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We've just recently had a new question format show up (example) that goes roughly like this:

I believe X, Y and Z. I do not believe M, N, and O. I am looking for a church that fits my beliefs and/or a specific set of preferences. Where should I go?

Obviously that's an outline and often there are lots of details and personal preferences involved. Historically we've had a few that are much less direct.

The question is, what should we do with these sort of questions? Do they fall under our Pastoral Advice rules? Are they the equivalent of "shopping" questions on the rest of the SE network? Are they something we should handle or not?

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I actually sort of like the question. On politics, we have something similar, "I believe in issues X, Y, and Z, what political party should I be a member of?"

What I like in both cases is that there is a good pedagogical point. It is a manageable shorthand for "What do X people believe?" which is clearly on topic. It is no more exhaustive than the question, so it is finite, and it teaches a lot.

As to it being pastoral advice, I disagree. The "life decision" that might be made is that someone checks out a new denomination, which is very hard to turn into a bad thing. Actual "conversion" would be the work of the Spirit, not this site.

Shopping lists are a concern, but the spirit of a shopping question is that they tend to attract opinion "What is the best camera?" without research. Here, you have research into the question (good) by specifying the criteria. If it simply "What church has the best potluck?" No, the question is bad- but if I asked what cameras have an ISo of x and an f-stop of Y with a price point of z, it seems manageable.

Frankly my only concern is that certain users with certain agendas might throw themselves a soft ball. (E.g. I believe that Allah is God and Jesus was a great prophet, not God, and don't give me any of that Trinity nonsense? What denomination should I be? ... Followed by the glories of a non-Christian religion. ) Proseltyzing is punishable by death in those countries, but here I would argue that Downvotes would suffice, since it is off topic.

All told, I think there is good learning to be had out of such questions.

  • I can see a case being made for this specific question since the lines are so cut and dry and the possible answer set so limited, but what about the more likely form of the question where the belief set is pretty general and not specific enough to narrow it down to a couple denominations? – Caleb Jul 1 '13 at 10:59
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    "I believe Jesus is God. What church should I go to?" A: Pretty much any church in a Nicene tradition will fit the bill. Is there anything more specific?" – Affable Geek Jul 1 '13 at 11:02
  • Many point is, it is still answerable- the more specific your criteria, the more specific your answer will be. – Affable Geek Jul 1 '13 at 11:03
  • Alternatively, "Outside of JW and LDS (and only slightly LDS), ..." The answer is still worthwhile info and educates the reader. – Affable Geek Jul 1 '13 at 11:06
  • Please note that I haven't posited an answer myself or even voted on yours because I'm still trying to figure out what I think. For the sake of discussion, let's say I agree with you that there is a teaching point here: and that is a chance to educate the user on what to look for in a church, what the purpose of Christian community is, etc. Doesn't that turn this into a venue for proselytizing slash cauldron of bickering over relative importance of different doctrines and traditions? How would such questions be scoped so we could judge whether answers stay within the realm of constructive? – Caleb Jul 1 '13 at 11:12
  • That is a concern :) that said, I'd argue that Downvotes, properly applied, handle those concerns on non-shopping list questions too. The form isn't inherently bad, as the example shows. Sucky questions suck no matter the form. I wouldn't want to see a blanket rule to exclude the diamonds just because they have potential to attract coal. – Affable Geek Jul 1 '13 at 11:16
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    In reality the "doesn't this open the door to bickering over importance of doctrine" already happens- see the whole "Aren't Catholics just idol worshipers?" Trope we get from time to time. The question asks "Who believes x, Y, and z?" Together. "Who believes x" is on topic, and devolution into "x is stupid" is already frowned upon. – Affable Geek Jul 1 '13 at 11:20
  • The criteria for an answer is, does it stick to the scope of the question - no different than any other. If I said, "I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture and purgatory," then it is on topic to say, "these may be mutually exclusive" or at least "these don't fit together because purgatory's basis is extra biblical." – Affable Geek Jul 1 '13 at 11:24
  • But "purgatory's stupid" is demonstrably bad, if they just said "I believe in purgatory. What church should I attend?" Because that changes the scope. – Affable Geek Jul 1 '13 at 11:27
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"What you should do is choose is A," is bad form. "Your X rules out B-like denominations, your Y rules out C&D-like denoms, etc." could be a good answer.

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I am personally not a fan of making (or voting on) recommendations to and from complete strangers, especially in matters I actually care about.

The question is basically "what denomination teaches X, Y, and Z?" which is on topic; if there's a problem with the personal wording of the question it can be edited to fit that format.

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