I recently returned from a trip to Salt Lake City to attend the Sunstone Symposium.
Driving back on 1-70 across the seemingly never-ending fields of Kansas gave me plenty of time to reflect on my whirlwind week of experiences there. We were within walking distance of the epicenter of Mormonism, Temple Square, but the conversations and sessions at Sunstone were anything but mainstream Mormon topics.
I can’t claim to be an expert on Sunstone (for that, you’d have to ask Bill Russell, who has been attending faithfully for thirty years or so) but I came away from the symposium impressed by the openness and camaraderie of the participants and their willingness to unashamedly examine tough issues.
Although attended by many ex-Mormons and others with non-traditional views, Sunstone is not a place to simply bash all things Mormon. Session titles included “Why We Stay” and “Pillars of My Faith,” both examining the significant role the LDS church plays in various people’s lives. Sunstone is, though, a place to confront questions some may be uncomfortable asking. Nothing’s safe. Homosexuality, women’s issues, perspectives on history—all of these are questioned, prodded, discussed. It’s an open forum, and the participants visibly thrive on it.
I was stunned at some of the heart-wrenching stories I heard there. I listened to stories of separation from a beloved church home (some forced, some voluntary), stories of hurt and genuine belief juxtaposed in one individual. Their courage to share impressed me.
A few months ago, when asked to participate in a session commemorating 25 years since Community of Christ extended priesthood to women by reflecting on my experiences as a young woman in the church, I realized that I didn’t have much to say. I had never seriously thought about these things because the possibility of priesthood has been a reality for me my entire lifetime. My mother is in the priesthood, and so many of the women I knew and respected growing up are also priesthood members. It was normal for me, taken for granted. It was not even an issue. I had been given the luxury to sit back and relax, and I enjoyed it.
I was swept away by a “pacifism” of a different sort—“passivism.”
I am lucky to be part of a church that meets dissent with dialogue instead of silence, where the worth of all persons is upheld. I find a profound comfort in this. But when considering issues that don’t seem to affect me directly, it’s all too easy to let the church’s promises of acceptance and justice speak for me instead of wrestling with hard questions myself. The church’s open approach may shield its members from direct confrontations, but this does not mean our members are immune to pain.
We cannot be passive observers. The kind of dialogue present at Sunstone, while sometimes uncomfortable, is necessary—especially now. I’m a long way from being able to call myself an activist, and I am all too guilty of being the quiet one at the back of the congregation, but I take inspiration from the examples of the people I encountered at Sunstone. These people feel a calling to point out injustices. They share personal, painful experiences. They don’t hesitate to goodheartedly poke fun at their faith’s idiosyncrasies.
I’m sure there are conversations like these going on right now in the Community of Christ, but I’m not exactly sure where to look. Any suggestions?
Wherever they are, I’m looking forward to participating.
(By the way, Community of Christ enjoyed quite the presence at Sunstone this year. Two of our apostles attended, and there was a classy reception sponsored by the Community of Christ. Other members presented papers or sat in on sessions. Props to the church!)
Go here for more information on Sunstone.