By guest contributor Loren Franck
Life is full of surprises, and if you’re lucky, most are pleasant.
When I presented “Your Bosom Shall Burn Within You” at the 2009 August Sunstone in Salt Lake City, I expected the unexpected. As a former Mormon, I knew my paper, which compared LDS testimonies with those of Evangelicals, would touch spiritually sensitive ears. In fact, my session included lots of stimulating repartee. The entire symposium featured Sunstone’s freewheeling trademark discussions about Mormonism—during my session and in others I attended. But five unforeseen aspects of my first Sunstone pleasantly surprised me.
1. FRIENDLY STAFF
Whether staff, vendors, or volunteers, everyone working the event was friendly. During check-in, symposium director Mary Ellen Robertson greeted me with a sparkling smile and warm handshake. Similarly, Jeff Burton, who chaired my session, seemed like family the moment I met him. Thorough and kindhearted, he’s a Sunstone pro.
2. STELLAR SITE
Clean and convenient, the Sheraton was a perfect venue for my first Sunstone. Session rooms were easy to find, they featured generous seating capacities, and hotel employees were remarkably helpful. To top it off, the Sheraton has a Starbucks, one of my favorite hangouts; I couldn’t have requested a better locale.
3. OPEN MINDS
Granted, the concept of open-mindedness is clichéd. But Sunstone participants’ willingness to consider alternative viewpoints—especially from me, a former Mormon turned Bible-based Christian—was refreshing. My paper focused on several distinctive LDS doctrines and how they square with the Bible, so I didn’t anticipate a warm reception. I got one, though.
4. FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH
What’s Gary James Bergera’s and D. Michael Quinn’s secret? These two able scholars seem to have tapped into the fountain of youth. Both look great. I last saw Gary in 1978 when we were classmates in a BYU clinical psychology class. And I was present at Dr. Quinn’s 1981 presentation at BYU, “On Being a Mormon Historian.” Seeing both men looking so well was a joy.
5. NOSTALGIA REDUX
I’ve been an ex-Mormon for twenty-five years. I used to believe my wistfulness regarding the LDS church was restricted to the past. Not so. Though I no longer believe in Mormonism or in any of its distinctive doctrines, my first Sunstone reminded me that I retain an uncanny affection for the church. For years, like others who’ve journeyed from full activity to erstwhile membership, I’ve grappled mentally, emotionally, and spiritually with my LDS church status. Some who attend Sunstone have trekked the same path. Others are walking it now.
When my name was removed from LDS church records in September 1984, I didn’t expect to regather with people interested in Mormonism. I was finished with the church and its members—or so I thought. Yes, I’m happy in my Biblically based Christian faith, which I’ve enjoyed for nearly ten years. And no, I don’t envision myself rejoining the LDS church.
But thanks in part to my first Sunstone, I can more fully enjoy my relationship with Christ while prospering from my experiences in Mormonism. I don’t regret spending a decade of my life in the LDS church, and I don’t regret leaving it. Mormonism and Bible-based Christianity are both permanent parts of my life. In a surreal way, they successfully coexist.
And regarding my first Sunstone, that increasing realization was least expected of all.
Loren Franck is president of Global Christian Outreach, Inc., a worldwide Internet ministry based in Los Angeles.