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I want to talk about a specific class of opinion based questions That I believe should be handled differently from the standard 'close it'.

We all know that we don't want to be in a position where there conflicting answers and people vote them up or down based on their preferences. SE isn't that kind of site and we don't want those questions. But sometimes a question shows up where the questioner doesn't realize that there is no clear answer. This was the question that triggered it, but I'm sure there are others.

The trouble with closing a question is that whatever we say about how it shouldn't be taken personally it feels to the questioner like a slap on the wrist. They had what they thought was a legitimate question. They didn't know there wasn't a definitive answer (That's why they are asking questions.) The question gets closed. Now they don't want to ask more questions in case they are closed as well. I don't believe this fits with our new policy of being actively nice to newcomers.

Also when people are looking for answers to the question, they will probably ignore a 'closed' question, and so won't find out that there is no conclusive answer.

I suggest that the way to handle questions like this is:

  1. Leave them open
  2. Someone provides an answer that says "There is no conclusive answer to this question."
  3. Vote that answer up, and vote down any opinion-based answers.

I'm obviously not suggesting that we leave open any questions that specifically ask for opinions, or the questioner obviously knew were going to be opinion-based.

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    How do you propose to "enforce" #3? Remember that many questions of this type have a single answer that is true for a large group (Catholicism, trinitarianism, etc.), so how will you prevent an answer from that perspective from getting more votes than the "there is disagreement" answer? – Nathaniel is protesting May 1 '18 at 13:37
  • Curiously, I left a comment explaining that other than the answer "Jesus" many denominations would have different opinions and recommending a denomination should be specified (basically, a "truth question.") That comment appears to have been deleted. – JBH May 1 '18 at 23:04
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While your answer is good for what you've proposed here, note that there are five other answers doing the exact opposite, as well as people debating definitions in comments on the answers (of which I'm a little guilty.)

This is a lot of mess in order to prevent the OP from hypothetically feel like it's a slap on the wrist. Far better IMO is to close the questions quickly, and write a friendly comment welcoming them to the site and linking to some of the FAQs here on meta. For example, Lee is always excellent at this.

For this question in particular, so many edits are continuing to be made to the answers, keeping it in view on the front page, I'd lean towards suggesting the answers all be deleted. Which I wouldn't normally suggest for closed questions unless they're pastoral care ones.

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It certainly is frustrating to me that so many questions by new users end up getting closed. We have one of the highest question closure rates on the entire Stack Exchange network, and you're right that closing questions can be interpreted as an insult or "slap on the wrist."

This is true regardless of why we close the question. New users are almost always asking in good faith, and genuinely don't understand why we don't accept pastoral advice questions, or truth questions, or opinion-based questions. Often, they are only vaguely aware that other types of "Christians" exist, and rarely realize just how much variation there is between traditions.

Thus if we take the approach that we should leave off-topic questions open in order to be "more friendly" to newcomers who don't know much about Christianity as a whole, there's nothing preventing us from extending this approach to all sorts of questions that don't work well for our format. Doing so would run counter to our identity, and would alienate users (both existing and new) who prefer something different from the many noisy Christianity discussion forums on the web.

Instead, I'd suggest we pursue other approaches to being friendly to new users. Things like:

  • Making sure all newcomers get a welcome comment
  • Making sure all newcomers who ask an off-topic question get pointed to a help page or meta post explaining why their question has been or is likely to be closed.
  • Not engaging in discussion or arguments in comments of new users' posts
  • Asking Stack Exchange to improve the new-user experience, to give new users more intuitive (and less easily ignored) guidance on how to ask a good, on-topic question.

These approaches have the benefit of both being friendly and teaching our new users what we expect. By educating them early, we prevent the confusion that would result if we let each user's first question slide, but started ramping up our enforcement of guidelines later.

So to conclude – it is frustrating that so many new user questions get closed, but the right approach is welcoming and educating such users, not relaxing our the application of our rules and guidelines.

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    It doesn't surprise me that we have a high closure rate. We are in a particularly strange position where we advertize ourselves as asking questions about 'Christianity', but if someone comes and asks about Christianity then we close the question and say "You have to tell us which bit of Christianity you mean". – DJClayworth May 1 '18 at 18:49
  • @DJClayworth Yeah. We've bounced around ideas for changing the masthead but I don't know that that would solve the problem. More guidance for new users would be a big help, but who knows if the tools that SO gets will be sufficiently adaptable for our purposes. – Nathaniel is protesting May 1 '18 at 19:38
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    "Not engaging in discussion or arguments in comments of new users' posts" - This alone would help tremendously. – JBH May 2 '18 at 0:48
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As I read your question and the answers I remembered a quote from Korvin Starmast

Because this community is not interested (collectively) in the great, 1900-year-long shouting match of "I'm right, you splitter!" -- "No, I'm right, you heretic!" this is a unique internet space where I can engage warmly with my fellow believers from across the denominational spectrum.

The problem appears to be how to balance Jay's blog inviting greater involvement, courtesy, and welcome with the simple fact that, given the opportunity, a great many of us will jump at the chance to express our opinion (which, *ahem*, is obviously the right one....) The linked question clearly demonstrates our willingness to do that and our equal willingness to debate (and then argue) with the opinions so expressed.

To be honest, it took a fair number of knuckle-raps from a fair number of experienced participants about answering "truth questions" before I really understood what Korvin was trying to say. This is a great place for people to learn about denominational beliefs by asking specific questions about those denominations. The moment you take that denominational context out of the mix, the 1900-year-long shouting match kicks right back in. Sadly, yet realistically, we really can't handle the truth, because it's really hard to overcome thousands of years of being told to preach to the unbelievers.

Therefore, despite having had my own feelings hurt once or twice, I wholeheartedly endorse the beliefs that people...

  • Should not be answering "truth questions."
  • Should be posting comments asking the OP to pick a denominational POV.
  • Must close "truth questions" quickly until edited. (Because we can't trust our own people to not answer "truth questions.")

It's such a common problem for us that, were it possible, I'd recommend adding a field to the Ask Question form that requires an identified denomination, or that requires at least one denominational tag. I suspect this is unlikely, and so we will continue to have newcomers ask "truth questions" and new participants answer them and a few feelings will be hurt.

P.S. — I know that there are some question types that do not require a denomination POV. However, considering how much pain we suffer from this problem, maybe we should consider leaving the "what does the Bible say about..." questions to Biblical Hermeneutics.SE and clearly stay within the context of the study of religion.

  • Truth questions are not the ones I am talking about. I agree they should be closed, especially people asking specifically about the correctness of one Christian view over another.. The ones I am talking about are posted by people (usually newcomers) who do not understand that Christianity has a whole plethora of opinions., and which can be correctly answered by telling the questioner that there isn't a single Christian viewpoint on the matter. – DJClayworth May 2 '18 at 0:03
  • @DJClayworth, By suggesting such a question can be legitimately answered by saying "We can't answer that because there are a lot of denominations" is simply admitting it's a truth question without requiring natural result of the rule. If anything, I see this as causing bigger problems because it's an undocumented expectation that's even more confusing than just closing the question. The behaviors/rules/expectations on this site are hard enough for a newcomer to understand. Let's not make it worse by muddying the water. – JBH May 2 '18 at 0:11
  • A pleasure to have been of some small help. – KorvinStarmast May 24 '18 at 17:50
  • @KorvinStarmast, dude, you're one of my heros! That I could ever in my life be as level-headed as you. Cheers. – JBH May 25 '18 at 4:40

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