Not surprisingly, one of the best parts of Sunstone for me involved Main Street Plaza. After the closing banquet (which included a terrific talk by Eunice Rho of the American Civil Liberties Union about the efforts of the ACLU to protect the religious rights of members of minority religions, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Muslims and Mormons), I headed to Squatter’s brew pub downtown, where I hung out with Chino Blanco, Chanson, her brother John H., Andrew S, Donna of Ward Gossip and her husband, and Barbara H. for a bunch of hours.*
We closed the place (it’s been a while since I’ve done that), which gave us time to discuss many important topics, including what happened at the Sunstone and how weird it is that people spend so much time talking about some guy named J. Max when he’s not really that relevant.
To continue that trend, I want to point out one reason he’s really not that relevant: he’s completely wrong in a basic assertion about Sunstone’s relationship to the church. After Chanson invited him to participate in a panel she was putting together on boundary maintenance between various LDS blogging community, he wrote a long post about why he was going to refuse to her invitation.** He insists:
The fact is that the church doesn’t need Sunstone at all. If Sunstone were to suddenly fall apart and disappear it would have zero effect on the church. Sunstone, on the other hand, is completely dependent on the church for its continued existence. If the church were to suddenly fall apart and disappear, Sunstone would be completely obliterated.
I’m pretty sure that all three of those sentences are wrong. Re: the first: The church needs organizations like Sunstone to keep it honest, and it should be darn grateful that it got some practice dealing with all sorts of questions from members before the internet came along.
Re: the second: If Sunstone were to suddenly disappear, the church hierarchy would likely breathe a sigh of relief: it would be rid of a major forum in which its three greatest enemies—you know, feminists, homosexuals, and so-called intellectuals—talk about the various ways they do or don’t want to challenge or support or change the church; or present research that they later publish in various Mormon studies journals; or meet a bunch of people from the Community of Christ and realize that they can do Mormonism in an official way that involves a lot less homophobia and misogyny. If something like Sunstone had no effect whatsoever on the church, it wouldn’t have had to issue a statement on symposia (some scrolling required) counseling members against participating in a forum that discusses the church so openly, concluding
There are times when it is better to have the Church without representation than to have implications of Church participation used to promote a program that contains some (though admittedly not all) presentations that result in ridiculing sacred things or injuring The Church of Jesus Christ, detracting from its mission, or jeopardizing the well-being of its members.
But more importantly, if the church were to suddenly disappear because a meteor took out Temple Square or Jesus appeared and not only told everyone that the Book of Mormon was fiction but asked how so many people failed to notice how badly written it is, Sunstone would suddenly become one of the most relevant Mormon organizations on earth.
If the church disappeared tomorrow, there would be all sorts of confused, distraught people going, “What the hell just happened to me?” There would be people mourning an overwhelming loss, wondering what will happen to relationships based on this thing that had become a huge absence rather than a major presence in their lives, trying to process the investment they maintained for decades in the church (was it wasted? Still valuable? How does it translates to the investments I might want or need to make next?), trying to formulate a new code of ethics now that their moral judgment wasn’t so reliant on the pronouncements on a bunch of old white guys in Utah, and angry as all hell that this organization they were told was the surest way to happiness in this life and the next was not, after all, able to adequately guide their choices or support their lives.
And once they worked through at least some of that, those people deprived so abruptly of a church—and thus a major frame of reference for their lives—still might like to get together from time to time with people who also once owned a CTR ring and suffered through the MTC and always tear up when they sing “Come, Come, Ye Saints” and remember how weird it was to discover, after decades of exhortation to the contrary, that coffee is awesome.
In other words, if the church disappeared tomorrow, every faithful member (well, every faithful member who wasn’t in complete denial about what had actually happened) would experience a crisis of faith, and would need all sorts of resources and support to deal with it.
The need for organizations like Sunstone would be huge. Thousands rather than hundreds would attend the symposium. Were it not for the fact that print is dead, subscriptions would skyrocket. (Thank goodness there’s already an electronic subscription available.) There would be a Mormon Stories community in every single town with a Mormon meeting house. And Main Street Plaza would become the biggest Mormon blog on the freaking planet.
Anyway, the church is not going to disappear suddenly, though it does seem intent these days on committing a messy, slow suicide, and causing as much misery as possible to everyone around it as it goes. But however the death happens or how long it takes, it’s pretty remarkable that people like J. Max miss really important elements of the big picture, to the point that they can’t see that the need for organizations that support Latter-day Saints as they deal with a loss of faith would increase exponentially if the entire faith were lost.
*Hey everybody! It was super fun. Hope that no harm or danger befalls you as you travel home.
**J. Max claims that he was “contacted by the organizers of the 2012 Sunstone Symposium” which just isn’t true—he was contacted by the organizers of a panel at the Sunstone symposium, which is not the same thing. The organizers of the 2012 Sunstone Symposium had little idea that he exists.