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 Post subject: A Defense of Sunstone
PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2012 2:26 pm 
2nd Quorum of Seventy
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*I've cross posted this at MADB*


Hi All,

I just returned home after attending and presenting at this year's Salt Lake City Sunstone Symposium at the UofU. It was great to meet a few of you in person!

I've written a "Defense of Sunstone" and posted it on my blog because for me, Sunstone was a very important -- but certainly not the only -- part in helping me find my place in the Church and becoming (after about an 18 month hiatus) an active member once again.

http://www.sethpayne.com/?p=1107

I'm very curious to hear about your own experiences at Sunstone. Have they been positive? Negative?

A very close friend attended with me back in 2008 and was very put off by the tone of some of the presentations -- as was I. However, I would say that my overall experience at Sunstone has been extremely positive and, to borrow a phrase from Wade (although I'm butchering it!), come closer to Christ.

Anyway, would love to hear your thoughts and learn about your own personal experiences.

Thanks!

Seth

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 Post subject: Re: A Defense of Sunstone
PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2012 2:36 pm 
God
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I didn't go to as many sessions as I wanted but enjoyed the ones I attended. Met a diverse group of believers and unbelievers--and everyone in between. If Sunstone helps people stay in the church--the church should be all for it.

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 Post subject: Re: A Defense of Sunstone
PostPosted: Mon Jul 30, 2012 2:41 pm 
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Bob Loblaw wrote:
I didn't go to as many sessions as I wanted but enjoyed the ones I attended. Met a diverse group of believers and unbelievers--and everyone in between. If Sunstone helps people stay in the church--the church should be all for it.


Bob,

This is my position as well. I don't think Sunstone would be appropriate for most Church members as they may feel uncomfortable with some of the subject matter and the setting but, I do believe there are people for whom Sunstone is a great supporter of their faith.

Seth

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 Post subject: Re: A Defense of Sunstone
PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2012 4:35 pm 
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I don't feel much need to defend Sunstone. The charges against it---that it's liberal, that it's heretical, that it fosters murmuring and apostasy, etc.---pertain to theological categories that I either do not recognize or do not care about. What might be called "conservative" Mormonism is still theologically liberal and heretical to me as an evangelical, so for those kinds of Mormons to accuse other kinds of Mormons of being those things means little to me on a personal level. In any case, I want to be in dialogue with Mormons of all stripes, be they liberal, conservative, orthodox, heterodox, heretical, believing, ex, NOM, and everything in between, so even if Sunstone is primarily a place for liberal or critical views, I would still want to attend.

I've attended Sunstone twice now, once in 2010 and once this year. In 2010, I presented a paper on ordained women in early Christianity and how Mormons might interpret and engage that data, with Maxine Hanks serving as a respondent. I also participated on a panel on faithful dissent along with John Dehlin, Dialogue editor Kristine Haglund, and Times and Seasons blogger Kaimipono Wenger. This year I participated in a panel on Mormon apologetics along with Kaimipono Wenger, Kevin Barney, and John-Charles Duffy, and I did another panel on interactions in the Mormon blogging community with a long list of people that included Mormons and ex-Mormons of all stripes. I also served as the respondent to a paper by John-Charles Duffy on Mormons and Evangelicals cooperating politically.

Both of my experiences with Sunstone have been incredibly warm, engaging, and fun. Both times I have been overwhelmed by the warm reception that greeted me. I stayed with my long-time friend (she's a bit of a second mother to me), calmoriah from Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board, and her husband and daughter. She gave me room, board, and stocked her fridge with some of my favorite treats in advance, more than I could ever eat, even catering to my pescetarian diet (which has changed about me since I last lived with her 7-8 years ago). This isn't a part of Sunstone proper, but I just wanted to mention it as part of my trip.

As for Sunstone itself, the thing that I love most is the camaraderie. There were so many wonderful people there that I either met for the first time or reconnected with: John Dehlin, Kevin Barney, Kaimi Wenger, Clair Barrus, Chris Smith, Loyd Ericson, Don Bradley, Cheryl Bruno, Rachel Mabey Whipple, Matthew Bowman, Dan Vogel, Mark Thomas, Seth Payne, John K. Williams, Nicole Velasquez, Rob Perkins, Russell Arben Fox, Carol Hamer, Jason Echols, John-Charles Duffy, Maxine Hanks, Michael Marquardt, Lorie Winder, Margaret Toscano, Todd Compton, Brian Hales, Katie Langston, Richard Bushman, Janice Allred, Andrew Spriggs, Donald Westbrook, Ross Anderson, the crew from Zelophehad's Daughters, Mary Ellen Robertson, Ellen Decoo, Kerry Shirts, and I'm sure there are many more that I am forgetting. I didn't see Peggy Fletcher Stack at Sunstone, but attended a brunch at her home on Sunday, getting to say good-bye to a good number of the people I listed above. These people were all so welcoming and friendly, and had such nice words of encouragement for me on my presentations or just in matters of life that I have struggled with in the last year. I especially enjoyed my time with Maxine Hanks and Mark Thomas. Mark fascinated me, and I asked him lots of inappropriately direct questions about his faith and commitment to Mormonism, which he kindly humored. I'm not going to repeat his answers here, but suffer it to say that he is so not the "nincompoop" apostate that he was caricatured as over on Mormon Dialogue & Discussion Board. His beliefs are far more complex than that, and his attitude towards Mormonism is a deeply charitable one.

Maxine was just lovely, as she was two years ago when she served as the respondent on my paper. I helped her out in answering a critical comment at one of her sessions, and we visited on Peggy's back porch on Sunday morning. All I am going to say is that woman was born to be a pastor. The LDS church is very fortunate to have her back.

Then there is what most of Sunstone consists of: the panels and presentations. I lean towards enjoying the more academic panels and presentations, and I don't deny that there are some silly ones that take place; it's an inevitable consequence of Sunstone's inclusive attitude, but it's usually not hard to look at your program and avoid those. The one I probably liked the most was the presentation by Brian C. Hales on (his argument against) sexual polyandry in early Mormonism. I disagreed with him thoroughly, yet I thought he gave a tremendous presentation, well-delivered and with effective use of power-point. Not only that, but he seemed to radiate kindness and warmth. I asked him a critical question afterwards, but still came away from his session with deep admiration for him. Todd Compton was his respondent, and I loved how evident it was that these two men respect one another in spite of disagreeing so passionately.

So, there are two plenary sessions that take place every year: "Why We Stay" and "Pillars of My Faith." John Dehlin was one of the speakers at "Why We Stay," and of course, Maxine and Don spoke at "Pillars." It was just excellent to get to hear all of them. John Dehlin was very passionate and almost cried as he explained his reasons for staying. Don's presentation was particularly rational, so it was my kind of testimony and I very much loved listening to him. (BTW, Don: your reasons for rejecting historic Christianity are flawed. COME BACK TO US!) Todd Compton and Mark Thomas did a strings duet in between speakers that was just so lovely.

Though I've generally summarized Sunstone for people by describing it as "the liberal Mormon academic conference," it is really so many things beyond that, and this time around, I even felt like I interacted with a pretty good variety of perspectives on Mormonism. Most of the people calling it names and condemning it sound like they've never been.

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Last edited by MsJack on Mon Aug 06, 2012 6:07 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: A Defense of Sunstone
PostPosted: Tue Jul 31, 2012 4:42 pm 
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Thanks for the lovely post MsJack. I am definitely going to have to make an effort to attend next year.


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