Tuesday, January 10, 2012

On Resignation from a Discussion Group

During the past few weeks, I had some involvement in a Facebook group/page professedly devoted to LDS-Evangelical civil dialogue. Over my time there, I've found several aspects of the group profoundly disturbing, and with recent turns of events I find that I could no longer in good conscience even participate in that environment. The following is a message I sent this morning to the group's initial creator setting forth my reasons for terminating my association with the group; names have been partially redacted in the interest of the privacy of those individuals involvement.
While I joined [this Facebook group/page] with great hope and optimism for high-quality, even-handed, grace-filled, mutually edifying discussions, I found myself routinely disappointed by the strong double standards that prevailed. Rules against 'debate' seemed to be persistently abused, for instance. People who actually lifted the quality of conversation through civil, respectful, well-documented, and well-reasoned comments (e.g., [AS] – who, shockingly, has now apparently been accused by [DH] without substantiation of being an insincere paid shill) were removed temporarily from the group from time to time. On the other hand, people who dramatically lowered the quality of conversation through uncivil, disrespectful, condescending attacks on others and on their beliefs (e.g., [DB]) do not seem to have faced much censure from any administrator, nor even from most Latter-day Saint participants. If an Evangelical had behaved even a tenth as poorly as that, I have no doubt that such an Evangelical counterpart would have found himself removed from the group within several days at most. (I do note, however, that in a comment I just now read, you've told [DB] that he is "bordering on being banned" – as I think is only fitting.) This was not merely a one-time event, but rather an enduring state of affairs that commenced well before I joined the group and that exists without diminution at present. This is not merely a flaw, I think, in the administration of the rules, but also highlights worrying facets of the group's culture, facets that prove themselves obstacles to productive civil discourse – which is supposedly one of the five points of the group's purpose.

The same double standard appears to be active with regard to any rules against attempting to dictate the beliefs of others to those others. On the one hand, many Evangelical participants were routinely censured for this, though I have seen precious few instances of it. On the other hand, some Latter-day Saint posters (e.g., again, [DB]) made a frequent sport of this tactic, even transforming it into a sort of art form, in informing Evangelicals of what Evangelical doctrine is. No action was taken, nor did the offenders cease when their contravention of the rules was publicly pointed out to them.

Further, I note with dismay that various negative Evangelical 'buzzwords' like "cult" and "blasphemy" are forbidden explicitly in the rules; but, despite a semi-recent public push by Evangelical posters for equitable treatment, no similar action has been taken with respect to LDS 'buzzwords' like "anti-Mormon". Contrary to [TB]'s belligerent grandstanding, if the extremely rare positive adoption of "anti-Mormon" (under some understanding of the term) by some precious few Evangelical critics of the LDS faith justifies keeping it on the table, then the more common adoption of "cult" (again, under some understanding of the term) by some few Latter-day Saints necessitate that it receive equal standing.

Most recently, I've witnessed extremely heavy-handed tactics by [SS], who apparently deleted a thread that in his opinion was non-doctrinal and inappropriate, based on his sudden decree from his lofty administrative heights that only "doctrinal" LDS topics are appropriate for discussion. This, of course, creates another blatant double standard, as no comparable constraint of 'officiality' appears to bind LDS posters (e.g., [SS] himself, [DB], and so forth) who wish to take potshots at Evangelical beliefs of varying degrees of prominence, universality, etc. Moreover, [SS] has further qualified his edict by insisting that only those things that can be demonstrated to be LDS doctrine from 'scripture' are permissible for discussion, and that 'scripture' must be taken to encompass the Standard Works exclusively. On both of these points, however, there exists a spectrum of positions within LDS circles, let alone outside of them, and hence [SS] has evidently taken to abusing his administrative position to enforce his own understandings of LDS doctrine and scripture on the group as a new standard, and has also engaged in bullying of those who dissent. [RM] challenged the boundaries of Stephen's definitions and had her LDS testimony called into question by a professing fellow Latter-day Saint in return; [RM] also indicates that, contrary to the group's stated purpose to "forge links, not to break them", she lost at least one contact/friendship as a result of daring to speak out. Meanwhile, while in the course of challenging [SS]'s policy and tactics, [KD] – herself a very devout Latter-day Saint – suddenly found herself removed from the group, with no warning, no justification given, having committed no breach of the rules, and without even an identification of the party or parties responsible for the decision. Even [CB] – a noted LDS blogger whose conduct here has been beyond approach – has recently been challenged (by [DH]) for not toeing the party line and for daring to stick up for respect and civility; and she has also been attacked (by [DB], predictably) as having "an agenda against the Church", and hence allegedly she "should not group [her]self with the LDS"; and, later on, "We know you're not active LDS, and that you have an agenda of undermining the Church". In addition to a few of the things mentioned here highlighting gross administrative abuse on the part of certain aforementioned parties, all of this also displays a group culture markedly at odds with the group's stated purpose.

I'm genuinely saddened by the way things have gone. Aside from the sheer practical factor of keeping up with the pace of the discussions, and the difficulty of carrying out any substantive exchange through the medium of Facebook comments, I've found that I'm too profoundly disturbed by the overall tenor of the group to continue my membership and/or involvement so long as overzealous LDS administrators are permitted to run roughshod over the rules (and over common decency) and perpetuate double standards, and so long as little effort is made to evenly discipline participants without regard to their religious affiliation. I send this to you directly since, no longer being a member of the group, I cannot post it as I otherwise might have.

Peace in Christ,

EDIT [11 January 2012]: On a somewhat more pleasant note, the response I received informed me that several of these problems are in the process of being addressed now (including, fortunately, the permanent ban of one of the worst offenders, 'DB'), and so I hope and pray that the group will become a healthier place in the weeks to come; perhaps I'll find a place there again. However, so far as I can tell, 'SS' remains a heavy-handed administrator; his edicts remain essentially in place; 'TB' still seems set on antagonizing Evangelicals; 'CB' has been banned for undisclosed reasons, and many LDS participants defend that ban (though a few Latter-day Saints remain who have the courage to question it, such as 'RM'); and participants are widely being encouraged to leave if they dislike the patently immoral operative policies still in place, and these tactics are engaged in by another LDS administration, 'DJ', and defended by 'DH'. This is the latest message I've sent to the group's creator:

Thank you very much, [WK]! I appreciate that. I can only imagine how busy it would be to clean things up - especially since, from the looks of things whenever I peak in, they and others seem intent on creating more ([SS]'s edicts against anything 'speculative' or 'unscriptural' as he sees it; the ban of one of the best contributors to the group [CB]; the mild bullying of [RM] by [DJ] and [DH]; [TB]'s continued antagonism toward Evangelical participants; and so forth). If things clear up and settle down at some point, I'd definitely consider coming back to a healthier version of the group. (And as an Evangelical, I'm not personally affronted by the new name; I just thought I remembered one or two Roman Catholic members when I first joined.) I look forward to hearing back from you when you have a chance, and I thank you for the effort you've put into these things.

Peace in Christ,

In the meantime, another group has been started containing of a few of the unjustly banned and others dissatisfied with the original group's course, and so I may join that in the meantime.

[EDIT: As a further note, I ought to add that, contrary to all claims of a permanent ban on [DB], he was permitted to return, and no measures seem to have been taken whatsoever against any of the other major abuses that occurred in the group. It's a real pity.]

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