Because the Need to Understand a Relationship Often Doesn’t Die When the Relationship Does

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. πŸ™‚

**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.

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25 Responses

  1. Alan says:

    I think I mentioned to Chino once that if the Church disappeared, it’d be like a supernova with a dwarf star in the middle. There’d be so much to talk about and so much of a mess to clean up.

    (Personally, I tend to only like coffee in its ice cream form.)

  2. Seth R. says:

    It’s fun to have big dreams.

  3. chanson says:

    That is an excellent point!

    In my presentation (which I’ll post here soon), I agreed with J. Max that Sunstone (and other organizations that discuss Mormonism) depend on the existence of the various LDS churches, especially the big one. I meant, however, that such discussions would peter out after a generation or so, and then “Mormon Studies” would be academic discussions by historians.

    I completely agree that if the CoJCoL-dS collapsed suddenly, we’d see a supernova effect.

  4. chanson says:

    Oh, and I made it safely back to my parents’ house in Minnesota (to continue my vacation), and I had a fantastic evening at Squatters with you and the others — thanks!!

  5. Holly says:

    @1: definitely one hell of a mess.

    @2: That’s a pretty good explanation for the LDS church: All these poor people dreaming, with as much determination as they can muster, that all their self-deprivation and intellectual mediocrity in this life will be rewarded in the next life with some sort of surpassing glory.

    Thanks for that insight, Seth.

    @3: Heavens, I hadn’t even thought of many, many dissertations that would be written examining the aftermath of the church’s disappearance. It wouldn’t just be historians, though–the whole crazy supernova would be a huge contribution to trauma studies, and psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists would flood the field.

    @4: good! πŸ™‚

  6. Seth R. says:

    Yeah, that must be it Holly.

    That must have been some beer.

  7. Holly says:

    oh, heavens, Seth–do we have yet another situation where your intended meaning was not, despite your constant insistence that if people misunderstand you it’s THEIR fault, crystal clear after all?

    Hmmm. Perhaps a big dream you should have would be to successfully express your thoughts and opinions. πŸ™‚

  8. Holly says:

    p.s. I didn’t have one single drop of beer that night, Seth. As I keep pointing out, you really should be more careful about the assumptions you make.

  9. Seth R. says:

    Holly, I was obviously mocking you. I don’t care if you got drunk or not. A post this deliciously self-serving and self-aggrandizing was just too much to resist.

    I used to daydream in 6th grade about gaining superpowers, shocking my parents, silencing my critics, and getting the president to humbly ask for my opinion along with a new girlfriend.

    Thankfully, I never committed it to paper where anyone could read it though.

  10. Holly says:

    You were mocking me, Seth? Really? Wow! Well, keep at it, big boy! Maybe one of these days you’ll be able to deliver an insult without having to explain it later, so that it actually has some sting. Practice makes perfect, you know!

    And i totally agree: a post acknowledging that the church will take a long time to commit suicide, so that we have it around to criticize for a good long while, is probably pretty self-serving.

  11. Holly says:

    getting the president to humbly ask for my opinion along with a new girlfriend.

    Out of curiosity, why would the president ask you to give him both your opinion and a new girlfriend? You’d think someone who could get elected president could get a new girlfriend on his own.

  12. Seth R. says:

    Well, carry on then, sorry to interrupt the dream.

  13. Seth R. says:

    Oh you can take your pick on interpretation of my 6th grade daydreams Holly.

    I’m feeling magnanimous at the moment.

  14. Holly says:

    Oh you can take your pick on interpretation of my 6th grade daydreams Holly.

    Before we can get to interpreting the hopes and dreams of wee little pre-pubescent Seth, I was hoping we could simply get some clarity on the convoluted syntax of All Grown Up Seth. Are you feeling magnanimous enough to provide that?

  15. Seth R. says:

    Nah – everyone has their limits, after all.

  16. Chino Blanco says:

    I’m mostly just proud of myself for surviving Saturday night and managing to make it to the office this morning. Good times. Hats off to the folks who made this a memorable Sunstone. You rock. πŸ™‚

  17. Seth R. says:

    Chino, grumbling aside – I’m incredibly envious of you guys.

    I’d love to get our yearly family trip to Utah moved to August so I can attend this stuff. But my wife is still insisting on July 4th for our trip for some reason.

  18. Holly says:

    Make it July 24th, then stick around for ten days. Sunstone next year is July 31 though August 3.

  19. Seth R. says:

    Well, I’ll campaign for it. But I’ll probably get outvoted. My kids really, really like Provo’s Freedom Festival.

  20. Parker says:

    I thought the Sunstone Symposium was the freedom festival.

  21. Seth R. says:

    My 10 year old daughter would disagree.

  22. chanson says:

    @20 lol

    @17 – @19 — It’s fun! If you go, you’ll meet a lot of people that you might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet.

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