most anywhere else, but a lot of viewpoints seem to be within Sunstone’s general tone, and I’m bound to disagree with some things said by some people whose views differ from my own.

    I’m not convinced that this inevitable disagreement is reason not to read, discuss, or participate in discussions about Sunstone.

    After all, I also subscribe to The New Republic, The Weekly Standard, and The Nation — and believe me, there’s _always_ something in one (or all) of those magazines with which I can strongly disagree. I don’t think that one needs to agree with all articles in a particular magazine to make it worth a subscription.

    For that matter, I hear things in Sacrament meeting that I strongly disagree with. In my own ward — which I consider a good ward — I recently listened to a speaker announce from the pulpit that all gays are child molesters.

    Some amount of BS filtering is going to be required for any interaction with a broad-based group. I can use my personal BS filter to filter out wrong information I’m told in Sacrament meeting (i.e., that all gays are child molesters). And I can apply that filter equally well to Sunstone. (And indeed, some of my conversations with my wife about these last two magazine issues were about assertions made in the articles, that we found unconvincing.)

    Reading any normative discussions of complicated and controversial material will involve some degree of filtering and analysis and synthesis, whether I’m reading the New Republic or the Ensign, whether I’m attending a law conference or a Sacrament meeting.

    I’m comfortable knowing that reading Sunstone will also require some filtering. Indeed, given Sunstone’s general posture of attempting to address hard topics, sometimes in novel ways, it would be really surprising if the result didn’t require some filtering. That’s the normal price for in-depth discussions of potentially controversial topics, and it’s a price I’m happy to pay.

  77. Mike Parker
    February 28, 2007 at 9:38 pm


    You make a very good point, in that there are few publications or fora where I am likely to find myself in complete agreement with every viewpoint therein.

    The issue is one of ratios. As a libertarian, I am not likely to find much that I agree with in a subscription to New Socialist. Perhaps there will be some crossover, such as mutual opposition to the Iraq war, but I will find little else that is satisfying therein, certainly not enough to justify subscribing.

    In picking through old issues of Sunstone, I have occasionally found something useful and interesting, but much more of it I have found to be not worth my time and money. Not long ago I saw the issue honoring Hugh Nibley on his passing; there were several articles of interest (including a tribute by my friend, Kevin Barney), but as I leafed through it, I found myself sadly shaking my head at much of the other content (particularly Gary Bergera’s attempt to brand President Hinckley as a closet non-believer).

    So if I appreciate only two or three articles a year (I’m being generous here), I don’t think it’s worth $36 annually.

    Additionally, let’s be honest here and admit that there’s a lot of support from and for the DAMU in Sunstone. The December 2003 issue was (another) examination/lionization of the “September Six.” When Tom Murphy was out peddling his “DNA proves the Book of Mormon false” wares a few years ago, Sunstone went to lengths to produce and host a video interview with him. Grant Palmer is celebrated at Sunstone symposia. I am simply not interested in financially supporting an organization that gives a microphone to these people.

  78. Lizzilu
    March 1, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    #48 Ardis everyone was just staring because my outburst of laughter. It was well worth the looks!

  79. March 1, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Nice post Kaimi. And nice discussion everyone. Especially enjoyed the comments by Kristine and Kaimi.

    It is interesting to see the way some critics put Sunstone in a narrow box — \”Sunstone is this!\” — effectively writing it off with the flick of a wrist. As a proud member of the Sunstone community it is a little grating to be misrepresented or narrowly defined. But I also recognize that the same kind of labeling is (maybe even more) commonly employed by critics of the Church and its members. Like the Church and its magazines, the Sunstone community (and mag) runs the gamut from unbearable bores and insufferable know-it-alls to engaging intellectuals and salt-of-the-earth Christians. Opinion will vary based on your makeup and place in life.

    I actually think a \”Why Sunstone Sucks\” panel (suggested by someone above) at the next symposium would be great! :) We could populate the panel both with people who think it is too edgy, and with people who think it isn\’t edgy enough.

    Mike Parker in #75 quotes Joseph Smith as saying, \”When you joined this Church…you left the neutral ground, and you never can get back on to it.” I\’m not sure what that means. Is anyone, member or non-member, ever on neutral ground? I think the quote where Joseph, reflecting on past bad experiences when Methodist ministers upbraided him for having incorrect or unorthodox ideas, essentially says \”let them have their little heresies,\” is more instructive (too lazy to look up the quote). Someone else, Brown maybe, said, \”We don\’t so much care that you have correct thoughts as much as you have thoughts\”. (Someone please correct me if I\’m butchering these quotes.) It suggests to me that working through one\’s thoughts/faith/beliefs/testimony is more important that parroting the party line. This \”working out\” of thoughts is what is happening here and all over the bloggernacle, and is what is happening on the pages of Sunstone. It goes without saying that the kind of thoughts one needs to work out will vary from person to person, and from time to time. Hence, Sunstone (and the bloggernacle), as has been admitted ad nauseum, is not going to be for everyone.

    Finally, I appreciate the idea that John Dehlin (#9) enjoys my company in the halls of Sunstone symposiums, (I enjoy his as well), but including me in a list that includes Armand Mauss, Greg Prince, Levi Peterson, among others, is like saying, \”I enjoy playing basketball with Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, and Fielding Mellish.\”

    \”Who is Fielding Mellish?\” you might ask. \”Oh, he\’s this guy, a plumber I think, that I sometimes play three-on-three with down at the park.\”

  80. Matt W.
    March 1, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    In the example, is Fielding the good basketball player? Because the rest are all Lakers…

  81. Dan
    March 1, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    The question of whether something is worth one’s time and money is, of course, always going to be a very personal decision, and I’d never try to push someone toward discussions or to hear voice they are not comfortable with. As I mentioned briefly above, I personally don’t enjoy everything I choose to publish in the magazine or all the sessions we host at our symposiums. But regardless, I always work hard in both to offer a wide variety of topics and voices–something in each magazine or during each symposium session hour that would be interesting and worth someone’s while–and I do my best to assist that writer or presenter in such a way that their position is argued as effectively as it can be and with a tone that might allow it to be “heard” by an audience rather than simply rejected out of hand. Certainly I don’t always succeed.

    I do want to respond, however, to Mike’s post 75 comment about whining. I have an absolutely “no whining allowed” policy in the magazine, and I work very, very hard to keep it out of the symposium. (Of course it’s difficult to know ahead of time what someone will actually say with a microphone in their hand versus the tone and face they present in their proposal. And quite often, the whining that arises comes from audience members during Q&A–something I don’t know how one can protect against.) If someone has a story to tell, I want it to be told accurately and with maturity and a fair amount of perspective–to have it shared out of a desire to be constructive and for the purpose of assisting others to avoid similar pitfalls and/or to heal. And recall, too, that if Sunstone hosts a “hot” topic in one of its sessions, we always try (and nearly always succeed) to have someone we know views things differently be a “respondent” in that session. If you have examples of straight out whining in the past six years, I’d love to hear which articles or sessions struck you that way.

    Kaimi wrote in #76 that perhaps I overstated the case about what viewpoints are welcome at Sunstone. I’m not sure I did. Recall that I qualified that welcome with the words “views respectfully offered.” If I can draw you into a conversation about this, Kaimi, I’d like to. If someone truly respected an LDS faith position or doctrine or those who have practiced something as part of their spiritual life yet completely disagreed with it or saw it as ultimately harmful and something to be spoken against, what person/position can you see Sunstone saying “no, not welcome” to?


  82. Matt Evans
    March 1, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    It’s interesting to note that while Kristine wished Sunstone critics would read more of the magazine, two of its defenders, including the editor himself, identify Sunstone as “symbol” and “community.”

    Symbol and community are hallmarks of movements, not magazines. Sunstone is not a magazine. It’s the official newsletter of the Sunstone Movement.

  83. bbell
    March 1, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    I lean also towards #82.

    Sunstone reminds me of the Catholic group called “Catholics for a Free Choice”

    Sunstone to me seems like a movement out to “liberalize” mormonism. The list of contributors and their positions on key issues would seem to bear me out.

  84. Dan
    March 1, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    I’d only agree with #81 and #82 if the “movement” we are is to create forums for open, free, respectful discussion of things Mormon. We’d only be “liberal” to the degree that an idea such as that being a good thing is a liberal idea.

    Whatever “community” that Sunstone is arises from people gathering because of that mission (and, of course, because we want to nurture subscribership and attendance), not out of the desire to start a “community” (or “alternate to church” or any of the other off-the-mark descriptors that are occasionally applied to Sunstone). Is Times and Seasons or the Bloggernacle a “community”? I only see a Sunstone community as being different from that which arises online around an idea or forum in how we seek subscribers and charge admission to events and ask for donations to fund what we do–though we would love to make it all free were we to raise an endowment that would be sufficient to allow that. And we’re trying!

  85. Dan
    March 1, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    Make that #82 and #83. I agree 100% with comment #81!

  86. Margaret Young
    March 1, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    How have I managed to attend _Sunstone_ symposia and to subscribe to the magazine without feeling like I’m part of a movement? I have issues dating back to the 1970’s as well as current ones, and always find compelling articles and essays. Someone told me that everyone he saw at Sunstone “hated Mormonism,” but that has not been my experience at all. I’ve sat with Ed Kimball, Darius Gray, Armand Mauss, and Greg Prince and found them all to be devoted Latter-day Saints AND interested participants in Sunstone. And I frankly love my association with Maxine Hanks, Lavina Fielding Anderson and Newell Bringhurst–who are not currently on the LDS rolls. I suppose I would avoid some sessions, and I do choose what I attend with attention to who’s presenting, but I find Sunstone to be a calatyst to my faith and an invitation to fuller charity. And I think Dan Wotherspoon is just super.

  87. March 1, 2007 at 7:27 pm

    Matt E. (#82) says: “Symbol and community are hallmarks of movements, not magazines.”

    Looks like Sunstone has blown its cover. By slipping up and using such incendiary words as “community” and “symbol,” Matt Evans has uncovered the nefarious plot that has been simmering below the surface for years. The sheep have been exposed as wolves.

    Since when does “community” or “symbol” equate with “movement”? Is the bloggernacle, or any online community a “movement”? Is the Mormon study group I meet with monthly a movement? Is the MHA community I belong to a movement? What about my wife’s scrapbooking community?

    Symbol and community are everywhere. Are they all manifestations of a some diabolical movement? Cannot some communities just be benign communities?

  88. Kristine Haglund Harris
    March 1, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    Piling on, Matt, I’d ask what even slightly intelligent observer of Mormonism would think there was any chance of a movement from within Mormonism accomplishing anything?? That’s just not how the Church works, and we all know it.

  89. Mark IV
    March 1, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    But, Matt and Kristine, don’t you think it is a little disingenuous to portray the mag as just an obscure publication that only a few dozen aging hippies are interested in and the symposium as a benign collection of people who happen to share the same interests, like stamp collectors? Let’s be clear here – Every August, lots of us in the bloggernacle think this is an Amen Corner where we bear testimony of the True and Living Sunstone. Sunstone has lots of power, and it has hundreds if not thousands of True Believers who have chugged the Koolaid. It is the highlight of the year for many folks, and people are always saying how Sunstone saved their testimony, etc, etc. That is nothing to be ashamed of, and we ought to acknowledge it, even be proud of it. We can’t avoid the question of whether it is a good or a bad influence by pretending it has no influence.

    Matt, I found the conversation you and I had about this last August over on your blog. I hope you don’t mind of I reproduce some of it here. Some crazy person said this:

    The other thing I find unsettling is the cult of personality that surrounds the proceedings. A typical bloggernacle description of the recent symposium can be summarized like this:
    “First I met X. He is SO COOL. Oh, then I went to Y’s presentation. It was AWESOME!!! And then, can you believe it? I actually got to HAVE LUNCH with Z!!! No way am I missing next year! We will plan our vacation around it!”
    Honestly, doesn’t it sound like a 14 y.o. girl at a Backstreet Boys concert?

    To sum up: I’m glad Sunstone is there for those who find it valuable. I have found it valuable myself. In the same way, I’m glad that boy scouts and homeschooling workshops are there for my fellow saints who find them valuable. But when we start to bear our testimonies of those things, we are missing the real gospel, because it is bigger and grander than any of them. If we want to make any progress at bridge building, we need to quit taking ourselves so seriously. Our own little pet projects just aren’t that important, and we shouldn’t be surprised when others tell us so.

    Thanks, Matt, for indulging me then, and thanks for indulging me now. I’ll probably see you next August.

  90. Matt Evans
    March 2, 2007 at 1:38 am

    Dan, here’s your whole “symbol” comment:

    the idea of Sunstone as a symbol within Mormonism of open exchange and a place where all views respectfully offered are welcome has moved up a few notches higher in my thinking about why I am involved with it and work so hard to see it thrive.

    You may have meant something different, but it sure sounds like you think Sunstone’s a ray of hope shining on the dark and oppressive Mormon underworld. The Sunstone movement carries you on its shoulders to raise the candle high.

    Kristine asked, “what even slightly intelligent observer of Mormonism would think there was any chance of a movement from within Mormonism accomplishing anything?” Kristine, I don’t know whether you mean to question Dan’s intelligence or to admit Sunstone’s symbol-lifting is quixotic. : )

  91. March 2, 2007 at 1:15 pm


    And then another crazy person (me) responded, “I guess you better count me in with the 14 y.o. girls… I had Michael Quinn and Dan Vogel sign my Sunstone Program and then had it framed for my wall; I’ve since placed it next to my Backstreet Boys poster, he deadpanned.”

    I still think Sunstone is far closer to the “obscure publication that only a few dozen aging hippies are interested in” than the powerful “movement” you and Matt seem to suggest. Fewer than a thousand people attend the SLC symposium. Maybe two-to-three times that many people subscribe to the mag. So the symposium equates to a single stake conference for the aging hippy contingent in the Church, compared to the thousands of stake conferences that take place around the world each year for the more centered true believers. Sunstone Mag’s subscription numbers maybe equate to the subscription rates of just the citizens of Draper, UT to the Ensign. And I’d still bet that better than 95% of LDS have never even heard of Sunstone.

    But this kind of posturing and politicking feels tired, and furthermore suggests an “us vs. them” binary line of thinking. I much prefer a dialectic line of reasoning: I am neither Sunstoner nor Mormon, but a Person. I think Sunstone and the Church are having the *same* conversation, not arguing against each other. Both are attempting to understand the ineffable “Ultimate Answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” My personal heresy — *not* to be construed as indicative of all Sunstone readers or symposium attenders — is that I see no hierarchy with the LDS gospel as the Ultimate Answer, and Sunstone as a subordinate piece of that Answer. A Priesthood meeting or a Sympoisium session are for me the same thing, a classroom where I’m hoping to understand by “42” is the Ultimate Answer.,_the_Universe,_and_Everything

    So when you say, “we are missing the real gospel, because it is bigger and grander than [Sunstone],” I both agree and disagree. If we loosely define “gospel” then I agree. I imagine many, if not most Sunstone subscribers/attenders share your same sense of hierarchy, with the gospel as the foundation, and Sunstone as a sometimes “valuable” supplementary (but subordinate) level in the hierarchy. I can understand why some LDS would feel threatened by my heterodox leanings, or worse, the few oddballs who might think Sunstone is somehow bigger than the gospel; but as has been said by Dan ad nauseum, Sunstone isn’t for everyone.

    However, many (like yourself) would not feel threatened, and can find at least some things that are praiseworthy or of good report. I like Gene England’s premise of “Why the Church is more/as True as the Gospel” because it puts the emphasis on the community and the way we learn to love and listen to each other. People that reject the Church out of hand because of its few oddballs or nut jobs are missing the bigger point. I think the same could be said about Sunstone.

  92. Mike Parker
    March 2, 2007 at 2:14 pm

    All of this “is Sunstone a magazine or movement?” discussion neatly sidesteps the crucial issue:

    Does Sunstone provide a podium to people who wish to disprove the foundational events of Mormonism?

    When I see Dan Vogel, Brent Metcalf, and Grant Palmer as regular authors of Sunstone articles and speakers at Sunstone symposia, I don’t see how anyone can honestly answer anything but yes.

    And when I’m asked the seventh temple recommend question, I — personally speaking — would have a hard time responding no if I were paying for a Sunstone subscription or symposium tickets.

  93. Madden
    March 2, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    I completely agree with #92. You can’t, I believe, answer that question honestly if you are a subscriber to Sunstone.

  94. Mike Parker
    March 2, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Madden #93:

    I have friends and acquaintances who support Sunstone, passionately believe in the restored gospel, and can answer question 7 correctly. So I believe it is possible to do so.

    What I was saying in #92 was that I can’t answer that way.

  95. Madden
    March 2, 2007 at 3:51 pm

    Ok, I strike it from the record.

    I guess it is possible, but you are playing with fire.

    Sunstone is a rag, plain and simple. Those who touch it do so at their own risk.

  96. Geoff B
    March 2, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    I find this thread interesting because I’ve been a Church member for eight years now and never even heard of Sunstone until three years ago when somebody whose opinion I trust said (I am paraphrasing), “Sunstone is written and read by apostates.” And then of course I’ve read a few bloggernacle conversations that have updated me on the fact that this is not true. (That must be one of those “Mormon myths” out there).

    I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Sunstone is not really making much of an impression upon your average Mormon, who is mostly thinking about making mortgage payments, what to do with all the dirty diapers, worrying about new braces for the kids and wondering how in the heck he/she is going to find time to do his/her calling and home/visiting teaching before the end of the month.

    If the Sunstone editors/contributors are still reading, I’d be curious for their input on something:

    what percentage of Sunstone readers would they estimate are active Church members?

  97. March 2, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    “Sunstone is a rag.”

    Madden, do you mind if we replace our motto, “faith seeking understanding,” with your more colorful statement? Would we have to pay you royalties?

  98. Madden
    March 2, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    “Sunstone is a rag” is more catchy, and definitely more accurate.

  99. March 2, 2007 at 5:26 pm


    Sunstone had a questionaire a few years ago that could shed some light on your question. Maybe Dan could provide some of the results. But you’d have to define “active.” I cast my net very wide and try to include as many people as possible in the Mormon family, basically anyone who is sympathetic to Mormonism, anyone who is interested in seeing Mormonism thrive as a force of good in society. As such, I’d include non-believers like Levi Peterson, or excommunicated believers like Michael Quinn or Lavina Anderson as “active.” That definition excludes many in the DAMU community, anti-Mormons, ex-Mormons-for-Jesus, etc.

    In my experience, most non-actives or non-believers have no interest in the Church or Sunstone. They move on to other things in life.

    Of full-time Sunstone staff and/or members of the board of directors (around 20 people in total), all but three (I think) are active in the sense that they attend church regularly and presumably hold callings. Some have served in bishoprics and two are former mission presidents.

    As for Mike Parker’s comment: “Does Sunstone provide a podium to people who wish to disprove the foundational events of Mormonism? When I see Dan Vogel, Brent Metcalf, and Grant Palmer as regular authors of Sunstone articles and speakers at Sunstone symposia, I don’t see how anyone can honestly answer anything but yes.”

    The Mormon History Association provides a podium for Dan Vogel and many others who wish to disprove the foundational events of Mormonism. (Not sure about Metcalf and Palmer… Palmer at least is an attendee because I’ve seen him there.) MHA boasts among its members and attendees many luminaries from BYU and the Family and Church History Department, and at least one General Authority, and I’m guessing they have no problem answering their temple recommend interview questions.

    Certainly, giving a platform to people who challenge Church foundational events or who challenge Church doctrinal or cultural issues is a fine line that Dan could probably speak to better than I could. I know a lot of care goes into screening every speaker and paper to make sure the speaker/paper meet and exceed the “faith seeking understanding” constraint. I’m sure the same screening process happens at MHA as well.

  100. Dan
    March 2, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    Some responses.

    To Matt’s comment #90. My “whole” symbol comment was within the larger context of a comment about how from my own life experience I understand why some speak of Sunstone as having served an important function at one time in their life only to have their needs and interests change. It was not in any way offered in the spirit of claiming that Sunstone is a “ray of hope shining on the dark and oppressive Mormon underworld.” The work and the reasons behind the work I do with Sunstone is informed far more by my own autobiography and gratitude for the role that Sunstone and Dialogue played in aiding my spiritual journey than any kind of commentary on the wider Church–which even when I was feeling lost I never experienced as “dark and oppressive.” I was simply “lonely,” and finding the voices of people who were bringing their Mormonism into conversation with contemporary issues and scholarship was an amazing gift to me. They played the role in my life then and still that I’m sure the bloggernacle plays for many now. (My journey with Sunstone and Dialogue started in the early 90s when email was barely getting rolling.)

    On the temple recommend issue. We’ve actually received a proposal for a session at this summer’s symposium designed to explore how two people who believe the same basic things in terms of gospel claims view the recommend questions and issue of temple worthiness so differently–why one of them feels fine about holding a temple recommend whereas the other doesn’t feel right seeking one. I hope it will be a good, enlightening discussion.

    About the question of Sunstone subscribers and attendees Church activity levels (and perhaps some also wonder how “believing” they are). The results from a 2003 survey (91 respondents) came out this way:

    48% LDS, active participant
    16% LDS, semi-active participant
    25% LDS less- or non-participating
    5% former LDS, actively participating to extent they can
    7% former LDS, no longer interested in participation in LDS church life

    Participants were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 their level of agreement with five statements, 10 equaling a very high level of belief.

    I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of the world.
    63% 8–10
    20% 4–7
    16% 1–3

    I believe Joseph Smith is a prophet of God through whom the Gospel of Jesus Christ and essential teachings, priesthood keys, and ordinances were restored.
    41% 8–10
    78% 4–7
    31% 1–3

    I believe the Book of Mormon is essentially a faithful translation of an ancient record.
    33% 8–10
    26% 4–7
    41% 1–3

    I believe in the essential correctness of LDS teachings about the “plan of salvation.”
    38% 8–10
    35% 4–7
    27% 1–3

    I believe today’s prophets, apostles, and other general leaders continue to receive specific divine revelation and are leading the Church as God would have them do.
    26% 8–10
    34% 4–7
    40% 1–3

    To the question of those who Sunstone allows to speak. Please note that whenever someone with a challenging position speaks, they are just one voice in a particular session, and they, like everyone else who participates, are heard and engaged by an audience that is not in any way monolithic.

    Our symposium programs always contain the following language: “We recognize that the search for things that are, have been, and are to be is a sifting process in which much chaff will have to be carefully inspected and threshed before the wheat can be harvested. We welcome the honest ponderings of Latter-day Saints and their friends and expect that everyone in attendance will approach every issue, no matter how difficult, with intelligence, respect, and good will.”

    I have always found the presentations of those people mentioned in comment #92 to represent their honest ponderings, and the ways in which they engage others to fall well within the spirit of that charge.

  101. Mike Parker
    March 2, 2007 at 8:14 pm

    Matt Thurston #99: “The Mormon History Association provides a podium for Dan Vogel and many others who wish to disprove the foundational events of Mormonism.”

    Yes, but the MHA also presents itself as a more detached, purely-scholarly organization than Sunstone. “Faith seeking understanding” indicates a faith-based approach to the issues.

    FWIW, I have something less than complete support for the MHA after they gave their 2005 Best Book Award to Dan Vogel’s psychobiography of Joseph Smith. Good prose and excellent command of the sources doesn’t always translate into rigorous logic or even common sense.

    Dan Wotherspoon #100: “Our symposium programs always contain the following language: ‘We recognize that the search for things that are, have been, and are to be is a sifting process in which much chaff will have to be carefully inspected and threshed before the wheat can be harvested.'”

    I honestly have a hard time applying the sifting metaphor to the works of people like Grant Palmer, who, for all his sincerity and pleasantness, is attempting to tear down the foundational events of the Restoration. It’s not as if An Insider’s View of Mormon Origins is possibly wheat and possibly chaff, so we need to sift it out — it’s plainly, clearly, and undeniably hostile to Joseph Smith’s claims of seeing God the Father, conversing with Moroni, translating actual plates, and receiving actual priesthood. No sifting is needed here — An Insider’s View is clearly chaff, and has destroyed real testimonies. An organization that claims to be founded on faith in Mormonism shouldn’t be giving him a podium, IMO; they should be seeking people to rebut his claims.

    However, I do appreciate the time you both took to explain your position, even though I don’t completely agree with it.

  102. paula
    March 2, 2007 at 8:57 pm

    Dan, is there a typo in the statistic here, or am I misunderstanding the question asked– it does add up to over 100% and I don’t see how the question could lead to that result:
    “I believe Joseph Smith is a prophet of God through whom the Gospel of Jesus Christ and essential teachings, priesthood keys, and ordinances were restored.
    41% 8–10
    78% 4–7
    31% 1–3”

  103. Kristine Haglund Harris
    March 3, 2007 at 12:48 am

    This conversation makes me sad, in much the same way that the perennial conversation about whether Mormons are Christian does. Intellectually, I understand the theological reasons for trying to keep the doctrine pure–although I believe this is far less compelling for a church like ours, which is fundamentally anti-creedal–fears about false prophets, etc. I know a little bit about the sociological reasons why boundary maintenance is important for group identity, etc. But spiritually (or maybe just emotionally), I find it wholly incomprehensible that we are so invested in drawing the circle of Mormonism smaller, tighter, more exclusively, just as I find it incomprehensible that Christians would want to define Christianity to exclude anyone who professes a love of Jesus. It is hard to imagine that Mormonism can fulfill its promise of filling the whole earth, if we Mormons can’t even find a way to embrace those who care about the Church, or even are just puzzled and fascinated by it, but think differently than we do.

  104. Blake
    March 3, 2007 at 2:35 am

    Mike: I can understand your reluctance to support Sunstone. It appears to me that at times the purpose of the articles and presentations at the symposia and in the magazine is not to explore faith, but to destroy it. I believe that there are a few presentations where the purpose of destroying faith is purposeful and it is apparent. I also continue to question the connection with its primary financial supporter who is openly atheist and antagonistic to LDS beliefs and influence. If the LDS Church is really as evil and misdirected as Sunstone’s chief financial supporter has written and openly argued, then why does he put so much $$$ into Sunstone? This is an important question that cannot be ducked and continues to raise questions for me about the integrity of the entire endeavor. On the other hand, I’m sure that Sunstone would be happy to recieve so much $$$ from a faithful supporter that it doesn’t have to rely on him!

    However, there is one thing that keeps me interested in Sunstone — my unflagging faith and trust in Dan Wotherspoon. I know Dan well and believe that he does his best to maintain a good faith discussion of issues important to LDS and the community. Without Dan, Sunstone would be exactly what you claim it is. As you know there were several issues that gave prominent space to out-and-out anti-Mormon attacks on the Book of Mormon and attempted, in my view, to paint such a narrow view of LDS beliefs that it was remarkably unfair. However, if we all have an opportunity to respond but cede the forum to vigorous anti-Mormons (for that is in fact what they are), what can we expect? That is why I joined with my observations about what I consider to be a very over-rated argument that I don’t believe holds much water when read in light of what the Book of Momorn actually says. It was very brave of Dan to allow me to immediately respond to criticisms of my arguments and to rebut them fully. He took a good deal of flack over it. It was very revealing to me that the arguments against the Book of Mormon raised narry an eye-brow among the avid letter-writers to Sunstone, but my articles in response met with a flurry of very critical voices. The entire discussion can be very uncomfortable for someone who hasn’t been exposed to anything but seminary and Sunday School lessons on the Book of Mormon.

    In the end I subscribe to Jefferson’s motto — speech must be free to assert what it will as long as reason is left free to rebut what is asserted. And this last point is the rub and justification for Sunstone. There has to be some responsible forum where believers, non-believers, opponents, and supporters, and interested onlookers can have a civil discussion of such issues. There has to be a place where folks can discuss their concerns, how they worked them out, or how they maintained their faith or how they worked thrugh losing their faith. I don’t believe that Sunstone is in fact faith seeking understanding. More often than not it seems to me to be lack of faith seeking acceptance. But as long as Dan is there it will have my support.

  105. Blake
    March 3, 2007 at 2:48 am

    Dan Wotherspoon said: ” If someone truly respected an LDS faith position or doctrine or those who have practiced something as part of their spiritual life yet completely disagreed with it or saw it as ultimately harmful and something to be spoken against, what person/position can you see Sunstone saying “no, not welcome” to?”

    Well, the Tanners (now just Sandra) and Ed Decker come to mind. James White and Steven Benson also come to mind. Really, if the goal is solely to destroy faith — even if in claimed good faith — are you suggesting that it is Sunstone’s purpose to give that voice a forum? How could one “truly respect” a position while at the same time arguing that it is evil and ought to be eradicated?

  106. Matt Evans
    March 3, 2007 at 3:26 am

    The Sunstone survey illustrates my earlier comment that Sunstoners don’t share Mormon assumptions.


    Caring about the church is not enough. Many people care about the church because it is powerful and influential, and they want to tear it down or shape it for their purposes. There is no reason the church should welcome them. If they want salvation, they’re welcome, if they want to fight, unwelcome. Some fighters, understanding that fighters are unwelcome, pretend to want salvation. That makes me sad, too.

  107. Kristine Haglund Harris
    March 3, 2007 at 9:29 am

    Matt, you seem to know an awful lot about the motivations of people whose words you have not read or heard.

  108. Geoff B
    March 3, 2007 at 9:35 am

    Dan and Matt, thank you for your responses and openness. I have to say I’m a bit disappointed to see the Sunstone survey numbers. I would bet that perhaps the results are a bit skewed in favor of people who oppose the Restoration in one way or another. In my experience, people who want to oppose basic Church doctrines are more likely to respond to such surveys. You see a lot of that in the Bloggernacle, which is also skewed a bit.

    But having said that, I think results that show only 63 percent agreeing strongly that Jesus Christ is the savior and the son of God is a bit alarming. Those results may even be less than the general population of the United States (yes, I know, depending on how the question is asked). Having more people disagreeing that the prophets receive ongoing revelation is, again, a bit alarming for me.

    I would have to agree with Matt in #106. I sympathize with Kristine’s viewpoint, but come down on the side that in the end the Church has to stand for something or it stands for nothing. It appears many Sunstone readers oppose what the Church says it stands for. That’s certainly not the same as apostasy, but Sunstone editors/readers can perhaps understand why many active Latter-day Saints would shy away from such an organization.

  109. Kevin Barney
    March 3, 2007 at 10:25 am

    I agree with Blake that Dan has done a terrific job with the reins at Sunstone. The Board chose well when they tapped him.

  110. March 3, 2007 at 10:51 am

    Some thoughts:

    1. Is Sunstone, the magazine, a movement? No. The civil rights movement was a movement. The nuclear freeze movement was a movement. The pro-life movement is a movement. Sunstone, by contrast, is a magazine. “Magazine” does not and cannot equal “movement.”

    2. Do the people in movements start and use magazines? Of course. Magzines are a great way to spread information, proselytize for the cause, give the membership a chance to express themselves and fortify one another, focus attention, etc.

    3. Can a magazine, put together by a couple of dedicated soles, cause or sustain movements? Perhaps. But if there’s no audience for that movement outside those who, for whatever reason, might want to write for or subscribe to said magazine in the first place, then the magazine-inspired movement is going to fail.

    4. Do we have evidence of this from Sunstone’s history? Absolutely. I don’t think even Sunstone’s strongest defenders can deny that, circa 1992-1995, a great many of those writing for and putting together Sunstone really did commit themselves to challenging the church, to changing the church, or at least presenting their work as some sort of “alternative” to or within the church. There were prayer vigils at various excommunications, the White Rose campaign, the public readings from the reports of the Mormon Alliance, the Mormon Peace Gathering, the protests regarding the Stengthening the Members committee, and so forth (much of which I was present for and was at least a partial supporter of). Sunstone magazine promoted, reported on, and often played an organizational role in all of the above. The consequences of their involvement in those causes are, I think, apparent to everyone.

    (In fairness, one could say that the church leadership created this dynamic in the first place, when Elder Oaks gave a general conference address around 1991 that clearly–if implicitly–labeled Sunstone a dangerous “alternative voice” in a church where there is, as I believe Elder Faust put it, no such thing as a “loyal opposition.” But, as unfair or overreactive as that pre-emptive labeling may have been, the truth is Sunstone did not, collectively, run away from it.)

    5. To summarize: Sunstone is not a movement. But there are people that have, in the past and presently, see it as emblematic of a movement. Of those who still think that way, I would guess that some are those aging hippies mentioned above, who–for personal or other reasons–try to keep alive their memories of events now over a decade in the past, some are occasional new recruits with a poor grasp of both the nature of the church and of recent history, and the rest are conservatives of various stripes who want to see in Dan Wortherspoon & Co. a cause to fight against. Everyone else treats it as it should be treated: a magazine–one that runs stuff of varying quality, some of which is hostile to the church, some of which touches on intriguing intellectual matters involving the church, and some of which is faith-affirming and pious. Oh, and cartoons.

  111. Matt Evans
    March 3, 2007 at 12:17 pm


    I’m not arguing that all Sunstone authors care about the church only because it is powerful (though that’s the primary reason for some). Rather I’m explaining why Mormons think it’s insufficient that someone be “interested” in the church. Mormons believe _Satan_ is keenly interested in the church. Being embraced by the Mormon community requires more than interest or fascination. I suspect that most Mormons would embrace only those who show they respect the church and its members, leaders and doctrines. Mormons would embrace only other members who want the church to succeed. Indicate that you don’t want the church to succeed, and bingo, no community hugs for you.

    It’s the same for every movement.

  112. Matt Evans
    March 3, 2007 at 1:07 pm


    People self-identify as “Sunstone Mormons” only because the term Sunstone has acquired *content* (substance/meaning). Sunstone’s not just a neutral forum without content. I’ve never heard anyone identify themselves as a magazine-hyphenated anything, except Sunstone Mormon, but if someone did describe themselves as a “Weekly Standard Conservative” or “Mother Jones Liberal” we’d know they were using the magazine-as-modifier because the term has content/substance/meaning. It would be meaningless to identify as a Weekly Standard Conservative if the term “Weekly Standard” were meaningless. But “Weekly Standard” has meaning because Bill Kristol has a vision for America and publishes articles reflecting that vision. That people self-identify as “Sunstone Mormons” shows that they believe the word “Sunstone” has content and that “Sunstone” is not an empty-slate forum. I argue that, to the degree that the term “Sunstone Mormon” has meaning, it’s because Sunstone is a movement, an agenda, a point of view, a vision of the church.

  113. paula
    March 8, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    I realize that I’m coming to this discussion very late, but a conversation I had today about Sunstone reminded me of this thread. I wonder how many people who don’t like Sunstone, and haven’t attended the conference realize that most presentations have someone who responds at the end? That way more than one viewpoint is presented, and often the presenter’s conclusions are challenged, frequently, but not always.

    Also, in all the years I’ve attended Sunstone, probably 50% of the last 20 years, I never remember any of the mean-spiritedness than often seems to accompany comments about Sunstone in the bloggernacle — the name-calling (apostates), or questioning of another person’s beliefs that often seems to happen in the bloggernacle. People may disagree there about things, but the attempts to define other members of the church as less worthy (or more worthy) doesn’t seem to happen there. People seem to be able to listen to many types of presentations and evaluate the content without needing to pigeonhole the presenter according to religious belief. Is that because it’s a face to face venue? Or are Sunstoners nicer? :)

Comments are closed.