The past year of upheaval in the Mormon intellectual community is taking its toll on Sunstone and its mission to provide a forum for differing opinions on religious issues, the magazine's publisher and editor said.
Moderates are distancing themselves from the organization and liberals are pressuring it to become more radical since a half dozen LDS Church members, who associated themselves with Sunstone, were expelled from the church for apostasy, editor and publisher Elbert Eugene Peck told several hundred Sunstone supporters Wednesday."Those are the forces blowing harder and stronger," he said, warning that the "fragile bridge" Sunstone has erected between liberal and moderate views on Mormon issues will be impossible to rebuild if it falls apart.
Peck's dire assessment came during the opening session of Sunstone's annual Salt Lake symposium at the Hilton Hotel. He was joined by his four predecessors to reflect on "dreams and realities" of Sunstone's 20-year history.
Peck described Sunstone as a tent under which conservatives, moderates and liberals sharing a common "quirky intellectual bent" can gather and explore Mormon-related issues that interest them. He said he is trying to dodge the "kill the messenger" mentality of church members by carefully balancing all sides within the magazine's pages and at its symposiums.
But last year's widely publicized excommunications of several high profile Mormon feminists and scholars, who had written articles for the magazine and had spoken at Sunstone gatherings, has spooked moderates away.
"It's difficult to get moderates to participate," he said, noting he fears "Sunstone is in danger of being radicalized" by more liberal thinkers.
It's also on the brink of financial collapse. That's always been the case, according to the panel of current and former editors, who indicated the organization survives on subscriptions and donations. But the desertion of its moderate membership has escalated a longstanding problem into a crisis.
"If you care about Sunstone, you need to participate," said former editor Peggy Fletcher Stack. "Sunstone needs to be helped or it won't be here next year."
Stack, now a religion writer for The Salt Lake Tribune, was among the six Sunstone founders who met in a Millcreek Canyon cabin in August 1974 to map out plans for publishing a "student journal" on Mormon thought and culture.
It was not the first publication of its kind. But Sunstone set itself apart from other independent Mormon publications when Stack and former co-editor Allen Roberts organized its first symposium in 1979.
Following the 1991 symposium, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement saying public forums exploring certain sacred and sensitive issues can harm the church, and it cautioned members against participating.
Stack said the statement created a perception among rank and file Mormons that Sunstone and its supporters "are bad," and the past year's excommunications perpetuated the view.