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Sunstone Recap 2010

I wanted to get this post up sooner, but I’ve been really busy correcting final exams.  I really enjoyed the last day of Sunstone, since I was able to attend all day, rather than a session here or there.  Don Bradley gave a presentation titled “Dating Fanny Alger”, a bit of a play on words.  I remember he gave a funny line to the effect of “By all accounts, she was hot!”  Anyway, Bradley tried to pin down when the “affair” happened.  Apparently, Emma discovered Joseph and Fanny late at night in the barn.  According to Bradley, Alger appeared pregnant.  Emma threw a fit, and threw Alger out of the house.  (Apparently Alger had been working as a sort of nanny.)

The discovery of the relationship by Emma probably dates to the summer or fall of 1835.  Bradley recounted several people who have tried to pin down the date, and noted problems with each date.  Some authors have discussed an “embarrassing” incident of polygamy in August 1835.   Joseph left for Pontiac, Michigan possibly to avoid embarrassment for his role.  On Oct 14, 1835, Joseph describes “dealing with household issues”, possibly a reference to evict Fanny.  However, Mark Ashurst-Mcgee suggests this incident refers not to Fanny, but a problem with employees at the printing office.

Fanny left Kirtland in August or Sept 1836, so the incident must have occurred prior to that.  Bradley notes that dissenters condemned Joseph on July 24, and Joseph left for Salem, Massachusetts for a treasure trip the next day on July 25.  Bradley believes Joseph sent Fanny to Missouri at the same time.  William McLellin gave his famous quote about having “no confidence” in church leadership around this time as well.  Fanny soon married non-member Solomon Custer after just a 6 week courtship.  Bradley believes it may have been a cover of legitimacy if Fanny was indeed pregnant.

Following Bridget Jack Meyer’s wonderful presentation on Women priesthood holders in early Christianity earlier in the week, I thought Joshua Gillon’s presentation called “Mormon Women Had the Priesthood in 1843: Examining the Claims” might be interesting.  I was greatly disappointed.  Josh is a PhD candidate of philosophy at Princeton, having completed a BA at BYU.  His talk was nothing more than a rant against the church.  He mis-characterized Michael Quinn’s discussion of women and the priesthood.  He employed tedious grammar exercises to make his points, and finished off with an F-bomb to end his presentation.  It was definitely the worst presentation I have ever heard at Sunstone, though there was another terrible one later in the day.

I wasn’t very excited to go the the panel called “Glenn Beck: Likely Mormon or Unlikely Mormon”, but there wasn’t anything else that sounded interesting at that time.  As I reviewed the list of panelists, I was looking forward to hearing Joanna Brooks of Mormon Matters, and David King Landrith of Mormon Mentality.  (I had met him earlier in the week.) Kathryn Hemingway, Eric Samuelson, and Robert Rees weren’t nearly so interesting as Joanna and David, though they all made good points.  Rees was the moderator and not a fan of Beck.  Landrith and Hemingway were supporters of Beck, while Brooks and Samuelson were not.

I really enjoyed Landrith’s presentation.  Landrith showed that Beck’s rhetoric is very similar to political discourse over the past 200 years.  Early founding fathers often compared each other to monarchists, and spoke about each other more harshly than Beck does of his opponents.  I thought it was an interesting presentation.  Brooks really wasn’t that antagonistic toward Beck.  She basically said we should ignore Beck because his ratings are going down and he knows it.  There is no need to feed into the frenzy–Beck will go away on his own.

Following lunch, I attended a fantastic presentation by Apostle Susan Skoor of the Community of Christ.  She discussed her personal faith journey, showing how she has moved among Fowler’s stages of faith.  Her talk was titled “Faith in the Midst of the Difficulties of Life.”  Baptized at age 8 into the RLDS church, she discussed losing her testimony in her 30s, nearly falling into atheism.  Receiving a blessing, and asked “Do you want to believe?”, as Alma says, she let this desire work in her.  She discussed her new found faith as a stage 5 person, and said she knew she was too selfish to reach stage 6.  As I listened to her story, I marveled at how open she was about her life’s journey.  I don’t think an LDS apostle would admit to losing faith as she did, and I don’t think an LDS apostle would discuss spirituality in such as “secular” way as she discussed Fowlers Faith Stage theory.  I was truly moved.

Clair Barrus discussed “Oliver Cowdery’s Rod of Nature.”  It was a bit too technical for me, but I know others enjoyed it.  Finally, I listened to a panel discuss “Men and the Priesthood: Taking on the Feminine.”  Tom Kimball discussed being an unorthodox Mormon.  His previous bishop did not want to let him baptize or ordain his children.  As the bishop got to know Tom better, he decided to allow it.  Tom has previously discussed his story on Mormon Stories.  Tom’s new bishop has taken a more hard line approach, and Tom’s boys have not progressed in the priesthood.  Tom compared his situation to the idea that women can’t ordain daughters in the LDS church as well.

Robin Linkart, President of the 6th Quorum of Seventy for the Community of Christ spoke next.  She gave an excellent presentation and discussed the new revelation in 1984 allowing women to hold the priesthood.  Many in the RLDS church broke off (they lost nearly 1/4 of their membership.)  She discussed the challenges the RLDS church went through, and her personal journey in the priesthood.  It was excellent.

Holly Welker spoke next.  She gave a rant that the priesthood should be abolished in the LDS church.  During Tom’s, Lisa’s, and the Q&A session, she made faces of disbelief and disagreement.  Honestly I believe a 5th grader would have better behavior than she exhibited.  She was incredibly rude and unprofessional.  Her behavior was embarrassing.

Lisa Butterworth finished up the panel.  She started the blog at FeministMormonHousewives.  Being a feminist and an unorthodox Mormon, she was asked to speak in support of the idea of an all-male priesthood.  She did the best she could, but it was evident that she didn’t fully support the topic she was asked to address.

Overall, I enjoyed most of the sessions.  If you missed my first post on Sunstone, click here.  I’m not sure why I attended so many feminist presentations, but I guess they sounded the most interesting.  So what is your take on women and the priesthood?  Do you see it happening in the LDS church in the next 20-50 years?  Would you support or oppose such a move if the prophet received a revelation allowing women to hold the priesthood?

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16 comments on “Sunstone Recap 2010

  1. MH:

    Loved the reference to Pontiac, the congregation where I grew up, and whose church, I discovered much later, was built by converting a barn on a farm owned by Hyrum Smith’s relatives. Knowing that Joseph may have been on the farm — if for the wrong reasons — is personally fascinating.

    Apostle Skoor’s story is uplifting. I don’t know that anyone in the LDS church could HAVE the doubts Susan expressed (let alone express them) and RISE to the office of Apostle.

    Quorum President Linkhart expressed something in error which is conventional wisdom among our Community of Christ leadership, but is provably wrong. It’s not examined closely, because it provides a reason to avoid looking at our failures to have any measurable control over our own growth (positively or negatively) since at least the late 19th Century.

    In short, we didn’t lose anything like 1/4 of our active membership over ordaining women. Membership outside of North America was only on the order of 10,000 people at the time. Known membership inside North America peaked at about 180,000 several years before women were ordained, and the losses per year inside North America have shown the following trends:

    1940’s ~1700 per year
    1950’s ~2700 per year
    1960’s ~2700 per year
    1970″s ~2600 per year
    1980″s ~3300 per year
    1990’s ~3000 per year

    More than half of those losses were the result of members dying.

    At the same time North American baptisms have dropped relentlessly from the 1950’s until today until we’re only baptizing around 800 people per year in NA.

    We just got old faster than we could replace ourselves. That’s ALL that happened.

  2. To be fair, I don’t remember if Linkart said they RLDS lost 1/4 of their membership, she probably didn’t reference that. (I’ll have to listen to the presentation again to be sure.) I know John Hamer has said that membership dropped from ~ 250,000 to 200,000 which is about 1/4 of the membership. I’ve heard others state that about half the active membership in Independence, Missouri left.

    I know that Bill Russell of Graceland said that women holding the priesthood was the “last straw” for many members. Apparently the schism was growing in the 60’s and 70’s, and women ordained was the tipping point. Certainly there seems to have been an explosion of Restoration groups in the 80’s and 90’s. The Remnant church appears to have attracted quite a following.

    I didn’t mention it much in my last post, but Mark Scherer discussed the recent revelation 164. I asked Mark if he thought open communion and open baptism would have a positive effect on net growth. He didn’t know, but he hoped so. I also asked him the impact of gay marriage on growth rate. Once again, he said he didn’t know, but Bill Russell popped up and said he thought gay marriage would have a negative impact on growth.

    I must say I think the leadership had to have had an idea on how section 164 would affect church growth. While Mark may be correct that they have no idea, I think someone in church leadership must have an inkling.

    It is interesting to me that the RLDS has such a strong presence at Sunstone. I have to wonder if they are trying to attract Mormon intellectuals uncomfortable with LDS doctrines and practices.

  3. MH–

    I’m not interested enough to attend Sunstone, but I do like to read a recap of the presentations. Thanks for posting your recap.

  4. MH:

    The Community of Christ has 2 statistical membership categories it tracks: known and unknown. Unknown members are fantasy; they aren’t just inactive, they’re so far gone they might as well be in Fed WitSec. We don’t know whether they are alive or dead, but they stay on the books until they are 90-some years old. (People are considered “active”, even if they haven’t been seen at a church function for a decade, until and unless a pastor makes an effort to prove the person can’t be found even through members who are relatives. Wouldn’t happen in the LDS, I know, but our pastors are usually fighting more critical battles to prevent more losses.)

    Unknowns make up about 20% of our membership. The knowns can be assigned to mission centers and added up. The data published by the church at the April 2010 World Conference had about 130,000 known members in North America and 70,000 members outside North America at the end of 2009. That’s the explanation for John’s 250K and 200K figures, but they disn’t happen suddenly, and they aren’t a result of liberalization.

    To the contrary, liberalization was a response to declining baptisms domestically and recognition that our past evangelistic approaches focused on questions no one in the third world cared about. The decline began 15 years or so before the first schismatic events broke out over curriculum and baptism of polygamous tribesmen in India. Our efforts at liberalization strongly affect WHO we baptize, but HOW MANY is impervious to anything we do. We pushed people on our right out the door just as fast as we brought people in on our left, but no faster or slower.

    “I have to wonder if they are trying to attract Mormon intellectuals uncomfortable with LDS doctrines and practices.”

    But, of course. The desire for survival makes strange organizational bedfellows. And if individual LDS ARE hurting where they are to the point of being ready to accept “a true church” of the Restoration because they no longer accept the notion of the “one and only true church”, they may find the CofChrist to be the place God wants them.

    164 was about dropping rebaptism requirements for Christians. The motivation for this comes primarily outside of North America. North American liberals forced gay rights on to the agenda, and 164 quarantines that problem to North America through the mechanism of making it a local cultural issue that future World Conferences can not touch. This again protects church growth in the Third World.

    Trying to stop decline seems to trump everything we do — and I am, sadly, quite sure that God would like us to be deciding things on a different basis.

  5. jared, welcome. I enjoy your perspective at mm and I was surprised to see you here. once again, welcome. I also appreciate the note from chanson.

    firetag; I do think you’re a bit optimistic that 164 will quarantine the gay issue. if international membership outgrows american membership, then you may have an east-west problem like the catholic-orthodox split in 1050. perhaps 164 will buy time, but I think that is all if society continues to be divided on gay marriage.

  6. I’m not the one being optimistic, MH; my leadership is. I don’t think this can be quarantined either. But they are clearly trying. There will be a top leadership meeting in September 2010 to reevaluate a 1982 Standing High Council statement on the issue “because some have misunderstood” that guidance. The discernment process leading up to the 2012 conference has not begun yet. Curiouser and curiouser.

  7. FT – throwing the labels and the broad conclusions around pretty freely, eh?

    Good to hear SunStone went well. I’m sure FT will be the first to tell you his assumptions regarding the CofC are his own and he certainly doesn’t speak for all CofC. Personally, I see no formal strategy on the part of CofC leadership to attract anyone or to increase numbers in any substantial way. I think they’d be happy to have pretty much anyone sign up, but they have always had this attitude, which leads to a pretty lackluster membership composition – primarily in the giving department.

    What forced gay rights on the table was the emergence of legal same-sex marriage in Iowa. So long as same-sex marriage remained illegal other than in far flung distant places, the church ignored it. If that’s “North American liberals” then so be it. But liberals screaming and yelling at the First Presidency didn’t seem to have much effect prior to secular legalization of gay unions.

  8. Well, BTC, I wasn’t going into all the play by play, but I think you are essentially correct.

    Iowa legalized same sex marriage. (The church took no stand, just as it has taken no stand on legal same sex marriage in several other “far flung” US STATES.) Church ministers performed a same sex marriage in the Graceland University — our BYU equiv — chapel and the existence of that action got out into the church membership and secular media at large. Suddenly conservative American CofChrist members woke up to the issue within the church. Then, and only then, because it was VISIBLE, the church threatened administrative discipline against the ministers involved. That triggered a rebellion, among many of the rising young leaders in the church, even employed at Headquarters, who threatened to turn in their priesthood cards if discipline was carried out.

    At the same time, several Mission Centers in North America passed legislative resolutions that would have authorized priesthood ordination for persons in committed same sex marriages and/or authorized priesthood to perform such marriages. BTC himself published a series of posts showing how much the First Presidency tried to maneuver to keep these issues from being discussed at WC.

    So, I’ll stand by the statement that North American liberals forced this on the agenda. You’ll find even more evidence of that at BTC’s blog.

  9. The official announcement of the policy meeting in September in here:

    http://cofchrist.org/news/2010/july/councils.asp

  10. The 1982 Standing High Council statement itself is here:

    http://www.cofchrist.org/OnlineResources/issues/1982homosexuality.asp

  11. In response to your last two questions:
    Women holding priesthood in 20 – 50 years? First, please define which kind of priesthood you’re asking about. If you’re asking about the same ‘full meal deal’ Melchizedek priesthood that most LDS men hold, then my answer is no. But if you’re referring to a third form of priesthood , say, another appendage like the Aaronic Priesthood, for sisters, then, quite possibly. This discussion takes place frequently on Feminist Mormon Housewives. Of course, such a priesthood would, like the Aaronic, be PART of the Melchizedek; just not the whole thing. And I could be wrong.

    Support the prophet receiving revelation extending priesthood to women? Absolutely. Many women, my wife included, would do a lot better job than most men, me included, do. It would be tough to get past some cultural traditions.

    This question addresses the most fundamental issue plaguing the LDS blogging world. Many posts and comments lament what the Church does or doesn’t do. If only the Church would do this or that. Even the first question is similar. We need to remember Whose church this is, and that it does operate on revelation to a Prophet. It doesn’t operate on political agendas. {See Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith quote in Lesson 29 of Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual.} When we ask, When will the Church………………(fill in your own question), we should be asking, and even pleading with, the Lord for an answer, or even for just understanding the status quo. It’s His church, not the Apostles’, and certainly, not ours.

  12. Glenn, interesting perspective. It seems like Joseph Smith was organizing the Relief Society as a kind of priesthood quorum. Perhaps they will have a different type of priesthood, but I like the CoC model where sisters can be elders and high priests. As for your comments that “It doesn’t operate on political agendas”, well, I do think some political agendas did play a part in the lifting of the priesthood ban for blacks. I plan to start reading the David O McKay biography, and I will be blogging about that in the coming weeks.

  13. Great to meet you at Sunstone! And thanks for the really great writeup. I’m glad you liked my presentation on Beck.

  14. As far as your questions, I think that the church will eventually ordain women once it has become the norm everywhere else. Direct revelation from God is a lagging moral indicator, and the LDS church is seldom on the forefront of forward-looking moral crusades. Personally, I’d like to see women get the priesthood tomorrow if it wouldn’t lead to a schism in the church.

  15. DKL, thanks for stopping by! I don’t think there would be a schism. There was no schism (that I’m aware of) after the 1978 revelation.

  16. No doubt Pres. Kimball took the priesthood matter to the Lord in such a serious manner because the events of the day, including political, were putting the question in the forefront. And, yes, lots of political events {i.e. Utah War, Gov. Boogs extermination order, etc.} have always played a role in Church events. The beauty of the Church is its application in a world full of differing political beliefs. I think Pres. Smith was referring to succession of the Prophet, and other callings. We look to the prophet for revelatory direction.

    I look forward to your comments about David O McKay. Like most other baby boomers, he was “my” prophet.

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