Sunstone 2012 Recap

by: Mormon Heretic

July 30, 2012

Sunstone began on Wednesday, but unfortunately, I could only attend Friday. I thought I would give some impressions of the Friday sessions.

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  leave the science to the scientists. 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.

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22 Responses to Sunstone 2012 Recap

  1. Stephen Marsh on July 30, 2012 at 6:51 AM

    Any time I see the term “the best and brightest” applied to a sub-group, it rings, a little, of self-congratulation, even if that is not what is meant.

    Just realized that.

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  2. Andrew S on July 30, 2012 at 7:26 AM

    I attended quite a few sessions…it wouldn’t do justice to say all I liked in a singe comment (or even a single “recap” post…I could write an entire individual post about Rick’s and Marguerite’s session on interracial marriages and the priesthood ban…I could write an entire post on Maxine Hanks’ and Don Bradley’s return experiences to the church.

    And the same is true for so many sessions.

    The one thing I liked about Sunstone overall is that there was definitely this “come as you are” feel from everyone. I don’t know if that’s because Sunstone has effectively self-selected for people with whom I’m compatible, but even when I was listening or talking to people who are believers and making it clear that I don’t believe, there was never a sense of judgment or disdain. They were comfortable enough with their own belief (and *very* solid with their faith…not in any sense of rigidity…but in a sense that they have really thought things through and have developed very essentially faithful, Mormon answers) that they were not really threatened by differing opinions.

    And of course, I think that that’s not just true of people who attend Sunstone — there are plenty of people who have this similar sort of attitude.

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  3. Hawkgrrrl on July 30, 2012 at 7:52 AM

    Almost thou persuadest me to become a Sunstoner!

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  4. Mike S on July 30, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    Thanks for the recap. I live in Salt Lake but was out-of-town and couldn’t go.

    From the OP: He said that high levels of the church leadership have a hard time moving mid-level and low-level members.

    This could be true to an extent, but I think it is a cop-out. They could change things very quickly if they wanted.

    – As I’ve said before, if they wanted to focus on a person’s inner virtue rather than the color of their shirt, simply having Elder Uchtdorf wear a colored shirt would change that overnight.

    – If they weren’t concerned about something as trivial as the number of earrings someone had, they simply don’t have Elder Bednar praise a boy for breaking off an engagement because a girl had two pairs.

    – They could stop air-brushing cap sleeves on historical paintings in the Ensign – the Church’s official publication

    – Etc

    They could change things very quickly if they wanted to – but the nature of the hierarchy is that only people who think like the current hierarchy actually get promoted over the decades it takes to work your way up. So, I don’t think the current leaders really WANT to change the low- and mid-level leaders.

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  5. MH on July 30, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    Andrew, I agree. Some of these presentations deserve a post to themselves indeed. I’d be interested to hear your perspectives. It was good to see you there. Hawk, I wish we could have seen you there!

    Mike, I agree with you about the shirts and earrings, though I don’t understand why it is such an emotionally charged issue for you. From John’s comments, he definitely wasn’t talking about earrings and white shirts.

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  6. Jon on July 30, 2012 at 1:52 PM


    I don’t understand why it is such an emotionally charged issue for you.

    I can’t speak for Mike, but I think one reason would be, is that people don’t like to feel like they are being micro managed. Also, it is Pharisaical. Taking a principle (or, in some cases, no principle at all) beyond the mark and hurting people because of it.

    Nice recap.

    I do think the brethren have more control than they think, because many TBM do take every word in, even non-TBMers do too. All it takes is a talk in conference that is very plain to hear or commissioning a new manual for seminary/institute.

    I also think that the general membership has much more control than we think also. All we need to do is open our minds and live according to our conscience.

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  7. MH on July 30, 2012 at 2:53 PM

    Jon, I get that. I’ve talked about white shirts, beards, etc before, and I don’t like to be micromanaged either. It just seems like Mike brings it up a lot. Mike, I know that the FAIR conference is Thursday and Friday at South Towne Mall in Sandy. Are you game?

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  8. Paul 2 on July 30, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    “He said that high levels of the church leadership have a hard time moving mid-level and low-level members.”

    I wonder what the context is. Is it hard to change belief, attitude, appearance, culture, or performance? What changes are they trying to get through? It seems like they have mostly been asking for changes in performance, since that is what is mostly talked about and reported on. Anyway, I guess we will never know what kinds of changes they are hoping for, since they can’t talk openly about it. :)

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  9. Mike S on July 30, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    #5 MH: Mike, I agree with you about the shirts and earrings, though I don’t understand why it is such an emotionally charged issue for you.

    I agree that John was talking about much more than that. For many people, there are very substantial issues there. John is willing to be a public face on taking a lot of flak for these issues. It is a difficult thing and, whether people agree with him or not, it is to be commended.

    The reason I tend to talk about the things I do is that I am a step or two (or a hundred) behind John. Perhaps it’s purely more pragmatic on two levels.

    For the first, realistically, the majority of active members don’t seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the issues that John addresses. They aren’t really issues for them. BUT, a woman struggling with choosing an outfit that will minimize tucking the three layers they are required to wear to work around garments IS an issue they deal with – on a DAILY basis. A man feeling pressured into wearing a certain color shirt to Church IS an issue they deal with. A father in the United States not being able to see his daughter get married because she’s not allowed to get married civilly and then get sealed (although allowable in other parts of the world) IS an issue they deal with.

    And the important part of these types of issues – NONE OF THEM ARE DOCTRINAL. And because they are not foundational nor doctrinal issues, they could easily be changed. The Church leadership could change any of these things at will.

    Which leads to the second pragmatic level – these non-doctrinal things that affect active members on a frequent basis could change overnight. It is an easy thing for the leadership to do. This is in contrast to some of the “weightier” issues that John addresses. It is not to discount the issues that John raises, because I actually agree with many of them and think they are profoundly more important.

    So, I talk about things that affect the day-to-day lives of active Saints – things that are non-doctrinal, that don’t question the literal nature of anything, and that could be changed in a single conference should the leaders decide to stop worrying about the superficial and to focus on the important.

    And that’s why I talk about them.

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  10. Rigel Hawthorne on July 30, 2012 at 6:43 PM

    “He said that high levels of the church leadership have a hard time moving mid-level and low-level members.”

    As a low-level member, I’m not sure what obstacles I am creating (unless is less than 100% home teacing) to being moved by a high level leadership. I go to their Worldwide Leadership broadcasts, after all. If they want to say something, I’m there listening. I thought the obstacle for an Apostle to make change would be the requirement for a unified agreement within the Quorum for the change to be approved.

    “his local leaders won’t allow him to baptize his 8 year old son due to some of his remarks”

    As a father of an 8 year old son, it makes my heart ache to hear that.

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  11. MH on July 30, 2012 at 6:44 PM

    Mike, I agree that the church’s position on dress is annoying. I guess it just seems like you keep playing the same tune over and over on earrings, beards, and shirts, and I am surprised that harping on it hasn’t gotten old for you yet, and it didn’t really seem to fit in with the Sunstone symposium. Nobody got up and complained about it, so I’m surprised that you keep bringing it up when it’s tangentially related to the post. I’d be shocked if someone got up in Sunstone and raised this issue like you have.

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  12. prometheus on July 30, 2012 at 7:22 PM

    On the one hand,

    “They could stop air-brushing cap sleeves on historical paintings in the Ensign – the Church’s official publication”


    They seriously do that? (Haven’t read the Ensign in a decade or more.)

    On the other hand, I think that the institution / corporation of the church could do with a whole lot of ignoring, to be honest. We give it far more power than it is due, and I am just coming to realize how utterly empty and meaningless that power really is. Kind of like kicking at the stumbling block in front of you instead of just stepping over it.

    That said, I do get the amount of pain that many church policies cause. I am just wondering out loud what would happen if we all just stopped caring about what the church says about trivial things and got on with building a closer relationship with Jesus, one that is not mediated at all, by anyone, Presiding High Priest or otherwise. Because, isn’t that really the point of it all?

    It is an ongoing and radical shift for me – shirts and earrings and boy scouts and whatnot used to get me so fired up (and I still slip into that mindset occasionally). It is very liberating, though, as Joseph said, to not be trammeled by creeds and traditions.

    I don’t even say this to be an iconoclast, so much, because just the acting of paying attention to trivialities legitimizes the focus on them to some degree. I just don’t care anymore what the church says. Living by the spirit has proved to be so much better than living by the rules that have accreted around the restoration.

    Seriously, it is hard to even know what I am anymore – I am a Restorationist and a Christ-follower, but one who no longer feels the necessity of a religious organization. Joseph and his teachings I love, the church that I inherited, less so.

    Anyway, back on topic, sounded like some cool topics. Too bad I live so far away. :D

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  13. janice on July 30, 2012 at 9:15 PM

    I met an older lady (80’s) who converted to the LDS faith after her children were grown. I can’t remember what religion she was before joining the LDS. I do remember that she said while growing up, and after she married and had children, that white shirts were always worn by men and boys at church. She thought white shirts were only in the religion she grew up with. So white shirts are not solely an LDS thing.

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  14. Natsy on July 30, 2012 at 10:42 PM

    Sunstone sounds really interesting. I hope I can attend next year. Thanks for the recap here. I would love to hear what other people learned.

    Mike S – I loved what you said in #9

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  15. MH on July 30, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    It’s interesting to see that race problems are alive and well in the Southern Baptist Convention. See

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  16. Widespread Panic on July 31, 2012 at 12:23 AM

    #13 – janice

    That is true. There are quite a few other churches out there that are very legalistic in their beliefs or practices. It is not unique to LDS. We just need to keep our rules in perspective, and realize that they are not necessarily God’s rules, but derivatives of God’s rules made up by man.

    A problem arises, however, when we are “confident in our own righteousness” or “trust in” our own righteousness to save us and justify us before God.

    When we move from righteous living — which is right — to trusting in that righteous living to give us a standing before God, then we commit a fatal error. In other words, when we begin to take pride in our own righteous behavior, it’s very easy to look down on those who don’t behave this way as morally inferior to us.

    Jesus warned us about this in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.

    Unfortunately, this is becoming a larger and larger problem within the LDS Church from the top down. An example of this would be Elder Bednar’s talk when he told the story of the guy who called off the engagement because his fiance continued to wear two earings.

    What a jackwagon.

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  17. Bonnie on July 31, 2012 at 3:30 AM

    I try not to say too much when the Sunstone-type stuff comes up because I think everyone should have a safe place to discuss their concerns, even if it sometimes sounds at the very least like so much whining to me and the worst like divisive destruction. So out of that respect I won’t address some of those reactions here.

    I did find interesting John’s comments regarding his conversations with authorities. Although I take those with a grain of salt because one should when someone appeals to authority but won’t (and can’t) name names (I feel this way about journalists as well), I am curious that I’m not bothered at all by disagreement among the brethren.

    I think a common belief is that “believing” members can’t stomach the idea that general authorities don’t approach all issues with the same opinions. While I find it hard to believe that a general authority (especially an apostle) goes quite as far as John implies in expressing a sense of disunity, I am happy to say that I’m not bothered by potential disagreements.

    I also agree that liberal Mormons should continue to be welcomed into the Church and I think this may be one of many examples of a differing view between upper and the low and middle leadership. I have had many experiences where I have pondered the reaction of an apostle to a local situation and smiled because I think they would have been different reactions. It’s a big ship to manage.

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  18. Jon on July 31, 2012 at 8:07 AM


    I went to South Carolina while I was waiting for my Visa to go to Argentina on my mission. We were in a car with a middle aged (50?) member and there was a black kid in front of his car and he said, “I’m going to drive that n*** over!” He then apologized to us and mentioned something about the church and how he shouldn’t think that way. Racism has deep roots, especially in the South East.

    My grandma grew up in SD. I remember going with her to the theater with her as a kid and telling her I wanted to sit in the balcony. Her response, “I don’t want to sit up in n*** heave!” A response I would never – and am still surprised – to have heard from her.

    My step-father wouldn’t even let my brothers and me speak Spanish in our home after returning form our missions. It’s amazing to me how many people are racist against Hispanics. Racism is something that is definitely deeply rooted and has existed from the beginning against newly come immigrants. It is interested to me how people our so afraid of immigrants, if they are not here to do harm, I have no problem with immigrants, it is freely contracted services, there should be no problem. Oh, the day when we all learn to love!

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  19. Sharee Hughes on August 1, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    I was a little surprised at the comments regarding shirt colors and beards. Many men in my ward wear colored shirts (generally it’s a shade of blue, but sometimes a pale yellow or beige, or even stripes). And we have men in our ward with beards–even a member of our bishopric has a mustache and small beard. Although I do know there are people who don’t approve. The teacher of our Friday morning stake class (who has a beard) told us once about a man who appealed to a general authority because his bishop would not give him a temple recommend due to his beard. The general authority checked and found that the man’s stake president had stated that no man in his stake that had a beard would be given a temple recommend. That stake president was released shortly thereafter.

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  20. […] on TR Interviews: Weekend PollMike S on TR Interviews: Weekend PollSharee Hughes on Sunstone 2012 Recapji on TR Interviews: Weekend PollSunstone 2012 Day 2: Taking Back Testimonies « Irresistible […]

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  21. […] a fantastic time!! If you want to know what you missed (or a review of what you saw), here are some recaps. I met lots of very very very cool people and posted my presentations. John Dehlin explained why he […]

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  22. Neal on August 5, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    #17 Bonnie,

    I actually saw a video of Elder Bednar explaining what it was like to be an apostle, and he remarked that the Brethren ‘argue’ (nicely) about things in their presidency meetings. I find this comforting, actually, and would not expect a group of mortal men to be in constant or perfect agreement.

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