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What happened at Mormon Matters: Reprise

September 29, 2010
Mormon Matters Massacre

I apologize in advance for this one; this is in SUCH bad taste. But it was either "Mormon Matters Massacre" or "September Eight*" (*but I didn't know the right number of bloggers to put)

Some of you may now know that things have shaken up at Mormon Matters. I hinted about these things in the last post, but didn’t go as far as I wanted into it. When Adam F. posted his article, I didn’t think it was time yet. But now that John Dehlin himself has posted his side of the story (for much of it has been anyone’s guess to this point), here are my full thoughts.

The basic timeline of events can be read via John’s article, with some supplementary reading (and juicy, ascerbic comments) at Faith-Promoting Rumor and Times & Seasons. Unfortunately, the post that started everything has been delete refs unpost.

Today, I’ll provide some different interpretations, suggestions for how I would have rather liked things to go, and maybe even some places where I can agree with John’s rationale.

My reinterpretations must begin with the very first line of John’s post. He charitably and diplomatically describes the status quo as being that “most of the permabloggers from Mormon Matters have chosen to leave Mormon Matters and start another blog.” My issue: this tricky business of choice. I guess it could be stated, in a  technical sense, that the permas did choose to leave…but this choice, like nearly every choice, was not situated in a vacuum. It was not “free”. I wouldn’t say it was completely deterministic, but I think that being kicked off the site and having all one’s privileges stripped from him would incline a person to “choose” to leave. But we’ll get there later on, because John himself covers this.

John points out he has been “neglectful” and that something like this was “bound to happen.” Whereas before I feel John overestimated the value of free choice, in this line I feel John has become too fatalistic. I think there can be debate on whether John was neglectful or not — I would rather put it that he was more hands off in the daily administration, but I understood that to be because he was busy. I wouldn’t say that he neglected to fulfill a duty owed.

But…this “bound to happen” business? From my perspective, there were several ways to address this issue at every step of the way, and all of the parties could have chosen different ways. But since we and he didn’t, and our ways were incompatible, something like this was “bound to happen.”

To explain, John reserves the right (and is not afraid to invoke such right) to prune comments, shape the discussion, close comments when they get too rowdy, and so on. The other permas had decided that we didn’t want to engage in such policies — we only wanted to moderate in rare circumstances to provide an outlet even for unpopular voices that chafed us.

This incompatibility itself wasn’t as problematic as the fact that from the permabloggers’ perspectives (and maybe I only speak for myself), John’s “intrusions” seemed to ignore the policies we ourselves had established over weeks and months of day-to-day operation. We wondered whether he considered himself “above the rules.” Or whether we — as people who did not own the site but merely worked with it on a day-to-day level — even had control over what the rules were.

I could devote an entire article to another point John made, so I probably won’t get to that here. But read John’s argument about whether he could have hurt Elder Jensen’s potential to become an apostle. I think Mormons need to think about this — should Mormons accept John’s dichotomy: either God calls apostles (thus, the “situation on the ground” is irrelevant) OR it doesn’t matter who is called (presumably because the choice is not inspired)? Even I, as a nonbeliever, feel this is a somewhat naive approach to the faith.

John goes through a few points talking about how historically, when he has posted (rarely), he has moderated and closed comments as he has felt. He has not followed the policies established by the other permas (including things like scheduling for posts.) One point I can sympathize and empathize with is his rationale — he moderates because his haters are rabid and ever-present. I’ve seen him get thrashed on both sides of the believing spectrum, and I can see how he wouldn’t want to have that.

Nevertheless, I cringe at the comparison he makes. He writes that the Bloggernacle (and he oh-so-slyly links directly to By Common Consent…) has a history of moderation and banning, so he’s not alone in his actions.

This is a red flag to me. One thing I liked about Mormon Matters is that we didn’t do stuff like the others in the bloggernacle just because they did it. We certainly didn’t say, “Well, everyone else is moderating strongly, so let’s do it too.” Our accepting policy has often been unpopular and disliked (I don’t think it has made us many friends with certain personalities within the Nacle…) but it has been our policy. So, when John goes against this policy, it makes the rest of us seem hypocritical.

Think of the potential accusation: “Oh, so you don’t moderate the raging Antis and Ex-es that swarm your site, but you do moderate well-known faithful Bloggernacle quantities who bring up legitimate points?”

It just doesn’t look good.

John talks next about the back-stage discussions to reopen comments. Now, myself personally, I find this a prickly issue. I think waffling around on an issue is undesirable…if we want comments open, leave them open. If we want them closed, leave them closed. But closing and opening and closing them reflects poorly. Pulling posts and reposting them reflects poorly.

The issue here is…if John wants comments closed…and Cheryl (problem! does Cheryl submit to use her first name on this blog? Why is John sharing that? Oh well…cat’s out of the bag, so I’ll continue) wants it open…then I don’t think the solution is to silently strip Cheryl of administration rights. Even if you’re in the busiest day of your Ph.D or whatever. If you do that, then don’t be surprised when that reflects super poorly on you.

I don’t know whether or not Cheryl was involved with the leak — I don’t think it is appropriate to jump to conclusions at this time, no matter how tantalizing it is to see all these dots and connect them. I will say, however, that whoever is the friend of “Welker Watcher” and whoever is Welker Watcher are repeatedly and continuously stabbing a rusty nail into the bonds of trust of everyone involved, and this wound will fester, rot, and spread throughout the rest of the body to kill it unless and until Welker Watcher reveals his or her identity. Our group needs serious medical attention.

I do think that Beyonce and Lady Gaga have some wise words about trust though.

…I can understand, if John assumed that Cheryl was responsible for Welker Watcher (and, to be honest, there are some extremely unfortunate comments from Cheryl, as John posts), that he would then be wary of who is on whose side. However, once again, I don’t think the solution is to silently strip everyone of their rights and access to the sites.

I think John overstates the extent to which he emailed everyone, but that’s probably because *I’m* not important and didn’t get much of anything. But from what I did get, I didn’t feel well-informed.

…So we return to the choice of leaving or staying. John says that “most were ready to leave by this point,” but without context, it may sound like we were ready to leave before any of this. But actually, I’d say that if we were ready to leave, it was directly the result of these unpredicted lashings out at us. Without any warning, we discovered our site privileges revoked. And then the email that John did send had no explanation, no warning, but encouraged us — if we wanted — to email him to express our interest. Here is a completely fictitious dramatization that captures the atmosphere:

“Hi, I assumed you were cheating on me, so I kicked you out of the house and threw out all your stuff, but if you’re still interested in being together, please let me know

<3

John”

Well, since our stuff is already out of the house, the U-Haul guys really won’t have much trouble loading it up and taking it away.

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37 Comments
  1. Sigh.

  2. Bloggernacle gone wild. I guess this is the result of an uncorrelated blogging world. ;)

  3. I’d been visiting there for a couple years, but I had no idea that John “owned” Mormon Matters, that it was “his blog” in any sense. It was quite a surprise to see him just waltz in there one day and kick out everyone who’s made the site what it is.

    But the same thing happened about five years ago to an on-line community that I was part of. We’d spent years and thousands of posts building it into something, and then the legal owner (who posted a couple of times a year, if that) came in and said, “You know what, this isn’t what I want this site to be. These other people [her sycophants] are going to run it from now on, not you guys.” And there wasn’t a thing we could do about it.

  4. Andrew, great post. I’m still stunned by how quickly this thing unraveled.

  5. redacted permalink

    A copy of the original Mormon Matters post with comments is available here:

    http://dl.dropbox.com/u/118766/mormonmatters.html

  6. Yeah, like kuri, I didn’t know that John Dehlin had anything at all to with Mormon Matters until recently when I saw a post by him and thought to myself, “Oh look! They let John Dehlin guest post at MM. Neat!”

  7. Andrew, I have always found you to be a very bright guy who was pretty much a MASTER of details. Imagine my disappointment when I read the closing line of your post:

    “Well, since our stuff is already out of the house, the U-Haul guys really won’t have much trouble loading it up and taking it away.”

    I’ll just attribute this to your youth and inexperience. “U-Haul guys” rent trucks, they don’t load them. The loader of a U-Haul truck is “U” (you, the renter).

    Otherwise, I found your post interesting. And, just to chime in on a theme from some of the other commenters, “I knew that John Dehlin owned Mormon Matters.” I heard him say it in an interview, maybe on Mormon Expression? (not the live simulcast, but the first time they interviewed him, I think) Maybe it wasn’t Mormon Expression, but it was in a podcast. I don’t think John was intentionally keeping his ownership of MM secret, it probably just didn’t come up often.

  8. Mme Curie: Amen

    Swearing Elder: That’s a big fear. Because I don’t really want to see what a correlated one would look like (any more than I have already seen it).

    kuri: From what I can tell, there are a lot of things that John owns but with which he has drifted away. He is the ultimate in passive activity partnerships, and is getting choke up in passive activity loss limitations (ok, that is a bad tax accounting joke). So I think your assessment captures a bit of the spirit of some of the permas…I mean, we understand that it is *his* site, but had it not been for our team, the site probably wouldn’t be, as he writes, the “2nd or 3rd most highly trafficked Mormon blog in the Internet”.

    But it’s sad that this is something that you’ve experienced too…

    Mormon Heretic: I can point to certain things that I think made it unravel more. Honestly, if Welker Watcher had not commented, then things probably could’ve come out quite differently. The question: should they? Or is this a blessing in disguise? I don’t know.

    redacted: Hmm…I should’ve known that Google Cache sees all.

    Carson: Haha, wow. I know he wasn’t very active, but I had no idea that people didn’t even make the association. I think it’s because elsewhere in the Bloggernacle, Mormon Matters is basically permanently attached to John Dehlin because of some historical skirmishes that have occurred.

    Flat Lander: Yikes! My youth and ignorance is exposed. (Although I could’ve sworn that when my family moved from our old house to our new one, we had some people take stuff for us…it wasn’t U-Haul, though, so it was probably a completely different deal. Also, I was…10 or 11 and dumb.)

    But yeah, regarding the ownership, I didn’t think that was intentionally kept secret either. I think it was just a matter of lack of involvement diminishing the association. I think quite a few of his endeavors are like that. In fact, Mormon Stories is really the only thing I see him permanently attached to.

  9. Flat Lander,

    It wasn’t a question of secrecy. It’s that he was gone — for years — and other people made it into something in his absence. People weren’t going there because it was John’s site, they were going there because it was Andrew’s and BiV’s, and AdamF’s and all the other perma’s site and the commenters’ site. Now suddenly he says it’s his and he wants it back?

    Well, OK, technically he’s right. He owns the site. But they made it. And for him to just take it away is not cool. Not cool at all.

  10. Well, to be fair, kuri, John knows a lot of people, and whenever he does post, he makes sure to post something that is timely, something that is controversial, and something that will be talked about. Additionally, the Mormon Matters community isn’t grown from air. I imagine that a non-negligible portion of the readership is there because of Mormon Stories or StayLDS or some other outreach from a Dehlin production. This may not be the majority of the readership, but I think it’s statistically relevant.

  11. Well, OK, he’s not quite that irrelevant. ;)

    And I’m not saying his posts, few and far between though they’ve been since I’ve been reading Mormon Matters, aren’t good. I think all his work is quite good and worthwhile, actually. But if people came to MM because of John, they stayed because of what it was. And he had very little to do with that lately.

  12. “Honestly, if Welker Watcher had not commented, then things probably could’ve come out quite differently.”

    If that’s true, it’s a real shame, because it means you’ve allowed ‘Welker Watcher’ a role in determining the outcome. What more could an anonymous troll/mole hope for?

    ” …I can understand, if John assumed that Cheryl was responsible for Welker Watcher (and, to be honest, there are some extremely unfortunate comments from Cheryl, as John posts), that he would then be wary of who is on whose side.”

    If you can understand John’s wariness, you ought to be able to appreciate the practical reasons for revoking privileges until the dust settles. To have proceeded otherwise would’ve been risking leaving the site vulnerable to an angry person with admin privileges. Is that really so difficult to understand?

  13. I knew that John Dehlin started MM. I knew because my brother (John Hamer) was one of the original posters. My brother didn’t stay long (he moved to BCC shortly after MM started), but I think he may actually have designed the masthead.

    As I said on MSP, I think this whole situation is really unfortunate. Regardless of who is right or wrong in this dispute, the impressive popularity of the site was largely due to the day-to-day efforts of the MM permas who are now setting off to start their own blog. I still kind of hope the various players still value each others’ efforts and find a way to patch things up. If not, here’s to seeing two great blogs where once there was one. ;)

  14. Flat Lander, you can rent loading labor at most u-haul locations now. One of the developments of the last twenty years or so.

    Gee, you can tell how little I know about this from the depth of my ability to comment on this thread.

    I’ll have something more to say in the next week or so — assuming I know more by then and anyone is still interested.

  15. Chino Blanco:

    Unfortunately, most trolls don’t have the luxury of private information. But the ones that do…there is no way NOT to “allow” them “a role in determining the outcome.”

    If you can understand John’s wariness, you ought to be able to appreciate the practical reasons for revoking privileges until the dust settles. To have proceeded otherwise would’ve been risking leaving the site vulnerable to an angry person with admin privileges. Is that really so difficult to understand?

    That’s not what’s difficult to understand. What’s difficult to understand is why John believes he has to protect the site from the people who operate it on a day-to-day basis. Why, for example, is it that the permabloggers are the “angry p[eople] with admin privileges”? Can the site be vulnerable to the people who operate it on a day-to-day basis, who have nurtured the community, who have nurtured the informal and formal rules of the site, etc.,? Or is it more likely that the site will be vulnerable to people who have at best a nominal interest (e.g., owning a URL) who want to overstep those informal and formal rules and who will render the site *writer-less* and *content-less* by administrative action? One of those sounds more damaging to the site.

    Chino…the entire issue, IMO, is that you are believing it would be the permas’ actions that would have been an attack on the site, rather than John’s actions. Our contention as permas is that we are NOT and were NOT outsiders threatening the site. Our ways and means are NOT and were NOT outsider policies that would be rejected by the host body. Decisions made in common among us are NOT rogue or mutinous actions.

    • Chino:

      If you will pardon the military analogy, John “launched on warning” without being able to confirm whether his radar was actually picking up an incoming missile. Thanks to the mysterious WW, John was reading our internal e-mails and escalating his response more rapidly than we could read our own e-mails and gather our own information from each other.

  16. We seem to be going in circles here, in triplicate. As I mentioned at FLAK, best of luck with your new site and I’ll look forward to reading and supporting it. Otherwise, I’ve said my piece at MSP and will be leaving it at that, cheers.

  17. Likewise for you — I’d be interested in seeing if some kind of MSP/MM partnership could be brokered.

  18. Holden Caulfield permalink

    I didn’t have a problem with John’s original post. I honestly think he was greatly influenced when Carol Lynn Pearson was out of sorts with his characterization of Elder Jensen’s words. I think his bizarre behavior must be in part due to the pressures of his day-to-day.

    That being said, and to his discredit, this is not the first time he has deleted his own post and the comments. I remember when he did a post on the white-washing of Mormon history. His post and the comments got too far off the path and he deleted everything. The irony was hilarious. Here John talking about the importance of truth and not changing history and he wiped it all out.

    I will miss MM because the non-moderation of gave me a place to deal with my frustrations and yet also learn from others.

    My only hope is that I somehow find the blog that hawkgrrrl goes to. Her comments especially help me see the excesses in my negative feelings toward the church.

  19. Frankly, I owe a lot to John. Even just from Mormon Stories, he helped a lot. He also allowed me to join Mormon Matters when I had little to zero contact or relationships with anyone online. While I did stay semi-active there for the past two years (more in the last few months), it didn’t bother me that he put up posts, or linked to HuffPo, or bumped posts, or deleted his own posts. That being said, I can see why it really bothered some of the other permas. This is just my experience. I am also sad about what happened, and how fast it was, I would guess he’s probably more sad about all this. As I said elsewhere, we usually can’t know everything that is going on behind the scenes (and I don’t mean private emails), and how people are feeling, and etc. Change has happened, the start of which was sad, but we can move on now, hopefully holding on to relationships that are still repairable or good.

    Holden – I’m sure Andrew or I or someone else will link to it once it’s up and running. We’d love to see your continued participation.

  20. Holden,

    As soon as we (please note that most of the former Mormon Matters bloggers are in the new endeavor together) have a new site up to our liking, I’ll forward the link on to people who are interested. We won’t try to keep it a mystery for too much longer.

    Adam,

    Yeah, I agree with your sentiments. I was actually glad to see whenever John had posted something, because he does have an eye for timely, intriguing things. I thought the “one blog two systems” policy could work, but I could see how it was unpopular.

    It seems like things are settling down a bit, so I’m very exciting in seeing how things are built up and how everyone moves forward.

  21. “None of which means I’m going to stop reading Faith Promoting Rumor, or hoping that Chris H. continues to guest post here at MSP, or following John’s work, or enjoying Andrew’s insights. We’ve all got our strange tics and they’re what make us human.”

  22. Sorry, that last comment was supposed to go on MSP. Too many window open at once.

  23. hawkgrrrl permalink

    Andrew – thanks for sharing your views here. I’ve been mostly absent from the ‘nacle since Monday, only because of personal commitments and the heavy listing of starting a new blog. To our faithful readers, the new site will be very familiar with similar moderation policies and most of the same bloggers. We hope you’ll all join us there.

    This is not a mutiny for me. I want to expand on what we’ve built and broaden content as well. I still consider John a friend, and I believe most of the other bloggers would agree.

  24. hawkgrrrl permalink

    Heavy lifting, not listing. I need new glasses! :)

  25. hawkgrrl ~ I hope you all get moved into the new place soon. We’ve disagreed on some issues, but I’ve always thought you were a very talented writer and I admire you greatly. And I ♥ MM.

    Plus, did you know that you were the 20th person ever to leave a comment on my blog and probably the first Bloggernacle regular to do so? :)

  26. Chris H, I found your comment above priceless. I am going to have to repent and spend more time at FPR.

    Jack, I still have a post planned from your Sunstone presentation. The problem is I already have a backlog of posts promised. For example, I’ve finally posted a couple reviews of John Hamer’s book, but I’m still not done yet. So, yes, I will have an in depth review of your presentation. It was fascinating, and deserves to be further recognized in the bloggernacle!

    Chanson, I feel like John doesn’t know me very well even though I’ve blogged at MM for quite some time. I really admire him, and still consider him a friend. I’m pretty sure most of the “various players still value each others’ efforts” and I think most (if not all) will “find a way to patch things up.” And I hope we will have 2 great blogs, rather than just 1. (I am feeling an announcement coming soon, but not quite yet.) ;)

  27. Hawkgrrrl and Mormon Heretic — That’s great to know. As I said on MSP, I think it’s admirable of you to make it clear that things are square between you and John D. and that you support each other’s projects moving forward.

    Good luck to all of you, and I look forward to seeing how these projects go!

  28. hawkgrrrl permalink

    Ms. Jack – I “liked” your comment! How could I not?

    Thanks to all for the well-wishing. The new site is getting close. Good thing it’s GC weekend!

  29. New site is now up at http://wheatandtares.org/ in case anyone wants to come see us ;)

  30. All Black permalink

    Shame what happened in MM.

    It would have been better though for John to hold a disciplinary council against BiV and then excommunicated her for her rebellion and apostasy, with the agreeing vote of the permas set up as a high council!!

    Didn’t happen I guess because joseph smith jnr is simply just smarter than john dehlin!

  31. Wow, All Black, that was quite inconsiderate. (I am aware that with an image labeled “mormon matters massacre”, I am probably the pot and All Black’s name is…apt.)

  32. All Black – That could have certainly been one possible outcome. But the rest of us viewed ourselves more as an interdependent, highly functional blogging team and less as a high council sniffing out disloyalty.

  33. WraithOfBlake permalink

    I actually read this whole thread!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Main Street Plaza » Sunday in Outer Blogness: (too much) heart and brains edition!
  2. Mormon Heretic » Wheat and Tares
  3. 2010 in review « Irresistible (Dis)Grace

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