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Mormon founder Joseph Smith famously asserted that God "has a body of flesh and bones."

To believers and detractors, that was a radical idea.

More than 180 years after the LDS Church was founded, the notion of the human body as sacred — and divine — has produced a confusing mix of positive and negative messages for Latter-day Saints.

"Mormon Bodies — Literal, Metaphorical, Doctrinal" is the theme of this year's Sunstone Symposium, which runs Wednesday through Aug. 3 at the University of Utah's Olpin Student Union.

The four-day annual conference will bring together scholars, writers, thinkers and interested observers to discuss perennial issues such as faith crises, how to treat members who no longer believe, why some choose to stay, questions about the Book of Mormon, notions of Zion, and an LDS perspective on health care.

It also will explore the legacy of the so-called "September Six," a half-dozen Mormon intellectuals who were disciplined by the LDS Church in September 1993.

The body theme has helped bring in new presenters this year, says symposium chair Mary Ellen Robertson.

"We need to talk about the body of Christ that we are all part of," Robertson says, "and better ways to integrate that awareness."

It is especially crucial in the area of sexuality, she says.

The LDS obsession with modesty — including the need to cover the shoulders of a 4-year-old in a Mormon magazine — has gone too far, Robertson says. "It is showing up in church magazines, with younger and younger members. We need to talk about that and what makes sense in the world today."

Several sessions will explore LDS ideas about sex, sin, illness, food, pleasure, procreation, disability, skin color, thinness, parenthood, gender and godhood. Two photographers will examine the issue of nudity in their work. Another speaker will analyze how thinness affects body image.

Some speakers will discuss what it's like to be deaf in a hearing LDS congregation; others will explore what it means to be 40-year-old virgins.

"I am always surprised that new ideas keep coming to the surface," Robertson says. "We create a theme for people to gather around."

And, she says, it always works.

A FAIR to remember

The annual FAIR [Foundation for Apologetic Information & Research] Conference is moving to a new location, but its mission remains the same: to defend the LDS Church from critics.

FAIR's gathering is shifting this year from the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy to the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo. Sessions will run Aug. 1 and 2 and explore some topics that have engaged the national media, including women's issues, historical controversies surrounding Joseph Smith, the loss and rekindling of faith as well as other challenging aspects of Mormon history and doctrine.

Among the presenters will be Neylan McBaine, associate creative director at Bonneville Communications, who will revisit the role of Mormon women in a male-dominated faith, a topic that generated lots of buzz last year. She will moderate a panel of "distinguished Mormon women, who will discuss some of the recent controversies relating to women in the LDS Church," according to a new release.

Brigham Young University professor Daniel C. Peterson will focus on how church members can be "more effective" apologists.

Salt Lake Tribune humorist Robert Kirby, a speaker at the conference, will help Mormons learn to laugh at themselves.

For more information on the FAIR conference, go to

Sunstone Symposium at U.

The Sunstone Symposium runs Wednesday, July 31, through Saturday, Aug. 3, at the University of Utah's Olpin Student Union. For more information about the sessions, go to