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I've been on this SE site for a month. I know it's purpose and I really like it. I understand this is a secular site that facilitates Q&A for the topic of Christianity. Awesome. Boo ya. Love it. On-board.

However, I wonder this: are we conditioning our audience to ask everything through a denominational perspective? Is that what we want? Is that good? I know it's technically correct, but is it good?

I feel like the average googler with a question regarding Christianity does not have in their query "What does each denomination think about X?". I bet they're typing something more like "X". Meaning, they just have their question with their bias and their background and their traditions, and if we try and force newcomers to ask all their questions with a specific denomination in mind (which they probably didn't intend to do) we'll scare them away. Are we only trying to attract the academic, egghead, data-driven Christian?

Maybe we are. And that's fine, I guess--if that's what the site wants.

I sense that this is a controversial subject and based on the meta questions I've seen the influencers here have done nothing but want more denominational boundaries. Does anyone get what I'm saying here? This might be too broad and maybe even ranty.

Flimzy said it best here: https://christianity.meta.stackexchange.com/a/113/11471. As it stands now, I think they're getting punished.

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    Great... Great... Question... – Jim G. Jul 10 '14 at 23:30
  • @JimG. Wham, Bam, Thank you, Ma'am. – LCIII Jul 11 '14 at 2:36
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To answer the questions in your second paragraph, in short, yes, that's what we're trying to do (sort of), yes that's what we want (sort of) and yes that's a good thing (sort of).

To the point of the average Googler, no, they aren't looking for denominational answers about Christianity, and no, they generally don't know how to scope a question properly here. But, ultimately, our expected participant here isn't the average Googler. SE sites are intended to be about expert questions and expert answers. So yeah, we want the egghead academics. Data driven is a bit of a harder line than I'm willing to admit, the study of religion is a humanity, and while there is space for data driven discussion, most of it is going to be less analytical. We're good with that approach here, though we're a bit harder line than elsewhere.

Ok, let's get to all of the "sort of"'s in my opening paragraph.

Denomination is kind of an odd thing. There were no denominations in the early church, even though there were disagreements. The modern function of the denomination is manifold, but in our context here they represent a couple of things. First and foremost, a denomination is usually a collection of doctrinal statements. Secondly it's a church organizational structure. It's also often more things, doctrine is the most relevant here and I'll talk more about that specifically. Chruch order is on topic, and as most denominations agree on that, it's a useful shorthand there.

Here's the thing. If I had my preference, we'd limit Q&A to discussions of doctrinal concepts (for or against, explain, biblical evidence for, how does X justify Y etc). However, we've found that a lot of people can't identify specific doctrines but instead can identify a group of people they generally agree with (a denomination). Thus denomination in questions of doctrine and concepts is a useful short hand for a collection of doctrines the church agrees on.

This site cannot, and will not deal in absolutes when it comes to doctrine (this is a line of questions we call "truth questions", it's not a great name, but it's one we use). Basically the diversity of our population is pretty extreme (from Mormon to JW to fundamentalist to reformed Presbyterian to pentecostal to Christian Atheist), and we've been told for the purposes of this site we all have an equally valid claim to have our opinion heard and respected here. The problem comes in when you try to have a discussion about a basic concept, for instance, "Was Jesus killed on a cross?". That seems like a pretty safe question to ask. Here are 6 equally valid answers to that for the purposes of this site (and a good answer may contain all, none or a combination of several of these):

  • Yes, of course he was history says so!
  • Yes, of course he was, my church says so!
  • Yes, of course he was, the Bible says so!
  • Yes of course he was, tradition says so!
  • No, he was killed on a post!
  • No, he didn't exist!

Hopefully you can see the problem here. It's twofold really, though they are two sides of the same coin. The first is that there is no clear standard of truth for which to judge a good answer when you vote. Do I vote with the answer I agree with? Do I vote the one that makes the best case? The second is that there isn't a clear picture of which of the answers the OP wants to hear and thus select as the "best" answer. The OP doesn't give us any clarity as to what they consider to be the predominant source of truth and this it's difficult to judge why they've chosen answer as the "best" one.

Our solution to this is pretty simple really. Make the questioner give us an understanding of how they determine what truth is. The easiest shorthand in my opinion and others, is that is the denomination. I'd prefer if we went further and made the OP talk about specific doctrines, but we as a community have decided that that is too much of a burden.

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    "Make the questioner give us an understanding of how they determine what truth is. The easiest shorthand in my opinion and others, is that is the denomination." Why not keep the denominational boundaries in the answers and not the questions? Those looking for multiple perspectives will get them. So instead of managing question semantics (which is uglifying the site and making querying difficult) users can instead be trained to expect answers from varying backgrounds and know that the "accepted" answer will sometimes be from one denomination. Don't we think the latter gives a better result? – LCIII Jul 10 '14 at 14:57
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    @LCIII because that turns into a voting contest. People vote on what they agree with instead of good answers. That's what I tried to illustrate in my example question. Also, questions are much more easily moderated than answers. Telling people how to vote is even harder (really actually impossible). We started with little guidance and people asked a lot of "Why is the sky blue" type questions and got answers, turns out valid minority opinions got voted down, that's not welcoming to those viewpoints. – wax eagle Jul 10 '14 at 15:01
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    Overview questions which ask for answers from any and all perspectives are allowed but they have to be very carefully worded. – curiousdannii Jul 10 '14 at 22:20
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    What about Christians, like myself, that don't identify with a particular denomination? I self-identify as Christian so my viewpoint should be valid, and I tend to heavily source Scripture in my answers, but when it comes down to it if I'm giving a denominational viewpoint, it's because that denomination agrees with my own reading of the Scriptures. There are likely thousands of autonomous non-denominational churches in the US alone, and millions of people who identify as Christian but don't identify with a denomination. How can they defend their viewpoint without giving "Truth" answers? – Andrew Jul 11 '14 at 1:43
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    @Andrew You'll need to identify the actual doctrines you're talking about then. Again, a denomination is just a short hand for a collection of doctrines in this case. So if you don't have that short hand, then you'll need to identify the specific doctrines you'll deal with (That's again part of why I favor specific doctrines over denominations) – wax eagle Jul 11 '14 at 1:47
  • When you say "you'll need to identify the specific doctrines you'll deal with", do you mean qualifying an answer with "according to X doctrine" ? – Andrew Jul 11 '14 at 2:01
  • @Andrew this question is about questions. Answers should match the doctrines specified in the question. – wax eagle Jul 11 '14 at 2:03
  • If I am not denominational, then what can I ask? I just want to know what Jesus or other biblical characters said about something. – ctrl-alt-delor Jul 16 '14 at 14:25
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In short, yes, it is a good thing.

Flimzy does hit it on the head:

I think we need to consider that many posters--especially after we go public--won't know which denomination/sect they are asking about. We need to allow room for these people to ask their questions without feeling punished.

Frankly, most Christians think there are only two kinds of Christian, Catholic and Protestant, and everyone else is not really a Christian or a cult of some kind. Most are simply ignorant of the vast array of theologies and differing opinions and the history that led to them.

As Christians, I think they should know this. They should know where they come from and that, historically, people have always questioned the status quo, whatever that might be in their particular Church. Knowledge is power, and that's what we supply here at Christianity.StackExchange.

Addressing the last part of Flimzy's post (not punishing new users), I think we do okay. The issue, again, is that I think new users are just surprised at how vast Christianity really is and sometimes take a while to realize that fact.

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Ever the contrarian, I have to say I am afraid that you are right. We are teaching people a bad thing by forcing every issue to be considered in denominational lenses. It may be accurate, but the precision is all off.

I am not arguing that people shouldn't clarify denominational constraints (it does make a question better generally), but I'm of the opinion we should be a little bit more forgiving then we are.

There is this feeling that Christianity is SO broad, that there is nothing we agree on. Using this site's definition, the statement may perhaps be accurate, but it is too imprecise to be of much use. Let me take, for example, a few core doctrines:

  • The Trinity
  • That Divinity of Jesus
  • The Fact that God exists at all
  • The Fact that God is One, and there are no other Gods before Him

These are some pretty basic things. I can find exceptions to each one of the above.

  • The Trinity: Unitarians, Mormons, and non-Nicenes.
  • That Divinity of Jesus: Unitarians, Jehovah's Witness
  • The Fact that God exists at all: Christian Atheists
  • The Fact that God is One, and there are no other Gods before Him: Jehovah's Witness.

So, it is "accurate" in that the statement has edge cases that push the boundaries. But it is way too imprecise. I'd argue that 98% is almost as good as 100%. I can pretty well tell that just about every Christian does believe these things - even if as an expert I am aware of the asterix that says "*plus or minus a very small fringe."

At face value, people would think: "What? Christians don't believe that God exists?" Well, if you include the 0.000000000002% of the population that calls itself Christian Atheist, yes. And, are Mormons irrelevant? No - but in the grand scheme of things, there are probably about 15 million Mormons worldwide, in a sea of more than 2.2 billion Christians. Even if you add in the Jehovah's Witness, the Coptics, and pretty much EVERY non-Nicene Christian, you're still talking well less than 2%

And then again, for comparison, you can find more than 2% human beings that believe:

  • The Holocaust never happened
  • We didn't land on the moon
  • 9/11 was inside job
  • Justin Bieber is the greatest singer of all time.

So, is it fair to say that there isn't a unanimity of belief that "the Holocaust didn't exist?"

With the possible exception of Justin Bieber (Ali, I know you love him!) I don't think it is fair to say that based on the above, that "people don't believe in the holocaust, the moon landing, or that 9/11 wasn't the result of terrorists." The imprecision does not account for the vast, vast majority that is in agreement.

I have argued before in What is "mainstream Christianity"? that when most people think "Christian" it is misleading to assume anything other than Nicene Christianity. I am not arguing that non-Nicene Christianity should be off-topic, but I do believe that it is not up to every passerby to know the difference.

Absent any other qualification, I think it is fair to say that any question asking about "Christianity" means "Nicene Christianity," but that Non-Nicene forms are not off-topic in answers, if labelled as such.

And, going back to the question, I would argue that teaching everyone to look through a denominational lens distorts the unity of the Nicene Church.

Are there distinctives in each denomination? To be sure. But to claim there is no unity just ain't so.

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    I don't disagree, but I don't think it's a problem either. How many questions have been closed and only needed to be scoped with Trinitarian/Nicene? – curiousdannii Jul 21 '14 at 2:14
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    Great answer. I think Christianity.SE has been a great social experiment for me because it has forced me to look at Christianity from a strict facts-based question/answer perspective--and that's a big change. And so many of us are software engineers and have grown accustomed to organizing data from high level to low level so breaking things up by denomination makes comfortable sense--if there wasn't this moral obligation to stay unified. I think unifying over doctrine is good, however I agree with you that I think we could be a bit more lenient and don't need to account for every fringe. – LCIII Jul 21 '14 at 11:07

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