If a pastoral question is motivated by a curiosity into a specific doctrine of a Christian organization, should it be kept?

The author should be asked on the motivation behind the question in the comment section, some people may struggle articulating a question so an anecdote is needed.

An example is this question Is my confession valid? Where it looked like a pastoral question, but was simply an enquiry into specific teaching around an organization. A (badly spelled) edit was done by me.

If the motivation is purely pastoral, then no answers are necessary, if a question is just an anecdote used to ask a question then an answer is given.

Nevertheless a question that looks pastoral should always be probed to confirm the motivation behind the question.

With the attitude of not even commenting on a pastoral question, a lot of fruitful answers are missed by people not understanding that not everyone is able to articulate a question without an anecdote.

2 Answers 2


The original form of this question should not have been answered, it should not have been edited, and it should have been closed with some kind words in a comment explaining why.

We don't judge questions based on motivation, we judge them based on their form and content. Even if we did, there would have been no teed to even ask about motivation. The question was CLEARLY a pastoral advice question.

Besides the fact that we have very clear guidelines for handing these sort of questions, one of the issues with editing them to be something different (as you did) is that the original author is still going to want answers that address their original question, not your edit. As such they will be using all the functions of the site wrong and this will produce considerable friction.

In the event a pastoral advice question does have a kernel of something that could be asked, a better tactic would be to re-ask a separate question framing it properly in a way the site can handle. This will keep all the tools working like they should, possibly help the op find information they can use, but not give the impression that the answers necessarily address their specific situation.

  • The question was edited, the peer review rejected and the author overriden the desicion and continued the edit. The question has received considerable interest from others since. The edit was clearly satisfactory to the author, as he simply didn't know how to articulate the question.
    – aska123
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 12:35
  • 1
    The example given exposes an obvious flaw in your system of thought. Saying "The question was CLEARLY a pastoral advice question." doesn't make it true.
    – aska123
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 14:50
  • 2
    @aska123 It's fine if authors want to edit their questions in response to suggestions in comments. But it's risky for others to make such edits – just because you correctly identify the author's underlying question in one case doesn't mean that you'll be able to do so in the future. Even when we are cautious, we get plenty of complaints from new users that we changed their question against their wishes. Thus it is best to close these, and then reopen them if the author makes appropriate edits, and/or ask related questions separately. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 15:14
  • I think that original question was at least 90% procedure (was my confession valid) and 10% pastoral (what should I do if I don't believe my confession was valid). If the answer is, yes your confession was valid, then the pastoral part is negated. The real problem was he was asking too many questions at the same time, as he did in the other question about working for an evil company that I've been trying unsuccessfully to help with. I think I could make the question topical just by redacting it, but I'm guessing you wouldn't like that edit.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 14:18
  • this is the question: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/62130/…
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 14:18

I think questions like this should stay open. You're right to point out to the OP on that question to exclude personal details that make it seem like they're asking for advice, but if that cheapens the question or loses the context it is much less helpful. And even though we're not about giving advice, the whole point of the site is to help people find answers.

I think almost all questions tagged can be reduced to principles that are essentially not pastoral advice. It's not that we have a robotic religion, it's just that it's an ancient religion that has a lot of answers. They ask all sorts of questions on the Judaism site that people here would consider pastoral advice, I'm not sure why we can't follow their guidelines and still have an effective site with objective answers.

  • 1
    Noting that I have generally enjoyed and appreciated your answers, your comparison to Judiasm.SE would make sense if this were Catholicism.SE, but it isn't. As I understand it, Judaism generally accepts all Rabbis from all "sects" of Judaism, where if we're being honest (and as an example), Mormons, Catholics, and Protestants fundamentally disavow the authority of the other two traditions. It's one of the reasons why this site is about the study of Christianty, not the study of any one tradition of Christianity, and from that perspective no personal advice question can or should be asked.
    – JBH
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 4:37
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    @JBH, I'd been trying for years to get a Catholicism.SE started, but was told by the community manager on area51 that for all intents and purposes, this is all we're ever gonna get.
    – Peter Turner Mod
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 13:13
  • Really? It actually would have made more sense to... oh well. It's not the first time people have made odd decisions concerning religion.
    – JBH
    Commented Apr 5, 2018 at 13:26

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