Attila the Hun, Sunday School, and Sunstone

Last Sunday in Gospel Doctrine, the teacher read several quotations about leadership and forced us to guess from whence they came. The statements were things like, “[Leaders] must understand that the spirit of the law is greater than its letter,” and “It takes less courage to criticize the decisions of others than to stand by your own.” Congregants responded with guesses attributing everyone from Abraham Lincoln to Jesus Christ himself. The correct answer, as you probably surmise from the title of this post, is Attila the Hun. A little internet searching and I realized the teacher had probably read the book, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, by Weiss Roberts.

Now Attila the Hun isn’t exactly remembered fondly for Christian charity, but for his ability to conquer; or rather, to persuade others to bring rather gruesome and painful death to his opponents in order to broaden his ruling power. Pretty much the antithesis to the Christ figure. And yet my Sunday School teacher, a man well into his 80′s who is known in our ward to be . . . . Well, polite people would say he is overtly staunch in his approach to the gospel. Yet here he was, using quotations from Attila the Hun to demonstrate his point that we Mormons are to accept all truth, to consider it our doctrine, regardless of where it originates, just as Paul was able to see truth among the gentiles. The teacher explained that if we acknowledge the notion that truth can fall from the lips of Attila the Hun, it can come from any source, and it is our duty to seek it out, praise it when we encounter it, and further its impact in our lives and the lives of those around us. Point taken.

But there’s a problem. At least, there’s a problem with consistency and this particular teacher, who, let me say from the outset is my absolute, hands-down favorite “character” in my ward. He looks like a cross between Yoda and Spencer Kimball and laughs as readily as he admonishes.  But his inconsistency is clear in this matter because he has, with some frequency (at least when I’m in the room), railed on the “publications of the intellectuals in the Church,” most specifically Sunstone, though Dialogue is not unscathed in his reproachful warnings. He is of the opinion that Sunstone, in particular, should be avoided at all costs, lest the devil devour your soul in the reading of it. Paul may have been right to preach to, listen to, and learn from the gentiles, but we are not right to preach among, listen to, or learn from Sunstone. Truth can exist in all places…except, of course, Sunstone.

Yet I can forgive this man his ignorance because of what I know about him. His career played out in the Public Relations department of the Church during the 1980’s and 90’s. His bend, then, is to be expected. I also understand that Sunstone‘s willingness to give the September Six a place to sound off was, both then and now, off-putting to many faithful Latter-day Saints, including him. It can be difficult to put negative impressions behind us, to reconsider positions we’ve fought for or against. So yes, it is easy for me to overlook his inconsistency and enjoy him, regardless. But it is less simple for me to overlook similar inconsistencies when I see them among our Mormon literary population.

While our literary fiction writers are not afraid of tackling the complexities of Mormon life, many are literally afraid to submit to Sunstone. I know this because I currently serve as the fiction editor for Sunstone. Before I go any further, let me borrow an expression from President Obama and say that I want to be perfectly clear: I may be Sunstone‘s current fiction editor, but I am not speaking for Sunstone magazine, the Sunstone Educational Foundation, the editor Stephen Carter or any of the Sunstone staff, none of whom have been given the slightest warning that I’m mouthing off here and few of whom I’ve ever met. I’m speaking only as a member of the grander MoLit community and as a subscriber to and occasional writer for Sunstone. However, my position at Sunstone has granted me license to recruit established MoLit writers for submissions. With the exception of one previously published writer, all have refused to submit.

When I ask why, each has indicated fear that s/he will be rewarded with some form of a church-sponsored reprisal, be that at their ward level (one writer expressed concern that a Sunstone credit might discredit him/her and his/her spouse from certain callings), or through BYU, which might fire or refuse to hire someone with so much as a single Sunstone short fiction credit. They tell me that they will submit to Dialogue, but not Sunstone. This astonishes me. I have had two stories published in Dialogue, one is essentially a falling-away narrative, and the other is unusually sensual for an LDS story. And yet every piece of mine that Sunstone has published has adhered to “the party line,” meaning the stories and essays have been downright faithful, even if they do have that “edge” we’ve come to speak of in lit fic circles. You know, characters with strong testimonies and no nudity. I’m a believing Latter-day Saint and so, when I write, those beliefs are part of my worldview. The Sunstone “machine” has always accepted that, either under editor Dan Wotherspoon or Stephen Carter. In fact, my observation as a subscriber shows that Sunstone’s fiction tends to be doctrinally conservative. I know the aim of the editorial staff is to find well-written fiction that focuses on the Mormon experience. Sunstone
wants to promote Mormon literary fiction. End of story.

These writers remind me of my inconsistent Sunday School teacher because I see a huge disconnect between the notion that they are bravely exploring the complexities of Mormon life, but don’t have the guts to publish in a venue that has supported Mormon lit fiction for decades. Why? Because they fear their own Church will somehow bully them. Ironically, that opinion, it seems to me, would be better grounds for withholding a calling or dismissal from a Church-owned educational job than would a publishing credit in a controversial magazine. I am annoyed, quite frankly, that these writers won’t
pick up the banner and fight for one of the few venues that actively seeks Mormon stories by Mormon writers. In my opinion, Sunstone epitomizes the lesson my Sunday School teacher attempted to teach because it does look into all corners of the Mormon mindset in search of truth. But if writers of faith won’t submit their artistic fiction, Sunstone can’t publish such pieces. In case you haven’t noticed, Sunstone has been publishing less and less short fiction—but certainly not from a lack of desire to. Editor Stephen Carter is well-known as a long-standing advocate of Mormon fiction and wants to publish strong lit fic. Sunstone magazine will not disappear, and the controversies about its open-thought policies won’t either, but if our writers can’t find the hutzpah to submit, the real fear should be that fiction in Sunstone just might vanish.

I’ve been called naïve for my absolute inability to believe some kind of conspiratorial underpinning exists regarding Sunstone, that there really are people in Salt Lake and at BYU with nothing better to do than send black ball notifications to bishops, or however it is these writers think the church will bestow their punishments for an ill-considered by-line. But I’m not naïve. After all, I’ve been publishing with Sunstone for years and have suffered no ramifications. That makes me experienced. I’ve certainly never gotten in ecclesiastical “trouble” for anything I’ve written. No one’s ever called my bishop and my bishop has never called me in. My experience demonstrates that a writer who artistically considers the Mormon experience is not foreordained to face a tribunal in the bishop’s office. In fact, please, if anyone out there has been fired from BYU, or any other church employment, for having short fiction published in Sunstone, I’d be fascinated to hear about it. If your bishop has released you from a primary presidency calling because you wrote a feminist story for Sunstone in which a mother, oh, I don’t know, maybe decides she likes working outside the home, tell me about that.  I’d love to hear any first-hand anecdotes that prove or disprove the assertion, or myth, that publishing fiction in Sunstone will leave any kind of mark at all on your membership records.

<Heavy sigh> I realize I may sound a little worked up. I suppose I am. I am passionate about Mormon Letters and grateful for the venues that celebrate Mormon literary fiction. I am very grateful to Sunstone—to Dan Wotherspoon and Stephen Carter—for providing me publishing credits. I’m proud of those credits. Very proud. And I’m proud to have become a very small part of a magazine staff that lauds Mormon culture and creativity, especially when that creativity manifests in literary fiction. Again, what I write here is my own opinion and observation, and in no way represents any official stance at Sunstone. These are my concerns, my thoughts, my worries. And, because of them, I make this is my petition: If you have been a writer who has ruled out submitting to Sunstone (which is done through the contests), remember the lesson learned from my Sunday School lesson about Atilla the Hun–Truth exists in places you hadn’t expected–and please prayerfully re-consider your reasoning. Sunstone needs strong fiction and our literary fiction community needs Sunstone’s continued support. We shouldn’t want any of our venues to shrivel, but to blossom.

 

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29 Responses to Attila the Hun, Sunday School, and Sunstone

  1. Moriah Jovan says:

    Huh. I didn’t know it had such a reputation. I say Sunstone at church and everybody looks at me like I’m speaking a foreign language. They never heard of it.

    I don’t wrote short very well, and I don’t submit to any magazines. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

  2. Brett Wilcox says:

    Lisa,
    Great overview to church/Sunstone tension. I sent the link to a friend of mine. Thanks for writing.

  3. Th. says:

    .

    So . . . where’s the information for the next contest?

    • Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

      I’ll get Stephen to answer that. Just start writing so you’re nice and polished for next time around.

  4. Julie Nichols says:

    Raising my hand with a first-hand anecdote…yeah, I got fired from BYU, partly because I published in Sunstone. This was 1998. There were a couple of stories. John Tanner, the Eng Dept chair, said “You’re just not being re-hired,” after 18 years as a full-time adjunct with outstanding student evals. He said, “Is the protagonist of this story (“The Fifth Element”) you? Can’t you just recant?” Come on, John, you’re a literature PhD. Test question: In fiction, is the author the protagonist? Does a mature, aware author of fiction “recant”? Anyway, that’s all water under the bridge. I’ve been gently reminded/informed that he was very likely “letting me go” under pressure from someone in a higher-up position. A year or so earlier I’d talked on the phone w/Henry Eyring under advisement; Bro. E said “They’re making a mountain out of a molehill.” I think that happens sometimes in the BYU English department. I’m not there any more; I don’t know. I do know I’m very grateful for the decades I had there–great people, most of them, and excellent experiences. Gene England was the second person I called (after my husband), after the interview with John Tanner. Gene said, “You’re well shut of the place.” (He and I met occasionally on the UVSC campus in the three years after that before he died. I’m now tenured there.) My husband said, “Move on. Some day you’ll be glad this happened.” My therapist said, “The cage door is standing open. Fly!” Well. I think the worst thing about it was that I didn’t write much for a long time after that. Certainly no fiction. I did write & self-publish two books with a charismatic healer in California (you can find them on amazon.com under my name), but the fiction has been a little while coming back. Silencing is a bad whack. Let’s not do it. I don’t love everything in Sunstone, but I do appreciate that it’s a place for MoLit to happen. Carry on.

  5. Moriah Jovan says:

    Thank you, Julie. I probably ought to have said the same thing to Margaret, but didn’t think of it then.

    See, I consider you who went before to be blazing the trail for me, the rest of us behind you who are taking risks. You paid for your right to speak and write your art and truth very dearly and I feel like MoLit can really go somewhere because of you.

  6. Colin Douglas says:

    I was employed in Church Curriculum Editing from 1975 to 1995. During that time I had several poems published in Dialogue and SunStone (as well as the Ensign). Then, in about 1990, we were informed of a new policy–Church employees would not be permitted to appear in nonofficial journals or magazines published primarily for an LDS audience without prior approval. We were not told the source of the policy. It so happened that I had had two more poems accepted by SunStone that were scheduled for publication in the next issue. I obediently sent them up for review, and they came back in two days marked “permission denied.” (Trust me–they were doctrinally orthodox and not “inappropriate.”) I was told that a General Authority who saw them said, “Why doesn’t he submit them to the Ensign?” so the policy evidently originated at the General level. Because I had a missionary son in the field and three more on deck I swallowed it. Our department manager at that time also said that we were not to subscribe to or even read SunStone. (I inquired of a HR person, who told me that he was not aware of any of that.) I was prudent enough not to ask if we were permitted to read the copies of SunStone in the Church library or the Ensign library. Forward to about 2005. I was serving as ward bishop. I was invited by another (much better known) Mormon poet to collaborate on a presentation on Joseph Smith as poet at a SunStone Symposium. I checked in with my stake president, who checked in at a higher level, and the answer came back that that would be all right, that it would be appropriate so to honor the Prophet, that there had been problems in the past with SunStone, but those were resolved. So we made the presentation, and it sank like a stone in every possible way, and I continued four more years as bishop.

  7. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Astonishing story, Julie. Thank you. I do want to ask about what year this was? I ask because I think it may be important. I’m hoping this kind of insanity died with the 1990′s. I’m also curious, since I don’t have access to the story, what it was exactly that you perceive upset Tanner (or whoever) about the protagonist?

    I also feel the need to point out that, by your own admission, the Sunstone publication credit was “partly” the problem. I think the impression a story like this leaves is that the fiction publication credit causes dismissal.

  8. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Hm. Colin, for some reason I don’t understand, I had to “approve” your comment before it appeared, so I hadn’t read it when I responded to Julie above. I didn’t have to approve any others. You seem to be marked by some greater power. :)

    I deeply appreciate your story. This is the kind of thing I suspected and I hope our present writers read what you say. I do beleive there was some genuine animosity that existed in earlier decades with the unauthorized magazines, but I don’t believe that kind of tyranny exists as it once did. I don’t know how anything was “resolved” other than by an increase in humility on the side of the powers that be. Perhaps they noticed that Sunstone functions very much as an outreach to Mormons who feel marginalized and ministers to them. Sunstone has helped a great number of people maintain their connection to the gospel, simply by showing them respect. I’d also like to say that its probably a good thing the church doesn’t publish fiction anymore. But that’s another post.

  9. Those looking for fame and fortune in the world of Mormon literature need look no further than: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/2011-fiction-contest/

  10. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Interestingly, I’ve received a couple private comments in my email. In summary, the feeling basically is that there are some “Sunstoners” who speak with very negative voices about the Church, doctrine, or culture, and some don’t submit bc they don’t want to risk being labeled a “Sunstoner.” I’ll point out that these negative, anti-Mormon voices are *not* the majority voices (I don’t see them in print at all. I have no experience w. the SL Symposium). These negative voices only have the power to define what a “Sunstoner” is if others don’t speak up with equal force. Speak up and the rep eventually has to fall.

    I’ll also point out that there are people who don’t want to work at BYU for very similar reasons, namely because they hear some some anti-intellectual voices there and fear putting BYU on their resume will tarnish their career. My husband just read a passage out of Travis Anderson’s “Seeking after the Good in Art, Drama, Film and Literature” in which a theater teacher expressed her reticence to work for BYU. With this in mind, I’m puzzled why more people don’t refuse to work for BYU the same way the won’t publish in Sunstone? Aren’t our fiction writers who work for or aspire to work for BYU fearful of being deemed anti-intellectual? Of course not, and that’s why smart people keep working for BYU. Publishing in Sunstone does not make one an anti-Mormon any more than working for the church schools makes one anti-intellectual.

    Lastly, I’d like to point out that Sunstone is a place that treats liberal political views (can you say “Democrat”?) with respect. I know that many of our writers are, in fact, members of the Democrat political party. I often feel like the lone conservative among my literary friends. I’ve heard my liberal Mormon friends complain about being underrepresented in our culture, or even being culturally silenced. I suggest that the majority of the existing anti-Sunstone sentiment is politically-based since many mainstream Mormons practically equate conservative politics with righteousness. This may explain why Dialogue is less criticized; it doesn’t aim to explore Mormon cultural ideas in the way Sunstone does. So if you’re a Democrat and a writer and you don’t stand against the Sunstone stereotype, you may be supporting the precise behavior among conservative Mormons that you know to be ridiculous. It stands to reason that you’d want to support the one cultural outlet that recognizes *through its practice* that a person can have both a temple recommend and an Obama sticker on his/her car.

  11. C. M. Malm says:

    The 80s was my high school/college era, so I was vaguely aware of the controversy about Sunstone that occurred at that time, without really understanding or caring too much about the details. But the message in the Utah Valley air around me was clear: Sunstone was an apostate magazine. That message was drilled so deep into my psyche during that formative period, I confess that I do have an instinctive “flinch” reaction to any mention of Sunstone. I guess the problem is that I’ve never heard anything about Sunstone in years since that has caused me to reevaluate that initial “by apostates, for apostates” impression I was given so many years ago. Maybe they need better PR?

  12. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    I’d recommend that those who haven’t paid attn to Sunstone in years at least visit https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/magazine/

    This page will show you thumbnails of the covers and give basic information about contents. You can click on any issue (see Browse Articles in this Issue on right side) and read the table of contents. Not only is the Sunstone “flavor” about helping people remain part of the Mormon world, you’ll find that the editorial staff has set out to represent both sides. For instance, one article had a liberal view of Glen Beck and a conservative view.

    When I moved into my present ward, I was surprised to find a family who were Sunstone subscribers. I’d consider them apostate (they believed Joseph Smith was a con and a pedaphile and that the Book of Mormon is hog wash), though active. I was told (by the wife) that they remain active in order to locate and help other Mormons make an easier transition out of the faith. Interestingly, they cancelled their subscription to Sunstone, complaining that it didn’t “go after” the church the way they thought it should. Just saying.

    • C. M. Malm says:

      I must say that your anecdote doesn’t really encourage me to take a look at Sunstone. That family sounds disturbingly, creepily predatory, and the fact that they no longer subscribe to Sunstone because they decided it isn’t extreme enough to suit them says more about how far they’ve gone than it does about how mild Sunstone is.

      Perhaps I need to make my own position clearer, lest I look like a BoM-thumping hard-liner. I went through a very painful eight-year period around the late 90s when I felt pretty sure that I didn’t think the church was true anymore, but I stayed because I felt it would be best for my family. Eventually I discovered that I *did* believe more than I thought I did, and due to a prayer that was answered very much in the Lord’s time, not mine, I ended up getting my testimony back. But never once during that eight-year period did I feel inclined to bash on the church or listen to others do so. I found it frankly repelling. I wanted out…but to pursue my own spiritual paths, not because I hated the church. When I consider the situation of those who have rejected the church, but can’t seem to leave it alone, the only image (alas) that comes to my mind is of a dog returning to its vomit.

      In other words, I don’t think Sunstone is for me. It’s nice that Mormon writers have another “Mormon” venue for publishing their work. But the nature of Sunstone (as far as I’ve ever been able to ascertain) is such that some people (like me and your Sunday School teacher) are simply not going to be reading that magazine “just for the stories.”

      • Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

        Your 8 year period of doubt landed you in the “borderlands,” which is a topic addressed in a regular column, the gist of which is “how do I stay (usually for the sake of family) and feel comfortable, or maintain my sanity.” That period of doubt is part of spiritual growth. And doubt is a treated as part of the sprititual journey. Which is why that guy stop subscribing. He didn’t belong.

        I can’t change the perceptions of the past. But samples of Sunstone articles are available online for free. Here is a Borderlands column, so you can get a feel for it. Sunstone is what it is. And my concern is that we realize it is friendly to believing Mormon artistic fiction

        https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/148-64-67.pdf

        • Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

          Also, it sounds like it isn’t the nature of Sunstone that will keep you or the Sunday School teacher away. It sounds like its your nature. Again, you are miscasting the magazine bc someone else (that family I mentioned) shared the view you now have of it and found it to be false. Since they were after something different, they left. But again, not everyone needs Sunstone in a personal way. But writers of artistic fiction need Sunstone to continue publishing.

          And a follow up to that family. The wife has divorced the husband and returned to both activity and to the faith. I think she, like many of us, had a period of doubt similar to what you described. When she began to see that doubt can be a catalyst for faith, I’m afraid the marriage collapsed. Her testimony of the Book of Mormon returned. His, I’m afraid, did not. In the years of I’ve known him, he’s found no one to “help out” of the church. He’s also not a whiner or a complainer, as many “apostates” are cast. Never was.

        • C. M. Malm says:

          When you say, “Also, it sounds like it isn’t the nature of Sunstone that will keep you or the Sunday School teacher away. It sounds like its your nature,” I really have to wonder what you’re suggesting. That I’m an uptight, intolerant stuffed-shirt because I don’t have any interest in reading a magazine that you have not, as yet, given me any reason to believe is not exactly as it was described to me back in the 80s (and since)? There are a lot of magazines I don’t read because I have no interest in the contents. To blame ME for not being interested in the contents of any particular magazine, instead of accepting that the contents (which are what they are) simply don’t appeal to me, seems weirdly self-serving. The whole impression I’m getting is: “Try it; you’ll like it. And if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you.” I’m not buying…either that assertion or the magazine.

        • C. M. Malm says:

          But I didn’t really WANT input from others on “how to stay…and maintain my sanity.” Quite honestly, I was sick and tired, at that point in my life, of various LDS, former-LDS, and anti-LDS people telling me what THEY thought I “ought” to do. In fact, the very best advice I got on that subject (staying while maintaining my spiritual sanity) came serendipitously from an Episcopal guy (married to a Catholic woman) on an online literary forum, with whom I somehow fell into a conversation on the subject. He had no axes to grind, no compelling motivation to tell me what to do, to pull me into or out of the church. His words were mild, not filled with the same particular anxieties I was facing, and they did me a lot of good. I had already tried reading about the anxieties of others in the LDS “borderlands” (not in Sunstone, but elsewhere); it did me no good at all.

        • Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

          CC, I think you read too much into my quotation. I never said or meant to imply anything about you being uptight. Nor am i trying to convince anyone to be a subscriber or read. I’m talking to fiction writers and inviting them to consider revisiting Sunstone fiction and reconsider submitting. I’m very sorry that I seem to have offended you in the process. I let myself get side-tracked. Sunstone is what it is. My msg, though, is that it is not an apostate missive. It sure isn’t for everyone. But many who do walk a path like the one you say you walked have found help along the way in Sunstone. Others don’t. Putting that aside, my purpose is, once again, not to win readers (though that’d be fine) but to win submissions.

      • Moriah Jovan says:

        When I consider the situation of those who have rejected the church, but can’t seem to leave it alone, the only image (alas) that comes to my mind is of a dog returning to its vomit.

        I agree.

  13. Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

    Let me add one more thing. I’m not trying to convert you to becoming Sunstone subscribers. It isn’t for everyone. But as an institution that supports Mormon literary art, it deserves our support as writers. I know there are stories in Dispensation that came from Sunstone because mine did. That anthology might be a good place to sample Sunstone fiction in order to see exactly the kinds of stuff Sunstone is after. Remember, I wear two hats: I work for Irreantum as well. I don’t see a difference in the level of “edge” between the two at all.

  14. Scott Parkin says:

    Lisa’s point about the fiction is well-taken, and it appears that overall editorial policy right now is far less antagonistic to mainstream culture than it has been at various times in the past.

    It’s always a tough line to tread between looking deeply at ourselves and seeing some of the flaws and inconsistencies in our culture, and simply dismissing the culture as corrupt. I first read a couple of Sunstone issues back in the mid-1980s when editorial policy was a little more aggressive toward the institutional church, and found that while I appreciated the arguments the overall tone was just a little too attacking for my tastes. At the time I didn’t read the fiction at all.

    I ended up attending my first Sunstone symposium in the early 2000s and found a passionate group of people who cared deeply and wanted to actively discuss topics that are hard to raise in the normally polite environs of the average ward–not as apostates or separatists, but as people trying to test all things (and perhaps reform some social excesses and inconsistencies). A useful, positive, and worthwhile experience that challenged me to know what I believed and why, but not (for me) a discovery of long lost soul mates.

    But as a literary/artistic venue I found it fascinating and wonderful. Some of the most engaging stories are told from a position of at least mildly sardonic distance, and I was pleased with some of the most direct and penetrating discussions of art, its roles, and its functions in an LDS cultural context that I’ve seen anywhere (even more so than AML, though I think it comes in a close second).

    The most interesting (and useful, in my view) conversations happen when there’s at least a little friction, and Sunstone does as good a job as anyone in providing a space where that friction can work–something of immense value for spurring creative analysis and expression, regardless of where you stand on the arguments (or their respective conclusions).

    We should never be afraid to engage the questions, and Sunstone allows artists more space to do so than most. It’s worth a look if for no other reason than that.

  15. Jonathan Langford says:

    One of the problems is that several different events/publications are associated with the Sunstone brand. And each of those events/publications covers a broad spectrum. I recall a talk at the first Sunstone symposium I attended, back in the 1980s, at which a former bishop/psychologist (or possibly sociologist) gave a talk providing statistics about the masturbation habits of the members of his congregation, based on records he kept while bishop. I remember thinking that if I had been a member of his ward, I would have felt pretty used after listening to his talk. But that was just one presenter.

    More recently, I attended the 2009 Sunstone, where I appeared on a panel about gay Mormon literature. Talks ranged from the inspirational (e.g., Margaret Young and Emma Lou Thayne) to the touching (e.g., Tom Kimball, talking about his feelings on needing to talk to his bishop about whether his lack of orthodox belief disqualified him from ordaining his son as a deacon) to the tiresomely liberal-conformist (e.g., a panel about women and the priesthood where not a single panelist defended the Church’s position). It’s a genuine mix.

    The magazine is a different beast altogether (though still a mix). Honestly, if you aren’t an employee of the Church, I don’t see why there would be a concern. But then, I can’t imagine anyone *wanting* one of the callings that has to be vetted through Salt Lake (e.g., bishop), and which could therefore theoretically be threatened by contributing to Sunstone.

    A final thought: One of the things I’m greatly looking forward to reading this fall is a collection of essays titled “Why I Stay: The Challenges of Discipleship for Contemporary Mormons,” published by Signature Books. These are all based on talks in the “Why We Stay” series at the Sunstone symposium. Contributors include Lavina Fielding Anderson, Mary Bradford, William Bradshaw, Claudia L. Bushman, Fred Christensen, Lael Littke, Armand Mauss, Chase Peterson, Grethe Peterson, J. Frederick “Toby” Pingree, Gregory Prince, Robert A. Rees, Tom Rogers, William D. Russell, Cherry Bushman Silver, and Morris Thurston. I expect that some of them will be challenging, but some–possibly including some of the same essays–will also likely be deeply inspirational. (I’ve read Tom Rogers’s essay, and it certainly qualifies.) So put me down as someone with an ambivalent (but not necessarily negative) relationship to Sunstone.

  16. Mormon culture ….. brrrrrr. BYU ….. double brrrrrr.

  17. I like Sunstone magazine but not the symposium as much. The mag nearly always seems pretty balanced, and even the articles that probe boundaries are nearly always interesting and appropriate to me. I’ve been a constant subscriber for decades and can’t remember having seen any compelling reasons to reconsider that. It’s a pleasure and a relief to get Sunstone in the mail and know that the extreme blinders of cultural Mormonism are off.

    The symposium, however, sometimes seems like a pseudo-religion. There’s some great stuff discussed, of course, but there’s also some creepy stuff (and people). I have observed that for some presenters, Sunstone is the only Mormon event they attend, and it has become their alternative replacement for any real religion. You can tell that some people really think the Church is dumb and they know better. On rare occasions, some presenters have even creeped me out on a spiritual level, like whoa, there’s a darkness in the room and I want out. Your “pride” meter will often get a pretty good workout at the symposium, but you’ll also sense some real humility in places too.

    I heard that a baby was blessed at the last symposium. That’s pretty icky, unless a real bishop OKed it, I suppose, in the same manner that at-home blessings are OKed. If not, that’s the kind of thing that, to me, would make the symposium equivalent to a cultish false priesthood and something to be avoided. Some of the praying to Heavenly Mother stuff is along those lines for me, too.

  18. Jonathan Langford says:

    A general note of caution from the moderator: While it’s clearly on-topic for AML blog to talk about how and why Sunstone as a literary and cultural venue appeals to some and doesn’t appeal to others, we all need to be particularly careful not to phrase our comments in ways that can be viewed as attacks on others (particularly others who are taking part in the conversation) or as negative inferences about their motivations and personal characteristics. After all, civility is next to… um… something-or-other. Pretentiousness, perhaps. Wait, that wasn’t what I meant to say…

    • Lisa Torcasso Downing says:

      Love you, Jonathan! It seems so natural to have you chiming in as a moderating voice. Oh, how miss those Old School days of the AML-list prime.

      • Jonathan Langford says:

        It was a good time. That said, I think the current blog has the potential to be just as good, or even better, if we can somehow draw more people into the conversation. We’ve actually got (if anything) a higher proportion of substantive posts (including yours) on a variety of different interesting topics to get a good conversation going. The biggest impediment, so far as I can tell, is simply that our numbers are limited at present. Any suggestions on how to remedy that would be more than welcome…

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