This is an experimental post. I’m attending the Sunstone Salt Lake Symposium over the next three days. I’ve chosen some sessions that are pertinent to LDS blogging and would like to add thoughts to this post during each session. I will be using my iPhone to do so because I don’t want to lug my laptop around and I haven’t made that purchase of a tablet just yet. I hope it will prove interesting to some of my readers. By the way, Denver is presenting on Saturday and has promised to post his lecture immediately after the session is over. If you’re in the area, you can attend that Sat 2pm session for $9. Here’s where I’ll be:
Thursday 31 July 2014
8:30 – Repairing the Church – Robert A. Rees. Summary notes: Whose church is this anyway? It belongs to both Jesus Christ AND to the Latter-day Saints. Top-down hierarchy is NOT the only way The Lord intended the church to be managed. The church is broken because the hierarchy has taken control.
The Latter-day Saints have been beaten into submission believing only the leaders have the right to manage the church – as a body of believers. The members are in immense pain and in great need of repairing. We are more afraid of making mistakes than in making decisions.
Robert offered several suggestions for repairing the church. One was to introduce emeritus status for the Apostleship. He also suggested a change in how the president becomes the head of the church. The current system based on longevity is flawed as evidenced by the diminished capacity of the current President.
Another suggestion is a strong need to change how the church responds to criticism, especially from those who blog openly. The hierarchy feels threatened by such openness and tends to crack down with the intent to silence instead of listen, consider and respond instead of the only options we see today: silence or the threat of excommunication. We can do better.
9:45 – Church Discipline: Historical Overview – D. Michael Quinn and others. Summary notes: Banning, shunning, blotting out of names, cut off, expelled. Always seems to be directed toward intellectuals as a threat. Why? Being Ex’ed is considered by leaders to be God’s hammer in the hands of his earthly servants. Sterling McMurin was not ex’ed because of intervention of President McKay.
Tolerance, live and let live, kindness and compassion should be employed long before the hammer. There is a big difference between reasons for church discipline in early church history and the way it is used today. It seems to be used more for the one main, central focus of control, usually of behavior or thought. Excommunication is used as a method of public shaming. Historically, members were ex’ed for non payment of tithing or not obeying the word of wisdom.
The standard narrative in the church states the cause of being ex’ed is not believing the orthodox or conservative way of seeing things, politically or doctrinally, even when doctrinal views or interpretations have changed over the years. The main reason for being ex’ed at least historically is for apostasy as opposed to say, moral transgression.
Armand Mauss pointed out that tolerance of deviant thought or behavior in a young institution was much more commonplace. Today, as the institution has matured, the amount of tolerance decreases and, in fact, becomes almost non-existent. In other words, the church is more willing to cast off the small percentage of members who do not conform to boundaries.
11:00 – Bridging Mormonism and Popular Culture – Stephen Carter, Sunstone Editor and others. Summary comments: Early CCA Christiansen illustrations of Book of Mormon scenes that seem very different from the way we illustrate our scriptures today. Next, Stories of the Book of Mormon, a Deseret News series of comics back in the 1940’s that parents could compile into “Sunday Fun Books” to keep kids quiet in Sacrament meetings.
Book of Mormon stories or the Book of Mormon Reader. In the seventies had different styles when it first came out. Today’s version is unified and correlated. Can you believe that? Even our comic books have been made to look the same. What happened to diversity and imagination?
I had no idea there were so many comic books of the Book of Mormon over the years. I never would have imagined there were so many styles of art – some good and interesting with references to pop culture. Others were way too serious and would not resonate with kids today. Well, whatever helps young people get into the BofM, right?
The presentation included analysis of LDS musical groups and LDS writers. Finally we also considered LDS Science Fiction and Fantasy as well as magic vs. rule-based systems like the LDS church. The best and funniest part of the session was on Mormon memes. The audience was roaring with laughter – we were laughing at ourselves.
2:00 – Author Meets Critics – Will Bagley, Todd Compton and others. This is supposed to be a “vigorous exchange” between “careful readers.” The book is “Frontier Life: Jacob Hamblin, Explorer and Indian Missionary.” Will Bagley led out with a couple of minor criticisms such as referring to Joseph, Brigham and others by their first names. He then shared a passionate objection to Todd’s defense of Brigham in regards to the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
Lindsay Hansen Park shared her criticism that we view, talk about and write about our history from the point of view of white European males. However she gave Todd kudos for portraying the love story between Jacob and his wives. Both Bagley and Hansen Park spoke highly of the book as being well worth the read. Todd of course is the author of “In Sacred Loneliness,” the definitive work on Joseph’s wives.
Elise Boxer gave a wonderful insight into the difficulty of the lack of written records among the indigenous people, including her people, the Dakota. The obvious problem is that any historical work will be missing details that can only be found in recorded oral traditions. Finally, Todd responded to the criticism, although he had prepared remarks and did not have copies of Elise’s or Lindsay’s criticism.
I appreciated this panel showing us how a good review and critique should be done, something I wish I knew how to replicate in a blog format when we discuss doctrine and practice. Why can’t we make points dispassionately and then discuss them with thoughtful responses with the intent of coming to some sort of agreement and unity, even when discussing difficult and challenging subjects such as messengers sent from outside the hierarchy of the church?
3:45 – Flat Church Seeks Engagement – Alternatives to Hierarchical style. Summary notes: hierarchy style is obsolete. The PEC is also obsolete because it is male dominated. Remember, the Church of Jesus Christ is comprised of millions of members in 30,000 congregations. The Church is NOT just what those at the top say it is. The ward is where the work is done. The church is no bigger than a congregation. Work can be done on your iPhone and via Skype no matter how geographically dispersed the congregation has become.
The discussion after the presentation was extremely frustrating because of the example after example of ideas the local members wanted to have implemented, but the bishops and stake presidents are afraid to act because we have been so intimidated by the cultural struggle we have with hierarchical control from the central church committees in Salt Lake.
5:00 – Leaving or Staying in the LDS Church – D. Michael Quinn and Paul Toscano. Summary notes: the LDS church is not Mormonism, it is a subset of Mormonism. The LDS Church has made many mistakes over the years. The church is flawed because it is staffed by the damned – imperfect men and women. The idea that the prophet will not lead us astray is not from Joseph or Brigham. That all changed in 1954.
Twenty-one men who have been sustained as prophets, seers and revelators have been excommunicated or dropped from the church. Therefore some prophets HAVE led members of the church astray. The current mantra of “follow the prophet” is detrimental to the Lord’s injunction to study and seek confirmation of the words of the prophets. The church is a divinely established but flawed organization. Mike concluded by encouraging us to stay in the church to provide goodness in service.
My personal impression is that Mike has a love and passion for the church and the people in it. Mike is coming out with volume three of his series of books about power in the church early next year. It is about church finances.
After a few humorous opening remarks, Paul Toscano then read from his latest book, his memoir. It seems that Paul has not changed much from his angry days when he was excommunicated in 1993 other than he is not so angry. I hate to say it but his reading was a little dry until the end when he expressed his love for his readers and his hope to see us in the resurrection. I got much more out of Mike Quinn’s short paper than out of Paul’s long reading, but that’s a personal preference for Mike’s style and the depth of his passion.
Friday 1 August 2014
8:30 – Church Discipline: Procedural Overview – Robert A. Rees. Opening remarks by Nadine Hansen, an attorney who submitted a brief in support of Kate Kelly during her disciplinary council. She has launched a website which I haven’t been able to find. She wrote a brief in favor of Kate on the OrdainWomen website from which she read. Nadine made some excellent suggestions on how to remedy the serious problems in our church disciplinary procedures, especially as related to apostasy, or more correctly heresy.
Robert Rees then presented some wonderful observations about his experiences as a Bishop and High Councilor over the years. I have read some if them previously on the blog of Jana Riess – Flunking Sainthood. He also pointed out the need for change in the disciplinary process in regards to apostasy which seems to befuddle bishoprics.
Russell Osmond, a management consultant and motivational speaker focusing on change strategies. He was also a former bishop who shared a story similar to Robert Rees in that an individual he resisted excommunicating many years ago. He referred to http://mymotivators.com Group name: Sunstone2014
Presented a paper on apostasy and dissidents. He will also present observations on how the institution responds. Started with Nehor – 14 verses in Alma. Discussed priestcraft. He noted the phrase “follow the prophet” fits the definition of priestcraft – setting themselves up as a light unto the world. Verbal abuse is a form of response of the institution to those they consider apostates. Next considered Alma, who was considered an apostate for following after Abinidi. I’ve got to get a copy of this paper. There are two many good things to record here.
Joe made a wonderful point that the church should allow members to determine for themselves through the Holy Ghost what is true doctrine and apostate doctrine. He also pointed out that the church handbook definition of apostasy is flawed because it is all about actions related to member’s responses to the church leaders as opposed to the gospel. The definition of apostasy should be based on our response to the gospel, not our response to church leaders.
I confess I was enthralled by Joe’s paper. He talks about the Gentiles and the Gentile Church. Who is the Gentile church? It is the LDS church. We are the Gentile church. The Book of Mormon is directed to us as well as the Jews and the Lamanites. We are the intended recipients of the warnings to the Gentile Church. We have rejected the promises and the requirements of the Gentiles. He also pointed out the fate of the leaders of the Gentile Church.
This is a landmark paper. It clearly identifies the prophecy that the Gentile Church will reject the gospel. That’s us – the LDS Church. But the Gentile Church is invited to return. We can individually return by repenting and accepting the gospel, even if the institution rejects the gospel and is rejected of The Lord. Joe’s paper is a second witness of PtHG from Denver Snuffer. It is now posted on his blog. You can read it here: http://justandtrue.com/?p=554
Next presenter is Michael J Stevens, professor of management and organizational behavior at Weber State. He analyzed the response of the church to the Kate Kelly debacle. The idea of responding to a doctrinal issue with a press release he called “Amateur night at the Apollo.” Michael is an excellent teacher, engaging the audience and supporting Joe’s paper. He compared what is happening today in the church to what was happening with the local leadership at the time of the Savior’s advent.
11:00 – Why we Stay – Dan Wotherspoon, Mitch Mayne, etc… This is a very crowded session. We will hear the stories of those who elect to stay in the church in spite of challenges of the traditional faith, as interpreted by the LDS Church. Boyd Petersen, Wendy Williams Montgomery, Russell Osmond, Jennifer Finlayson-Fife are the speakers. We miss Mitch Mayne who was unable to make it here. There’s no way I can live-blog this wonderful session. If you’ve never attended a “Why we stay” session you’ve got to come to Sunstone and attend one.
12:00 – Free BBQ lunch for all attendees – Cost for three days is only $85 for first-time attendees. Lunch was OK – hot dogs and hamburgers, sponsored by Signature Books. But I got to sit next to an incredibly interesting group of people including Rebecca McHood, a community activist who has a new website which I’m going to be writing about in a future post. http://iseeuhope.org
2:00 – Church Discipline: Impact on Family, Ward and Community. Session summary: ostracism is very real – guilt by association by ward members toward family members of the one being disinclined. There is also the difficulty when family members know how abusive the member being disciplined really was and then see he only gets a slap on the wrist – like formal probation.
A big problem in the church is that apostasy is not clearly defined when it comes to doctrine. Think of the example of a disciplinary council where the high council simply doesn’t know all the details of church history they should when the subject is apostasy for blogging about that very subject. Another problem is that as those on the fringe are cast off, the church becomes more and more entrenched in the same kind of thinking – that of the local presiding authority.
How do we decide who belongs to our ward and stake communities? Excommunication is always about power – who has it and who is allowed to define the boundaries of our communities. The exercise of church discipline is the “Holy practice of minding your neighbor’s business.” You have two ways people respond to church discipline – some wards treat it as a death in the family. Others practice shunning, which is the more common response along with gossip.
The church seems to be more interested in control of its members than it is with efforts to minister to members on the fringe. In the presentation the idea of leader roulette was identified – some leaders are quick to discipline while others are much more tolerant. One of the presenters shared her personal example of being threatened with excommunication simply for a Facebook wall post about Kate Kelley and Ordain Women, which is now apparently considered an apostate group. Amazing. It’s obvious the church is all about control now. Control comes from fear.
Boundary keeping is a very important part of any community, especially the church. The burden of proof on why certain boundaries have been established should lie with the church, or on the individual to explain why they feel or think in a manner that is different from the majority. Mass resignations and encouraging members to request a disciplinary councils – purpose is to get the church to respond as to why it is disciplining Kate Kelly and John Dehlin.
3:45 – Sunstone Town Hall Meeting – not sure there’s much to share from this session. Not quite sure why I chose to attend this session other than a desire to get to know the people who run Sunstone. I’m surprised Sunstone is not in the blogging space anymore. I think that’s one if the things John Dehlin tried to implement. I know there is a blog on the site but it’s a joke. There’s no interaction. It just a place for making quick announcements. I guess the blogging activities changed to the Facebook group – The Mormon Hub: https://www.facebook.com/groups/themormonhub/
I’m glad I attended because the need for help with technology, finance, organization or help with remote symposia. I wanted to ask them in the Q&A about remote or distributed (Skype) participation by volunteers or even streaming the symposia but I’ll bet they’ve already considered that. I did learn there is a symposium coming up in Southern California this fall. I wonder if it’s too late to submit a paper. I don’t even know where it will be held.
5:00 – Theocracy Unfounded: Polygamy Rulings – Utah’s law prohibiting “religious cohabitation” was struck down last December. Decided to skip this session in favor of going to dinner with one of my long-time readers to share ideas and get to know one another better.
Saturday 2 August 2014
8:30 – Apologetic Ethics: defending Your Faith Without Losing Your soul. Seth Payne focused on 1 Peter 3:14-17. Be prepared to defend your faith. Apologetics has increased the amount of available material to those who are interested in discussing Mormonism. If a core view or belief is threatened, the whole fabric and structure of one’s faith can unravel. Defending one’s faith can unite believers. We are not to fear or to be intimidated. But We need to be meek and humble in our defense, not arrogant or argumentative. Simply explain the facts with gentleness and let others respond as they will.
Reverence complements the gentleness we should implement in depending faith. It is the best way to show Christ within us. We need to show respect and understanding of opposing views. Demonstrating your understanding of the beliefs, assumptions and world view of others can only help with open communication. Apologetic ethics is something every defender of the faith should understand and exercise. We are all called to take upon us the pastoral role.
Apologetics can play an important role among members of the church especially in the online world we live in today. Honesty, charity, respect and kindness are the best ways to defend our faith. We never know who will read our online posts and comments. We should never be over confident or assume the absolute rightness of our positions. Prove all things. Hold fast to that which is good. There are many examples of modern LDS apologists who have abandoned their positions after engaging in respectful apologetics and being convinced of a clearer position or more correct doctrinal view.
The purpose of apologetics is to unite souls in faith, not to prove one another right or wrong. Apologetics can and should be an act of faith and devotion. It should bring us closer to God. Those who engage critics should be charitable and respectful or the purpose of the dialog is wasted and turns into a polemic screed. In such cases religion can be the victim of friendly fire. In other words, sometimes apologetics, especially Mormon apologetics can backfire because we defend the wrong thing.
We should not focus on making apologetics meet our expectations. We can inadvertently set up the wrong standards. Arguing historical issues may not be the best way to defend our faith in Christ. Simply engaging in loving, faith-centric dialog should ultimately lead all participants to Christ and enhance their desire to know Him.
9:45 – Life After Church Discipline – Lavina Fielding Anderson and three others. Even though Lavina was ex’ed In 1993, she feels heavy-hearted about the recent sad and unnecessary excommunications of Kate Kelly, Will Carter and the impending actions against John Dehlin and Rock Waterman. We need to separate our worship of God and Jesus with our activity or status in the church. It can stand as an impediment between us and the Gatekeeper there. Excommunication is ineffective when it is imposed involuntarily. It is effective for those who voluntarily confess, repent and accept the imposed sanctions. May we not be found in the seat of the great accuser.
Another speaker, Janice Ririe, told of her own disciplinary council and what a horrible experience it was to feel the toxic shame of having intimate details of her life disclosed in front of the men in her Bishopric. She related the hell she passed through because of the broken disciplinary system of the LDS church. She shared how she finally broke free of the shackles placed upon her by the disciplinary council by learning to accept the undeserved grace of Christ. She has deeply hurt by the disciplinary council and is still dealing with the aftermath many years later.
The next speaker, Flip Johnson, served a mission where he lost his faith, partially due to the management style of his mission president who lied about several things. He worked hard on his mission, especially at the end, when he slept with a girl. He confessed to his stake president and was excommunicated. He says he had no defense and accepted the action. His presentation was humorous. He had good things to say about his bishop and stake president. He stake president asked if he was ready to come back. He said not yet. So his stake president said, “then don’t.”
The last speaker, Richie Steadman was ex’ed for nine years. He described his life after being excommunicated – the difficulties. He didn’t like it. He has had his blessing restored. He says he feels stronger for having gone through the experience but that it’s not for everyone.
11:00 – Moderating Mormons in Cyberspace – Rock Waterman http://puremormonism.blogspot.com (This is also a MUST attend for me)
Derek Lee – moderates online Facebook group the Mormon Hub – Sunstone’s online discussion. Jerilyn Hassell Pool moderates Feminist Mormon housewives. Andrew Spriggs also moderates the Mormon Hub. Nicole Forsgren Valasquez also moderates on the hub. Rock Waterman is the only one on the panel who is not a moderator on the Mormon Hub, his site is Pure Mormonism. We talked about keeping dialog on track. The Hub is truth agnostic – meaning it’s not a place for trying to convince others of the truthfulness of their claims.
Rock had some wonderful comments in response to some of the questions. Nicole gave examples of difficult subjects to moderate such as getting 45 minutes to prepare for the Kate Kelly story. There is a big difference between moderating blogs and moderating the hub. For example, on my blog – and Rock agreed – we rarely moderate. We, or at least I, am OK with the comments getting off topic. The only time I will delete a comment is if there is an inordinate amount of swearing or personal attacks.
2:00 – Cutting Down the Tree of Life to Build a Wooden Bridge– Denver Snuffer (Please come and join me – It’s only $9 for one session). I’m grateful to have Carol at my side. This is the only Sunstone session Carol wanted to attend. After Denver presents his paper, Dan Wotherspoon will present a response and then hopefully there will be time for Q&A. There are four parts to the paper. Denver will be posting the paper on his blog this evening. I’m not sure I can live blog this. It is too packed with intricate details. I’ll read and comment on the paper some other time.
Here’s a link to the paper on Scribed: http://www.scribd.com/doc/235706812/Cutting-Down-the-Tree-of-Life
But I will share my impression that Denver’s delivery was, as usual, confident, engaging, well presented and well summarized. He raised four specific points where the church has changed or will probably change either a fundamental doctrine or practice. First was plural marriage, next was the policy of blacks and the priesthood next was the issue of women and the priesthood and finally LGBT issues. I asked Denver if the point of his paper was that the church past and potential future changes was or will be due to social and government pressure for fear of losing tax exempt status. I’m not sure if he answered with a clear yes, but I’m fairly certain I have read a similar affirmation on his blog.
By the way, I was impressed with the passionate and thoughtful response from Dan. I could feel the strength of his convictions that we should focus on the fruits of the tree of life. I get the message of the title of Denver’s paper in which he was pointing out that change in the church was being motivated for the wrong reason. But the title included the Tree of Life so I appreciated Dan’s defense of the joy that comes or should come as we partake of the fruit of the tree of life. His response was very moving in this area.
3:45 – Church Discipline: Ecumenical Overview – I enjoyed learning about church discipline in three other denominations – the Community of Christ, the Presbyterian and the Catholic Church. They seem much more focused on keeping the individual within the fold. The threat of excommunication is rare or even non-existent. Big difference from the fear that is generated in the LDS Church to keep members in line with the will of the leaders, local and general, as opposed to helping them / us focus on pleasing Christ first and following the promptings of the spirit.
5:00 – Show us Our Money: LDS Finances – Will Bagley and others. LDS Church members and leaders are largely in the dark about the Church’s finances, even though they have a direct impact on local congregations and stakes. The panel will discuss the consequences that might arise from more transparency about the church’s finances, investments and holdings.
Will started with the Power Corruption Cycle:
1. Power and resources with no accountability
2. Distance from rank-and-file
3. Inflated view of oneself and one’s position.
Rank and file reactions: Compliance, submissiveness, helplessness.
Ron Madson spoke about the Liahona Foundation and the need to help the poor, which is one of the four missions of the church.
There was a lot more but I was too burned out after three days of live blogging to capture the essence of this extremely interesting session. Sorry.
And that’s it for my live-blogging notes from the Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium 2014. I hope you enjoyed my comments. I enjoyed being there and thank again the anonymous donor who made it possible for Carol and me to extend our vacation by a week to attend the Symposium. I’m an amateur apologist attempting to use the tools of scholarship on my blog.
Study Required by the Lord
This is a lifelong dream for me. I have always wanted to attend a Sunstone Symposium but in between work and family commitments could never swing it. I make it no secret an anonymous donor generously and kindly made it possible for Carol and me to extend our vacation one week to take in the Symposium. It was a miracle I had no projects requiring my immediate return to work.
And, I’m pleased to report, Carol is attending Denver’s lecture with me on Saturday. I think our dinner meeting with him last week helped break the ice. I am a blessed man. She still disagrees with him but at least she is wiling to listen and consider what he has to say. I pray God to bless our marriage. I hope to see some of you there. You’ve got my schedule and know where I’ll be. Cheers.