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I understand why questions seeking pastoral advice are off topic, and on the whole I support the position. But I'm not satisfied by the way that some people who have come with questions that are out of scope for this reason get answered the way they do. Personally, I'd be much more comfortable if we had a question on the site in the class, "Where can I go for pastoral help with my problem?" and an answer which could be amended, which would provide links to pastoral advice resources, in a general form, "If you're Catholic...", followed by a list of resources, and similar constructs for other flavors of Christians--Lutherans, Calvinists, Orthodox, &c. People who raise pastoral advice questions, then, could be directed to this question and perhaps find a place for answers and support consistent with their current beliefs.

OK I'll admit it, a very small part of proposing this is to ease my own sense of guilt; but I do worry about that some of the people who are in need of this kind of help are being uncharitably turned away. Even if they should have a better source of assistance than some anonymous people on the internet, couldn't we do a better job of directing them to that help?

  • For the most part, the lists for X denomination would consist of "clergy from X denomination, or people you trust," would it not? Would there be any significant exceptions to that? Am I misunderstanding your question? – Mr. Bultitude Jul 9 '15 at 5:28
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    Well, the lists might include of clergy, or not. I know that there are forums and email lists on line for different communities of Christians, which might or might not include clergy, I don't think you misunderstood my question. I'm not totally opposed to telling people "there's no room at the inn for that", I just think it would be a bit more charitable to people who are hurting not to stop with that response, and be able to say, "try there." – brasshat Jul 9 '15 at 8:51
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    If the problem with pastoral advice questions is that such advice from strangers on the internet is deficient, wouldn't we be doing a disservice by directing people to other strangers on the internet? I share your concern, however, when it comes to people without access to people who can really help them. I'm thinking we might want to put together resource lists or guides specifically for 1) people being abused, 2) un-churched and socially isolated people, and 3) people with a major problem within their church that needs outside help. What do you think? – Mr. Bultitude Jul 9 '15 at 12:59
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    If we do anything like that, we'd better be willing and able to scrupulously vet any places we send people to, and keep an eagle eye on it to make sure it doesn't get edited to include links to questionable sites and organizations. Once we start directing people to specific sites and organizations, we take on a certain amount of responsibility for what happens when they get there. – Lee Woofenden Jul 9 '15 at 15:07
  • @LeeWoofenden brings up a good point. We cannot direct them somewhere without vetting it for being a decent place. – 3961 Jul 9 '15 at 17:54
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    But like @Mr.Beatitude said, I'd rather that we stress people talk to real people in person. Children should talk to their parents, believers to stronger believers, and everyone to someone they trust and respect as an adviser. – 3961 Jul 9 '15 at 17:56
  • @LeeWoofenden does bring up a good point. But I think it could be addressed by a disclaimer on the order of "we don't know, or endorse the people at these links, but here's a possibility they might be able to help you. And as fredsbend suggests, I too would rather encourage people seek help from real people. But is the choice really between help from real people and no help? I suspect they are asking the questions here because they don't know any real people they trust enough that they can ask for an answer to their question. – brasshat Jul 9 '15 at 18:23
  • If advice from strangers on the internet is deficient, is no answer better? Remember the man who fell among robbers in Jesus' parable? His help ultimately came from a stranger? – brasshat Jul 9 '15 at 18:25
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Yes, that is the best response we can come up with.

The problem with allowing "those of us who know the truth" (and we all think it's us) to give pastoral advice is that we then have to allow heretics with incorrect doctrines and false beliefs can give horrible advice that leads the new user astray.

As I said in Another reason this is not a Christian site

Would you really want this to be the place for a potential converts or new believers to learn about Truth?

I wouldn't. Assuming that there is one Truth, this isn't the place to find it. We have many active users, all with different backgrounds and beliefs. Since this site is meant as a place for sharing ideas, any question a seeker asks will likely have many different answers, all of which the answerer thinks is the Truth. A seeker will find nothing but conflicting answers and confusion here. To avoid confusing people on topics that may have, as Christianity believes, eternal consequences, it's best to clarify that this site is not meant to be a place to find that kind of Truth.

At least in person, there's the chance for the seeker to look the person giving them advice in the eye, ask follow-up questions, and read body language. It's hard for a BS detector to work with no visual cues to work on. See also How are “Strangers on the Internet” less legitmate than people you meet in real life?

  • I upvoted your answer, but that doesn't mean I agree with it. Remember that for the people hearing the story at it's first telling, to the man who fell among thieves, the "Good" samaritan was a heretic or a pervert! And I'm less concerned in my question with people who are seeking "the Truth", than those who are tormented by hurt, grief or other assaults on the body or the soul. My soul is disquieted by turning away those people with only a "we don't do that here". It seems to me too close to the reaction of the Priest and the Levite in the parable cited. – brasshat Jul 10 '15 at 4:42

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