Nearly every political journalist in America has weighed in on Mormonism's "Mitt moment," referring to the increased visibility of the LDS Church during Mitt Romney's campaign for president.
Now Mormon thinkers, researchers and writers will get their chance to examine what the candidacy means for the church and its members at next week's annual Sunstone Symposium, an independent conference looking at Mormon thought, history and issues.
LDS historian Newell Bring¬hurst will examine parallels between Romney's 2008 office-seeking and the presidential run of his father, George Romney, 40 years ago. Journalist Ron Scott will analyze whether the younger Romney's policy changes are flip-flops or evidence of his belief in free will, and a panel of commentators will discuss whether all this attention on Romney's faith will force Mormon leaders and members to re-examine traditional views of doctrine, practices and history.
It all fits within this year's conference theme on Mormonism's public face. The four-day conference starting Wednesday at the Salt Lake Sheraton Hotel also includes a behind-the-scenes look at the PBS documentary "The Mormons," a screening of Richard Dutcher's newest flick, a major speech by W. Grant McMurray, former president of the Community of Christ (once the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), and multiple sessions on the role of women, the environment, the military and social-justice movements within the faith. New this year is a look at what Mormon teachings have to say about the Iraq war, the genocide in Darfur, human rights at Guantanamo Bay and global warming.
Such a topical approach is part of Sunstone's recent push in new directions, editor Dan Wotherspoon says.
Like all print publications, Sunstone is expanding its reach online, introducing new interactive features, podcasts and a list of links to other sites.
"When you come to our Web site or magazine, you will be able to read not only what's there but also discover the rich history of the topic in other independent Mormon journals," Wotherspoon says. "We will also offer multimedia approaches to all the important topics facing Mormons today."
Sunstone plans to continue publishing articles about Mormon history and theology, but hopes to expand its coverage of social issues such as depression, mental illness, addiction and body image.
"It's not that Sunstone has ever shied away from these topics," Wotherspoon says, "but we are going to make a much more concerted effort to seek best resources on spiritual and pastoral approaches to these tough issues."
For help with this new direction, Sunstone recently appointed Mormon blogger and media expert John Dehlin as executive director.
Dehlin is the founder of the "Mormon Stories" podcast, a popular Internet radio show exploring Mormon-related issues and themes through personal experiences and stories. He also launched "Mormon Matters," a weekly podcast in roundtable format that discusses Mormon news in the broader context of religion and society.
"Sunstone has got to adapt to new media or it will become irrelevant," says Dehlin, who teaches in the elders' quorum of his Logan ward. "The trick is to change in new and exciting ways without alienating the magazine's long-standing subscriber base."
To that end, Dehlin will oversee fundraising and operations, while developing a consistent strategy for growth and community relations.
"We want to dispel some of the unfair myths or bad impressions people have of Sunstone," he says. "We want to become a neutral voice, more objective than apologists but more positive than anti-Mormons. We want to provide a thoughtful and accurate but faith-promoting approach to the tough issues. We want to help people in their faith journey within Mormonism."
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2007 Sunstone Symposium and Workshops
* WHEN: Aug. 8 - 11
* WHERE: Salt Lake Sheraton City Centre Hotel, 150 W. 500 South
* MORE INFO: For program and registration information, visit www.sunstoneonline.org or call 801-355-5926