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In 1979, Sunstone began sponsoring an annual symposium in Salt Lake City, which is now a four-day event with approximately 100 different sessions, generally scheduled the first weekend in August. Since the 1980s, Sunstone has also held regional symposia in Washington DC, California, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas, and Boston.
Bridges are structures that span barriers and allow us to move between physical locations. Byways are secondary roads—the scenic routes that emphasize exploration and the journey. How can thinking about bridges and byways help us understand Mormon history, theology, and culture?
The need for bridges is often obvious: there’s a chasm, road, or waterway to cross. Metaphorically speaking, we can construct bridges of understanding that connect people and ideas. Where does it make sense to build new bridges? How much of our resources should we use to maintain aging bridges? When do we need to demolish outdated bridges? When do we reinforce or rebuild bridges that have become unsound? Is our intent to build permanent, lasting structures—or quick, temporary crossings?
Metaphorical byways suggest the pursuit of knowledge off the beaten (or correlated) path—the fascinating historical tidbits and obscure figures that enrich and deepen our understanding. Brigham Young once said “Mormonism includes all truth.” Byways can help us find new and divergent ways to create an interconnected system.
As the LDS Church evolved over nearly two centuries, which of its bridges and byways became mainstream thoroughfares? Which bridges deteriorated or fell into disuse? What new bridges and byways are being built as the LDS Church expands nationally and globally? What has changed about our thoroughfares since the early days of the Church? Which bridges have been built by Church headquarters and which have sprung up through grassroots efforts?
Early Saints watched bridges being burned behind them as they were driven from settlements in the Midwest. What effect did this persecution have on Mormons’ willingness to build or rebuild bridges with the outside world later on? How has modern Mormonism bridged the divide between itself and other New Religious movements; between the larger religious landscape in the US and the rest of the globe? Where has two-way traffic flowed smoothly on Mormonism’s bridges to the outside world and where have there been bottlenecks and collisions? When has tension arisen between those Saints who prefer well-traveled bridges and those who prefer the byways?
Finally, how has the information superhighway rerouted traffic? Certainly, Mormons are more connected than ever before; what are the benefits to these additional means of connectivity? And what costs are being exacted? Along our byways, where are the rest stops, the historical markers, the toll booths, the road closures, and the perpetual construction zones?