The Sunstone Symposium is being held later this week (Aug 6-9, 2008 at the Sheraton Salt Lake City Hotel). I have never attended a Sunstone Symposium. I have never felt the need. From my contacts in LDS blogging, I know many who will be attending. What is the Sunstone Symposium, you ask? I quote from their web site:
"The Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium is an annual gathering of Latter-day Saints, scholars, and others interested in the diversity and richness of Mormon thought and experience and who enjoy pondering the past, present, and future of the unfolding Restoration.Sunstone meets a need for some members
"Hosting discussions from all disciplines and presentations of all kinds, the symposium is based upon the principles of an open forum and the trust that both the cause of truth and the society of the Saints are best served by free and frank exploration and discussion."
Some my wonder why there is a need for an organization like Sunstone. Are the intellectual needs of the members not being met through the regular Sunday School, Priesthood and Relief Society meetings of the church? Perhaps there are other needs that are being addressed there. Here is more detail on the purposes of the Sunstone Education Foundation:
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a vibrant religious tradition with a diverse membership that has widely differing needs. For many Latter-day Saints, one of these needs is free and frank exploration of gospel truths as they relate to the complexities of today’s society.Signature Books in the LDS Community
"Some crave stimulating discussions of contemporary scholarship, literature, and social issues. Others find great comfort being able to read, hear, and share personal faith journeys, including all their twists and turns and occasional uncertainties.
"Through its many forums, Sunstone serves these Latter-day Saints and many others for whom life and faith is a wonderful but unique adventure. Sunstone brings together traditional and non-traditional Latter-day Saints, promoting an atmosphere that values both faith and intellectual and experiential integrity."
When one purchases LDS books these days, they almost invariably come from the primary outlet of Mormon-related published works, Deseret Book, owned by the church. Up until a few years ago, Bookcraft was the biggest competitor in the LDS publishing area. They were acquired by Deseret Book, which also recently bought out the smaller LDS discount chain, Seagull Books.
One of the publishers of LDS books that is somewhat controversial because of the subjects and the selection of authors is Signature Books. Let's just say that they publish interesting material. I'm not saying their offerings are not faith-promoting. I'm just saying that their product offerings are not always considered in line with the orthodox view of the Mormon community.
I'll admit that I have a lot of titles from Signature Books in my library. Some of their history and biography volumes are first rate. They have also published some of the books that have given the leaders of the church real cause for concern. Grant Palmer is published by Signature as is D. Michael Quinn. Their historical works are very influential in some circles of the church.
A long time ago, a conservative LDS blogger by the name of John Redelfs wrote much about those who loved to read and quote from authors published by Signature Books. He was very active in the early days of Internet LDS discussion groups from the early 1990's and of which I was a small part. I have always appreciated his essay entitled, "Who are the Signaturi?"
John asks that his essay be reproduced in it's entirety and since it is rather lengthy, I will not include it here. He may be a little harsh in his critique of the group of people he identifies in his essay but I find it a bit humorous and well worth reading. I'm not sure if he intended it to be humorous but it is both that and sad at the same time.
At one time I agreed with John's viewpoints in his essay wholeheartedly. I'm not so sure that I do anymore. I wonder if I'm getting more tolerant in my old age. In my blogging I have made some wonderful friends with whom I carry on private conversations discussing faith, testimony and the study of the gospel. Some of my new friends may fit into the realm of the Signaturi.
Questioning and challenging
A long time ago, fellow blogger S. Faux of Mormon Insights asked for my views on the method employed by many today to learn and grow in this church. The orthodox method is found in section 109 and again in section 118: "And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith."
Is it old-fashioned to learn this way - to put doubts on the shelf and to diligently study things out through long hours of reading and pondering? It seems there has arisen a new way of learning in today's Internet, fast-everything society - by questioning and challenging others who seem to have established and settled themselves through diligent study and thought provoking writing.
Now, don't get me wrong. There are lot of young, intelligent denizens of the Bloggernacle that are incredibly well-read and versed in the hot topics of our online community - like God's life before he was a God, how Jesus was conceived, the specific fate of sons of perdition, teachings about Adam as God, plural marriage, blacks and the priesthood and all kinds of other hot topics.
Summary and conclusion
I have been re-reading an essay from Robert L. Millet as published in the Religious Educator, vol 4, no 3, 2003. It is entitled, "What is our Doctrine?" We are invited to teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom. Blogging has given this commandment from the Lord a whole new avenue. It seems to me that most of the LDS Blogs I visit are read only by other LDS bloggers.
Are we fulfilling the vision of Elder Ballard when he invited us to participate in the dialogs that are going on in the new media? Many of us have been publishing on the Internet in one form or another for many years. There are also many, many new LDS blogs springing up every day. We are all reaching out to share the gospel in our own way and reaching many different audiences.
How are these three topics related - Sunstone, Signature Books and LDS blogging today? I believe they are all helping to meet a need for expression that cannot be found anywhere else. I'm not sure that I agree with this new method of learning - the questioning and challenging - but if that helps someone come to a greater understanding of the gospel then I'm all for it.