Many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are skeptical of Sunstone; as an organization, a magazine, and sponsor of symposia on Mormon doctrine, history, culture, and art. At best, they see Sunstone as unnecessary outlet for pseudo-scholarship. At worst, Sunstone is considered a destroyer of faith in the LDS Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ; a source of heresy and apostasy.
Frankly, such perceptions are caricatures but, like all caricatures, not without some basis in reality. Over the years some material distributed through the Sunstone channel has been dreadful; in terms of both scholarship and the promotion or sustenance of faith. Yet, such material represents the outliers and therefore, it is unfair to define Sunstone as a whole by content that sits at its margins.
Before Latter-day Saints offer condemnation however, it must be understood that Sunstone is an open forum. Publications and presentations are not peer reviewed, nor are they censored. The result is that any person willing to formulate and explore an idea related to Mormonism that the Sunstone editorial staff determine will be of interest to LDS readers (of all varieties) is very likely to find an outlet in Sunstone. Thus, an incredibly diverse set of ideas, thoughts, and expressions of both faith and doubt can be found within the pages of Sunstone and expressed at the various Sunstone symposium held throughout the United States.
There has been a long, and somewhat strained relationship between the institutional Church and Sunstone; the history of which is beyond the scope of this discussion. Suffice it to say, this strained relationship has led — generally speaking — to traditional, conservative, and faithful Latter-day Saints to eschew Sunstone as an outlet for expression.
While several arguments could be presented to counter the caricatures of Sunstone mentioned above, I would like to offer up a simple defense of Sunstone from a spiritual perspective; one drawn from my own experience.
Between late 2007 and 2009 I struggled with a crisis of faith and I was unsure of what my relationship, if any, should be with the LDS Church. During this time I presented at and participated in several Sunstone symposia and read the pages of Sunstone magazine quite faithfully. As a Latter-day Saint struggling with doubt I felt comfort in the fact that I was not alone. Sunstone gave me the opportunity to explore very difficult Mormon questions from a perspective I had not considered previously. Along the way I met some incredibly kind, loving, and compassionate individuals who not only listened, but also offered concrete advice on how to reconcile faith and doubt.
One of the most popular sessions at Sunstone symposia is one in which active Latter-day Saints offer personal reflections on how they reconcile doubt with membership in the Church. These sessions played a significant role in my decision to reengage the Church as an active member in the company of my fellow Latter-day Saints. Questions and doubts still exist but the opportunity Sunstone afforded me to explore these questions helped me understand that despite my doubts, I still have a place in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I am not suggesting that Sunstone is the *only* place such questions may be explored. However, Sunstone was an appropriate and effective setting for me to ask questions and seek answers. My experience is not unique.
Sunstone serves an important function within LDS culture and, I believe it unwise to advocate or adopt the wholesale dismissal of Sunstone simply because one may find some of its content inaccurate, sophomoric, or objectionable.
To conclude, I would like to quote from this year’s Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium program:
THIS SYMPOSIUM is dedicated to the idea that the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ are better understood and, as a result, better lived when they are freely and frankly explored within the community of Saints.
WE RECOGNIZE that the search for things that are, have been, and are to be is a sifting process in which much chaff will have to be carefully inspected and threshed before the wheat can be harvested.
WE WELCOME the honest ponderings of Latter-day Saints and their friends and expect that everyone in attendance will approach every issue, no matter how difficult, with intelligence, respect, and good will.
Each of us learn from and respond differently to a wide variety of environments and contexts. Perhaps an appropriate analogy would be to compare Sunstone and other outlets for Mormon expression to any number of medicinal remedies intended to address some ailment. Some remedies may help us feel better while other, similar medication, may cause undesirable side effects. It would be foolhardy to condemn a certain remedy because we may not respond well to its particular formulation. Especially when we can see that the same remedy works wonders for others.
For some, Sunstone is just the right medicine to revive faith, strengthen community, and ultimately, promote more kind, compassionate and Christ-like living.
Note: This post was originally published on my personal blog.
P.S — I just returned from the 2012 SLC symposium where I presented a paper on defining faith for those who doubt. I will be posting the text of that talk in the coming weeks on my blog: www.sethpayne.com