Most of you probably heard that Sunstone recently hired two new employees to carry out the “open forum” Sunstone mission through the magazine and symposia. I applied for the jobs and made it to the final four, which caused me to do some reflecting on Sunstone and what it means to me.
Instead of posting my idiosyncratic reflections and opinions here, I will refer you to my essay “Trying Again to Get Sunstoned” at my personal blog, if you’re interested. What I wanted to do here on Mormon Matters is start a conversation on what people think about Sunstone, its character, its mission, its future prospects, etc. I’m sure the new employees and the board members would love to hear any additional frank feedback they can get.
I know that our guru John Dehlin has been involved in Sunstone in some capacity in the recent past, so I’d particularly like to invite him to tell us about his experience and what he thinks of Sunstone.
Do you know who got the job?
I have many thoughts on Sunstone, which I’ll write up for my own blog sometime this summer, but they seem to be in a transitional phase, trying to hold on to tradition, but attempting to break new ground.
Under some delusional fantasy and after talking to some friends who are involved with Sunstone, I also applied for the editor position. But I never expected to get it. Even though I lack the experience, I had a lot of ideas that I hoped to present to them, but never got the chance.
I think Sunstone is living in a paradox of attempting to appeal to faithful members, while at the same time trying to keep publishing disaffected and marginal believers or non-believers. I think that by determining the editorial content of the magazine through the perspective of this paradox will always be a detriment to Sunstone’s future success. They simply can’t play both sides of the fence, and hope to expect to be loved by both.
I think they need to re-assess the basic foundation of what Sunstone is going to do in the future. We all know what it’s been in the past. But I think the future demands new, fresh ideas. If they keep re-hashing the same ole, same ole, then there existence will eventually evaporate. They have lasted a long time, but I think the future is still a little shaky for them. I have some new, fresh ideas myself, which I’ll keep to myself for now.
But despite all of this, I really love Sunstone.
I grew tired of Sunstone after Dan Rector left.
I certainly look forward to seeing this discussion, but the official announcement for the positions will come this week. Can we keep it on the foundation, the ideas, the complaints, the praise, and avoid the people in these positions for the next few days? I’ll be happy to update this thread when we post the announcement.
I think you’ve hit it on the head with this.
“I think Sunstone is living in a paradox of attempting to appeal to faithful members, while at the same time trying to keep publishing disaffected and marginal believers or non-believers. I think that by determining the editorial content of the magazine through the perspective of this paradox will always be a detriment to Sunstone’s future success. They simply can’t play both sides of the fence, and hope to expect to be loved by both.”
Sunstone does some good stuff. But as long as it continues “publishing disaffected and marginal believers or non-believers” I don’t think many (including myself) will see it as building the kingdom.
Nitsav, I think you reflect a number of members views that Sunstone should be building up the kingdom, but would rather criticize the kingdom. I think Sunstone needs to leave this dichotomy behind, or work really hard to change it. I think this dichotomy is not beneficial to what a magazine should be doing. And what a magazine should be doing, in my opinion, is only one thing: great writing, regardless of what people think of it. I don’t think Sunstone should be building up the kingdom – that’s the job of the church and it’s members. Nor should it be tearing down the church – that’s the job of the church’s detractors.
More than anything, I would like to see Sunstone integrating a journalist approach to covering the kingdom – the good, the bad, and the ugly (and beautiful too) – in the pursuit of great writing.
I think they need to stop worrying about how they may be “hurting” members or trying to “help” members with doubts and questions. How Sunstone affects certain individuals is truly beyond their ability to control or manage. All they really can control is the quality and approach of the writing. I think they need to move on to a completely different approach on how to publish a magazine.
I’m sure easier said than done, but it’s a couple thoughts I have about the whole Sunstone thing.
I think Sunstone ought to be more like Mormon Matters and less like …
Magazines are 20th century artifacts. I’m not a young woman, but I have almost no magazine subscriptions any more – Fast Company and Natural History; that’s about it. There is nothing I want to know about Mormon News that I can’t find, well written and well researched, on the internet, for free.
I was online with a chat session with some friends in the DAMU when I found out that President Hinckley died – probably less than 20 minutes after it happened, and before the news was on the Salt Lake Tribune web page. Maybe the people in Utah heard first, as breaking news on TV, but here in Southeast Louisiana, I knew in what seemed like light speed for the region.
Long articles that are not “news,” but essentially theological essays, are a total drag on a format like Sunstone magazine.
On the other hand, the Salt Lake symposium is a slam dunk. Hundreds of people, great turnout, lots of fun. Young, faithful, thoughtful LDS come and present and share and learn from each other. I admit, by Saturday I was totally mormoned out, but I had a great experience there, and that’s saying a lot, because I had PMS at the time and was visiting a dying friend.
The magazine is a drag on the brand. Move the content to the web, add click-through ads, link to the best of the bloggernacle content and add your own unique material. Publish a paper version of your own unique material quarterly.
As for me and my house, we love Sunstone. Sunstone was my first introduction to Mormonism about 25 years ago (maybe a bit less, I doo’t recall). I’ve since become friends with so many good people who I’ve met through Sunstone. I’ll be back in Utah in August for the annual symposium.
Others here have suggested that Sunstone is a bit schizophrenic in its attitudes toward the Church. Do I worry about it? Nah, I celebrate it. Change — constructive change — only happens when there is some irritation. Let’s have ore of it.
I think that Sunstone’s biggest challenge is not its alleged ‘schizophrenia’ but the Bloggernacle. The ‘nacle doesn’t have to follow a specific editorial stance — in fact, the range of opinions and approaches on a single LDS blog can be quite diverse, and there’s quite a diversity of blogs.
Sunstone’s main advantage is that it provides a motivation for lengthy, well-edited/vetted, and well-documented articles — but one can argue that lengthy does not necessarily equal better and that many ‘nacle postings are sufficiently documented. As for ‘well-edited/vetted’, well most of us know of the feeding frenzy that can occur with a single ‘nacle post, so we often get to see the editing and vetting being done in semi-real time, rather than just seeing the finished product. 🙂
Sunstone’s main disadvantage (as a physical periodical, or even an electronic one) is turnaround time. The online magazine archive is currently nearly 9 months out of date, and the Sunstone “blog” seems to be averaging about 2-3 posts/month. Compare that with the collective turnover of new (and usually quite interesting) LDS posts that you can see via the ‘LDS Blogs’ website.
When I lived in Washington DC for six years, I started every morning at 6 am by reading the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. When we moved to Parker, Colorado three years ago, I soon dropped the WSJ subscription because I couldn’t get it any sooner than 2 to 3 pm (in the mail), and often it didn’t come at all. By the time I did get it, I had usually gathered all the timely news online. As for a daily newspaper, I found that the local ones (Denver Post, Rocky Mountain News) weren’t worth reading daily — I got far better news online — and eventually I dropped the weekend editions as well. I dropped weekly news magazines before I ever left DC.
Sunstone runs the same risk unless it finds a way to keep up with the Bloggernacle. ..bruce..
I’ve looked at a couple of issues, and it struck me as a Mormon bi***fest.
I don’t require that my literature be faith-affirming, but I have better things to do with my time than to read a periodical with a comic strip whose apparent raison d’etre is to make bishops and high councilors the butt of its jokes.
I love Sunstone. I even like the print format of the magazine. And I don’t see it as a bitchfest at all. If anything, in recent years, Sunstone has gotten more careful and cautious (whether this is good or bad depends on your point of view).
I agree fully with others, though, that some of the things the magazine tries to do no longer works in the bloggernacle era. If Sunstone wants to be at the heart of Mormon discussions, it’s online presense needs an *enormous* boost in just about every way imaginable.
I think they have a great name. I’d like to be in a rock band called Sunstone, playing lead guitar. It kinda rings of the Nauvoo Temple, basking on a beach with a cool iced tea*, and Aztec rituals of human sacrifice, all at once.
*de-caffinated, of course
Odd, I thought that I’d heard they were doing the final interviews for the positions at the symposium in August. That said, I think one of the few reasons I’m still around in mormonism is Sunstone. One person’s bitchfest is another person’s chance to hear open and honest discussions of the church, mormon culture and the gospel. I’ve heard much that was inspirational at Sunstone, along with some that was stupid, whiny or silly. I think that the folks in charge of the magazine realize that it’s becoming an anachronism; however, the bloggernacle is often a good example of why editors are a good idea, and you can’t really compare the quality of most bloggernacle writing to what can be found in Sunstone and Dialogue.
What happened to the Sunstone blog? It was active and then died.
I think one thing they did which was wise was release one story open for linking and try to generate blog posts about it. The idea was to try and engender interest. Since they stopped I suppose it didn’t work too well. One problem was that the story would go down after a month and suddenly all the links from blogs stopped working.
Sunstone also needs to look at the younger audience (such as myself). While many of my elder generation know Sunstone for better (or for worse), I think that because of the controversy that surrounded it (as well as, to an extent, Dialogue) have hurt it.
What needs to happen is an appeal to college students, yet many are a product of our generation…namely…I’ve seen many who don’t ask questions, who don’t want to know things, and are content that way. This goes for Dialogue as well.
I think the magazine format would still work – though I can get the information off of the website, I cannot stand reading things off a computer screen. I think that the print format (I know for me) is exciting, and something tangible. Mind you, we only have a subscription to the Ensign, Dialogue, and ESPN the Magazine, magazine’s surely aren’t dead.
I think Sunstone should be updated to use Web 2.0….
They could have a forum to build a community, like New Order Mormon, but one that is very tight knit and close.
They also need to make use of ustream where they can stream their meetings in Utah so that people all over the world can take part without having to commute to Salt Lake.
With the age of Web 2.0 there is a great chance for them to move and find their place so that we can catch those who are disaffected before they find a community with those that advocate leaving the church without proper forthought.
I think that Sunstone will always be something that people like me don’t want to touch because we don’t want to associate ourselves with disaffected people. But we will always look to it as something that has stuff that we can’t find anywhere else. That’s another paradox.
I agree with Ann that print is dead.
I’m of that older generation (ouch) full of paranoia about Sunstone. I also feel like I have to roll my eyes when I say it. I agree that the problem is the purpose. If it were scholarly and neutral (which seems to be a magical impossibility where Mormonism is concerned), that would be great. Because it’s in print, it’s not necessary to portray various viewpoints (IMO) like it is in the b’nacle where the opposing dialog is requisite to explore the topic. Print is dead, so no dialogue. Why pretend it’s dialogue when it’s not? And if it’s not going to be dialogue, try harder to be neutral. Good luck with that.
“I think Sunstone ought to be more like Mormon Matters and less like …”
I disagree. I think that Sunstone should be just like Sunstone, Mormon Matters should be just like Mormon Matters, New Order Mormons should be just like New Order Mormons, Dialogue should be just like Dialogue and lds.net should be just like lds.net and even exmormon.org should be just like exmormon.org.
I think there is plenty of room on the internet for everyone and a place for each person with different perspectives.
Zelph, Sunstone is print media.
Sure, there is room on the internet for just about anything you can think of.
The point I was making, was that for better success as a print venue, it might be better served with a flavor closer to Mormon Matters than what it is perceived to have.
Which is my opinion, one of many where we probably disagree, though I hope you understand it better. This is not a judgment of “better” or “worse” but where I think it will get better market penetration and success.
The problem with letting Sunstone be Sunstone is that Sunstone has employees, overhead, and expenses. It needs to pay for itself. If Sunstone was able to continue supporting itself indefinitely with a small subscriber base, out-of-date delivery mechanism, lack of focus, and no idea of what audience they want, then I would agree that there is plenty of room for the model. I would be surprised if that’s the case.
Twenty years ago, Sunstone and Dialogue were the only games in town for the intellectually minded Latter-day Saint. That is absolutely not the case today. They are competing with free media. And “you get what you pay for” isn’t a valid argument, because the free stuff is damned good, and there’s a ton of it.
There are probably a lot of people who have a strong attachment to Sunstone and what it represents. Nostalgia doesn’t pay the rent – or the new editor, for that matter.
I can’t add anything to Bruce’s (bfwebster) and Ann’s comments. They are spot-on.
I ordered free sample issues of Sunstone and Dialogue in 2005, not knowing much about either. I found both pretty interesting, but ended up subscribing only to Dialogue. If I can isolate one thing that caused me to dismiss Sunstone, it was a comic. I don’t remember the joke, but it struck me as simply disrespectful and mean-spirited, and not even accurate in its caricature. Based on JimD’s comment, I assume that this comic is a regular feature.
That said, I’ve come across several Sunstone articles and audio recordings on the Internet over the past few years that I’ve enjoyed, but apparently not enough to inspire me to give the magazine another chance.
I don’t know about the arguments against print media in general–I personally much prefer paper to a screen, despite having used computers from a very young age. However, one thing that I wished existed after reading a certain Dialogue article in the latest issue is a Web forum for discussing specific articles. I think that could help either title, and even attract new readers with conversations being linked from other Web logs and appearing on LDS aggregator sites. The Web log that Clark mentioned might have been just what I’m talking about, but I guess it wasn’t around long enough to come to my attention.
Ann makes a critical point that I failed to address: the economics of running a magazine. Simply put, the equation (ad revenue + subscription revenue) >= (all expenses + salaries + benefits + taxes) has to be true. The problems that Sunstone faces are not much different from those that the Deseret News faces. The 20th Century was the Golden Age of newsprint media, both newspapers and magazines, but both forums have been under growing financial pressure for about 15 to 20 years now, and it’s just going to get worse. ..bruce..
The Sunstone symposia are the best thing about it. One need not be a scholar with credentials in philosophy to present a paper there, just like one not need have a master’s degree in divinity to be a bishop. And where else can you meet Emma Lou Thayne, Robert Kirby, Dennis Potter, Dan Vogel, Armand Mauss, and Matt Thurston in the same room?
For all its detractors say, Sunstone is a peculiarly Mormon phenomenon, down to the devotionals and opening prayers which they used to do before most sessions…
I love a print magazine too and can read only so much on screen. That said, I think Sunstone magazine would be more welcome in most people’s mail boxes if each issue were about half the length. A type-dense 80-page magazine is daunting in today’s media environment.
And I agree that Sunstone hasn’t found much purchase yet online; even Dialogue seems to have beat them with its affiliation with BCC, although now that I think about it I don’t often remember that affiliation when reading BCC.
Sometimes I think that Sunstone should do a complete relaunch with a new name and everything, since the old name carries so much negative baggage. And don’t call the annual conference a symposium anymore, and shrink it down to perhaps just one big day on a Saturday. Then personally I’d go more consistently, since I wouldn’t have to use vacation days. Maybe hold a one-day affair 2-3 times a year in Salt Lake instead of one big less-digestible clump each August. More frequent smaller events would also help with a continuity of community, etc.
If I worked at Sunstone, I would assume it could be for anyone who is Mormon and values an open, frank discussion. That’s why I love Sunstone so much–it gets past all that nauseating white-shirted posing that Mormons do to look righteous and faithful to each other. I just wish Sunstone didn’t go TOO far so often, or without proper balance. I would try to move it more into the true middle of the spectrum instead of leaning so far left, hopefully with more balance. But maybe that’s naive and has already been tried as much as possible. Our culture tends to polarize so quick and easy that maybe it’s impossible to truly bridge the divide.
Another thing I would do would be to enlist some Sunstone missionaries. It would be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it would also be a serious campaign. I would provide people who agreed to spread the word with missionary kits containing brochures, postcards, 10-pack bundles of sample issues and symposia programs, talking points, graffiti Sharpies for use in meetinghouse restrooms, etc. for really spreading the word. I work in the multi-level marketing industry, which I absolutely loathe, but they do know how to help people do effective grassroots word of mouth, and Sunstone needs a big ongoing boost of that. Also, I think the organization needs a starter website for introducing people to Sunstone, with a welcome video or podcast and some easy entry points for getting acquainted. A website that works with the main site in a similar way as how Mormon.org works with LDS.org.
I’m constantly amazed by the gulf that separates a person’s perception of what Sunstone is, and what it actually is. The perception is usually based on hearsay, or an isolated article or syposium session, or a cartoon. Almost without fail, when I’ve handed a copy of the magazine to someone (even conservative TBM’s), or met a nervous “first-timer” at a Symposium, inevitably the response is not only, “Hey, this isn’t as bad as I thought it was,” but also, “This is really cool, I hope to read (or come) again.”
Frankly, the idea that any regular Bloggernacle participant would have any problem with Sunstone mystifies me. Name one subject/topic that Sunstone discusses that the Bloggernacle hasn’t batted around ad nauseum.
In terms of their historic importance to Mormonism, I don’t think you can overstate the value added by independent Mormon institutions, including Dialogue, the Mormon History Association, and Sunstone (which, in many ways, has stood out ahead of all the others).
Independent Mormon institutions are just as important going forward as they were in the past, and with the bloggernacle, independent voices have proliferated. Despite the evolution of media and technology, I think Sunstone retains the potential to play vital role in the Mormon community.
Matt, that’s my point. I am probably a little older than your current target demographic, but I am a liberal Mormon, I love a good discussion and new ideas, and I love to read. Yet I don’t subscribe to Sunstone. I have a substantial collection of Sunstone’s from the mid to late 1980’s, and I haven’t seen anything about the more recent editions that leads me to think it’s changed much – I think the fonts are even the same.
I can get all the interesting discussion I need more immediately, on the internet, for free. Your lead articles don’t draw me in. “Are boys more important than girls?” by Margaret Toscano. Let me guess – the answer was “Yes, according to the LDS church.” I can have a vibrant discussion on the same subject over at FMH or Zelophehad’s Daughters (or even BCC). What does Sunstone (the magazine) bring to the table that isn’t already on the internet? Deep thinkers writing journal length articles with footnotes? I’ll read Dialogue. Cartoons? I love your cartoons. I would buy a book of Jet’s cartoons. But I’m not going to subscribe just for the cartoons!
Matt, I hope you know I think you’re wonderful, and I wish the Sunstone blog would really take off and that Sunstone will find a way to keep going for the next 50 years or more. If I had anything original to say about Mormonism I’d be begging you to let me permablog at Sunstoneblog, but for all my strong opinions I’m really a shallow thinker. Sunstone doesn’t want shallow thinkers.
Maybe I’m just cynical, but I think Sunstone is WAY behind the curve on this, and I don’t think it’s going to be easy to catch up. I would be delighted to be dead wrong about this.
My involvement with Sunstone goes way, way back, and I’m really not interested or involved any more. In the 1980s, Sunstone and Dialogue were the only game in town. They were eye-opening for members who were just discovering all kinds of dissonance between their beliefs and the church. But my interests and questioning has changed over the years, while things seem to be basically the same after 25 years with Sunstone. In comparing the program listings for the Salt Lake symposium this year with a program from the mid-80s, I see the same names, the same subjects, and very nearly the same titles of papers.
I’m still active in the church but not particularly attached to it. I’m more interested in finding specific ways to make it a meaningful experience, rather than connect with people who are just now realizing they have personal conflicts with the institution, or worse, people who after three decades are still mining the same limited range of religious questioning.
From my limited perspective, it seems there’s a new generation that is reliving what the previous generation did. I don’t see much building on the past, however. It all seems mired in mediocrity. I have glanced through issues of Sunstone occasionally in the last decade and never found anything compelling enough to motivate me to buy a copy, let alone subscribe. I do read Dialogue more often because they tend to publish more substantial research and better quality writing. But I find myself trying now to engage ward members in discussion of doctrinal questions, rather than saving it up for an occasional symposium where I know there’s a sympathetic audience.
But my interests and questioning has changed over the years, while things seem to be basically the same after 25 years with Sunstone. In comparing the program listings for the Salt Lake symposium this year with a program from the mid-80s, I see the same names, the same subjects, and very nearly the same titles of papers.
Hmm, that gave me thought.
What we ought to do is invite a few Sunstone editors or employees to participate here as bloggers if they are interested, given the state of the Sunstone blog.
Any thoughts about that?
I attended the Sunstone symposium for the first time last summer. I was a bit apprehensive as I drove up from Provo and as I registered, but I ran into a friend from the mission and attended some sessions with Ann Porter and generally had a good time. The one thing about the symposium that got to me was that a small number of sessions were relevant for me. I enjoy listening to past sessions via the new and improved Sunstone website. I especially like Eugene England and appreciate the theology of Paul and Margaret Toscano. Sadly, I will not be attending this year’s conference because of a family member who did not consult me about his wedding date.
One of the things I like about Sunstone is participation is encouraged and welcome. Education Week struggles with this because the sessions are so big and often filmed for BYU tv to fit a certain time slot.
A weakness of Sunstone is that it is very tied to a small social setting that has diminishing significance for most Mormons as the years go by. If “the Avenues” or “Sugarhouse” don’t trigger some mental image for you, then you’re not Sunstone’s audience.
John, what exactly is this small social setting?
That makes about as much sense as to say, that if you are not from Bountiful or Orem, then you’re not quite the audience for General Conference.
My thoughts on Sunstone… (nothing novel…I’m warning you)
— The archive of magazine articles and symposium presentations are amazing. Absolutely incredible. Life-changing. Miraculous. Inspirational. If you haven’t read the top 10 or 20 Sunstone articles and listened to the top 10 or 20 Sunstone symposium presentations of all time — you are really missing something. (Such an exploration could be fodder for a year of quality blog posts, btw…easy).
— Every Sunstone symposium I’ve ever attended left me totally inspired and uplifted. Every one. SLC (3 or 4x), Phoenix, Seattle (2x), Boston, etc.
— Dan Wotherspoon is one of the coolest, wickedly smartest dudes I’ve ever met within Mormonism. I miss Dan. Also — his personal sacrifices for Sunstone (as were Elbert’s, Peggy’s, Scott’s and of course Daniel Rector) have been innumerable and immeasurable. Running Sunstone takes everything out of you. Ya’ll have no idea the sacrifices that these folks make. Those folks are all heroes of mine. All of them (though I never met Daniel).
— Working with the board was amazing. Bonner Ritchie. Bill Bradshaw. Toby Pingree. Charlotte England. Robert Kirby. Nadine Hansen. Jeff Burton. Elbert Peck. These folks are giants. Mary Ellen Robertson. Mike Stevens. Kim McCall. Amazing. And the newbies….Matt Thurston. Jana Remy. Rory Swenson. Lauras Compton and Bush. Doe. (who am I forgetting?). Very, very cool people. Tons of talent and promise as they continue to focus their strategy.
— The office staff (while I worked there) did some really, really cool things. Someday, the Sunstone database system is going to go down in the Microsoft Access hall of fame…I’m sure of it. 🙂 William is a dedicated dude. And Carol and Allen are really cool peeps. Seriously.
— The big challenges that Sunstone has been trying to deal with for a few years now are: 1) decline in print publications overall, 2) the stigma from the September 6 fallout, 3) competing w/ the ‘nacle, and 4) bridging the gap between the current (shrinking) subscriber base, and the newer, younger generations. NONE of these challenges are easy to solve. I sure was naive in my feeble attempts to help out last year (I resigned in December from Sunstone — after only 5 or 6 months in the position as Executive Direcotr — primarily for work/family reasons). I really feel bad that I had to step away. I left them hanging in a bad way. It’s embarrassing, really. Makes my heart hurt just thinking about it.
— There are no easy answers, but I am super impressed at the job that Rory Swenson has been doing since he came on. Rory is amazing, folks — though he’s definitely a “behind-the-scenes” kind of guy. Ya’ll should meet him if you are ever in SLC. Top notch guy.
Personally, I believe that Sunstone will rise again. It will take some trial and error — and it won’t be easy. But it will rise again (not that it’s dead…it’s just finding its way). And kudos to Dan and Rory and the board for toughing it out. They are better men/women than I was/am.
My 2 cents.
P.S. If Sunstone and Dialogue (Kristine Haglund) can figure out a way to find more synergies between them — I have even greater hopes for both. Kristine walks on water in my eyes. 🙂
Ann, the fact that you don’t subscribe to Sunstone just bugs the poop out of me. I would think you’d support (i.e. subscribe to) Sunstone on principle alone, that just having an independent voice out there hosting open discussions about Mormon issues, and helping Mormons-looking-for-more, or Mormons-walking-the-third-path, is worth $45/year. That magazines like Dialogue and Sunstone even exist, despite underfunding and a host of other obstacles, just makes me feel good inside. It is a testament to the many people who played a role in their creation and ongoing existence, some of the most interesting people Mormonism has created. Were I to completely lose interest in Mormonism, both as a channel/venue for worship and culture, I’d surely continue to subscribe to both Dialogue and Sunstone until I (or they) stopped existing, partly because of the role they played in my life, and partly because I think their existence is important. (Was that enough guilt? 🙂 )
Everyone always seems to have an opinion about “What is wrong with Sunstone?” or “What needs to be done to fix Sunstone?” Though I’ve heard similar opinions expressed about the bloggernacle, or Dialogue, FAIR, JMH, FARMS, etc., I just don’t see it to the same degree. The only Mormon organiztion that seems to garner more criticism, and/or elicit more how-to-fix-it suggestions, is the Church itself.
I like most of the suggestions in this thread. Like John Hamer, I think Sunstone can still play an important role in the Mormon community going forward. Despite the fine contributions of the bloggernacle, it does not elicit the support or participation of many of Mormonism’s best thinkers and writers due its ephemeral nature and dozens of other contraints of the format. And despite the fine articles that can be found in Dialogue, JMH, or BYU Studies, Sunstone clearly occupies a unique niche (both in terms of tone and subject matter) that only occasionally overlaps these sister publications.
I had a really long comment justifying my decision not to subscribe, but I decided it was just excuse-making. I’m sorry it bugs you, Matt. I guess I just lack vision.
I am not a “Sunstoner”, but I subscribe and enjoy the magazine, and have attended and enjoyed a couple of symposia. When I say I am not a “Sunstoner”, I refer to the stereotype that some outside and perhaps even inside of Sunstone have that a “Sunstoner” is (a) someone without a testimony, (b) someone who is “in” the Church but not “of” the Church, (c) someone who is an ardent critic or disaffected, or (d) someone who hopes to make the Church more “liberal” or alter its policies. I do not have an agenda in subscribing or attending symposia other than to learn and sometimes have my ideas challenged. I confess that sometimes I cringe at what I read or have heard, but on balance I agree with John Hamer that Sunstone performs a vital function–I personally think it is part of “the Kingdom.” Were it not for concerns that it might be misconstrued, I think that Dan’s successor should be “set apart” for his new position by one of the general Church leadership (same for Kristine at Dialogue). And I write this only partially in jest.
Thanks for the interesting discussion, everyone. These comments are good to read, to help us see where we are, and to read some of the fresh ideas. I would like to respond in more detail tomorrow, but for now I want to make three points:
1 – We’ve just released the information on our new Editor and our new Director of Outreach and Symposia. You can read the full release at SunstoneMagazine.
Stephen R. Carter has been selected as the new editor. He has a great style and a strong commitment to exploring Mormonism through open conversations. We’re excited to see him implement his ideas for the magazine, and to see how it will evolve under his editorship. I think you will see a stronger emphasis on people and contemporary issues, particularly on Mormon literature, art, music, and film. Certainly not abandoning the core of Sunstone intellectual inquiry, but I think we’ll see a different and compelling mix in the coming years. It should be fun!
Mary Ellen Robertson is our new Director of Outreach and Symposia. She has been a strong supporter of Sunstone since attending her first Symposium in 1992, and has served on our board for the past 7 years. She has strong experience organizing several past regional symposia, and is fully committed to the open forum that Sunstone represents. She will work to organize the main Symposium, as well as expand into regional and local Sunstone-sponsored events/symposia. She will also work to expand our reach through campus outreach, cultivating new readers from the younger generations, enhancing our online and blog offerings, and work to build both a physical and an online community.
By removing the responsibility of the symposia from the editor, we hope to see a more aggressive publication schedule for the magazine, but also a much more concerted effort to leverage the value of the gatherings to build this community. And let’s face it – we are a community. There is a large variation among us, but the bloggernacle, the ‘stoners (I can say that, right?), the FAIR and FARMS supporters, the MHA, JWHA, Dialogue, and the new academic chair programs all have this thing called Mormonism in common. We have our differences, yes, but we also share many commonalities. We should celebrate that, be willing to support one another, and come together to work for mutual growth. Our Symposium is a prime opportunity, and we hope to expand that.
2 – Speaking of support, I think Matt makes a good point about the need to subscribe and support these magazines and journals. Sunstone and Dialogue need subscribers – not just to see a print magazine, but to support the infrastructure needed to publish and cultivate the writers, the artists, and the scholars behind it. As a non-profit, we are dependent on the goodwill of our supporters, and we have some very dedicated and generous individuals. But we also have a clear direction to be self-sustaining, and if we are successful in our transitions in the coming years I fully expect to be self-sufficient and able to devote donations to special projects and initiatives. But we need subscribers. In the mean time, we welcome your donations too, you can do so at… hmm. Is that okay to ask on your blog? If not, come to sunstonemagazine.com, and I’ll ask you there. 🙂
3 – John Dehlin’s comments. Very generous and very much appreciated. We’ve tried to keep things relatively quiet this year, as Sunstone is in the middle of a strategic transition. It’s always a careful dance to find the proper mix of disclosure, especially in a transitory time. But John, in his comments, takes on a little bit of a self-criticizing tone. The fact is that John has been instrumental in defining the directions we are moving, and his time spent on the board was productive and exciting. He was willing to take significant personal risk to help start this process, and he was also big enough to make some sacrifices for the good of Sunstone and for his family. As he said on numerous occasions, the Executive Director position was a dream job. But near year-end, it became clear that his family and career needed attention, and that his work with Sunstone was very draining. He’s a good man, and made a tough decision, but ultimately the right one and the one that I admire him for. He’s a busy guy, but I am fortunate to be able to bounce ideas off of him, and I hope that we continue to have opportunities in the future to work closely together.
Sunstone has achieved a lot this year, including the launch of a new web site with a fully-archived and searchable database of past content and symposia sessions, the digitization of all past magazine issues, a forthcoming DVD of that content, and the launch of the Mapping Mormon Issues project (with details on our site). We have many challenges to address, but we are tackling them one at a time, and we are making progress. I’m absolutely confident with our future, it’s simply a matter of managing expectations and sharing with our community the progress we do make. We can’t and won’t change overnight, but in future years I think we will look back at this time as a key period in the success of Sunstone as an organization, as well as the success of the ideals and concepts that Sunstone represents within Mormonism.
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