Sunstone contains multiple views about LDS Church

It started with an audience of seven. And now it reaches thousands.

The Statesman, Utah State University/November 14, 2007

Sunstone Magazine was created in 1974 by seven graduate students and professionals and serves as an open forum for active, semi-active or inactive members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to explore and discuss Mormon issues. Articles in the magazine center around the LDS faith, culture, questions and discussions, according to . The magazine includes personal essays, journeys, historical and theological articles, and a look at contemporary religious issues. However, there are also other readers who are not affiliated with the LDS faith.

Rhonda Callister, subscriber to Sunstone, said Sunstone Magazine attracts a particular audience who may be looking for a place to ask questions.

"I heard somebody recently say they first heard about Sunstone from a flier that said, 'If you think all the questions are answered, then Sunstone's not for you,'" said Callister, associate professor of management and human resources at USU.

Dan Wotherspoon, Sunstone editor, also said the reason for Sunstone's existence is to to help those who have questions.

"Most of it is really the topics in the air that people are talking about in the Sunday foyers, and our pages will hopefully be a level of sophistication, excellent thinking and research," Wotherspoon said. "Sunstone is a reflective forum which reflects what is going on in Mormonism today. We try to add more depth."

Wotherspoon, who has worked at Sunstone since 2001, said the readers of Sunstone can be categorized into "almost thirds," with one-third active, another third semi-active, and the remaining third inactive members of the LDS faith. However, Wotherspoon said any reader is welcome.

"I think sometimes the readers of Sunstone feel a little bit lonely in their (church) ward," he said. "Perhaps in a local ward there is not that level of depth and discussion a lot of these people would like to see. A lot of them come to know in this Mormon universe they are not alone, and LDS people are asking a lot of questions and do go to deeper levels to supplement their gospel life."

Norman Jones, chair of the USU history department, said it is common for religious groups to publish journals and magazines.

"The big difference is that in Utah we are just now developing some of these things that the more established religions have had for quite awhile," Jones said.

Jones, outsider to the LDS religion, said as one who teaches about Christianity in Utah, he is aware of the activities of the Sunstone group and said their forums are always interesting and lively since they often focus on questions not necessarily asked in believer forums. The magazine often showcases historical articles which focus on facts about a person, such as Joseph Smith, the Mormon's first prophet. Sometimes, however, the facts may not be what people want to hear.

"If it's the truth and it's out there, you can't lie to people about it not being there," Jones said. "It causes more distress when they cause it to be hidden.

"Good history is good history."

Kenneth Godfrey, LDS Institute teacher for 37 years, said he enjoys reading the historical articles and the personal essays in Sunstone Magazine the most.

"You could make an argument that if a person really wants to be well-educated and well-informed, then one has to read, pursue and study all aspects and all angles of a question," Godfrey said. "In that sense, if you are a college student and you happen to be a Latter-day Saint member, then it would be if you want to really have a good education, you would read Sunstone to get another slant on some things."

Godfrey said there was a time during the '90s when the magazine was bolder with LDS controversial issues than it is today. Now, he said he can see an effort to make the magazine more balanced.

Wotherspoon said no one can deny articles have been published concerning things that are controversial, provocative or considered a "no-no," and he said people have a right to think so. However, his broad experience has taught him if somebody has a negative reaction to something like Sunstone, most of the time this is because the person has never read the product or only has a vague sense about it, he said.

"I can't tell you how many people upon encountering Sunstone actually say, 'Wow, this is uplifting, this is constructive,'" he said. "When they are in the magazine, 80 percent of them just change their tune. You've heard something about (the magazine), but having an experience with it yourself can change (what you've heard). It's not a matter of changing content, it's a matter of being exposed and is out of a genuine desire to be constructive."

Callister, active member of the LDS faith, said Sunstone is a collection of people telling their own stories of their own journeys. She said she shared some of her own story in the Sunstone article "For Better, For worse, For apostasy?: How faith issues affect couple relationships" found in Issue 143. Even today, she said asking questions out of mainstream religion can be frightening. But if someone is searching, she said, Sunstone can be very appropriate for them because it helps to find a middle ground.

"There are many active LDS members that Sunstone has no value for, it's not something they need, wouldn't be appropriate for them if they are very comfortable within the LDS Church," Callister said. "But it's when they have questions, when they can't find a place to talk about them at church or with people you know at church that you want a forum to hear them addressed, hear what people think and to discuss their questions. I feel comfortable in both worlds."

A range of voices are heard through Sunstone, she said. One example is the article "A Gay Mormon's Testimony," by John Gustav-Wrathall, published in the 141st issue of Sunstone magazine. Callister said this is a personal essay that talked about being gay as a young man in the Mormon church.

"The explanation of his story about why he wanted to go back (to the church) took you inside somebody's heart in a way you don't often have the chance to hear or understand," she said. "Essentially he was bearing his testimony at Sunstone because he can't do it in his home ward. But (Sunstone) provides that forum of hearing people's journeys and hearing people's stories that expand, those of us who listen, our understanding and compassion."

Wotherspoon said some people ask him about the potential problem of someone stumbling upon Sunstone and having the magazine be their first exposure to Mormonism. However, he said he just can't worry about that.

"Lot of people say, 'Oh, should you be discussing this?'" he said. "Every religion should have the right to have magazines and journals that are not having to be worried about the question whether this is somebody's first exposure of the church. We are LDS, we enjoy each other, and Sunstone is a place to explore the diversity of those things."

This means someone may come up with a different tweak than what has been heard in Sunday school, he said. However, Wotherspoon said the people who write for Sunstone do not think they are giving the final word. Speaking with a "unified voice" at church is expected, he said, and Sunstone serves as a collection of diverse LDS voices. Sunstone readers find the magazine through word of mouth or through their spiritual journey, he said.

"(It's for) LDS people who, either through their life experience or their education or professional lives, have wanted to explore Mormonism deeply and thoroughly," he said.

The name Sunstone comes from stones carved for the original Latter-day Saint Nauvoo temple in the 1800s, according to the article "History of Sunstone, Chapter 1: The Scott Kenney Years." These stones were placed on the temple's exterior. After the temple's destruction, the article states a few of the sun stones remained and ended up serving as a symbol of the re-establishment of God's kingdom.

Sunstone magazine publishes, on average, five issues per year. For more information concerning Sunstone Magazine, please visit .

"Overall, our whole attitude towards Mormonism is one of affection," Wotherspon said. "These are our people."

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