So … why did I talk at Sunstone if I’m a TBM?

By: Stephen Marsh
June 22, 2012

We are having almost a week of why we blog and where faith fits into blogging and other forums.  Part of that has overlapped with discussions about blogs and Sunstone and an number of other topics. That has led to discussions about “safe” zones and communities and some discussing why no one should ever go to or talk at Sunstone, at least if they believe.

In that context, I have to admit that I did talk at Sunstone once.  With all the criticism and discussion, I thought I would explain why I talked at Sunstone and why I blog.  I’m answering the question “what topic exists that I would feel like going to Sunstone was the [a right] right forum?” Not to mention, why I don’t consider myself a heretic and a reprobate for speaking there. And, the request was made that we “all post about each others’ posts/articles and critique each other.” So I’m doing that, even if in many ways I agree with Bruce Nelson‘s decision and the reasons for it. [And yes, you all are more than welcome to comment on some of my posts at W&T in response -- I've a lot of them].

I’m somewhat on the conservative end of things.  I’ve written a series of posts about understanding general authorities that did not include any criticism of them.  I’ve been blogging from the believing side of things since 1997.  Yes, I may be marginalized in some ways, but I’ve been blogging since before there was a bloggernacle.

So why did I talk at Sunstone, and do I feel all that does is legitimize evil, encourage the wolves and subvert the truth?

Well, maybe, sometimes.  But.

I was on a panel that was discussing a point I had made in a blog post.

This is where I started.

So, what have I learned from my personal story?

I have learned that for me, in my patience I keep my soul.

I have learned to keep the commandments because it pleases God, with no other expectation.

The panel was based on my post The Stories We Tell from Mormon Matters:

The rest of what I had to say after my introduction is here:

And I was at Sunstone basically to bear my testimony to people who wanted to hear it.

I closed my part of the presentation with:

But, I have learned lessons because, much to my surprise, God sustained me. I’ve learned that in life or death that Jesus is the Christ. That life is in Christ, not in other things. That virtue is its own reward because virtue itself is the true goal — we seek God, not to trade God in for the things of this world.

That is my story. Now tell me yours. The floor is open to the audience to share with us your stories and ask any questions you might have.

I did it because I believed it would do good, and I feel that it did.

Now there is a lot of discussion of how that is all futile, that there is opposition and opponents.  That all we do at W&T is encourage apostasy and disbelief, catering to that view.

The thesis of the critics is that all we do is make the opposition stronger by participating,, that all we do by blogging or engaging is make the world a place that is worse, not better. It comes down to “not only should you not participate at Sunstone, but your blog shouldn’t be here either.”  That isn’t what has been said, exactly, but it is exactly where the logic of some posts leads (though not others).

On that topic, another person put it very well, so I am going to quote them (with permission to quote them, I just don’t have permission yet to use their name, though I am grateful to them):

So maybe we are saying the same thing actually. But I would say that the term “opponent” itself taints the exchange, and if we perceive a person or group as opposing, why would we spend time trying to convince them? It’s pretty fruitless IMO to try to convince your opponent of anything. Shake the dust off your feet and be done with it. Only when you can see the other person as a rational, moral actor can you listen well enough to persuade. That’s why I ignore people I think are acting in bad faith (and why other sites ban them).

But that’s what I find confusing about what you are saying about audience vs. opponent. An audience can oppose or support your argument (Bruce’s “safe zones”). Personal discussions are the same. Individuals can be friendly or hostile to what we are saying. When people try to use an audience as a Greek chorus to add credence to whatever they are saying, the comment section is often one “attaboy” after another. To me, that’s not a discussion; it’s an echo chamber. So I agree, it’s not very interesting when people just play for their like-minded readers. A good OP (like good revelation) is provocative.

Let’s look at your last statement for a sec. The point of Wheat & Tares is to defer judgment on who is a wheat and who is a tare, just like in the parable. I’m not sure whom you are calling an apostate. Andrew S? Mormon Heretic? Fire Tag (who is active Community of Christ)? Jake? Mike S? Stephen? Adam? Bonnie? Justin? Guests? Did I miss someone? All God’s children. I wouldn’t grant an open mike to just anyone. They need to have something interesting to say. Belief isn’t a distinguishing characteristic. There are boring people who can’t write who believe. There are boring people who can’t write who are apostate.

I also think you would be hard pressed to prove that I have publicly advocated for the church to change its stance on gay marriage. I went back to my posts to see where I gave you that impression, but I didn’t find it. Sharing my personal or political views isn’t the same as petitioning change in the church, certainly it isn’t to me.

I am definitely aligned with the church (and I assume with you) in advocating for gays to be treated with respect and to find a place for them in the pew. Beyond that, I am curious to see how social change will impact the church (as it has in the past). If the church never changes its stance on chastity with regard to gays, I think it’s probably a burden too great for many gay people to bear their whole lives. But I would never want to foster an environment of hostility or shame that make a difficult situation even more unbearable. As a church and community, we’re better than that.

I was at Sunstone to nourish the wheat, wherever it might be found, to bear testimony with love, to share kindness and truth.

That is, in a part, why I am anywhere I am when I am doing as I should.  When I am not, it doesn’t really matter where I am.

So, if you were to speak at Sunstone, why would you speak, what would you say?

25 Responses to So … why did I talk at Sunstone if I’m a TBM?

  1. Andrew S on June 22, 2012 at 9:02 PM

    Thanks for this post (and the stories shared within posts that you linked from your website, and from Mormon Matters.)

    At first, I was at a loss for words. I didn’t really see what you were trying to say, so I didn’t really know what how to respond. I had to really comb through your post at your personal blog and the post at Mormon Matters, and I still wasn’t getting it.

    But really, you captured it so well at your personal blog:

    I have learned to keep the commandments because it pleases God, with no other expectation.

    I have learned that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God. I have learned that nothing can separate me from the love of God that is in Jesus Christ.

    I loved the line right before the last line, but I almost missed it because of the image..

    That is, in a part, why I am anywhere I am when I am doing as I should. When I am not, it doesn’t really matter where I am.

    It really brings to mind 1 Corinthians 13.

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  2. Stephen Marsh on June 22, 2012 at 9:54 PM

    Thanks, I’m glad it brought that to mind.

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  3. Jon on June 22, 2012 at 10:05 PM

    Many times I forget which ones are the faithful ones, which ones aren’t, and which people are in the middle, except for some that really stand out.

    This and one other mormon blog I follow so I don’t really understand why people don’t like Sunstone. Are they apostate? I was under the impression that it was more of a mix like W&T.

    I also think you would be hard pressed to prove that I have publicly advocated for the church to change its stance on gay marriage.

    Didn’t blacks getting the priesthood consist of a ground up approach where people wrote into the leaders to change the policy? Didn’t it start with external pressure first which caused the leaders of the church to question the policy, or at least coincide? So I don’t understand why someone would not want to petition or at least send a letter of concern to the leaders of the church on this subject or any other that they find important.

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  4. Andrew S on June 22, 2012 at 10:09 PM

    re 3

    Jon

    I think that Sunstone often gets a reputation for being (or at least, giving a mic to) apostate folks. I mean, excommunication or resigned status isn’t really something that will prevent you from being able to present at Sunstone.

    I guess the comparison with Wheat & Tares kinda works (it is a mix)…but here’s the thing: many folks don’t like us either.

    As far as your last line:

    I don’t understand why someone would not want to petition or at least send a letter of concern to the leaders of the church on this subject or any other that they find important.

    If the person being quoted is who I think it is, then I would say that this person would not want to petition because this individual is not an activist, period. They are pretty chill.

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  5. hawkgrrrl on June 22, 2012 at 11:21 PM

    I think the problem boils down to activism, at least for me it does. When Sunstone becomes activism and not just discussion, then it feels like we’re counseling where we should be counseled. Yet, even in discussing things, maybe it seems like that.

    It’s hard to know what is in a person’s heart – do they intend to change the church to suit their own views or do they want an exchange of ideas / open dialogue about things?

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  6. Stephen Marsh on June 23, 2012 at 5:23 AM

    It’s hard to know what is in a person’s heart – do they intend to change the church to suit their own views or do they want an exchange of ideas / open dialogue about things?

    Well said Hawk.

    Andrew S. RAEJBNC (the old staple of read and enjoyed but did not have anything but a “like” to add).

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  7. Jon on June 23, 2012 at 6:49 AM

    I don’t understand what is fundamentally bad to wanting to change an organization to your own views. Is this not done in business when you bring your own personality and talents to a business and you want to change things for the better? Why is it different with the church? Why is it not good to want to change things for the better? Is this not Dan Witherspoon’s position of Mormon Matters Podcast. He seems rather faithful to me.

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  8. Jon on June 23, 2012 at 6:52 AM

    @Andrew,

    I guess my question was a little more fundamental also. The tone of the original quote seemed to make it out that it was bad to want to advocate and that is was bad to want things to change through advocation of the membership. So, I guess my question also, why would it be bad to want to effect change?

    It sounded to me like the blacks and the priesthood change was partially due to the members of the church writing letters asking for change to the leaders of the church. What is wrong about that. Like this post or an earlier post or comment said, are we not all members and have a stake in what the church does?

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  9. annegb on June 23, 2012 at 7:37 AM

    I don’t know what I would say. But I think you did a pretty darn good job with what you said.

    We’re a young church, in comparison with the world’s religions. There are myriads of opinions and groups within the Catholic Church and Judaism, for example. Dissent is inevitable.

    My feeling is that life’s truths are relative to our experiences and makeup. There’s no one size fits all. So we should find and live our truth the best we can.

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  10. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 23, 2012 at 7:45 AM

    Jon, it is one thing to want change. A lot of good comes from that. We are commanded to seek good on our own initiative.

    On the other hand there is the sort of kvetching that got Aaron and Miriam in trouble.

    W&T exists because we think discussion is good. I have posted about how people ought to be willing to pay the price to be [p]rophets if they want to be heard and I admire that.

    But much of what is out there seems to be ego and carping, not discussion, which is what led to this weeks series of posts and comments and thoughts — and a rejection here of black and white thinking.

    Much of what J M Wilson had to say is valid, just not where some (and not others) felt his conclusions led.

    Hope that answers your question.

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  11. Jon on June 23, 2012 at 8:09 AM

    Stephen,

    That makes sense. I don’t think I read the prophets one, it’s hard to keep up with so many posts in a single week. I’ve often thought of stop reading W&Ts for that reason, too much posting. But I enjoy many of the articles so I haven’t unsubscribed yet.

    I agree, just complaining isn’t good, discussion is.

    Now taking the discussion in a different vain, if you’re up for it.

    Didn’t the [P]rophets usually come from outside the institutional framework in the past? Sometimes I wonder if I can be temple recommend holder any more just because I’m finding it harder to believe that the president of the church is a [P]rophet, I can believe he is a [p]rophet. I also don’t know if I can believe he is a seer and revelator, shouldn’t there be some sort of witness of this being true and at some point shouldn’t there be some sort of evidence?

    This last weeks relief society (I skipped out so my wife told me what they talked about). They were talking about revelations in modern day and saying that the colored military garments were revelation and the no two earrings was revelation. Sometimes I wonder, is this where we have come to in order to validate our beliefs in the brethren that we must point to church policies as revelation? It makes it harder to believe when that is what we need to be pointed to. It seems outside of the leadership we find more “revelations” of the last days and the after life. Not that I necessarily believe those accounts either. Just doing a lot of questioning lately.

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  12. Bonnie on June 23, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    #10 Stephen – LIKE X 10 “ego and carping”

    We can’t decry the demise of statesmen in politics if we have allowed all of our discourse to become coarse and self-interested. We all have a responsibility to engage with grace.

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  13. Stephen Marsh on June 23, 2012 at 12:20 PM

    Jon, Jeremiah came from outside, but Elisha came from inside the school of the prophets.

    Samuel was definitely from inside the system.

    It really depends.

    Each has different tasks and duties and missions, when you look at them. Some bring down fire from heaven, some only preach repentance and suffer.

    Not every Prophet fills every role. I thing too often we want too much. I recall Christ comparing his listeners to children in a market place, not satisfied with whatever messenger they receive.

    . We all have a responsibility to engage with grace.

    Amen.

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  14. Jon on June 23, 2012 at 10:26 PM

    @Stephen,

    I guess when I mean they come from the outside I mean that they typically come from the hierarchy of the organization. So I can accept that the president of the church is like a high priest of old that resides of the church but not like the prophets of old that kicked against the establishment and called the people and the church to repentance. Like Moses was called up from the outside. Alma the Elder was in the corrupt church but rebelled and went and started his own. Christ had noble blood but was from the outside of the standard ranks and John the baptist didn’t have any claim but started a separate organization from the main body. And so forth (let me know if I’m wrong on any of this).

    The scriptures even warn about the hierarchy of the church and that people should listen to become spiritually independent. Brigham Young didn’t claim to be a [P]rophet until others started to claim that they were [P]rophets. BY never claimed to be a [P]rophet like Joseph was.

    I don’t understand why other people don’t ask these same questions or why it is frowned upon to ask these questions.

    We all have a responsibility to engage with grace.

    Yes, but even the presidents of the church have not engaged with grace all the time, neither did Christ. When we know a truth can we not be rigid in that truth, yes, it is good to be tactful but if it is truth it is truth and we need not back down from truth. Religion seems to dwell in the region of belief rather than truth since it cannot be proved. Ethics can be proved through rigid logic and reason. Isn’t the God of Mormonism a God of logic and reason? Why cannot He reason with us so we can know truth. Why can’t a leader of the church engage us with logic and reason instead of mandates and what seems manipulation sometimes.

    I’m getting tired so I don’t know if this is making any sense.

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  15. Jon on June 23, 2012 at 10:30 PM

    We can’t decry the demise of statesmen in politics if we have allowed all of our discourse to become coarse and self-interested. We all have a responsibility to engage with grace.

    When it comes to politics I don’t recall there ever being time when the discourse was not coarse among politicians. Even among the people, it is very rare. There might have been a few times but I would think that would be a time when people aren’t trying to live off of the wealth of each other.

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  16. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 24, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    Annegb and Bonnie — thanks.

    Jon, when God calls people to challenge, it is one thing. When we freelance it, as the people did when they rejected Samuel, or when Aaron and Miriam caviled against Moses, we appear to grieve God.

    Most critics I meet are not radiating the spirit and speaking words given them by God that shake the earth.

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  17. Chino Blanco on June 24, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    “Most critics I meet are not radiating the spirit and speaking words given them by God that shake the earth.”

    Funny, I could say the same thing about your leaders.

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  18. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 24, 2012 at 10:36 AM

    Ahh, Chino, do you really want an Elijah?

    The whole point is that “outside” prophets are characterized in those terms when legitimate.

    The non-outside prophets are more like Samuel.

    So, what do you want and what are you looking for.

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  19. Stephen Marsh on June 24, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    And a thumbs up to Chanson ;)

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  20. Jon on June 24, 2012 at 12:02 PM

    All I want is truth. That is what I seek. So that is what leads me to question all assumptions.

    I would myself a critic in the since that I am looking for truth and so I critique teachings and traditions. I would think everyone should be a critique.

    If God can give others a miraculous miracle or some confirmation to know the truth that is all I ask for. I don’t know how God can justify just using feelings to let us know the truth since feelings are so whimsical and even Joseph Smith confessed that we can’t trust them. If he was even closer to God than I am then how am I supposed to trust such things?

    Believe me, the prospect of thinking God might not exist is not a happy thought. My preference is that God does exist and there is more to life than just this. But if truth brings me to believe there is no God than I’ll have to accept it. So my prayers go something like this, “Oh God, help thou my unbelief.” It would be nice to have more faith than I have now.

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  21. Jon on June 24, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    Part of what makes me more skeptical, is that outside of religion if I were to give so many, well in this case but not in this case and various excuses of why things don’t go the way we think God would do it, we would likely say that the person is a liar, but in religion it seems we make all sorts of excuses. I just want truth, is that so much to ask for?

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  22. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 24, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    Jon, a post answering your question is going up this afternoon.

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  23. Chino Blanco on June 26, 2012 at 7:53 PM

    “So, what do you want and what are you looking for.”

    For starters, slightly less churlish and considerably more insightful commentary than what I provided above. ;-)

    Mostly, I just know what I *don’t* want: driving ten hours to participate in Sunstone only to find that a bunch of bloggers whose writing I enjoy decided to stay away for a bunch of high-faluting reasons.

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  24. Andrew S on June 26, 2012 at 7:56 PM

    so, let’s find out the CB’s secretly admired bloggers…We can do this by process of elimination by thinking about who will be going to Sunstone.

    Well, I’m going to Sunstone, so he can’t be talking about me.

    Uhh, that’s all I got.

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  25. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 26, 2012 at 8:30 PM

    Guys, you made me smile.

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