Last weekend I attended Sunstone NW, a symposium put on by the Sunstone Foundation
, an independent organization that encourages free and open discourse in relation to Mormon scholarship, literature, and social issues. They try to provide a community that is faith-promoting but where people can discuss controversial issues in an intellectually honest way. This sometimes feels subversive in a church that whitewashes negative aspects of its history in official lessons, discourages exposure to media that contains any profanity, violence, or sexual content, and asks members to avoid contact with anyone or thing that might be considered "anti-Mormon." I was especially impressed by Margaret Young's talk on Mormon Literature, and by the closing Pillars of my Faith session. I plan to post summaries of the talks in the near future.
Overall, I was impressed at the openness and honesty of the speakers and attendees, and their acceptance of the paths others choose despite their own commitment to the church. If I still believed and accepted the church's major doctrines, these are people I would definitely be hanging out with on a regular basis. It's wonderful to have a community that supports both faith and intellectual honesty in a church that sometimes acts as if they cannot coexist. The talks addressed some of the problematic aspects of church history, the expectation that Mormon authors should avoid some subjects, speculations about the resurrection, new research on the Old Testament, and how to believe in the LDS gospel in spite of all the problems.
During the Pillars of my Faith session at the end of the conference, three bloggers who write for By Common Consent
shared their heartfelt testimonies about the purpose of the church and the meaning it brings to their lives (two of the three speakers posted their talks from the conference online, here
). I felt what I've always called the Spirit strongly and teared up a little at the end of these powerful talks. Experiences like this always make me wonder whether leaving the church was the right decision, as I was taught to place so much emphasis on the influence of the Spirit and its power to manifest truth. Walking home, I thought about all the times I've felt the spirit (or whatever it is) recently, and they include Alex Steffen's inspirational talk on sustainability and challenge to make Seattle the first carbon neutral city, heart to heart talks with Chris and close friends, and times when my parents shared meaningful experiences with me. I think as humans we crave community, and we respond to inspirational messages that make us believe we can be better than we are now, that we can change our communities and our world. None of what I heard at Sunstone makes the LDS church any more true, but some of it gives me hope for the church's future and for the people who find meaning in its teachings and in their connection to a worldwide community of believers.
Attending Sunstone reaffirmed to me the complexity of people from all walks of life. Sometimes it's easy to simplify people based on the groups they belong to and the labels they wear. One of the things I admire most about my Dad is that he rarely judges anyone before thinking through possible motivations for their behavior or beliefs, even when he strongly disagrees with their position. I hope someday I'll be as open-minded.
And I'll end this before I get too sappy...