Friday, August 08, 2008

Reflections on Sunstone Symposium

The last couple of days I have been attending the Sunstone Symposium held in Salt Lake City. This year's theme is of great interest as Sunstone representatives try to understand Mormonism in light of "The Spirituality of the Rising Generation." The first plenary speaker who kicked off the symposium was the noted sociologist Wade Clark Roof who spoke on "Generations and Religion: Subtle Changes and Unresolved Challenges." His presentation focused on the significant impact of cultural differences between generations such as Boomer, Buster, Gen X and Millennials, and how this impacts the spiritual quest. One of the more interesting facets of his discussion was his citation of a survey some four years old among Latter-day Saint youth which demonstrated a large percentage who believe that the LDS Church is true but that there are also many other valid spiritual pathways. In addition, large numbers of LDS youth accept the validity of reincarnation. While the LDS Church does better than other religious groups in resisting interest in the elements of the broader spiritual quest of the rest of culture, nevertheless, this survey was a reminder that boundaries between religious organizations and cutlure are poreous, and the LDS Church faces the same challenges as other religious institutions. Missing from Roof's presentation, however, was a discussion of tendencies in generational mindsets to be found beyond generational boundaries. For example, Gordon Lynch in his book After Religion: Gen X and the search for meaning, has discussed the possibility that Gen X is best understood as a mindset that transcends age boundaries. But even with this missing dimension in Roof's discussion his presentation was likely eye opening for many in attendance, a largely older group of Latter-day Saints.

Another interesting presentation was a paper delivered by James Wakefield, professor of New Testament and theology at Salt Lake Theological Seminary. The paper was titled "Narrative Approaches to Understanding the Trinity/Godhead." Wakefield sought to move beyond philosophical discussions of God's substance involved in much of tradtional Christian theology in relation to trinitarianism, and instead to focus on a narrative and relational discussion of God as Father, Son and Spirit. One aspect of this relational consideration is love between the persons of the godhead. The respondent to Wakefield's paper was John Walsh who raised the critique that due to traditional Christianity's conception of God as disembodied this leads to a view of divine love that is illusory or deficient. By contrast, Walsh held that the LDS conception of God as embodied lends itself better to a realistic concept of divine love and relationships. Walsh's view was echoed by at least one Latter-day Saint in the audience during the question and answer period, in fact, strenuously so in a close to heated exchange.

This issue struck me as curious since I have never heard it articulated by Latter-day Saints before. Therefore, I toss this out to my LDS readers for feedback. Do you feel that the traditional Christian conception of God as a disembodied person somehow makes the concept of love and inter-personal relationships less coherent than the LDS concept of an embodied God? If so, how widespread might this belief be among LDS? And how do you see the LDS view as holding to a more coherent view in bringing together God's personhood and love?

1 comment:

Chris said...

I find that odd. Traditional Christian theology takes quite literally the Bible's teaching that "God is love". I guess that makes love within the Trinity a little less realistic, but it makes the believer being enfolded in God's love a great deal more realistic, I'd think.