Declining Sunstone and Bloggernacle “Safe Zones”

I was recently invited to be part of a panel at Sunstone on Mormon Blog boundaries. CHanson sent me an invitation (and gave me permission to print it) that described the panel like this:
LDS-interest blogspace is divided into a bunch of different communities.  The completely out-of-the-church end has its secular (atheist/agnostic) wing and its Christian wing, then there’s the Borderland/NOM crowd, then there’s the Feminists and the mommies (who are sometimes the same people, and sometimes not), then there’s the core of the Bloggernacle, and on the super-conservative end there’s “Nothing Wavering”.I’m very curious about the boundaries and boundary-maintenance amongst the various groups.  To what degree are groups expressly trying to exclude voices they disagree with, and to what degree is it simply a question of people naturally preferring like-minded friends, without expressly shutting others out?  To what degree is boundary maintenance helpful (i.e. “good fences make good neighbors”), and to what degree does boundary maintenance create unnecessary rifts with potential friends and allies?Your name has come up as someone who has argued that some sort of faithful-critical demarcation is necessary and unavoidable.  I’d be interested in hearing more of your ideas on the subject.  Or, if you don’t plan to attend Sunstone yourself, can you suggest any of your fellow bloggers on M* who might be willing to attend Sunstone?

I admit I was tempted by this subject because it is true I have argued in favor of some level of separation. However, I was uncomfortable appearing at Sunstone. The email below was my attempt to civilly discuss my own opinion on the subject.
Hi Ya CHanson,
Good to hear from you.

Yes, this is an interesting subject and one I have a lot of strong opinions on. So your sources are correct about me. And I am very flattered that you are inviting me to participate in your panel.

However, I hope you can appreciate that I am not sure I’d be all that comfortable at a place like Sunstone. Especially given my contrarian views on boundary maintenance. For one thing, I’m afraid my views take the subject in an entirely different direction then you are trying to take it and would likely be disruptive to your intent.

If you’ll indulge me for a moment, let me explain my (often less then popular) views on this subject.

First of all, you think Nothing Wavering is the “super conservative end” of the Mormon blogs. This alone means you’ve bought into a certain view of how the communities are split up that I believe to be inaccurate. My feeling is that ‘conservative and liberal’ aren’t always meaningful ways to describe the communities as they currently exist. My views is that all of the communities are actually broken up by which of three rough groups that community has created a ‘safe zone’ for – believing, ‘questioning’ (sometimes non-believing, but that is considered a bad word), or ex/anti Mormons.

For example, you can easily find people that would rightly be called ‘conservative’ on what you called ‘the core bloggernacle.’ In fact there are quite a few highly conservative people on the ‘core bloggernacle.’ But the one trait I perceive they will always have in common is a willingness to make a “safe zone” for “questioning members.” And I believe the desire to make such a safe zone is often very well intended. But I think it also often comes at the expense of some believing members. (Though these communties may not be aware they are losing such people since they show up a few times and then disappear aftering finding hostility towards their more “conservative” views.)

I believe the reverse is true of Nothing Wavering. There are many ‘questioners’ that participate on the Nothing Wavering community, but they always share one thing in common — willingness (at least while on Nothing Wavering) to create a safe zone for all believing members. But both of these communities can be very hard on anti or post Mormons unless they [the antis] are willing to severely temper themselves and enforce the safe zone that is in place. Meanwhile, the anti/ex community has created a safe zone for anti/exs, etc.

In short, I don’t actually believe that the ‘conservative vs. liberal’ labels you are trying to attach are correct, per se. Yes, if you have a safe zone for “questioning members” you’ll tend to be somewhat less conservative. And, yes, if you decide your safe zone is believing members (as with Nothing Wavering) you’ll be somewhat more conservative. And, yes, to someone that is a post Mormon, Nothing Wavering will probably get (in my view falsely) labeled as “Super Ultra Conservative.” But the real common denominator to me is “who are we making this blog safe for.” Not what “where does this blog land on the conservative or liberal spectrum.” (I actually don’t believe that “liberal” and “conservative” are effective labels for a religious context. But to explain why would require making this email even longer than it already is.)

The means of creating the boundaries of all these communities seems to be entirely invisible to the members of those communities and most of them are (in my opinion anyhow) in open denial of how they are actively maintaining their boundaries. (I’d argue ‘except for Nothing Wavering’ where there is an increasing acceptance of visible boundaries over invisible ones. Though honestly I don’t think we’re there yet either and often use the very same invisible boundary techniques I’m about to describe.)

The use of moderation is light in most of these communities (also ‘except for Nothing Wavering, due to the choice to use visible boundaries) and the primary means of boundary control is actually good old fashioned threat of social rejection and what some of us call “bloggernacling” (short for bloggernacle dog piling. i.e. if you say something that is culturally unacceptable there, you’ll get scores of angry and often personal responses and possibly even threats of banning assisting you in knowing where the boundaries are for that community.)

There are also a set of cultural rules that have evolved to maintain the boundaries. For example, in a “questioning safe zone”, there is a cultural rule that to refer to a person as practicing-but-not-believing is equivalent to calling them an enemy of the church and an apostate — therefore we should never use such a label for it is mean and unacceptable. The end result is increased safety for a questioning member who can choose or not choose to reveal their true beliefs while still being allowed to participate in all subjects. Whereas on Nothing Wavering it is often accepted that a person that practices but does not believe in the Church is actually part of what makes the Church up and is not necessarily an enemy to the Church at all, therefore this is not equivalent to calling them an enemy to the church or an apostate. This NW cultural rule indirectly creates increased safety for believing members because it’s more difficult for a questioning member to utilize their insider status as a means of launching attacks on beliefs while claiming they are a “believing Mormon” (however they personal define that) for the sake of increased cognitive dissonance.

Because this is how the boundaries are maintained, there is nothing ‘express’ about it at all. Those that are not welcomed there just disappear with time and the community forms around those that are left. I have argued that if you don’t do something like this, you won’t actually form into a community in the first place, so I am not arguing that this is necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I have come to respect the ‘efficiency’ of such boundary maintenance techniques and their ubiquitous existence in all sorts of online communities. So while I personally prefer visible boundaries, I accept that invisible boundaries are here to stay and probably have only mild moral ramifications in many cases.

Now to make my opinions even less popular, I also have an opinion on the purpose of using ‘invisible boundary maintenance.’ I believe it is, in part, to keep up the mythology that we are having an open discussion where anyone can participate freely — unlike the Mormon Church etc etc where only one side gets a voice. (I believe very strongly in what I call ‘symmetry’. Essentially the idea that we all have a lot more in common then we claim we do because we use similar techniques but disguise from ourselves that we’re doing the very same thing we complained about in ‘that other community.’ So it’s easy to complain “The Mormon Church shuts people out” while also shutting people out in your own community and just not being aware that you’re doing it too.)

Now I am actually very optimistic on all this. My feeling is that it’s actually possible to have your cake and eat it too here. I believe we can both form communities around various safe zones while ‘cross talking’ with each other. For example, I’d love to see M* and BCC or W&T or Sunstone all post about each others’ posts/articles and critique each other. But perhaps we’re not ready for this just yet. And I haven’t had the energy to do it myself as of yet. But I look forward to that happening some day.

Chanson, it’s very difficult for me to believe that Sunstone would be an ideal place to air my views publicly. The fact is that I believe Sunstone likely uses the very same methods of boundary maintenance as described above. And I don’t really want to go somewhere where I’m bound to simply offend everyone with my opinions right off the bat no matter how sincere I am about them. And frankly, I can’t imagine participating in a discussion about Mormon blog boundaries and keep such opinions above to myself since I believe there is substantial evidence that these are the ‘rules of the game’ so to speak and all else to be discussed will just be window dressing. (i.e. like trying to discuss how moderation plays a role when generally it plays only a very minor role.)

So I’m going to have to turn you down at this time. However, I’m very glad you thought of me. I’ve enjoyed talking with you online previously too. You seem like a very level headed person and friendly to talk to and I used to email with your brother back in the day (usually we’d argue, of course.). I hope you’ll feel comfortable talking with me even if I’m skittish about attending Sunstone and that you won’t take it personally. And I hope you won’t be offended by my views. They are just views. They hurt no one and everyone is free to disagree as they see fit given their own counter opinions and evidence.

But if you wanted to express my views of boundary maintenance at Sunstone on my behalf just for kicks and giggles and then let your panel shoot it down, I really wouldn’t mind. (Not being present, I can hardly be ‘socially rejected’ now can I?) I might even take this email and post it on M* one of these days and see if it generates any discussion while I’m in “my safe zone” so to speak. But this is up to you.

Thanks,

Bruce Nielson

45 thoughts on “Declining Sunstone and Bloggernacle “Safe Zones”

  1. Bruce,

    This is EXACTLY the kind of discussion worth having (especially challenging certain things that are taken for granted like the “liberal”/”conservative” spectrum). Although I understand your concerns about whether it would be possible/productive to have such a discussion at Sunstone (what with the framing being as it is, and with the invisible boundary maintenance being what it is). I personally find this pretty compelling, and I would be inclined to agree with what you have said — on the fronts of 1) boundaries being more oriented by for whom the space is intended to be safe and 2) “invisible” (although, I would use the term “implicit.” The effects are very much visible…it’s just that no one explicitly owns up to it) tools of boundary maintenance that allow people to claim that they are open-minded, allow everyone in, but end up socially rejecting certain kinds of people in practice.

    …So you know, I hope you won’t mind if I borrow/steal wholesale off what you’ve written here and present your side as if it were my own…although, I guess, if you do mind, there’s not much you can do about it, since you won’t be there :3 Alternatively…I can borrow/steal wholesale off what you’ve written and source/attribute it all back to you if you want.

    I think it’ll be part of an experiment I’ve always been wanting to do — what if you have two people who are saying essentially the same thing, but they come from two very different positions? Will the message be more likely to be considered by hearing one person bear it, than by hearing the other person?

  2. One small quibble: there is some diversity within Nothing Wavering, and the points Bruce makes do not necessarily apply to all blogs on the aggregator. I think, however, that he is referring to NW as a short-hand for what some people might call “conservative, believing Mormons.” Otherwise, I think Bruce’s description is spot-on. I think the creation of “safe zones” is, as Bruce says, not necessarily a bad thing at all. People will naturally be selective about those with whom they want to associate. I also think that some blogs are in denial about how they create “safe zones” through piling on and insulting commenters who don’t follow a very narrow, politically correct mindset. M* has clearly worked to create a “safe zone” in its own way as well, and we have been pretty open about it.

  3. Bruce N.,

    one dynamic you don’t explicitly discuss is territorialism. We chimpishly recognize the difference between our territory and others territory and adjust our responses accordingly. That’s why comments of the wrong type on a blog can be perceived as a threat even if they aren’t intellectually challenging. Because they are infringing on our territory. If I may use John C. as an example. My bet is that if you posted this on BCC, he wouldn’t respond so politely and so innocuously. He would probably take more exception and have a lengthier and more detailed response. Why? Because he here is behaving submissively as a guest. In his own ground, he would behave as someone who was being challenged. He may deny this, but in my horribly reductionist and cynical way, I won’t believe him.

    One interesting note: I said something to the Wheat and Tares people that their like/dislike buttons were a form of boundary maintenance so that everyone could fling poo at conservative and traditionalist Mormon commentators. The response was that this was true and an unfortunate aspect of having them, but that the alternative was a bunch of poo-flinging comments cluttering up the discussion.

  4. re 4

    Adam,

    Of course, your description with John doesn’t work for individuals who either do not recognize or who ignore territorialism, and thus post the same kinds of responses everywhere (much to the chagrin of the others on the site.) I think that there are a lot of folks with pet issues who do this (myself included), and it gets them in a lot of trouble on other sites (myself included). Would it be better to have more commenters who do not pay attention to the social expectations of territorialism?

    Anyway, to respond to your comment on the like/dislike buttons…I don’t recall the discussion ever turning to being about “poo-flinging,” but I can see what you’re saying (and still think that’s an unfortunate aspect of having the buttons — at least, the dislike button.) I think it’s because from an explicit level, various things around W&T combine to make some of our permas pretty adamant against moderating comments — so if we have comments that are out of line with what we want in discussion (and by this, I mean comments that fling poo…I don’t think that comments from “conservative and traditionalist Mormon commentators” are out of line on W&T), that poses a big problem for us, because it pressures us to moderate, but we resist that.

    We have tried other ways to reach out to commenters who continually fling poo, but these other ways are a lot more permablogger intensive, and they don’t often work. (See what I wrote at the beginning of this comment about commenters who ignore community expectations as to behavior.)

    However, the problem with likes/dislikes is that they are anonymous and that we cannot selectively moderate them. So, removing dislikes and making people comment their dislikes could give us an opportunity to pinpoint who is flinging poo. But it would press the issue on moderation.

    Again, I think the issue is more than conservative vs. liberal. I think the idea that Bruce has presented about “safe zones” is interesting…because it allows for people of different opinions to mingle on the same site — assuming they are all on board with the same “safe zone.” So, in this way, conservative/traditionalist/orthodox commenters aren’t excluded because some sites are explicitly not for them…but rather because the site isn’t design to be safe for them, and as a result, it’ll be a struggle to persist on there.

    At this point, I ask myself, “Why not create a site that’s oriented as a safe zone for everyone?” And then I despair at the possible answer: perhaps the different parts of the “spectrum” (whatever that spectrum is) are actively opposed to each other in ways that cannot be reconciled? In other words, each group will always “fling poo” at some other group…at best, you can redirect where poo is being flung and make a commitment (explicit or implicit) to protect on group from poo…but you can’t protect everyone, nor change the fact that each group is prone to fling poo elsewhere.

  5. May I just say that I do not like the word “poo.”

    Also, I like territorialism, and it is just basic common sense and should be expected. Our behavior should change based on the people we are speaking with. We discuss different things with our LDS friends than we do with our non-LDS work friends, just to use one example. Hopefully we maintain consistent standards, but it is nonetheless true and normal that we will discuss different things.

    John C, I think Bruce N is anxious to hear the reasons for your disagreements. See this as your “big chance” to write whatever you like with less than a 1 percent probability that you will be moderated in any way. Go for it.

  6. I don’t really want to get into it, because Bruce and I have already gone around and around on this issue. I believe that the “nacle” IS a safe-space for “believers” and Bruce doesn’t. I am and always have been explicitly trying to create the bloggernacle as a safe-space for believers. So separating it out from Nothing Wavering (which I think defines itself along political (american political, at that) lines (in opposition to the bloggernacle)) along those lines doesn’t make any sense to me. I have no particular interest in creating a safe-space for “doubters” or “non-believers” exclusively. I never have. I don’t particularly feel a burning need to drive them out (most days), but their concerns and insights are not determinative of mine.

    And, honestly, if you guys sincerely believe that this all really just comes down to whether or not you can call someone apostate, then we all must seem like the biggest hypocrites in the world. Of course, we may be for all I know.

  7. I should say that I think I responded the way I did because I’m a little tired of this conversation and because Bruce and I both know we aren’t going to change one another’s opinion. I can also say I never write much here anymore because I feel like I’ve been modded in a very idiosyncratic way here, so I generally try to minimize my participation on this site. That should, as I noted above, my own motivations are a mystery to me on occasion and you all may be right. You certainly got me to write a second (and third) comment, which was more than I anticipated writing.

  8. re 7, 8,

    John,

    So if you and Bruce have gone around on it, there should be be, theoretically, an archives of all the posts going back and forth on this topic? I think it would be interesting to see that.

    It seems to me that you’re not really disputing that NW and the bloggernacle have different boundaries and expectations, but that you disagree with the idea that NW represents “believing”, and the bloggernacle represents “doubting” or “nonbelieving.” Rather, it seems that your point is that whereas the bloggernacle and NW all represent “believing,” that in addition, there may be political differences emphasized more throughout NW…is that right?

  9. John C.,
    well, thanks for the thoughtful response. As best as I can tell, my reasons for leaving Times and Seasons and the reasons (1) I wouldn’t join your blog if you asked and (2) you haven’t asked, are almost entirely related to different standards of orthodoxy and what constitutes a ‘believer.’ Granted, the idea of being a token political conservative doesn’t appeal to me much either, so that may have something to do with it even though I don’t think it dows.

  10. Andrew,
    Unfortunately, It was mostly email and Facebook exchanges which also involved other people so they are neither easily accessible nor something I would feel right cutting and pasting. Bruce is free to give his impression of the state of the conversation, of course. That said, I think you’ve accurately summed up my point.

    Adam,
    Whatever else our differences, I’m glad to have you as a brother and a fellow saint.

  11. I think the problem with your answer John C. is there is more than one way to moderate that doesn’t consist of editing, taking off, or banning comments. I have effectively been banned from BCC no matter if I am allowed to stay or not. Why would anyone who is not a mysochist want to remain at a place that will mock and abuse you? I have to go with Andrew S here. You don’t disagree with boundery maintanance, but what they are or what methods indicate that they are held.

  12. I definitely agree that virtually all communities exert some forms of implicit and explicit boundary maintenance. I know that I have a particular propensity to exclude what many consider the “DAMU” from communities in which I participate. But I think that it is more a blog-by-blog boundary maintenance thing than anything else. For example, it seems to me that the JI is interested in maintaining a community that is safe for academic approaches to Mormonism and it history. I’m not sure what BCC is beyond my previously stated propensity above, but I do agree that there is frequently a knee-jerk reaction against some politically conservative (and I say this as someone generally politically conservative) discursive modes. I also am not sure what M* is, though it seems to me that there is more of a toleration for explicitly conservative political discourse. All three are the bloggernacle in my mind.

  13. Jettboy,
    I don’t think I’ve argued here that boundary maintenance is a universal bad or that I don’t engage in it. So I’m not sure what you are objecting to.

    J.,
    You are ever wise.

  14. Bruce,

    I feel a bit bad that you dismissed Sunstone so readily when we had a similar (although perhaps less-charged topic) panel last year and had a wonderful time. We included voices from all parts of the Bloggernacle and ended up with a fascinating in-person conversation that resulted in, I dare say, most everyone who attended walking away edified.

    You can listen to it here:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/theroundtable/2011/08/

  15. re 11,

    John,

    I guess that’s one thing I find problematic about facebook discussions…they are really tough to address/link to later on, and even if you can find a way to link to the discussion, you have problems with permission.

    I guess one thing I would ask is…so suppose that Nothing Wavering distinguishes itself (at least in part…and at least to some level) based on certain conservative political stances (whether that factors into its most prominent bloggers’ perceptions of religious orthodoxy as well…or not.) Couldn’t it be possible that Nothing Wavering then is distinct because it is a “safe zone” for these political conservatives…and that the Bloggernacle, because it is not explicitly a safe zone for political conservatives, implicitly creates and sustains different expectations.?

    I’m not saying, “The bloggernacle is only for political progressives,” so much as wondering whether or not saying, “The bloggernacle doesn’t have an official dog in the American political fight” is itself something that can challenge and oppose (and thus create the need for) the idea of a “conservative safe zone.”

  16. Bruce, I enjoyed your post and I think you make some excellent points. It’s too bad you won’t share them with Sunstone–I think your input would be valuable. Have you ever been?

    I like your idea that various blogs could critique other blogs. I’ve done this a little (such as my recent post at W&T about Women and Temples at BCC and FMH), but I usually just don’t have the time to do it. I think it is a great suggestion, and would build bloggernacle camaraderie, and break down some boundaries.

  17. I totally agree with MH on the “blog critiquing blogs” concept. So much of my blogging both on my personal blog and on Wheat & Tares is inspired by or a reaction to what I’ve read elsewhere, so I frequently link to several other discussions.

    (Plus, since I know I’m unlikely to be welcome at certain other sites, writing responses on my blog is a safe method to get my own thoughts out there without trampling on anyone’s garden.)

    I’ve been thinking more about something Adam wrote…in comment 10, the part that he wrote that has been bothering me ever since was:

    As best as I can tell, my reasons for leaving Times and Seasons and the reasons (1) I wouldn’t join your blog if you asked and (2) you haven’t asked, are almost entirely related to different standards of orthodoxy and what constitutes a ‘believer.’

    There are a lot of parts that bother me…first, when writers leave one site. I mean, I can understand why it happens, when it does…but I still feel like it’s a tremendous loss. I feel like, in absence of a strong comment moderation policy, we need strong bloggers of various opinions to set the tone and expectation in the comments…but when bloggers get discouraged or turned off because of the commenting atmosphere and leave, that really can’t happen. (But I understand as well that it stinks to feel like everything you write will be criticized while nothing that other people say will even be second guessed.)

    In this sense, I’m thinking of Sam MB’s recent BCC post on hepatization (although, I guess ultimately, this is a REALLY problematic post, considering what is analogized to being the “liver.”) I feel that when people leave, there is a real loss.

    (However, Adam’s comment to that discussion is not lost on me. So maybe, instead of thinking that the ideal should be to make one blog where everyone should feel comfortable, we should view things as a loose association of differently-minded blogs — that are not ashamed of their differences in perspectives — that can still talk to each other.)

  18. I’m curious how you can determine what constitutes “safe” for regular believing Mormons. Is it about how they will be treated? What kinds of material, questions, or discussions they will be exposed to? For instance, is a forum where ex-Mos gather to discuss the most soul-crushing problems that caused them to lose their faith completely, is it safe for believers so long as the believers are treated respectfully?

  19. Trevor,

    I definitely look forward to reading Bruce’s responses to your questions and others (more material for Sunstone, mwahahaha), but my thoughts would be something like…

    on any site, it’s inevitable that there are certain opinions that are viewed with suspicion…and there are other opinions that are taken at face value.

    Even when people say they are trying to be objective, this happens in some way, shape, or fashion.

    So I mean, I am guessing that a forum where ex-Mos gather to discuss the most soul-crushing problems that caused them to lose their faith completely *could* be safe for believers if believers were treated respectfully…but in reality, what often happens in these venues is something like this:

    1) When the believer offers advice to the ex-Mo or bears testimony to the ex-Mo, that advice is shot down.

    2) The ex-Mo’s testimony (of course, exmos wouldn’t use that terminology, but it’s functionally the same thing) is questioned by a believer, the community swings to the ex-Mo’s defense — there is little evaluation of whether the ex-Mo’s claims are overblown, unlikely, or in any other way distorted.

    This isn’t unique to ex-Mormon spaces, of course. The same sort of thing would happen at any site…the difference between communities is a) what sorts of opinions are given the benefit of the doubt and b) what other sorts of opinions are only given the doubt.

  20. A good example were the discussions over the “five billion dollar mall” (as I had one person describe it) — the same one the Wall Street Journal at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303717304577278993475062000.html put at 10% of the five billion dollar figure — of which there are other investors (one with an identified 76 million stake).

    Most discussions were very friendly to the hostile approach and not to anything that pointed out accurate numbers or legitimate urban planning goals.

  21. I am not sure what Bruce thinks would be considered controversial about his theories. Seems to me that a binary liberal vs conservative spectrum is insufficient to describe the various communities in question. So the concept of “safe zones” makes good sense. But I agree with Stapley that this safe zone maintenance happens mostly at a blog level. For instance my blog is safe for people who don’t annoy the crap out of me. People who do annoy me are going to get an earful from me and possibly moderated. As far as I can tell that is pretty much how every blog works. The main difference is some blogs have committees to determine what is annoying enough to warrant action rather than a single owner.

    Now when it comes to who we include in the Mormon Archipelago portal… that is mostly a grandfathered blogs at this point because of a profound neglect of that portal by me and the rest of the old MA crew. (However we probably ought to make some changes there to because some of the blogs that have been there forever are starting the annoy the crap out of me…)

  22. I really like the concept of safe zones as defining community. It works very well.

    BTW, the spam filter ate my last comment, but it is probably not worth the effort to retrieve from the filter.

    This is enough to get me thinking about some topics for my personal blogs again.

    Thank you again.

  23. John C.,

    I do not feel safe at BCC. I politely commented in disagreement with an article, I got ridiculed, dogpiled, and slung through the mud. It was ridiculous and disturbing to see Latter-day Saints acting that way.

    BCC is NOT a safe zone for believers.

  24. EmJen, do you know what your problem is? You are too rational and level headed. There! I said it!!!

    I think I would like to attend Sunstone at some point in the future. It is not that I really that smart; I just want people to think I am smart because I showed up.

  25. re 25,

    ldsphilosopher

    Chances are your “polite disagreement” seemed obnoxious to the powers that be (no matter how much it seemed to you to be polite). BCC ridicules, dogpiles, and slings through the mud *any* commenter that fails to pay attention to the implied community standards. It’s not really about “believer” or “nonbeliever” — because they are pretty equal opportunity in doing it.

  26. I think ldsphilosopher meant to say “BCC is NOT a safe zone for CONSERVATIVE believers.”

    And M*’s not a safe zone for liberal ones.

    Neither is a whole host of other “LDS” sites (NDBF, Meridian, etc.)

  27. Andrew S.,

    I know a number of people who were flabbergasted by the response I got. Multiple witnesses will testify that I was nothing but polite and civil, while my name was dragged through the mud in response. It was pure bullying.

    On one post, for example, a friend of mine commented that maybe we should judge Brigham Young too harshly by 21st century standards—we are, after all, to some extent informed by cultural context. She wasn’t even necessarily disagreeing with argument being made by the article—she was simply calling for a little bit of caution in the kinds of conclusions we can draw.

    Dozens of comments followed calling her a racist scumbag.

    I commented and said, “Maybe we should be more polite to each other when we disagree.”

    Dozens of comments followed call me a racist scumbag.

    And then I was blocked. The moderators admitted (after I emailed them), openly admitted, that the content of my comment was not offensive or impolite in any way. They just didn’t want to hear my opinion. It was not wanted.

    A few weeks later, the entire conversation was deleted.

    My point is, Bruce is right: BCC is not a safe zone for anyone who disagrees with them. People who politely disagree are often dogpiled with ridiculously derogatory responses calling into question the sanity of the commenter. And then they have the audacity to advertize themselves as an open and inviting forum for believers—and yet ANYONE who dare stand up for Brigham Young is dogpiled and called a racist.

    Stop the pretending.

    Tim,

    Conservative vs. Liberal is not a helpful dichotomy here.

  28. re 30

    ldsphilosopher,

    No no no, you don’t get what I was trying to say. When you say ‘I know a number of people who were flabbergasted by the response I got,’ you’re falling in the same trap — unless that “number of people” were all BCC regulars, then they are also outsiders who don’t understand the way things work around there. In other words, they don’t have standing to understand what fits the community standards for any particular discussion.

    I would challenge that it is possible to disagree with people at BCC — but you have to earn the trust of the community *first*. That involves a lot of time, lurking to see how things go, then posting non-controversial (by BCC community standards) comments, etc., so that you are a known quantity. Only *after* that do you have the social capital to say other things.

    Your comment here suggests you still don’t get that distinction, so your retelling of the events misses the point.

  29. Excellent post.

    I wonder if we need to broaden safe zones within a blog as much as we need to be sure that some safe zone exists for everyone? Does the ability to “lurk” meet the need for broader contact between “communities” until we do build up social capital that allows deeper discussion among individuals? Is it more important to find an accepting community or expand the boundaries of a less accepting community? (In the CofChrist we CHOOSE our congregations when more than one is within range.)

    Energy to invest is limited. I still owe Bruce a post about a book I’ve been trying to finish since Christmas and still have a couple of hundred pages to read.

  30. ldsphilosopher,
    I’m sorry your experience was terrible. I don’t know if it will make you feel better, but I too have been accused of espousing racist ideals at BCC on occasion. I agree of course with Andrew’s general take on how to comment at BCC, as I once wrote a post making those very points (they pretty much apply to all blogs).

  31. Sorry I didn’t comment earlier. I was out-of-town all weekend (with limited access to Internet) and just got back late last night. I don’t have time to carefully read the whole discussion at the moment (because I have to get the kids ready for school and then go to work), but I will as soon as I get a break.

    Bruce and I had discussed posting our exchange, but I thought you (Bruce) would post the whole thing. Let me just post my initial response because I think it’s funny how close it is to Andrew’s first comment (even though I hadn’t written to Andrew about the exchange yet):

    Thank you for getting back to me and explaining your ideas. You make a number of excellent points that I would love to discuss in this panel. Many communities hold up an ideal of openness (that is certainly true of Main Street Plaza and of Mormon Stories), but to what degree is it an illusion or a self-delusion? Let’s talk about it. Andrew (who is participating in the panel) has written about how creating a place where the most faithful and the most questioning can all feel comfortable expressing themselves however they like is probably impossible.

    Personally, I don’t have an agenda to pin a particular interpretation or my own wrong/misleading labels onto your blog or your community. I know you guys are far from where we’re at on the non-believing end, and so I freely admit ignorance of your ideas and philosophy. That’s why I wrote to you. I don’t want to present my own misconceptions if there exists the possibility of having a more accurate picture.

    I don’t think your ideas would be disruptive to my intent at all. Indeed, I think the worst thing that could happen would be if all of the panelists agree and pat each other on the back for being so open — without ever having that picture challenged — and pin bad boundary maintenance on the absent “other”. You are welcome to challenge the assumptions that were used in framing the panel question — maybe my approach is wrong.

    I don’t think the visible boundary maintenance done by Nothing Wavering is a priori wrong. The various communities have different goals. I know that there are people in my community who have an explicit goal of demonstrating to believers that the church’s claims are false (although that is not my personal goal), so if a community has a goal of creating a safe space for belief, it is reasonable to say to some people “you guys aren’t welcome”.

    I really, really hope you will reconsider your refusal. I understand why you’re not so keen on Sunstone. However, stopping by the Sunstone community to clear up some misconceptions would do no harm to your existing safe spaces elsewhere. This would be an opportunity for you to shine the light of accurate information to prevent people from (maliciously or not) spreading an inaccurate picture of you behind your back. If the Sunstoners are as open as they like to claim to be, let them show it. If you express your POV as clearly and civilly as you have done in this message, I don’t see that anyone could reasonably be offended by hearing you explain your views.

    It is not too late to add you, if you are interested. I’m including the final description of the panel below. If your refusal really is final, I hope you will permit me to pass your message along to Andrew, whom I’ve asked to be the closer and do something of a synthesis.

    Either way, thanks for explaining your perspective, and I hope to see you at Sunstone if you can be persuaded to reconsider.

  32. Trevor,
    My idea of a ‘safe zone’ is discussions where we can work out the implications of our shared foundational beliefs instead of endlessly debating those foundations.

  33. I actually feel pretty safe at almost all the blogs (possibly because the conversations are so far over my head that I have no idea what’s really going on) except FMH. I’m scared of those guys. I used to be scared of Times and Seasons, now I just feel a kind of exasperated boredom. They’ve made it pretty clear they don’t need most of us.

    I’m a big believer on inclusion; having been left out most of the time as a child, I find it almost impossible to exclude others, whether I disagree with them or not. At Mormon Mentality, we seldom ban people or monitor comments. It’s not something we talked about; some of us will be stricter than others, but mostly, we evolved that way. Probably because we’re lazy. I can say that since THERE DOESN’T SEEM TO BE ANYBODY LEFT OF THE ORIGINAL CREW AND I’M TERRIBLY UPSET ABOUT IT!!!!……sigh…sorry for the digression.

    See, I might put that differently on MM. It’s kind of lucky for me that I’m out to lunch because I miss a lot of the fights. Between blogs. In my mind, we’re still (pretty much) one big happy family and (almost) everybody’s my friend. So differing opinions aren’t that big a deal, in the long run.

    Although…..maybe I missed the point altogether.

  34. Anne-I understand what you are saying; you and I remember a much more kinder and gentle time. That, and rose-colored glasses help out a lot.

  35. Very interesting discussion!! My exchange with Bruce continued for several more messages, but rather than follow the lines of that discussion, let me add a few remarks to what others have said here.

    one dynamic you don’t explicitly discuss is territorialism. We chimpishly recognize the difference between our territory and others territory and adjust our responses accordingly. That’s why comments of the wrong type on a blog can be perceived as a threat even if they aren’t intellectually challenging. Because they are infringing on our territory.

    True.

    There are several reasons I don’t comment very often on faithful blogs. Part of it is that don’t comment much, period. I read hundreds of blogs for my weekly round-up, and if I commented on all of them, I’d never have time to go to work or take care of my kids. It’s also because a lot of the topics that people of faith discuss are simply not relevant or interesting to me as an atheist, so I have nothing to add. And then — as I joked on the Bloggernacle once years ago — when I’m out of my territory, I always feel like I’d best be off before someone drops a house on me. ;) (Or before I inadvertently make a nuisance of myself.)

    “Why not create a site that’s oriented as a safe zone for everyone?” And then I despair at the possible answer: perhaps the different parts of the “spectrum” (whatever that spectrum is) are actively opposed to each other in ways that cannot be reconciled?

    I think it’s probably impossible to create a space that everyone finds comfortable and safe. Either you end up limiting topics so some people feel like they’re not welcome to say what they really think, or you accept that some people will be upset/offended, or you limit which people are invited.

    I say this despite the fact that my biggest hope for Main Street Plaza is for it to be a place where everyone can have their say as long as they can say it in a civil and constructive manner. But despite having a very real and sincere desire for openness, I’m explicitly excluding people who won’t/can’t express themselves in a civil manner, plus there are people who will be upset by certain points regardless of whether they’re stated without ad hominem, plus it’s essentially impossible to keep unpopular opinions from being crowded out. And it’s not clear whether that’s good or bad — some positions are unpopular for good reason, and not all arguments have equal merit.

    One point that strikes me in this discussion though is the need for a “safe space” for believers — that is, even if every community has its own tribalism, it appears to go without saying that the explicit need for a filter goes only one way.

    That’s true even in what I said above about steering clear of faithful blogs to avoid making a nuisance of myself: it is explicitly because I worry that people don’t trust my motives. Maybe they think I’m only being friendly as a trick. I don’t want to put people in a position where I act like there’s something wrong with them if they don’t trust me. As far as most blogs are concerned, I’m just a stranger on the Internet. So I go where I find people who want to talk to me, and where my input is not wanted, I stay away.

  36. This has been an interesting discussion to read. I am a relative new comer to the bloggernacle, and have enjoyed bouncing between communities. Maybe I am too thick skinned, (or too oblivious?) to have felt unwilling or unable to comment when I felt like it, wherever I have wandered.

    Certainly I have received a lot of push back on some sites, but since that has happened in almost every ward I have lived in, I kind of expect that as part of Mormon culture.

    Of course at church I usually get push back for refusing to join a political party, having children that I don’t think I need to helicopter around, pushing for more “scoutish” activities (hiking, back packing, canoe camping, multiple day rafting trips) for YW, while still serving in Scouting callings most of the time, making a scouting program happen and influence the YM presidency more than I should when I am the only woman on the scouting committee. Yep, I can be downright subversive at times.

    In the bloggernacle I am more likely to get push back for having faith that if God wants women to have the priesthood, gay lifestyles/marriage to be accepted in the church, Boy Scouts to be removed as a church program, or church discipline to go away for almost all cases, that God has a perfectly good Prophet to do that through.

    Until a prophetic statement on those issues, I personally would prefer to spend my time blogging and commenting on issues that relate directly to my life, and that impact my testimony. So, I am likely to spend time sharing personal experiences, some good, some horrific, most somewhere in the middle, and my faith or testimony in spite of, or because of those experiences.

    As the daughter of teachers I enjoy academic discussions, but since I didn’t go to BYU I often don’t comment, because I don’t know enough of the context to feel I have something to contribute.

    I guess I probably break the lurking rule on almost every site I comment on, since I tend to simply give my opinion or share my experiences when it seems appropriate. I also tend to do this on the personal blogs I find interesting, even if it is the first time I have read a post on that blog, and it never occurred to me that I should wait to enter a discussion that interests me. (I am also likely to be accused of being long winded because I like to put my entire thoughts together, so that I know I am saying what I mean. Some habits of a debater never die no matter how old I get.)

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts as moderators. It really is fascinating for someone looking from the outside in. I think the most fascinating part is that I haven’t ever seen such an honest perspective on your editorial policies expressed this well on your individual blogs.

    (Now that I am finished writing my comment I just realized this may be moderated in some way that will exclude me as a non-moderator, but if that is the case, I will simply have learned another etiquette lesson.)

  37. I just started reading the comments right now.

    CHanson, I was planning to add your response in a future post. But thanks for adding it here. I might still do it later, if that is okay. We said a lot of things back and forth that are interesting.

    John C and I do not entirely agree, as you can see. And we have gone back and forth a lot, so I don’t blame him for not getting too involved. I guess I do agree with him on one thing: NW and “The Core Bloggernacle” do partially split based on safe zones for political views. I think John C is correct, but that it *also* splits based on ‘safe zones’ for questioning of beliefs. (Whether or not ‘questioning’ and ‘doubting’ is the same depends on how you are using the words. They are often very different.)

    BUT I am not personally at all cynical on this difference. I think “The Core Bloggernacle” got its start as lawyers and scholars who come from a certain type of academic culture. I think they were/are friends with practicing members of the Church that have similar interests and I think this includes some that range from the questioning to outright non-belief at times. And I think because they are friends, cultural rules naturally built up to maintain the community and to protect some of the more questioning members so they weren’t uncomfortable there. And I think this happened for moral reasons.

    Therefore, I do not believe the Bloggernacle is itself “unbelieving.” (For comparison, I do believe the Mormon Matters and the Dehlinite-sphere were unbelieving oriented back when I participated.) In fact, I think “The Core Bloggernacle” is primarily believing. But I think many of its cultural rules do create a sort of safe zone for these ‘questioning friends’ so to speak. And I think the net result is that a believing Mormon that is “too conservative theologically speaking” may find such sites more difficult to navigate, or sometimes even impossible to navigate. And certainly the few times I’ve commented on BCC weren’t always so pleasant. (One of these days I’ll have to post one of my very few conversations on BCC and how I was being treated as an outsider the moment I commented.)

    The reverse is all true for Nothing Wavering, of course. So it’s not really a matter of one being ‘more open’ or whatever. They just have different (but overlapping) communities in my opinion.

    But my point isn’t “Core Bloggernacle = bad” and “Nothing Wavering = good” and I fear John C reads me that way. But rather my point is “hey, isn’t it great we have both now and people can find what works for them? Or even visit both?”

    And I have no doubt John C is a believing member of the Church and wants to make BCC primarily supportive of the Brethren and the doctrines of the Church.

  38. Pingback: Fortresses or Keeps: What are we Mormons building online? | Wheat and Tares

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