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In reference to this question, a person, maybe because of the security of anonymity, came to this resource to seek an answer to a spiritual question that thousands, if not millions of people wrestle with all the time. And yet, instead of offering even a modicum of support or comfort, we are going to go all "rules-lawyerly" and respond with "reword the question or go ask someone else"? Even if we don't want to answer "Pastoral Advice Questions" for what seem like somewhat valid reasons, could we at least not be so cold and clinical in our rebuff? If they are coming to here to ask the question perhaps they don't have someone they can trust to ask or they are afraid of backlash from asking such a question to local pastors/priests?

Just saying I don't agree with how this was handled.

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    I sympathize, I really do, but I can't see how @Waxeagle could have been much kinder in the space allowed in the comments. Can you offer a better way to handle it? I'm wide open to suggestions! My own posts tend to be clinical. See Another reason this is not a Christian site I'd love a good Meta post to link to that explains it in a kinder, more loving tone. – David Stratton Sep 5 '13 at 3:56
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    I think the best we can do is to address the issue that it is not appropriate for the SE site and close the question. If we start breaking the rules, then turning this site into a free-for-all Christian advice site is not going to be pretty. – Double U Sep 5 '13 at 4:39
  • Yes, I sympathise too. My first thought was to refer people to Christianity Chat, but that easily becomes messy if we start offering poor advice... Is Pastoral Advice a good idea for Area 51 (wondering out loud)? – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Sep 5 '13 at 7:07
  • @Wikis no. For the reasons I laid out in my comment. – wax eagle Sep 5 '13 at 9:56
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I'm a bit at a loss for how to handle these questions in a manner that

  • Reflects the fact that this is an academic site hosted by a secular company
  • Provides pointers for a person to go find help if they need it and
  • Doesn't compromise my own beliefs.

I'm going to start with the most obvious thing. First and foremost if someone arrives on our site, and asks one of these questions, it means they haven't spent very long understanding who we are and what we do. It's stated in at least two places in our documentation (including the About page which is shown to every new user), that we do not do this kind of question.

Secondly, we've discussed this brand of questions several times and have always agreed that

  • They are off topic.
  • They should not be answered
  • We should leave a comment directing the person asking the question to someone in real life who can help with their problem directly.

That said, I always assume that a new user hasn't read the [about] page, that they definitely haven't read anything from the [help]. So I always leave a comment explaining the What (that their question is off topic) and the Why (because it's seeking advice better sought from a pastor/priest/counselor that is ill suited for both this site and this format).

I have the deepest sympathy for these folks. As do others. However, we've decided as a community that we are not suited to answer these questions (we'd rather no one answer at all, really). However, the fact is that I and others on this site believe that asking a bunch of random strangers on the Internet questions driven from a deep spiritual need is at best ill thought out, and at worst detrimental to your soul. I get the desire for anonymity, but ultimately if you've got these kinds of needs you've got to tell someone, preferably face to face.

I'd be interested in collecting some trusted internet resources to refer folks to, but currently our policy is that if you users would like to assist these folks we have a chat room where you're welcome to offer a prayer.

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  • You're right, wax eagle, and I'm sorry about my rant above. I went back and read your response and it really was well put while yet sympathetic. I think what got me was the line in the "why we put you on hold" block that read "If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question or leave a comment." – Mark Anthony Songer Sep 5 '13 at 11:43
  • @MarkAnthonySonger ah, yeah that's standard SE boiler plate, nothing we can do about that. – wax eagle Sep 5 '13 at 11:44
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    @MarkAnthonySonger If you haven't seen this yet, have a look. – 3961 Sep 5 '13 at 19:22
  • @fredsbend awesome! Thank you for pointing me toward that and kudos for writing it – Mark Anthony Songer Sep 5 '13 at 20:38
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    "I and others on this site believe that asking a bunch of random strangers on the Internet questions driven from a deep spiritual need is at best ill thought out, and at worst detrimental to your soul" Curse the limit on only up-voting once! – David Stratton Sep 6 '13 at 2:09
  • I precisely disagree with the comment that David quoted, and it does speak to at least two ways that people do theology. One is to find the most respected person available-- you all recommend a local pastor-- and jump off exactly whatever bridge they suggest, because they're the best. Another is to collect data-- "Scripture, Tradition, and Reason {AG}"-- to weigh in on the various choices. Now unless the Answerers are pranksters and you very stupid, it's hard to be fooled on what is actually a Scriptural quotation. The "atheist relig prof" could also answer for your data pile. – pterandon Sep 9 '13 at 11:38
  • The difference in these two camps may be what was behind the Reformation. – pterandon Sep 9 '13 at 11:41
  • @pterandon I'm not saying to jump off whatever bridge someone else tells you. I am saying that talking to someone you trust is a lot more likely to get you the spiritual counsel you need than a bunch of random strangers on the internet. I agree that scripture is testable, but I would argue that scripture is often unclear, especially when you're looking for an answer to a specific issue. – wax eagle Sep 9 '13 at 11:46
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    @pterandon another quick thing. Part of the reason that we don't allow pastoral advice questions here is because of our disparate user base. Frankly, none of us trust the rest of us to give sound advice where matters of the heart are concerned. There are a few folks here who I'd trust to do that, but there are enough that I don't (and have been since the start of this site) that we are much better not allowing anyone to answer these than to put souls in further danger by allowing the crazies to. – wax eagle Sep 9 '13 at 11:48
  • But there are those, perhaps based on education-type, philosophy-towards-authority, or theological orientation who'd rather make sure a bunch of strangers can call out all the appropriate Scripture and Tradition than take the rote advice of a trusted local pastor. I've never been without the latter but always check the former, yes, first and foremost. Again, the difference is between individual counseling ("What should I do next?)-- we probably agree here-- and ("How have S,T,& R already dealt with this philos. issue I'm struggling with?")-- we prob disagree – pterandon Sep 9 '13 at 11:54
  • @pterandon I think the last could be asked in a manner that would not constituted pastoral advice (see Affable's series of questions on divorce). So we probably agree there, however the phrasing of these questions often muddies the waters and invites pastoral advice. – wax eagle Sep 9 '13 at 12:07

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