Sunstone began on Wednesday, but unfortunately, I could only attend Friday. I thought I would give some initial impressions of the sessions so far.
Todd Compton started off the day with the polygamist ancestry of Mitt Romney. It was interesting to see that Parley P. Pratt is the great-great grandfather of Mitt Romney. Parley’s fourth wife, Mary Wood, produced Helaman Pratt (also a polygamist), who produced Mitt’s grandmother, Anna Amelia Pratt. Robert Rees continued talking about Mitt as he reviewed various political cartoons about Romney’s presidential run. He started off with a cartoon of Mitt’s 2008 campaign where the Angel Moroni with a John McCain button appeared to Mitt in New Hampshire. It was a very entertaining presentation.
The Why We Stay presentation was very interesting as well. Rhonda Calister, John Dehlin, Anne Arnold, Phil Barlow, and Carol Lynn Pearson all spoke about the reasons “Why We Stay” in the Church. I enjoyed John’s presentation the best (both he and Carol Lynn Pearson received standing ovations.) John considers himself “still a believer in something” though he says that with some asterisks. He doesn’t like the Old Testament God, he doesn’t believe the Book of Mormon is a literal history, but believes it is inspired, and he doesn’t believe the Church is the “only true church,” but rather one of many. He also felt that a version of reform Mormonism is happening within the church, not outside of it.
Following lunch, Jeff Burton led a Borderlands panel. He refers to the “borderlands” as people who are on the edges of the church, unsure if they should stay or leave. Adam Fisher, John Dehlin, Suzanne Werner, and Lilly Shults spoke on that topic. Lilly said that self-differentiated people stay emotionally connected to people even if beliefs change. Adam noted that people that fit nearly into the church are comfortable, satisfied, and have greater well-being than “borderlanders”, though borderlanders have high self esteem, personal control, and coping mechanisms. He also said he felt he was in the borderlands, and discovered that when he said that the priesthood/temple ban on black members was racist. Another missionary corrected him, and Adam was surprised that everybody didn’t believe that. Suzanne Werner talked about the challenges of raising a borderland child, and the difficulties of becoming a borderlander. John gave another great presentation. He has recently spoken with a member of the Quorum of Twelve, and said that this person said that even in his position, it is hard to make a difference inside the church organization. He said that high levels of the church leadership have a hard time moving mid-level and low-level members. This person was quite aware of same sex attraction issues, and said that the church should stick with theological issues on the topic and avoid scientific issues related to the issue. John said that he felt that this person was very sincere in his beliefs, but felt that the person doesn’t fully understand the issue that liberal Mormons face. John asked point blank if the person wanted liberal Mormons inside the church, and the apostle emphatically said yes, and John felt welcomed.
In working on John’s Ph.D. program in psychology, a former Seventy asked if he could share John’s survey on disaffected Mormons with the general leadership of the Church. Apparently, the leaders were surprised to see so many highly educated, successful in the Church having problems. Leaders felt that they were losing the best and brightest and asked John not to release the study for a while. John said that leaders don’t know how to handle the situation because they feel that teaching honestly about Church history may infect others. John noted that there are costs to being a borderlander; his local leaders won’t allow him to baptize his 8 year old son due to some of his remarks on a Mormon Expression podcast.
Rick Bennett spoke on the history of the priesthood/temple ban, and stated that the ban was influenced by 3 black men (Enoch Lewis, Joseph Ball, and Warner McCary) engaging in interracial marriages with white women. Marguerite Driessen was the respondent; she noted that marrying white women wouldn’t be a problem if racism wasn’t a problem. Brian Hales gave a presentation arguing that the sealings Joseph Smith had to already married women (often called polyandrous marriages) were not sexual. He said that Fawn Brodie in 1946 was the first to claim that these sealings included sexual relations. Lorie Winder discussed the experiences of women that were jailed for polygamy. Todd Compton disputes some of Brian’s conclusions, and said that Lorie’s paper gave valuable insights into these often forgotten women.
The final plenary session was fantastic! Don Bradley and Maxine Hanks both spoke. Both described their experiences in leaving the Church, and then returning. In Don’s case, he wrote a letter of resignation, left for the Bahai faith for a time, and then asked for rebaptism. He is currently working on a Masters degree in History at Utah State University, and will be publishing a book on the Lost 116 pages. Maxine was one of the September Six, excommunicated in 1993 for being outspoken on feminism. After that, she became part of the ministry in the Gnostic Christian Church. She was re-baptized earlier this year into the LDS Church. It was a great presentation.
Did you attend any sessions? If so, please let me know what you attended and liked/disliked.