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Mormon Blogging Safe Zones

June 9, 2012

As I alluded to in my Dynamics of Mormon Stories Communities post, I will be attending Sunstone. Chanson doesn’t appear to have an official post announcing it, but throughout some of the last few Sundays in Outer Blogness, she has alluded to some aspect of the logistics. The panel, Do Good Online Fences Make Good LDS Neighbors?, should address some of the boundaries between various Mormon communities on the internet and the role of boundary maintenance between the groups.

The original idea was to have a representative of the major communities be on the panel…the problem…chanson couldn’t find anyone to represent Nothing Wavering. I suggested J. Max Wilson, who began Nothing Wavering after writing a series of posts critiquing the various LDS blog portals.

Apparently, that didn’t work out, and chanson contacted Bruce Nielson as well. Bruce has now written a post at Millennial Star explaining his reasons for declining the invitation to Sunstone, as well as providing a theory for the boundaries that exist at the various sites in the Mormon blogging world.

He bases his distinction on the concept of “safe zones”:

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.)

I thought that his formulation of “safe zones” was exactly the kind of thing that we should be discussing at Sunstone, and I commented to him that I would probably try to introduce (read: rip off wholesale) something about it for my part of the discussion.

Nevertheless, there was still some disagreement about the boundaries. Bruce disagrees that “liberal” and “conservative” are good boundary dividers, but similarly, John C disagrees with the idea that Nothing Wavering represents believers and By Common Consent (or the rest of the Bloggernacle) represents questioning, non-believing, or ex-Mormons.

I don’t think that the idea of boundaries (and boundary maintenance, either explicit or implicit) is controversial, but determining what the boundaries are is pretty tough. I guess one issue is that when people are pushed out of a community by the mechanisms of boundary maintenance, this generally happens because they didn’t understand or comply with that community’s standards…of course, since they didn’t understand that community’s standards, they often won’t understand similarly why they were pushed out. So, their accounting of why they were moderated, or banned, or dogpiled, or whatever else will be quite different from what an insider to that community will say.

I’ve been there. But even more than that, I now see it happening all the time. People get dogpiled at BCC (or banned, or whatever), and then they try to figure out what happened with their friends (who are also outsiders to BCC). Their friends say, “Well, you were completely polite, I don’t see why this happened either” and so the entire group of friends and the banned person all go away believing that BCC is not for believers, or not for doubters, or not for (insert any demographic here.)

But that’s a pretty surface issue, I believe. What I am more interested in is implicit boundary maintenance — so, even within communities where the permabloggers who run the show are loathe to suspend, moderate, or ban, and who want to create an open environment, the community still sets standards for what is acceptable and unacceptable discourse. (This sounds like a natural extension of Jana Riess’s second tip that bloggers must keep in mind — a blog belongs to its community.)  And because the permabloggers have eschewed the use of powerful “top-down” tools like moderation or banning, they have to be a lot more creative in how they set the tone and redirect things.

The reason I’m interested in creative solutions is because, of course, Wheat and Tares faces many of these problems. Even as I read things like Anil Dash’s bluntly named “If your website’s full of assholes, it’s your fault” (which, on nearly all points, I agree with), I wonder if there are ways of ensuring these things without heavy-handed moderation.

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16 Comments
  1. Ericka permalink

    1) Does moderation have to be heavy handed? 2) Being totally new to your blog (which I quite like) and to the world of Mormon blogs in general, is there some list or, um, tourist guide I could go to to find my way around? Particularly since I’d rather not be piled on. Thanks.

  2. Ericka,

    1) I don’t see that it has to be, but if it’s not, it seems like it won’t be effective. I mean, one thing that must be said is that sites with little/no moderation often get completely derailed by obnoxious trolls (e.g., youtube videos, the comments sections of basically any news site). Obviously, there’s a happy medium, but it feels like it’s too easy to go overboard…

    2) There are several blog aggregators around, depending on what you’re looking for. (and I would go further to say that there is generally one kind of blog that best “captures” the spirit of blogs aggregated). In the post/ex/former/disaffected Mormon corner, there is Outer Blogness (and the major associated blog with that is Main Street Plaza.…if you just want a weekly update on some of the best blog articles from around Outer Blogness, then I would check out chanson’s weekly Sunday in Outer Blogness feature, which is always posted to Main Street Plaza.)

    On the generally liberal or progressive, but believing Mormon side, there’s the Bloggernacle/Mormon Archipelago. The main big blogs here are By Common Consent, Times & Seasons, and Feminist Mormon Housewives.

    …and of course, my favorite, Wheat & Tares.

    One caveat is that BCC is a place where you either are a great fit, or you are basically ignored, or you are dogpiled. So, personally, I only read the occasional article, but rarely comment. That sort of thing doesn’t happen as much at Times and Seasons, Feminist Mormon Housewives, or Wheat & Tares.

    The third major blog aggregator is generally for politically conservative, believing Mormons: Nothing Wavering. Millennial Star is the major blogging hub for that.

  3. jewelfox permalink

    It might be worth asking what kinds of people a space should be safe for, and what the consequences of making it safe for them are.

    The conservative mormons’ “safe space” comes at the expense of losing everyone who finds out how fucking wrong they are. I don’t know how to put it more nicely. Most of their ideas seem to depend on never, ever being challenged, never talking to anyone who’s been hurt by them, or deciding that people who get hurt by them deserve it.

    They’re basically either abusers or enablers.

    If a person like that feels comfortable somewhere, you can be damned sure their victims don’t.

  4. I finally put up my “official” post. 😉

    I wanted to post about it earlier, but I have hardly had two minutes to rub together lately. I had agreed with Bruce that he could post our email discussion, but when I got the message from him that he’d actually posted about it, I was literally standing on the train platform, checking that one last email before turning off my phone. Since then, well, I had a bunch of adventures, and then I had to catch up on responding to all the other emails I’d received during my adventures, plus go to work, etc.

    Anyway, tl; dr: I meant to write you about all this earlier, but things at my house aren’t as efficient as they might be. 😉

  5. Just curious about your perception, Andrew. Where do you feel LDS Anarchy fits in? Believing, questioning or anti? Also, what kinds of people does LDSA make a “safe zone” for?

  6. I see LDS Anarchy as having its own niche of blogs — I don’t think it’s quite one of a kind, because in many respects, I think that blogs like Rock Waterman’s “Pure Mormonism” kinda hit at a similar vein.

    Anyway, I think it does show how “believing,” “questioning” and “anti” are inadequate categories. I think that if we used a different sort of divisional system like, “institution supporting,” “institution doubting,” and “institution rejecting,” then we could divide the blogs up in a different way, yet it would still make sense.

    In this case, I would say LDS Anarchy is institution-rejecting. If you equate the LDS institutional church with what it means to be a believing member, then that makes LDS Anarchy as anti as it gets.

    …but of course, that’s why I think believing, questioning, and anti are inadequate categories here. LDS Anarchy is certainly a believing site — it just believes in a very different Mormonism than the modern, institutional church is promoting these days.

    • Thank you for the excellent feedback.

      We’ve had 11 contributors to the blog so far (including guest posts), 6 of which are supportive of the institution (finding it legitimate), the other 5 rejecting its legitimacy, yet you pegged the blog as anti-institutional.

      I’ve read everything on the blog and I’ve found that each contributor has a distinctly different perspective on, and understanding of, Mormonism. So, yeah, it’s not the Mormonism you get preached from General Conference, yet it is still a believing site in some form of Mormonism, as you noted. But it is not homogenized belief, meaning that the 11 contributors are not united in their beliefs on all accounts. Some are in agreement in this area, while disagree in that area, and so on.

      Despite these differences in perspectives of the various contributors and the fact that most contributors are for the institutional church, I find it interesting that you still got an overall feeling for the entire blog as believing, but anti-institutional.

      I realize now, based on your feedback, that I have made an error in selecting contributors. On the “Become a Contributor” page, I wrote, “What I’m looking for is a fresh and unique LDS perspective.” And I chose accordingly. This automatically put everything on the site outside of the mainstream, since mainstream is, by definition, not fresh and unique.

      I wonder if I should have been more open to allow contributors who were of a mainstream mindset? Would this have not been more anarchic than what we currently have there? Surely a broader array of perspectives would be beneficial… But if there were such a wide, diverse group of opinions on a site, then surely it could not be pigeon-holed into this or that label, right? How then could you label it?

      I will have to give this more thought…

      • LDSA,

        It’s possible that I haven’t investigated as closely as you might’ve expected…but let me take another glimpse.

        It’s pretty difficult to do any statistics on a glimpse, because there’s basically no transparency when it comes to number of articles each author has written. However, I see 8 authors for the site (I can’t really see guest posters at a glimpse from your left sidebar).One important thing is that all authors don’t have equal presence on the site. illmatic has only one post (as far as I can tell), and although it is about anarchy, it doesn’t explicitly mention whether he is in support or opposition of the institutional church’s direction, policies, etc., So, I’ll count that as unknown.

        Spektator only has one page of posts, so he’s not the most prolific, but at least one post discusses corporate apostasy. So I count that as anti-institutional.

        dyc has multiple pages of posts, eschews the institutional church for a tribal model. (anti-institutional.)

        Justin original expounded on the tribal model, pointing out that the church is a religion. (Anti-institutional.)

        From skimming One Who is Watching’s posts, I didn’t get a sense either way for support of the modern institutional church or not. (Unknown).

        Rodney only had one post, but it appears to support that those who live Celestial laws must be baptized in the true church of Jesus Christ…I’ll assume this is referring to the LDS church, so that it is pro-institution.

        Anthony has several pages of posts, seems pro-institution.

        And then there’s yourself…Of course, several pages of blog posts…in your post on tribal worship services, you mention that the reason people should continue attending church is because the Lord needs change agents in the coingregation. (anti-institutional)

        So, that was just from skimming. but of 8 authors with author pages, you have 4 anti-institutional, 2 unknown, and 2 pro-institution. Keep in mind that one of the pro-institution posters only had *one post*.

        Maybe we have a different definition of what it would mean to be pro- or anti-institutional, so that’s a possibility.

        • Andrew,

          I think we were using different definitions. I was saying using anti- in terms of legitimacy, meaning that those who are anti-institution do not consider the LDS church to be any longer the legitimate church of Christ, whereas those who support the institutional church still recognize that it has authority. Based on that definition, I came up with 6 for (me, Justin, Anthony Larson, Rodney M. Cluff, Chris illmatic253 and Curtiss R. Porritt) and 5 against (dyc4557, One Who Is Watching, Spektator, Elder Chantdown and Jahnihah Wrede.) There have been two other contributors associated with the blog who never posted a single essay and if we count them, that would be another two more for the institution (what4anarchy and Zomarah), though Zomarah believes, if I understand him correctly, that all the splinter groups have some measure of authority divided amongst themselves.

          Now, as far as apostasy goes, I think every single contributor believes that the church is in some form of apostasy, either partially or wholly (depending on the contributor), with the possible exception of Rodney M. Cluff. But recognizing apostasy does not equate, in my mind, as being against the institutional church of Christ. Basically, ditto on what Justin wrote below about apostasy.

          Of the numbers of posts, I have the greatest number with 235, Justin comes in second with 42, Anthony comes in third with 38, dyc4557 has 15, OWIW has 13, Spektator has 8, Jahnihah Wrede has 4 and the rest have only 1.

  7. Andrew — I enjoyed your analysis.

    Justin … (Anti-institutional.)

    I feel like “anti-institution” means someone would actively oppose or fight-against the LDS church. “Anti” is a game that I don’t really like to play. It’s one thing to see through something — it’s another thing entirely to be “against” it. It’s one thing to be critical of something — and quite another thing to be “opposed” to it.

    For me, because of a revelation I received from the Holy Spirit that audibly told me I should be baptized into the LDS church [which revelation She has yet to rescind] and of my understanding of the law of common consent and the importance the keys of the church have in making the LDS church “true” — I remain an active member and believe the presently-constituted LDS church to be the very church of Christ.

    I know of many [both personally and from online] who recognize the things not right in the LDS church — who are put-off by the leader-worship, the focus on appearances, the governing with traditions and commandments of men, etc. Church is a draining experience for them that they find very little value in — and I have to say, I get where they’re coming from.

    There are some who believe that the church went into complete apostasy during the time of Joseph Smith, for failing to build the Nauvoo temple in the appointed time. Others believe it became apostate once Joseph died. Others, after plural marriage was discontinued. Others, during the administration of this-or-that church president. Still others, when the blacks were given the priesthood. And even fairly recently, others see the temple changes of 1990 or changing how tithing funds are handled as indication of the LDS church being utterly false.

    Some have left the church because of these issues, thinking its doom is sealed and all is lost. And to be clear — I think most would have to admit that the LDS church has been in a state of apostasy pretty much since its inception. Nevertheless, just as the Lord preserved the Nephites and Lamanites until they had rejected every one of His words, so to can we expect the Lord to preserve the Mormon Gentile church as long as they continue to obey even one, single commandment He has given them.

    Even in times of wickedness, when the church is dead [lacking the spiritual gifts and miraculous works of the Father], it can still be the Lord’s people. He never altogether rejects His people until they altogether reject Him. Even in a condemned state — the church of Christ has never been rejected — not during the time of Joseph Smith, or Brigham Young, or Wilford Woodruff, or Heber Grant, or Harold Lee, or Gordon Hinckley, etc. — up to and including today. Nor will it be rejected at any time after today, until the church altogether turns from the Lord.

    Now — I know from experience that a “pro-institution, mainstream, TBM, etc.” member, when asked about what I just wrote, will most likely consider me as “opposed to the church”, or “apostate”, or the “lunatic fringe”, etc. On the other hand, I’ve found that if you ask some other fringe-type bloggers or highly put-off, inactive members — they might consider my point-of-view to be “too kind”, etc.

    In both my personal and online experiences — I’ve found that one group can say I’m close-minded, disrespectful, and argumentative — while another group can say I’m open-minded [if not too open-minded], respectful of every different kind of opinion [if not too willing to accept any other opinion], and genuinely inquisitive towards the views of others.

    Justin original expounded on the tribal model, pointing out that the church is a religion.

    I once wrote: “The basic purpose of what we call “the church” is to take unrelated believers in Christ and knit them together by covenant into a single body or family,” precisely because I don’t see the two [tribal and church] as pitted against the other.

    But I guess I could see how certain people could take my family’s view that the key “institution” and the basic fabric of the church of Christ is the family — instead of the corporate entity, hierarchy of male leaders, callings, meeting houses, manuals, and class-rooms — and say that’s “anti-church”.

    I guess for many “mainstream members”, if you don’t perceive the church [as a corporate institution] as having the same role and purpose as they see the church as having — you can end-up being perceived “anti-church” instead something more like, “anti-church as being that“.

  8. Justin,

    Then perhaps there should be a different term than “anti-institutional.” What I’m trying to get at are a variety of different statements and sentiments…I don’t mean that y’all are trying to tear anything down…quite simply…the institutional church would never say that it is in apostasy (because the institution is what is in apostasy. It would never say it is dead; it would never say that things are not right with it.

    So, for you to say all of these things is what I mean by “anti-institution.”

    Re: church vs. tribe. In the same article that I was skimming, you pointed out that a major issue with the church today is that it no longer knits people into a single body or family. As you had written:

    The LDS church has taken direct action to remove any of the original elements of being a separate tribe/people-group, which are an impediment to popular acceptance. Distinctions are minimized to remove any conflict between LDS and the state they reside in. Any commitment to public relations will cause any movement, idea, or product to become less distinct – to boil down further and further, trying to find a least common-denominator and mass appeal/acceptance. This is the story of Correlation™ and it has been handled in detail elsewhere.

    There are other parts of the article “The Tribal Church” where tribes and the church are pitted against each other…not because a church cannot be tribal, but rather because the *LDS* church isn’t tribal.

    So, you say, the basic purpose of what we call “the church” is to take unrelated believers in Christ and knit them together by covenant into a single body or family.” But is the Church (by that, I mean what we would call the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) an institution that does that sufficiently?

    It seems to me that you have pioneered your own tribes precisely because this tribal function is lacking or broken within the institution. I don’t see how that isn’t anti-institution, especially in conjunction with LDSA’s comments that the reason one stays in the church is to serve as an agent of change. In other words, what I gather of the tribal narrative that various authors on the site (you, LDSA, etc.,) have told…you aren’t supporting the institution and its direction — you are pointing out that at some point, something went wrong…and you are hoping to change it.

    • Andrew,

      What I’m trying to get at are a variety of different statements and sentiments…I don’t mean that y’all are trying to tear anything down…quite simply…the institutional church would never say that it is in apostasy (because the institution is what is in apostasy. It would never say it is dead; it would never say that things are not right with it.

      So, for you to say all of these things is what I mean by “anti-institution.”

      Thanks for your patience — I know that picking labels can be hard — and I get what you are saying by defining my [or our] position as “anti-institution” — that’s what I meant by saying, I guess I could be “anti-the church as being that” — cause I think that’s what you mean. I don’t agree with what “it” says it is, or the dominate narrative about things, etc.

      It’s hard because people do not exist as Platonic Ideas — pure representations of terms or concepts. Being Me means that I represent the unique symphony that is the arrangement of my Life. I can’t pour the entirety of Me into your brain all at once. Each human being is a storytale that has to be shared in order to be known.

      I quibbled because I see “anti-” as rejecting or opposed to the church, which I am not. I don’t mind the label “you aren’t supporting the institution and its direction — you are pointing out that at some point, something went wrong…and you are hoping to change it” — because it’s precisely because I’m not anti-the church that I care about what’s wrong. I believe it is legitimately the church of Christ — so I remain an active member despite viewing things and doing things differently than leaders might tell people to do over a General Conference address.

      I liked your wording of:

      you are pointing out that at some point, something went wrong…and you are hoping to change it.

      I’ve read things on more “mainstream” sites that blow me away — things that suggest the Book of Mormon isn’t wholly the word of God, Joseph was just a horny man, or that story on MH’s post about menstruating women in baptistries where a temple workers advised young women to lie to the old folks at the temple — things that offend my view of the word of God and the church.

      To me such things suggest there’s something definitely “wrong” — when mainstream LDS are more comfortable lying in the temple than with challenging and asking questions and being straight-forward about what might be B.S.-policies.

      Maybe I’m “anti-the church as though it were the Catholic church” — this entity that can be spoken about entirely in the 3rd person, this “out-there” entity. Most LDS speak about and relate to “the church” as this entity that exists outside of them or separate from their selves. But there is no such thing as a group without the context of the individual people. A group is the sum-total of the individual units that make up that group — the whole is the parts as they are arranged.

      We should not be ashamed to display a bit of a bell-curve variability with respect to what a Mormon looks like, especially considering the subjective morality and the generally ambiguous nature of the standard works — so I’m definitely pro-different ideas what it means to be “Mormon”. Each person is the church. So long as they remain in the church, their views are representative of what the church believes. Each member is [to me] Mormonism — as it is lived out or as it is taken literally by them.

      But institutions patterned after the doctrines and commandments of men [such as corporations] generally dislike such natural, bell-curve variation — seeking instead to streamline and control naturally variable situations. So, in Mormonism we see things like correlation, the CHI, etc. And I guess you could say [generally] that I’m “against” that.

      BTW, I also liked the way you worded this:

      not because a church cannot be tribal, but rather because the *LDS* church isn’t tribal.

  9. LDS Anarchist,

    Then I guess in the future, I will relate things based on the “church in apostasy” model rather than “anti-institutional” model. I think that better captures what I was trying to get at.

    • Not that we’re voting on new, acceptable terms for categorizing blogs or anything — but I like “the church has things wrong with it” model.

  10. There is a working hypothesis I have been observationally testing for a couple of years now. In my last ward, I was in the EQ presidency. We had an instructor who was a little edgy—not that he was particularly unorthodox, but he was at ease asking questions during lessons that made many uncomfortable, whether of a political or theological nature. But the people who were up in arms and seemed to require his reining-in were the very orthodox. And I think that this is because the less orthodox (whether questioning, nonbelieving, fundamentalist, “church-in-apostasy”, or whatever) are used to having their views challenged and disregarded at church. The orthodox are not accustomed to this, and so didn’t know how to respond with equanimity. And I’ve observed this generally time and again.

    I suspect you have the same problem going on in a lot of the blog communities. Over time, I gravitated away from Times and Seasons and By Common Consent to other blogs, and have found a niche I’m happy with. But it’s a niche in which all things are questioned, and so a lot of crazy stuff is thrown in with the sound. Questioning is a value in that ecosystem (rigor is not), and I appreciate that. But what happens generally is that the long game of a blog is largely unknown to probably 80% or so of its readership.

    Is there a place for a Stack Overflow-style cross-blog convention based on “reputation” among LDS blogs? I know that it would be a mess to work out any real implementation, but it would be nice for persistent feedback against the poorly-behaved to be publicly available, and it would be friendly to have a way to distinguish between “noobs” who merit some consideration and kind explanation, and the old guard who can take a little dogpile. (Such persistence could be problematic, too, but it’s my suggestion.) If anyone would like to discuss potential implementation, let me know.

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