Why I Stay (in Fringe Internet Mormonism)
As I have alluded in passing in certain other blog posts, I have been involved with the Mormon Hub Facebook group as an administrator. While I have been an admin to other media (Wheat & Tares in particular), the Mormon Hub’s “back stage” discussions are more frequent and animated than any other moderation group that I have been a part of. And, in general, Facebook groups are a different beast than blogs.
But that’s not what I wanted to write about. Instead, I wanted to write about the fact that for me, the Hub means something a bit more than what a Facebook group probably means to most folks. It is not just a place to chat, but also a living experiment and a proving grounds. The Hub is trying to do something that many other sites and groups have tried, but that seems (based on the graveyard of previous attempts) to be difficult, if not impossible to maintain. (Either that, or the Hub is simply trying to do something that has never been attempted before…can’t decide which).
If the Hub is doing something that many other sites have tried, then that can be best summarized as trying to have a space where Mormon believers and non believers can coexist, but without the polemics of incessantly trying to argue about the church’s truth or falsity. Discussion about Mormonism beyond the truth claims, as it were.
…but when I say parenthetically that maybe the Hub is trying to do something that has never been attempted before, then what I’m referring to is the different idea that maybe, it’s trying to create a space not necessarily for a big tent of disaffected and orthodox and everyone in between trying (tenuously) to make conversation work out…but rather an online space for liberal, uncorrelated, unorthodox Mormons, separate from Sunday meanings (primarily for “orthodox” folks), and separate from most online venues (primarily for disaffected folks). Yeah, try to define that.
Anyway, however unique (or not) the goal is, one aspect of this process that has been attempted several times (but with challenges) is our approach to moderation: we want to be as hands off as possible without allowing for anyone to destroy the environment.
This approach to moderation is the downfall of many sites. For the most part, a laissez-faire approach to moderation leads to discussions where the most vocal (to say it neutrally) and the most obnoxious, demanding, and overbearing (to say it less so) voices drive out everyone who can’t meet or match that volume. At least in online Mormonism, those obnoxious voices tend to be disaffected (especially recently so) folks who want to make sure everyone is aware of their pain and betrayal. (Whereas, in a typical church setting, those voices would be the orthodox.
(I don’t want to be unsympathetic to these folks, but to an extent, it’s just tiring.)
One way to try to get past this problem is through more careful and thorough moderation. Ban someone at the least provocation. Ban now; don’t ask questions ever. And don’t look back. This is the approach that many blogs use. I’ve been banned from a few blogs, so yeah.
Instead, between Wheat & Tares and The Mormon Hub, I have encouraged a very different approach. If I have faith in anything (and maybe I’ll write another post describing potential things I have a religious faith in, since the other day, I noted to myself that I do have certain ideas that might fit that), it’s in the potential to talk things out, even when the conversation continues to look grim.
So, my approach is always to reach out to folks privately. To see if they can explain their actions, their motivations, their goals. If those goals and motivations are at odds with the Hub’s goals, then I would like for them to decide whether they will stretch to fit in or whether the Hub is a place they should voluntarily leave.
…because you know, I think that moderation action upsets people. They don’t want to hear “advice” or “requests for change” at this point…They are upset at being invalidated or silenced. But if through a conversation, they buy into the choice — whether it is to change their behavior or to leave…it’s a win for all.
At least, that’s the theory. In practice, moderation is not that clean.
In practice, every time I send someone a private message, I have no idea if they aren’t going to be upset from the get-go. I have to be worried for the possibility that they will take everything I say privately and publish it — whether in the group or on another forum. And how will it be misinterpreted (with no way for anyone to verify it because the only person privy to the private conversation is me)?
In practice, while I’m reaching out privately, there may be other people who see that as the moderators doing nothing while someone wreaks havoc on the board. (And yet, when moderators speak publicly, there are also people who see that as the moderators being oppressive.)
In practice, even though I want to treat everyone as a rational adult (and think that being a rational adult involves being able to communicate and see other people’s sides and cooperate)…I understand that there are folks who are just trolls, and who really do just want to see the world burn. But even without considering trolls and griefers, the more problematic fact is that for human beings, being a “rational adult” doesn’t mean being unaffected by personal experiences, emotions, or simply alternative understandings of facts and the world.
Even though these are self-determined restraints I have voluntarily put on myself (and which I could always decide to change), I still am sometimes saddened or discouraged by it. I’m sad because people don’t treat each other well…because sometimes, people are really controlled by various personality points…various experiences…and so. And so even when I see someone who seems to be going through a repeating routine of some sort of negativity…there’s not anything I can say to that person from the outside. Anything I do say will continue to negative spiral.
When I think of my involvement as a mod at Mormon Hub, it actually strikes me as the most religious thing I do these days. Eugene England wrote way back when about the truth in the church as deriving from the imperfections and annoyances of human beings that comprise it — thus, the truth of the church is not in trying to mitigate or avoid annoying people, but in trying to embrace them and learn to serve them.
And even if I’m not “ready” to subject myself to folks in a ward setting, I think a similar thing is true of a Facebook group (although ultimately, the rules are also different…Mormon Hub doesn’t take anyone’s money or claim to be the one true group, so we are much more OK if people decide to leave…we’re not going to shame you, encourage your family to shame you, etc., if it doesn’t work.)
And in some sense, I get to apply certain Mormon ideas and concepts to this experiment. Ever since Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The God Who Weeps hit the scene, the Mormon implications about agency (and the way that God must work around and through human agency, even if it hurts) have been on my mind. For example, from Moses 7:
28 And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
29 And Enoch said unto the Lord: How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity?
30 And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations; and thy curtains are stretched out still; and yet thou art there, and thy bosom is there; and also thou art just; thou art merciful and kind forever;
31 And thou hast taken Zion to thine own bosom, from all thy creations, from all eternity to all eternity; and naught but peace,justice, and truth is the habitation of thy throne; and mercy shall go before thy face and have no end; how is it thou canst weep?
32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;
33 And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood;
34 And the fire of mine indignation is kindled against them; and in my hot displeasure will I send in the floods upon them, for my fierce anger is kindled against them.
35 Behold, I am God; Man of Holiness is my name; Man of Counsel is my name; and Endless and Eternal is my name, also.
36 Wherefore, I can stretch forth mine hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also, and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren.
37 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?
38 But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods; and behold, I will shut them up; a prison have I prepared for them.
39 And that which I have chosen hath pled before my face. Wherefore, he suffereth for their sins; inasmuch as they will repent in the day that my Chosen shall return unto me, and until that day they shall be in torment;
40 Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep, yea, and all the workmanship of mine hands.
41 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto Enoch, and toldEnoch all the doings of the children of men; wherefore Enoch knew, and looked upon their wickedness, and their misery, and wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook.
Agency is a big deal…yet, agency, the very thing required for us to progression, is the thing that causes that “these shall suffer“.
Obviously, I’m not God. I did not give anyone his or her agency (although with the idea that people are eternal intelligences and God organized rather than created, perhaps verse 32 above should be interpreted differently). Still, as a moderator and admin, I have to deal with the effects of agency. I want us to get along, that we should all love one another and have chill conversations, yet many folks are without affection, and hate their Mormon blood. (And again, with the experiences many people have had, I can’t even blame them.)
When I think about managing a community, with all the possibilities for strict moderation, I realize that the goals we have aren’t compatible. And so that leads me to a different set of scriptures, from D&C 121:
41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;
45 Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
46 The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
How does one show forth an increase of love toward another whom one has reproved? How do you avoid the other esteeming you his enemy?
Ultimately, the main reason I stay (in fringe Internet Mormon groups) is because I see groups like the Mormon Hub as being what Mormonism could be. (As I’ve said, if there was a Sunstone ward, or a Mormon Stories ward, I’d be there every week). Since I do not attend church, I do not feel tied to viewing what the church does as an institution or what happens in pews in wards across the world every week as being the only legitimate approach to what Mormonism is or can be. So, I can still “practice” Mormonism and “fellowship” with other Mormons, without having a butt in the pews.