The Sunstone Symposium starts Wednesday. The most interesting talks might be by Helen Whitney, the producer of the PBS series "The Mormons," including one session recounting her experience over several years putting the documentary together, and another showing footage on a section entitled "Faith and Doubt" that did not make the final cut and was not aired. Other interesting program items:
- "Inoculating the Saints: The Pros and Cons of Proactively Teaching Church Members About Difficult Issues," featuring BCC blogger Kevin Barney and frequent commenter Blake Ostler on the panel.
- "Staying in the Church After Becoming Disaffected," with John Dehlin of Mormon Stories (and Sunstone's new Executive Director) arguing for a "middle way" in Mormonism, a judicious mixture of faith and doubt.
- "How Effectively Does the Bloggernacle Represent Mormonism?", featuring Sunstone Blog's Matt Thurston (as a stand-in for ABEV's John Fowles, who couldn't make it) as moderator and a panel of four bloggers (two from T&S and one each from BCC and FMH). [Note: the audio of this session was subsequently (and generously) provided for free at this link by Sunstone.]
- There's a paper on reparations presented by Kaimi of T&S, and I saw pretty much every blogger from the Sunstone Blog on the program somewhere.
Let's talk about that Bloggernacle topic a bit.
The session abstract poses this question: Just how accurately does the Bloggernacle represent Mormons and Mormonism? My first shot at a response would be that since it is about 95% Mormons who post and comment, and since those posting and commenting are impressively direct and forthright in giving their views and thoughts, the Bloggernacle does a fine job representing Mormonism. There's probably less self-editing online, so posters and commenters may actually speak with more candor than one would get in church or from an official spokesperson (which doesn't mean an online speaker is better informed, of course, and I'm referring to Bloggernacle blogs only -- you can make your own judgments about other online forums or blogs from other communities that comment on Mormon topics).
The abstract also questions whether certain groups are excluded (or possibly underrepresented) in the Bloggernacle. Sure: People without computers. People who don't write well. People who are too busy to post or comment. People who think blogging is stupid, evil, or just a waste of time. People who have other media of self-expression or who elect to not self-express at all. But given how low are the entry barriers (zero cost; setup menus that an 8-year-old can navigate) I don't think there's much ideological exclusion going on. I've seen a real expansion in the scope of opinion represented by weblogs the last year or two. Uh, yes some of those opinions aren't listed on the MA and LDSelect aggregators (I'm thinking of the DAMU wing of the Mormon spectrum of opinion here), but that's just a question of what links people choose to display on their blogs or aggregators. You might say strongly dissenting blogs are not in the community referred to as "the Bloggernacle," but they are blogging and their views are within the broad sweep of the range of Mormon opinion. Anyone who wants to can start a site (whether faithful, neutral, or dissenting), and visitors don't have much of a problem finding them if they want to.
A third question is whether mainstream Mormonism can be represented on blogs at the same time that various minority opinions about Mormon topics are expressed. Well, probably not all at the same site. But, as I noted in the prior paragraph, the community of Mormon blogs covers the whole spectrum and then some. If you're looking for a minority viewpoint, it's not hard to find it somewhere.
If I had more time I'd add some thoughts about the idea that blogs are even supposed to be "representing Mormonism." I don't recall seeing that clause in my blogging contract.
I'm looking forward to seeing the reports from this session by those who attend.
Postscript:The Friday night session happened last night. Notes on the session are available in the BCC open thread here, here, and here (and in later comments, no doubt). I suspect the other B'nacle participants may post their own reflections as well. A tape of the session can be purchased from Sunstone.