I went to my very first Sunstone symposium this year, so here's what I attended.
BLACK & WHITE: THE CHALLENGES OF COLONIAL ART IN MORMON ART & SCHOLARSHIP
Panelists: Mica McGriggs, Russell Stevenson, Nancy Ross, Brad Kramer
Moderator: Seth Anderson
Mainly dealt with the controversy around J. Kirk Richards' painting "Eve and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge" where she is African, nude, and facing sideways. Standout comment for me was McGriggs saying there's a cultural difference between white and black nudity. Black nudity instantly recalls the auction block.
Panelist: Mark Thomas
Respondent: D. Michael Quinn
Moderator: Paul Malan
Thomas focussed on the real estate assets of the Church, primarily all of the land they're buying in Florida, but from what we know of climate change, the bottom fourth of Florida will be underwater in the next 50-100 years. Why isn't the Church more serious about climate change?
Quinn pointed out the Church buys assets in high-risk locations all over the world, not just Florida, and so it is not inconsistent of them to purchase there and these other places. Quinn also let us know his latest book, the third part of his Mormon Hierarchy series, is about the finances of the Church and will be out in a few more months. When I asked him about it later, he said it'd probably come out somewhere between November and January.
STUMBLING BLOCKS & STEPPING STONES: INCLUDING LGBTI CHILDREN OF GOD IN THE LDS PLAN OF SALVATION
Panelist: Duane Jennings
Moderator: Lavina Fielding Anderson
This presentation showed all of the places where the scriptures deal with homosexuality and how most of them have been misinterpreted. For example, whenever the reasons in the scriptures are given why Sodom & Gomorrah was destroyed, it's about the pride and idleness of its inhabitants. He also pointed out that when it came to modern revelation, there's nothing in the Book of Mormon or Doctrine & Covenants about it. He also posited that the groundwork is there for same-sex sealings, as it happened in the church in the earliest days when adult men would be sealed together as father and son.
FAITH & DOUBT IN CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN MORMONISM: A QUANTITATIVE EMPIRICAL PERSPECTIVE
Panelist: Benjamin Knoll
This looked at the 2011 Pew Research study on U.S. Mormons and went through all of the statistics. It had details like the most likely political bent of someone who's having serious doubts about the Church are independents who lean Democratic. I left about halfway through, because I can always just look up the study myself, to catch the second half of...
EVOLUTION: ANALYSIS OF THE "FACTS"
Panelist: Joe Jensen
Moderator: Whitney Moulton
This was an engineer's perspective on the amazing complexity of the human body and how it makes him lean more toward intelligent design rather than pure evolution. Once he was finished, he had an evolutionary biologist and then a chemist refute some of his conclusions, basically saying he was playing "God of the gaps," where if we don't understand something we assign it to God or intelligent design until we know how it works.
FROM EXCLUSION TO ACCEPTANCE: THE TASK OF GOD'S PEOPLE IN ALL DISPENSATIONS
Panelist: Lisa Hansen
Moderator: Roy Schmidt
This started with all of the people excluded from enterting the temple in Old Testament times, such as the disabled, because they were imperfect and therefore unclean. One of Jesus' main messages was inclusion as he healed the sick and ate with sinners.
She tied this to the restoration and how the Church excluded blacks from holding the priesthood or entering the temple until 1978, when the excluded finally became the accepted, and she also posited that this will eventually happen for the LGBTI community in the Church.
MOVING PAST BLACK & WHITE THINKING ABOUT GOD, RELIGION, AND MORMONISM
Panelists: Jody England Hansen, John Hatch, Dan Wotherspoon
Moderator: Sarah Hancock Jones
This featured three different perspectives of complex faiths, and how to make a place for it in Church. Hansen spoke about her faith transition, and how she still makes the Church work for her even if she doesn't believe some of its truth claims. Hatch came at it from a ex-Mormon view and he spoke about "outrage," how social media has amplified outrage, and he directed his thoughts to other ex-Mormons, who become mirror versions of what they're angry about by letting themselves get so angry about it. Wotherspoon spoke about staying near the fire, the fire of spiritual experience. He talked about how when you have an experience and you share it, the words calcify and become more and more set the farther you get away from the actual experience. We should all try to keep having actual experiences. (if that doesn't make, I think Dan will be the first to admit he can bounce around when talking.)
Q&A WITH REZA ASLAN
Panelist: Reza Aslan
Moderator: Mica McGriggs
Reza Aslan, author of Zealot, spoke about being a progressive Muslim, and how progressives in all faith traditions can communicate and make the world a better place. He also pointed out that 95% of victims of ISIS attacks are Muslim. I missed part of this, but what I caught was good. (I should also mention he was on Skype, not in person.)