I had always pictured Sunstone as this place where people with long beards and hippie clothes gathered to laugh bitterly about the church in dark rooms, but given its pop culture theme this year, I couldn’t stay away. It was actually a lot of fun ““ even if I was probably still among the most orthodox ones there.
So I really wanted to go to the 8:45 session with the short films, but not quite as much as I wanted to sleep in. So I slept. I finally managed to get up there by 11:15 for the feminist bloggers. I don’t read FMH or Exponent II all that often, but I couldn’t miss a session on the bloggernacle. Presenting were fmhLisa and Jana and John Remy. It was a lot of fun to listen to, but largely just an introduction to the women’s side of the “˜nacle for those who weren’t aware of it.
One thing that I sparked a thought for me was the mentioning of TracyM’s recent post on FMH and the sort of dichotomy between feminists in the more traditional sense and the somewhat more conservative Mormon feminists. Moderator Margaret Toscano wondered about breaking down that dichotomy, but it occurred to me, just as I was listening, that there’s a bigger difference involved than just degrees of how passionate people are about the issues.
As I recall, all of the speakers spoke of blogging as a sort of means to eventually affect change in the church ““ the type that comes from the very top. What wasn’t said is the implication that comes with such declarations, that something is fundamentally wrong with the church and that God needs us to wake up the prophets to get them on track. What I’m saying here is that I see a huge gulf between those who see a need to try to change the church and those who don’t. Until we all just agree that there are some completely different belief systems at work here, I think there are still going to be some frustrations on those of both sides of some feminist issues.
After lunch, I went to Dennis Potter‘s South Park presentation, even though it was really the same paper he presented back at the AML conference. One interesting addition, though, was a response from Mark Pinsky, who I had missed the night before. He mentioned that, though somewhat exaggerated, the South Park episode was a generally accurate representation of what most evangelicals think of Mormons ““ that they have some whacked history and theology, but that they have excellent family values. He also pointed out that the episode isn’t as bad as it might seem, because if you took the story of the origin of any major religion and told it in a short, flippant cartoon, it’s going to sound really crazy.
Next I heard from Joseph Vogel, who was the UVSC student vice-president involved in bringing Michael Moore to speak there in 04. He showed a clip from This Divided State and gave some background to the whole controversy. He sounded really on the ball and almost convinced me to take a look at his new book.
The obnoxiously amusing part of the session though, was all the questioners who came up, not to ask Vogel a question at all, but to spout off their two cents of aggravation towards Utah politics. The line to speak, at one point, was like ten people long, all waiting to rant about all the conservative Mormons in Utah ““ who are pretty much unthinking by definition. It was like a testimony meeting from hell.
I have to give the highlight of the day to the discussion of Richard Dutcher‘s States of Grace. Evangelical Reverend Greg Johnson, Rory Swenson and John Dehlin all had positive things to say about the film, and Dutcher was brought to tears from the comments. Dutcher mentioned the many months he’s spent defending the film from naysayers and was genuinely touched to be reminded that others had gotten positive things from the film.
That said, I thought Dehlin’s reading of the film was a bit more progressive than I had interpreted it. He pointed to the otherwise unobtainable appreciation of the atonement that Elder Farrell had gained through his own major fall, the moral necessity of sometimes breaking mission rules, and the demonopolizing of moral goodness within the bounds of the Mormon church. I didn’t really see these messages in the film’s motives, but perhaps it is to Dutcher’s credit that the film is so malleable. I do think Dehlin had a good point, though, in explaining that one reason it may have made some members of the church uncomfortable was that it “annihilated traditional stereotypes of Mormons.”
Similar to the previous session, most of the questioners seemed more interested in telling Dutcher how much they liked his film rather than actually asking a substantial question about it. But I think Dutcher really appreciated all the support and the session finished with a standing ovation for him. Dutcher’s now working on a supernatural thriller that has no relation to Mormonism and recently had it’s title changed from “Falling” to something new, but wouldn’t tell us the new title.
The evening session began with a rousing rendition of “Oh My People,” enjoyably conducted (as Dallas mentions) by Ardean Watts, who kept yelling “Faster! Faster!” throughout the hymn. We then saw New York Doll, followed by questions for director Greg Whiteley. He revealed a lot of interesting anecdotes about Arthur. He mentioned, for example, that Arthur had been in and out of activity for years, until he was given his calling to work in the family history library, which fully activated him and gave him a stronger sense of purpose. He also spoke of his funeral, which had members of the ward on the back rows of the pews, and then three rows of LA’s most dedicated punk fans in the front.
He also revealed an interesting bit about audience reaction. He said that when the film opened for a largely non-LDS audience, the reaction was very emotional. People were deeply moved by the film and caught off guard by their feelings for Arthur and the film. LDS/Utah audiences responded to the film largely as a comedy, laughing at the instances of Mormonism in the film. Mormons laugh when Arthur, referring to The Book of Mormon, says, “they don’t send it to you, they bring it to you.” But Whiteley mentioned that it was a scene that manages to touch all audiences. Greg Whiteley is now working on a documentary about high school debate.