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Since the very early days of this site, I have been fairly outspoken in my opinion that this is not (and should be made to be) an appropriate replacement for churches in researching, formulating and refining the field of theology or the practice of it in the lives of believers. In fact this site has been instrumental in adding "extant" to my favorite words list.

However, I am far from the only voice saying this. I'm going to pick on other mods because part of our job description is to take the heat, but here are other expressions this has taken. I found at least a dozen references in chat where we tried to explain to new users what this site is not for.

We're not a place to develop new theology, we ask and answer questions about established doctrines. — wax eagle (source)

In fact this got canonized when we had our first big reformation and cracked down on question formulations. The answer guidelines that came out of that effort included this:

To put this another way, no original research is allowed. — El'endia Starman

This is easy enough to spot and deal with when the infringement comes from some kook who has a new set of calculations for the end times, a fresh (miss)understanding of some well hashed out orthodox doctrine or is otherwise playing lone ranger. We have a very low bar for identifying what groups' theology is on topic for the site. There has to be at least one person other than you associating themselves with your view somewhere on the internet.

But what about the case of not having a known target with which to scope a question at all and speculating that one might exist? A recent question has brought this variant format to my attention. For the purposes of this meta question please try to ignore the fact that the case study is about a controversial subject matter and just look at the question format.

The question runs on for 4 paragraphs setting up a theological position on an issue and explaining how a related historical issue might be adapted by the church to apply to a modern one. Then it asks whether anybody has done this and whether there is any indication that it would work.

The following exchange1 basically explains how I took this, as well as notes that the OP does not agree.

This site is not equipped to develop theology. This is certainly something the church needs to be examining, but this site is not the venue for the discussion. We can really only deal with questions against an extant corpus of doctrine. – Caleb

@Caleb: Hence my direct factual questions at the end: "Have any conservative Christians suggested approaching gay marriage this way? Are there any indications that they would be open to such a "middle-ground" approach -- not approving of gay marriage but regulating it as a fact of life?" – metal

@Caleb, I tweaked the question slightly to change the rhetorical question at the beginning into a statement, leaving only the purely factual and on-topic questions at the end. – metal

It may not be this way on your head, but to me this question reads like a politely dressed up version of "I have this idea, anybody think it's a good one". As such I think it is of topic. Maybe change the variables to see where I'm coming from. "I've been researching international relations in the OT and the key arms to be X. This is why we can't solve the Palestinian crisis. If churches would just X we could move forward. Has anybody thought about this, does it sound like a good idea?" You have nothing extant you are asking about, you are theorizing that it must exist. – Caleb

If the same format were followed by some doomsday wacko that figured out the math and knows when judgement day is and was looking for what churches had also solved the riddles, we would send them on their way fast enough. Just because your idea has better theology doesn't mean the format is a good match for this platform. This would devolve into a discussion thread no matter how carefully you try to word that out of it. Most of the question is spent explaining why you think it's a good idea. Answers would follow suit and spend most of their space giving their feedback on the form of opinions. – Caleb

With his last comment I think my analysis was somewhat verified, but the OP still wants this to be on topic for the site:

You're not far off -- it is an idea I had that seemed plausible, and I genuinely wondered if there was anything out there along these lines. It's difficult to get a good google on this, so I was crowdsourcing it, asking a diverse group of knowledgeable people for inside information. – metal

I suggested we take this to meta, but instead of waiting for him I have decided this is an important issue to settle.

(And if you don't see our agree with my point, it's probably time to pop this issue over to meta and solicit the feedback of the community. I might be crazy, in which case getting some other eyes on this would help show that.) – Caleb

So am I crazy? Or are exploratory questions more of a discussion forum thing that we should avoid? What sort of question is "Does anybody out there agree with X?" and is that question format out of scope for this site?


1 I have migrated all the original comments on the specific question above to a chat room. This way they are archived, the question on main can be cleaned up, and the focus can go to this meta post.

  • FWIW, I rephrased the factual questions at the end. In short the question becomes, has anyone or any tradition explicitly accepted or rejected this hermeneutical approach as applied to gay marriage? – metal Feb 10 '14 at 17:52
  • @caleb "So am I crazy?" - Yes and an extinguished adversary. – The Freemason Feb 10 '14 at 20:19
  • @TheFreemason If you want anybody to buy that you should detail your case in an answer. – Caleb Feb 10 '14 at 20:21
  • @Caleb I was just answering one of the many questions that you have in your question. Keep up the good work, you're right on target! – The Freemason Feb 10 '14 at 20:23
  • @Caleb, So I feel like I made a good faith effort to improve the question as a result of this meta Q&A and also to make my case here (after mistakenly thinking I should do that in the chat room instead). But the conversation here seems like it was already done by the time I showed up, or at least I got precious little response to my answer below and my question was closed without further discussion. Is there any further avenue I should pursue, or is the matter simply closed by zealous mods who work the weekend (whereas I am just too late to the party)? – metal Feb 13 '14 at 16:20
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    @metal the question form still hasn't changed. It's still largely "hey, I have this idea, do any groups support it." That said, your edit puts it in the reopen queue, members of the community chose not to reopen it when it entered the queue. They also haven't chosen to reopen it following this meta discussion. If you'e like a non-mod voice, you could try posting it in chat and seeing if someone in there might help you workshop it, but to be honest, we've established that it's not a great fit for this site. – wax eagle Feb 13 '14 at 20:33
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The Premise: We do not do new theology here

This is 100% the case as far as I am concerned. Trying to do new theology fails here for several reasons:

  1. Truth Questions are off-topic. Any question that is trying to ascertain whether or not a theological position is "right" is already suspect. In presenting a question in the form "Here is a theological position, is it right" falls into truth.

  2. Minimum Notability Standards are required. We are an academic site, and we cover areas of academic interest. I, for one, am not interested in answering every variation of: "Hey, I think Jesus actually wore a pink tutu, and therefore we should do likewise!"

  3. Questions should be answerable. Doing new theology can only be critiqued in terms of orthodoxy (adherence to traditional patterns and interpretations) or heresy. These are different categories than "right | wrong" or even "reproducible | not-reproducible." There is really no decent criteria upon which an upvote or a selection can really be made. These sorts of things are better on your blog, and you can pay attention to the comments as you choose.

    Absent extant critiques (see I'm glad you like the word too!) there is simply no valid criterion by which the question can truly be answered. As such, it would also be considered 'primarily opinion based.'

This case

This was the closest thing to making this question salvageable:

Have any conservative Christians suggested approaching gay marriage this way? Are there any indications that they would be open to such a "middle-ground" approach -- not approving of gay marriage but regulating it as a fact of life?

So, I'm actually okay with this question IFF the focus is on "Is this the denominational position of any group?" that is a legitimate question.

Unfortunately, the question begins to slide when it goes into "Would anybody be open to this approach?" Again - not fully off-topic, but it begins to sound like, "Won't anyone agree that I am right here?" I may be reading too much into the question, but my spider sense tingled that the question wasn't really focusing on "Is this the position" but rather "shouldn't this be the position?"

If I believed that the OP would have ben satisfied with, "Yes, this is the [Anglican | Rastafarian | Metropolitan Community Church] position, as evidenced by this statement", I would have been an upvoter. But let's be honest - the OP sounds like he wants someone to interact with the proposal, not report on who it reflects.

Do I believe this could have been answered well? Yes. Do I think more than 5% of the attempts would handle it correctly? No.

As such, the new theology is only one defect of the question - the truth seeking point really seems to be the overriding concern, and is therefore not of interest.

Verdict

This question is probably the best example of how one could do new theology - but even it fails. They say 'hard cases make bad law,' but I'd argue here that 'hard cases prove the law.' I voted it down, and think it should be considered 'primarily opinion based.'

  • In terms of using the correct terminology, is there a difference to express God's law and the law of the country? – Double U Feb 9 '14 at 23:22
  • I have adjusted the wording of the original question. Do you still think it fails? – metal Feb 10 '14 at 17:54
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Disclaimer: I am the original poster, and a user of the word "extant."

I am generally on board with the site's policy not to do original research, but I don't think my question qualifies as such. It is more of an instance of looking for advocates who have developed a particular view within some tradition.

My best hope for this question is that some knowledgeable person(s) would be able to say, "Yes, the {fill in the blank}s have taken this stance and wrote a whitepaper on it {here}. The summary of their argument is a little different than you have put it here. They said, ...."

If that is not possible, then perhaps it is better suited for a discussion forum than a Q&A site, but it wasn't (and isn't) clear to me that it is not possible.

I see a good bit of difference between original research of the "end times crackpot" variety and what I was asking here. I'm looking for someone applying a set of accepted hermeneutical techniques to an issue I've not heard them applied to. That's the crux of my question. (I could try to make that more concise, but @Caleb says above that the length and what some might consider over-explanation is not the issue.)

For comparison, I recall several other questions that have followed the same "crowdsourcing" pattern that my question does. For instance, this question, which was not shutdown, asks for traditions with speculations about what heaven will be like. And this question asks for some tradition's way of differentiating between superstition and the spiritual.

Perhaps you'll say that all of these questions should have been shutdown. (In fact, the second one was put on hold, and I practically had to beg @waxeagle to let me try to answer it. In the end I think it came out a reasonably good Q&A and one that I would hope and trust is on-topic for the site.)

  • +1 just for showing up and joining the discussion, and I do see some of your point. In particular I do see a huge difference between end-times-quackery and your post. The problem is the difference I see is not in the question pattern, only on the quality of the reasoning. I kind of want to be able to keep shutting down crackpots based on the question pattern not being a good one and if this question goes through what's to stop more? We can't moderate based on theology. What does that leave us? – Caleb Feb 11 '14 at 18:38
  • P.S. Don't tell me somebody else got away with something, that just means I must have been asleep at the wheel that day. Besides, that kind of proves my point: if we don't set our foot down on a format that we don't want to see it's just going to proliferate. – Caleb Feb 11 '14 at 18:40
  • @Caleb, what do you think about (1) my last paragraph here (is that one an on-topic Q&A?) and (2) my recent changes to the question itself (does that move it over to the good side of the line?). – metal Feb 11 '14 at 20:00
  • @Caleb, in re to your comments above: as I see it from here, you're valiantly (and understandably!) trying to establish some objective criteria that will make the governance of this site easier for the mods, but for me, it seems a little too Procrustean in halting questions before they even get attempts at answers. I've been a moderator before elsewhere, so I know some of the pressures first hand. I'd just draw the line here a bit more fuzzily than it currently is. – metal Feb 11 '14 at 20:09
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    I appreciate you participating here but as for your question, you changed a couple of words but left the overall question pattern intact and I don't think my evaluation has changed. And at +0/-5, I don't seem to be the only one that thinks it's not a constructive form. (And it's not just me, SE methodology in general supports closing questions at first sign of problems BEFORE answers start rolling in so that if/when it is reopened answers are all answering the same question.) – Caleb Feb 13 '14 at 19:56
  • Being your own editor is hard for any writer, so I've taken the liberty of butchering it up for you. Whether that version flies or not maybe that will show the different question paradigm I think you need to apply. Maybe you can clean it up from there and see if it picks up any community support. – Caleb Feb 13 '14 at 20:19
  • Thanks. I'll have a look. Once satisfied, how would I call attention to it to pick up community support? I've posted here and gotten zero response (save from you, you kind soul). – metal Feb 14 '14 at 13:14
  • @Caleb, the edits look fine to me. Do you think it would pass muster in that form? If so, should I resubmit it? – metal Feb 20 '14 at 2:36
  • No don't resubmit posts. You should edit it, even if it's something trivial because that will get it yet in the review queue again. The last time was before my edits and you got three "leave closed" votes, presumably because your edits had been to minor and not actually fixed it to anyone's satisfaction. Other people editing don't trigger reviews but if you edit again it sold get another pass. That or go drop a link in Christianity Chat and see if you get any support. – Caleb Feb 20 '14 at 8:17
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I opine that these "exploratory questions" fit under the umbrella term of "opinion-based question", which would be more suitable in a casual conversation, be it online or offline.

The question runs on for 4 paragraphs setting up a theological position on an issue and explaining how a related historical issue might be adapted by the church to apply to a modern one. Then it asks whether anybody has done this and whether there is any indication that it would work.

Critique: It sets up a theological position. The problem is, the so-called "theological position" may be nothing but a person's unverifiable opinion or proposition. I do not think the Stack Exchange should make news; it should just report the news. That is, contemporary applications of theology in new situations based on older theology may be (1) anachronistic and (2) off-topic for this website due to its opinion-based nature.

  • The question as stated is not one of making news. It is, has anyone applied this described set of accepted hermeneutical techniques to this problem? It's a question of finding existing advocates, not advocating new theology. I have adjusted the wording of the question to try to make this clearer. – metal Feb 10 '14 at 17:56
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If it is worded carefully, I think it is on-topic. Example,

  1. I believe this scripture means X. Which denomination believe this way?
  2. Which denomination believe that X is true?
  3. Which denomination believe in X?
  4. Which group believe that X is sin?
  5. Which group practice X?

    etc...

That question can also be reworded to fit with the above examples, I think. But the post is too long and a question with huge content is always easy to get misunderstood.

My suggestion, make your question as short as possible.

Do you agree with me fellows?

  • I don't think length is the crux of the problem here. Blathering on if your content has no redeeming value is, of course, not worth the effort to write, but less for others to read. On the other hand, if you have nothing to say, short or long you can only go wrong by posting at all. This question format would have the same fundamental problem whether it was rolled up into three lines or if you ran it on for another paragraph or two. – Caleb Feb 9 '14 at 22:59

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