Sunstone Kirtland 2015 Overview:

Last weekend a team from the Rational Faiths blog made the pilgrimage to present at the 2015 Sunstone Kirtland Symposium. Benjamin Knoll, Thomas Hatton, and Brian Dillman came up from the south while Brian Kissell met us there coming from the north. Our hosts were kind (crazy?) enough to let us present a panel entitled “Navigating the Landscape of Online Mormonism.”

We arrived on Friday night just in time for dinner at the Kirtland Tavern. It was a bit surreal to see all of the familiar faces that you had only seen online or heard about. We went and sat at the end of the table, next to D. Michael Quinn (who prefers the name ‘Mike’ for future reference), who blew our minds as he talked about his upcoming book on the history of finance in the LDS church. Apart from Brother Quinn, we chatted with a number of really cool individuals and families. (As a sidenote, a few people brought their children, so if childcare could potentially stop you from attending, have no fear.)

Following dinner, we headed over to the Kirtland temple for a human rights vigil for the rights of LGBTQIA individuals. It was a great experience to be inside the Kirtland temple at a devotional service. The various speakers shared their experiences and challenged those present to stand up to injustices that we see in the world.

Saturday started off with a historical tour of the Nauvoo Temple led by Lachlan Mackay of the Community of Christ. After lunch there were panels and presentations throughout the afternoon. (The podcast link above provides our thoughts and ruminations on the Saturday afternoon presentations, so we won’t go too deeply in detail in this blog post.) The presentations were really diverse and well done. After the sessions, we enjoyed a lovely dinner, followed by presentations by John Hamer on the history of the Restorationist movement and Michael Ferguson on the fascinating intersection of neuroscience, physiology, and religious experience.

On Sunday morning there was an uplifting devotional/worship/testimony service in the Kirtland temple led by Lindsey Hanson Park and Jana Reiss. It was hard not to notice the historical irony of seeing such impressive and talented women “preside and conduct” (our words, not theirs) a worship service at the Kirtland temple, standing at the same tiered priesthood pulpit as Joseph Smith and other early Mormon leaders.

The Symposium finished off with Fara Anderson giving an overview of the history of female healing blessings in the LDS tradition.

Our thoughts and impressions on the various Saturday presentations can be listened to through the podcast portion at the top of this post. For now, on with the photos:


Awesome People We Met:

We were honored to meet all sorts of people from all over the country (and actually, the world!). One of the coolest things about Kirtland Sunstone was that, due to the smaller size of the group, the setting was much more intimate and we were much more able to mingle, and, if you will, “geek out”, Mormon style.

Sunstone Kirtland-Brian and Mighty Ziff

Brian D. with The Mighty Ziff of Zelophehad’s Daughters (notice the holy glow about him).

The Rational Faiths crew with John Hamer of the Community of Christ.

Brian K. and Thomas with Mike Quinn


Maxine Hanks and the RF crew!


Fara Anderson Sneddon inspired us all to rush home to our wives and share her presentation with them.


Major kudos to Lindsay Hansen Park for putting on a great conference.

Presentation/Technical Difficultues

Our presentation on online Mormonism (Benjamin Knoll, Thomas Hatton, and Brian Dillman) was chaired by our very own beloved Brian Kissell. It went pretty well (well I suppose you can judge for yourself next week when we release the recording on the podcast) and we had a great time discussing the topic with the audience. We like to spice things up at RF and to just go through the presentation is kinda boring so Thomas knew just what to to really get everyone’s attention: attack the equipment. Right before he entered the very difficult and challenging discussion of the abundance of mullets in church art, his pacing, 175 pound body managed to snag the HDMI cable that connected our computer to the flat screen TV and completely obliterate the cord, rendering our oral/visual presentation to more of a lecture (sans chalkboard).

Sunstone Kirtland-HDMI cable

Cursed cable! We need to develop more robust equipment next time Thomas presents.

Lucky for us Brian Kissell ran for help and the director of the Community of Christ Visitors Center (Ronald E. Romig) went to find a replacement at his own home down the street. (Talk about “magnify your calling”!) He came back in time to plug the cable into the still functioning port to allow the second half of Brian Dillman’s presentation to include visual aids. (Word on the street is that two very long, very durable HDMI cords are on their way to the Kirtland Visitor’s Center.)

Sunstone Kirtland-Ron saves the day

Ron, who saved the day with technology.

Here are photos of us doing our show-stopping presentation:

Ben kicked off the presentation with a boring political science lecture. Nerd. (Brian and Thomas both agree that Ben did fantastically well)


Thomas brought down the house with a few mullet jokes. (This photo is pre-HDMI cord disaster.)


Brian finished things off with a bang as he discussed faith, identity, and community.


Other Cool Stuff:

Sunstone Kirtland-Jospeh Root Beer

Joe Smith approved (root) beer.


Sunstone Kirtland-Historical Marker

Historical landmark.


Sunstone Kirtland-Temple Clouds

Sunday morning after Jana’s moving sermon and testimony.


Sunstone Kirtland-NKWhitney Store

Maybe next time we’ll have more time to get to the LDS visitors center.



Another shot of the Kirtland temple


At the Kirtland cemetery directly to the north of the temple

Grave site

Brian Dillman stares at this tombstone as he contemplates his own mortality

Thanks very much to Lindsey Hanson Park and the Sunstone crew for organizing this event… and especially for letting us have a spot on the program! We look forward to more events in the future.

Brian was born and raised in Northern Utah and is now working as a chemist in Ohio. He has one wife and three children. He currently serves as the ward hall monitor. He likes to eat good food, and build cool things.

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