Conversation is Difficult — Let’s Do Better
In his book Disagreeing Virtuously, Olli-Pekka Vainio names three specific virtues that keep communities in conversation even when they disagree: open-mindedness, humility, and courage.
• C. Christopher Smith. How the Body of Christ Talks
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I’ve been getting more criticism lately about the moderation of our comment threads here at Internet Monk. This pops up occasionally, but it seems like it has been more frequent in recent days.
But in reality, it’s been like this from the start. Here are some excerpts from a post I wrote just a couple of months after Michael died, back in 2010.
We’ve had quite a week so far here at Internet Monk. The comments have been pouring in faster than I can follow them, and I’ve had to go back and clean up several messes where people spilled venom or knocked down a wall trying to create a new corridor for the conversation.
If your comment was deleted in one of these discussions, it may have happened for one of several reasons:
- You were denying someone’s salvation.
- You were being just plain mean. Rude. Impolite. OK, a jackass.
- You posted a comment so extensive it broke the record for longest essay on iMonk.
- You got off the subject.
- You got caught up in a discussion that was off the subject.
- You got caught up in a little game of “You vs. Me” and forgot there’s a whole community involved in this discussion.
- You gave off the attitude that everyone else involved in the discussion was unworthy of your attention, so you shouted what to you seems obvious, rolled your eyes at being seen in the company of such ignoramuses, and stormed out again. (see #2)
I thought I’d throw out a few reminders today to help us as we listen and talk with one another.
ONE: Internet Monk is a conversation, not a church.
Some of you seem exasperated that we are not upholding a particular confession of faith here. We’re not calling certain commenters heretics. We’re allowing the “liberals” to have a voice. Gasp, even non-Christians are allowed to make points.
Friend, this is not a church. I am not your pastor. We have not entered into a covenant here. This is a conversation. Yes, we come from a distinctly Christian point of view. Yes, we talk about the Bible and theology and church and missions and following Jesus. I hope people are edified and helped. There is definitely a ministry aspect to this blog.
But it’s also a conversation blog, and a conversation is an open proposition. All are welcome. Yes, those who enter the discussion should be aware that making and defending arguments can be a rough and tumble business. But they should also expect respect. No matter what their views, they are human beings, made in God’s image, people for whom Christ died, and our neighbors.
Let’s all learn the fine art of conversation.
TWO: Internet Monk is a blog, not a free speech forum
Some of you think we’re being unfair when we edit or delete your comment or speak in a way that you think is inconsistent. I’m going to be brutally honest — what matters in the final analysis is what we who moderate the blog think about whether or not a comment is appropriate, not you.
Michael Spencer once wrote:
I do not have any commitment to absolute free speech on my blog. I have worked hard for the success I have in this medium, and I do not share it or allow others to denigrate or manipulate it. You may participate, but I do not sponsor wars, slander, threats or pointless arguments.
I’m not a perfect moderator, so if you want to accuse me of being hypocritical or inconsistent, I already agree with you and it doesn’t matter. You won’t win the comment war.
If you insist on getting your point of view heard, and are frustrated here, you are free to start your own blog. It’s easy to do, and that would give you complete freedom to set your own rules. Here, we have ours, and they’re clearly defined.
To read about us and how we operate, go the FAQ/RULES page.
THREE: Internet Monk is a trust, not my bright idea.
Even though you are hearing my voice as the main writer on this blog, I write (and solicit the contributions of others) as one entrusted with a legacy, not as one starting from scratch. That means I have a responsibility to keep the material at iMonk at a high level, and also to maintain a certain continuity with the voice and emphases of its founder, Michael Spencer, as well as to chronicle my own journey and perspectives.
Michael’s writing is why I and hundreds of thousands of you were attracted to this blog in the first place. Not only because he shared his own life with such vulnerability and grace, but also because he was willing to pick some fights, make a few enemies, and point out regularly that many of the “emperors” we are all enamored with have no clothes.
Sacred cows make great barbecue, and we’re gonna keep the cook fires burning. You are not going to like everything you read on Internet Monk. If you do, we’re not doing our job. In fact, those of us who write on IM don’t agree with each other on everything. How boring would that be?
So, please, stay in the conversation here at Internet Monk, and invite others to join us. We promise to do our best to keep it fresh, stimulating, thoughtful, and sometimes disturbing.
We are always open to constructive criticism and suggestions. You can contact Chaplain Mike by email through the link at the top of the page.
In general, I have always been a more lax moderator than Michael Spencer was. The main reason is simple. Michael worked at a Christian boarding school and had opportunities throughout the day to devote time to keeping up with what was happening on the site. I work full time out in the community, am on call 2-4 nights each week, have a different family situation, and therefore have much less freedom to carefully follow along with the conversation on Internet Monk.
I have also overseen the transition of this blog to a more conversation-oriented blog, with a wider berth given to the kinds of comments that might well have been deleted or even gotten commenters banned in the past. For the most part, except for off-topic material, I will only delete comments if I think they are way out of line or represent a condemning spirit, an unwillingness to engage honestly or fairly with others, or attacks that come from downright meanness.
And I definitely have my weaknesses as a moderator. In particular, I have not been as good at something I probably should work on — making sure that certain voices do not dominate the conversation or persist in trying to have the last word.
In days to come, I am going to do my best to pay more careful attention and engage more to keep conversations on topic and civil.
It is my hope that each of you who wants to participate here at Internet Monk will also take a little time to think about how you can make this conversation more vital and helpful to everyone.
The old rule applies in conversation: “Measure twice, cut once.”
Or as Eugene Peterson’s rendering of James puts it: “Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger.”