What happened at Mormon Matters: Reprise
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
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.