|A Dialogue about Sunstone||June 26, 2005|
When I was growing up on the east coast, the label “intellectual” was an insult. It applied to certain people in the ward, luckily only a few, who had decided that they were smarter than the Brethren. A few times I heard the words “Dialogue” and “Sunstone” thrown around, but never with any degree of clarity, and I was never really interested enough to ask. They might have been television shows for all I knew, but I was certain that they were bad.
When I grew up some and went to BYU, I began looking at Dialogue and Sunstone out of curiosity. I’d sit for hours reading them in the Lee library. Other library patrons often gave me dirty looks, and I was twice cautioned not to read such materials. Much of what I read excited and intrigued me, and naturally I spoke to acquaintances about it. The few who’d heard of the periodicals had very little good to say about them. Yet I continued to read Dialogue and Sunstone and found them edifying. Now, a decade later, I’m only able to read Sunstone and Dialogue sporadically. But when I do, it’s like I’m returning to old, familiar friends. And I’m happy to own more than a dozen books by Signature, many of which are the best books written on their topic.
I remember discussing the Adam-God theory with my father when I was still in college. He was adamant that Brigham Young never taught it, and he counseled me to stop reading sources that taught incorrect information. I mailed him a photocopy of D. J. Buerger’s “The Adam-God Doctrine” from Dialogue 15 (Spring, 1982). The next time we talked we had a long, serious discussion—a real person-to-person conversation—about prophets and prophecy. It was the first time we spoke like this about faith and religion, and it was wonderful. How can something that does so much good be bad?
Things seem to have changed. No matter how Mormons feel about them, Dialogue, Sunstone, and Signature Books have become part of the Mormon institutional fabric. Many Mormons still view intellectual pursuits with suspicion, as my co-blogger Aaron Cox does here and here, and they find such interests to be peculiar and dangerous. Even some of those who have active intellectual interests in the church often approach Sunstone with derision, as Nate Oman does here. But when I was a child, members attached the stigma directly to the intellectuals—they were practically apostates.
There’s no way of knowing which anti-institutional pursuits or beliefs will someday become Mormon institutions in their own right. There is a cycle, and over time it moves some things from the mainstream to the margin, like McConkie’s interpretation of the scriptures, and other things from the margins to the mainstream, like Dialogue and Sunstone.
All of this is from my point of view. It has occurred to me that maybe the change that I describe has occurred within me. Maybe when I was younger I misperceived and exaggerated the stigma associated with intellectualism. Or maybe as an adult, I minimize this stigma. There might be some of both. Clearly, there are still those like Lou Midgely who argue that Signature Books is an anti-Mormon publisher. Maybe my perceptions have changed because I have trouble seeing beyond my social circle.
So tell me: Is it me? Is Signature an anti-Mormon publisher? Are Dialogue and Sunstone still the tools of the devil? Or was I mistaken to ever believe these things in the first place?