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In the beginning

8 years, 1 month, and 6 days ago –at something between 2 and 3am– in the first few hours of this site being launched I signed up from a mobile phone browser¹ and was assigned account #30. I still remember being annoyed that the beta release went live while I was on a multi-day international bus trek making it difficult for me to keep up with the early and the meta discussions about how things would take shape.

I still remember my excitement about the possibilities this site represented. Shortly after things got rolling –and while whether a Q&A site on religion was going to fly on a secular platform was still an open question– I wrote an adamant defense of why I thought it was okay to use the secular Stack Exchange platform for the purposes of a question and answer site about Christianity. Brothers, we are not Christians‼ was pretty well received, and the rules of engagement it outlined were specifically affirmed by at least 4 members of SE's Community Manager team². It later became a post for this site. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, it also inspired several copy-cat posts on other new sites as they started up.

Among other things I made this statement:

[...] as long as SE doesn't try to dictate or censor our respective beliefs [...] and nobody tries to ascribe their personal views to a larger corpus of people than are willing to sign off on them, then there is a place in my life for participating here.

Fast forward a lot of years

Unfortunately this basic background premise no longer holds. SE has announced and begun enforcing a new Code of Conduct which both censors and dictates beliefs. The modified rules are not yet posted publicly anywhere, but they have already started enforcing a hard-line interpretation of them with moderators and have reiterated emphatically that they will not be changed.

Given that the foundational premises of my rooting for this site in the first place have changed, I have come to the conclusion that I am no longer able to contribute as a moderator. Yesterday morning I announced my intention to resign. Seeing as how its up to SE to actually take away my diamond I guess this is effective whenever they feel like accepting it³, but I can already state I will not be able to sign the new CoC if –as they have adamantly insisted will be the case– it includes a requirement for pro-actively taking action in affirmation of something I fundamentally disagree with.

What's the big deal?

Stack Exchange sites across the board depend on substantial amounts of time from volunteer moderators to keep everything running smoothly. All the communication recently from SE tells me that they no longer consider moderators to have as much agency as they used to with regard to their own communities. That will be a problem for this site, and I don't feel like I'm being offered the tools to keep things run smoothly any more. The Stack Exchange volunteer moderator team(s) of today are not like they were when I joined. The entire network has become a place where individuals do not retain their own agency.

Mind you this isn't what they say, but it is what they enforce. What they say in public in posts like this one protest to the contrary:

Give people as much agency as you can.

...but what has happened over the past week(s) in "private" is quite the opposite. Instead of being a place for diversity in action, the company itself has made it clear that they take specific sides of political and ideological debates and that there is no room on their teams for people who will not champion the same moral values they hold.

In light of all the things we went through just to open this site much less make it work, the touch-stone issue is almost comical. Pronouns. No seriously, pronouns.*

* Edit: Several folks have noted this sounded to them as if I was poking fun at what is an important issue to many. Because it has been cited all over the net now I can hardly take it back, but please allow me to clarify that my intent was not to make light of what other people consider important or even their struggles, it was meant as light-hearted way of pointing out the grammatical and epistemological weight imbalance between "I pronounce you anathema" and "I can't bring myself to use plural forms to talk about single entities."

Personally I have yet to face the specific issue; nobody, to my knowledge, has taken offense at the pronouns I used for them. But the "law" laid down quite suddenly and directly to moderators by several staff members was that henceforth we all had to do whatever was requested of us by other parties. It used to be that the ground rules were limited to a "be nice" policy⁴ and how that was enforced varied a bit by site. Even though I often disagree with the world at large on what is considered nice and constructive, I can usually figure out how to live within a system of boundaries. You can do X or Y but not Z. Given the framework of a secular platform that hosted a diversity of viewpoints those were rules I could play by.

What changed is this: now it isn't enough just to avoid being rude to people you disagree with, the new policy forces us to positively affirm the other parties' position. Even disengaging was specifically ruled out as an allowable solution since that would be discrimination and potentially "hurtful". That avoidance of potentially compromising scenarios is not allowed has been directly affirmed by staff members several times.

If person A comes along and demands that I refer to them by their "preferred pronoun" (even if it is a mismatch for their genetic sex or the grammar of the language being spoken) and I refuse, that's considered an insult. Now, SE staff's enforced interpretation is that if I deliberately avoid pronouns altogether, whether by carefully avoiding sentences that even need pronouns at all or by sticking to proper names or by disengaging from the individual — those are all being considered insults too if the other party says they are insulted.

The issue of gender pronouns hasn't been a serious issue (yet) in moderating this site, but it does have a direct corollary.

It took a lot of growing pains to figure out, but we eventually settled on a way to deal with Q&A on the difficult topic of religion in which many parties think the other side of an issue are heretics. This site has had room for questions scoped to Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Monastics, Oneness Pentecostals, Word of Faith, Reformed Presbyterians, etc. etc. etc. Many of these groups believe many or most of the others to be heretics. One of the reasons we've made this site work and all sides have been able to participate (some with less friction than others) is because we allowed people to continue holding their own views and even articulating those views — and space was given for the other side to hold and articulate their views too.

In fact as far as it concerns defining the scope of this site, we went so far as to allow any established viewpoint to self identify as 'Christian'. At the end of the day when we all stand before the judgment seat it will be apparent that not all groups were really Christian at all, but for the purposes of this site we've allowed any established group that self identifies as such to qualify as being on topic. What we have not done is forced other people to agree with or use other group's preferred terminology. I have not demanded this sites' LDS members to call me a true Christian or themselves heretics. In fact they are free to explain why they think my views are heretical as long as they do so under questions about their own views.

The new CoC will remove that level of agency from all moderators and users on the network. This interpretation of it is already being enforced on moderators right now. How it may be enforced on end users is a lot hardener to imagine, but I cannot in good conscience stick around to even try.

For the record, I personally don't usually have a problem using peoples' preferred pronouns online. I don't go around trying to figure out if the way individuals are representing themselves online is consistent with my beliefs about the nature of the universe. For reasons a lot broader than gender I am fully aware most of the time of the time it is not. Unfortunately the new CoC (as interpreted by staff) specifically enshrines the rare and awkward scenario where those issues in particular are brought up and the other party demands affirmation of their specific world-view, and the staff interpretation makes no accommodation for agreeing to disagree or politely disengaging.

In other words, the new unforgivable social sin is not actively affirming a belief with which you disagree.

This dogmatic demand has been repeated over and over in the moderator's chat room with no quarter given for compromise. Conform or leave. I have decided that the only thing I can do in good conscience is withdraw my visible support as a moderator and speak out in protest.

Martin Niemöller, himself a Lutheran pastor, once penned these famous words:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out —
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me —
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Ironically in this whole mess, they should have come for me first, not last. I wasn't around at the critical moment to stick my neck out first, but I would have expected get the first chop.

I'm not implying that SE has gone so far as to be equivalent with the Third Reich here, but looking at broader trends than just these sites there is a progression in ideology and enforcement that should be noted with extreme care. SE sites have never been free speech zones, and they are well within their rights to host or not host whatever content they wish on their platform. I joined and supported this site knowing full-well I disagreed with its CEO and other management on fundamental values. I knew the platform had its limits, but within those limits I thought it had its uses too. And it did. The reason I am withdrawing my support now is that I am being asked not just to limit the scope of my voice on somebody else's platform but to lend my own voice in support of their cause. They have chosen to use their platform to take a side in an ideological and political debate. It is their right to do so of course, I just don't have to support them in it.

Keep in mind that although there is a wave of resignations lately, not all parties resigning are doing so for exactly the reasons I am. Some are doing so for similar world view reasons but from different moral and cultural backgrounds. All of us have different (if interrelated) issues. None, as far as I know, are for just one reason and we don't weight all facets of the issue the same. For example I resonate a lot with Gilles' resignation as well as Robert Harvey's which focus how differences are approached in general. Some such as Snow's and Jane S's are more focused on solidarity and the way volunteers are treated. But like all of them my resignation has several facets.

  1. I will not be able to strictly abide by the new CoC myself in all circumstances, much less enforce it on others.
  2. I don't think the new policies will make this site a better (or even a good) place. It was already hard to come up with a scope and ground rules that worked for us. Now the tools we had are being stripped away. Given a restart today under the current rules and corporate (lack of) cooperation I do not think we could have gotten this site of the ground, and I don't believe it will continue to work well long term unless they make some serious changes. They are telling us that won't be happening and I don't want to go down with the ship.
  3. The way SE has handled other volunteers has been reprehensible, and they've done nothing but buckle down behind their bad moves. I cannot volunteer my time (and ironically, my personal identity) in support of a company that treats its volunteers and community this way.

I've put in blood, sweat, and tears to help make this site succeed in spite of limitations of the platform. Combined with much effort from many other contributors that worked to make something useful here. But it only worked while each site and its moderators were granted enough agency to figure out how that needed to work. That agency has been stripped away from us. I feel like if I stay hiding behind my moderator diamond I'll be like a captain staying with hands on the tiller of a boat whose rudder has been unlinked. The wheel I'm holding doesn't do anything any more and I know it. So why pretend this is going to be anything but a shipwreck eventually?

This has actually been brewing for a long time⁵, but the touch-stone issue for me this weekend was a moderator on another religion side being unceremoniously booted. Monica was (and is) an adamantly courteous individual and did an upstanding job for the sites she worked on. Here is her announcement for context, and her personal blog for a taste of how she deals with people. Ironically in the specific the issue at hand called out (using people's preferred pronouns) she is on record as being much more accommodating than I would be.

Even more ironically, I personally have a long history of being at odds with Monica. We have disagreed –often adamantly– about many things because we hold ideologically irreconcilable religious views and those views fundamentally shape what we feel is required of us to do. We've debated each-other until we (or at least I) was blue in the face and our exchanges came to an impasse more than once. Yet even when she vehemently disagreed with my entire world-view she was still respectful to me (and others involved) as individuals. She is meticulously principled and when push came to shove would not do what I thought would have been for the best, yet in all that I came away without a single complaint over the way she treated me as a human being.

As such I find her of all people being sacked (particularly in such an unceremonious manner) from sites where she was well respected over an issue I am far more guilty of than her to be something I cannot stand by and watch.

Community management issues at SE didn't just come out of nowhere, even the specifics of the recent melt down has its own strange history. Not all of what bothers other people is relevant for this site or me personally,⁶ but community management stuff and moderator interaction issues have been brewing for a couple years and the heat has been turned up since January. During much of that time I have had other concerns in life (getting married being one of them) and I've tried to stay out of the problem bits. I've tried to keep my head down and just do my job for the local community, for the site where I was an elected or appointed moderator.

This past Sunday I became convicted that I could no longer in good conscience pretend I could keep doing what I signed up to do. Reading in moderator chats the levels of intransigence from from other network mods towards anybody that disagreed with whatever the most in-vogue political correctness is showed me pretty clearly that I wasn't welcome any more, and the CM team dogmatically buckled down on enforcing a CoC that includes pro-active steps, and saying anybody that doesn't agree can find the door.

As a moderator doing the dirty work of keeping this site clean there are plenty of people who have wanted a piece of me. I've been lambasted in public and private. I've received death threats just for doing janitorial work around the site. For years I could take all of that in stride because it seemed that SE had our backs. I no longer feel that is true, and I no longer feel safe being a moderator here.

Furthermore I cannot in good conscience support where this is going. SE has decided on a corporate image that includes actively catering to a specific ideology at the exclusion of others. The talk of inclusivety is just rhetoric, not practice now. To be only slightly melodramatic, offending somebodies personal sensibilities by use of grammatically correct pronouns can get you fired, but getting on the receiving end of death threats because of your religious views gets you shown the door. That's slightly dramatized because SE has taken personal threats seriously in the past, but the new threat is internal. Now I can't be, say, or do what I think is right if that thing will offend somebody else's sensibilities. It doesn't matter any more whether I intend offense, and just keeping my head low and not going places where I know there might be trouble is no longer an acceptable way out.

The new "tolerance" is tolerant of everything except ideological disagreement. It is forced conformity. Especially in the context of Christianity, I've always believed we needed the space to hold to our convictions and express them, yet not impose them on others. Now, just holding my views is considered harmful (as measured by somebody who disagrees with me) and given the force of law.

Unfortunately in the dumpster fire that's been raging for days/weeks/months in moderator-only spaces, there have been plenty of insults of both sides. This includes some people ridiculing LGBT+ positions in ways that were not "nice". I am not saying that is okay! Even in the face of disagreement there are respectful ways to say something and disrespectful ways. I'm not stake out a right to be disrespectful. I've seen violations of the old code of conduct's "be nice" –both directed at individuals and viewpoints– that were reprehensible. Monica, who was sacked, was not one of those parties. The SE staff has done nothing but pour gasoline into the fire. I can't fix this. SE has given no indication that they even think it is a problem they want to try to fix and every indication⁷ they think their approach is the fix.

Please note in all of this that I've tried not to name names or blame specific individuals. Somewhere in upper management there is a circus on fire but I don't know where it is. I've seen several employees belligerently taking the same unhelpful approach, but I am unaware if this play book is their own impetus or if there is something higher up going on and they're just forced to play cards from a specific deck. I'm not angry at anyone in particular. That being said, the way they handled other cases of people wearing similar shoes to mine convinces me that it is not safe to hang around and try to wait for the fire to burn down.

Will I stop using SE sites entirely?

No, I don't plan to. I'm not boycotting the existence of network entirely and am not refusing to interact with people with whom I disagree. I will probably turn up from time to time — particularly on the technical sites looking for answers to programming issues. What I am doing is withdrawing my active endorsement of SE as a platform, especially for humanities related topics, in response to the fact that they have come out in active antagonism of me, my beliefs, and the very world view of many people most active in contributing to this site.

Will I reconsider?

I don't expect to change my mind unless there is a substantial amount of evidence that something significant has changed. If they want this network to be a place where people with differences of identity and belief are allowed to disagree and co-exist and codify that, then I might consider being a part of that. I don't see that happening soon, the train wreck in progress still has a lot of momentum.

Parting words‽

To the old-guard CM Team members who were instrumental in helping this site get started and having our backs through all the rough spots, thank you! I know or guess some of you might have your own current frustrations and/or have your hands tied, and unlike you my job isn't on the line here. I'm not blaming any of you.

To my fellow CS.E and other religion site moderators, it has been an honor to serve with you.

To the rest of this site and its users, I hope you'll know to laugh if I let Bilbo Baggins speak for me this time ;-)

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve. — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring


¹ Mobile phone browsers were not so good in those days!
² Robert edited to add emphasis, Shog9 cited it, and my recollection was that two others affirmed it behind the scenes in the mod chat.
³ In the mean time I will of course do nothing to harm this site nor violate the moderator agreement I am currently bound by.
This was open no much interpretation, but one way as a moderator that I enforced that on users of this site was by boiling it down to "if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all." We also made sure the Q&A stayed focused on topics, not individuals.
See for example what they avoided doing in 2011, they did in 2015.
For example the content license debate is pretty much a non-issue on this site.
For example by reiterating their interpretation of the proposed CoC to the news.

  • 15
    Cross link: Nathaniel is also resigning for roughly the same reasons. – Caleb Sep 30 at 15:47
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    Thanks Caleb, for this post, as well as your long service here that helped make this place such a great place to learn. – Nathaniel Sep 30 at 16:08
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    Thank you for bringing some clarity to this difficult series of events. – jpmc26 Sep 30 at 16:23
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    Well said, sir. Just FYI, you might want to get a non-leaving mod to feature this, as Tim Post has been going around and un-featuring any self-featured resignations – Machavity Sep 30 at 16:39
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    I need to add, I'm an atheist and I was allowed to post here. This is in large part due to the original mod team. Thanks Caleb! – Sklivvz Sep 30 at 16:40
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Peter Turner Sep 30 at 22:31
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    Thanks -- there're a ton of posts across the StackExchange network about what happened to Monica, but it's been frustratingly difficult to figure out what was actually going on. So this is about alternative pronouns? – Nat Oct 1 at 1:44
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    Hi @Caleb! I remember the early days of this site (and not much else, as I haven't been active for years). You left a lasting impression on me. Even in parting, I don't know who else could have phrased the situation better than you (nb. I didn't know of the direction SE has taken). Thank you! – dancek Oct 1 at 6:37
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    There is one text from 1980-s, linking to it was allowed in early SO days, but banned later. It was the self-induced prophecy: "Community standards do not maintain themselves: They're maintained by people actively applying them, visibly, in public. Don't whine that all criticism should have been conveyed via private e-mail: That's not how it works. Nor is it useful to insist you've been personally insulted when someone comments that one of your claims was wrong, or that his views differ. Those are loser attitudes..... – Arioch Oct 1 at 11:00
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    .....There have been hacker forums where, out of some misguided sense of hyper-courtesy, participants are banned from posting any fault-finding with another's posts, and told “Don't say anything if you're unwilling to help the user.” The resulting departure of clueful participants to elsewhere causes them to descend into meaningless babble and become useless as technical forums.". They made this choice, it took half decade to make it surface to mods, another half-decade to make it surface to users. "Transactional costs" of saying something would eclipse costs at the very message. – Arioch Oct 1 at 11:02
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    This is clearly a serious nework-wide issue meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/389906/… I think we'll look back on @TerryLewis 's response below as a prophecy pretty soon – d4c0d312 Oct 1 at 15:23
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    Thank you for this clear and thorough writeup. One of the things that used to be great about Stack Exchange, or at least the parts of it I frequented, was that people with very different views, even people who think each others' views are heretical, could nonetheless have thoughtful, mature discussions. That is diversity in action. Thank you for being part of that, and I hope our paths cross again. – Monica Cellio Oct 2 at 0:08
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    I'm wondering if and when we'll return to a time when companies didn't take political sides pretty much ever, and just let us enjoy their products. You have one job, and it ain't political advocacy. – 3961 Oct 2 at 22:04
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    @nick012000 Even if they did eventually give me the ax, given the current row I suspect they would have waited a while to do it and dragged the process out. I've been fighting this a long time here and I have other battles to fight that mean more to me than with a corporation that, at the end of the day, does legitimately get to set it's own rules of engagement. Besides conscience wouldn't let me sit by and not defend the innocent. – Caleb Oct 3 at 19:08
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    @nick012000 In the end (and this was not calculated, I made the choice at the time thinking it would play out the opposite way actually) looking back I think whatever agency and voice I had as a mod at the time probably did a lot more to shed light on the core issue and the paradigm shift it represents by resigning at exactly this juncture than by putting it off. What seriously would have been the benefit if as I said in my post, I went on pretending I thought it might work for a while longer and eventually got killed by a thousand paper cuts? – Caleb Oct 3 at 19:10

11 Answers 11

68

Every person and every worldview has their non-negotiables. Total inclusivity is an impossibility, as this fiasco proves. The best we can do is mutual respect--which includes allowing each other to hold, and to exercise, their own beliefs. I don't much care that someone disagrees with me, apart from the degree that I believe their (in my opinion) wrong belief harms them. I do expect others to express themselves and their viewpoints respectfully. Disagree with me all you want, but let's discuss those disagreements civilly.

That being said, it's rather ironic for a platform built to facilitate civil DEBATE is now insisting that only THEIR version of "truth" is acceptable. This entire platform is based on the assumption that Objective Truth actually exists, and that civil dialog and debate is a productive way of finding it. If everyone's positions are correct, then the debate is meaningless, and SE has destroyed their own reason for existing.

Fine. It's your platform, you can play god here if you wish. But the universe does not change itself based on your opinion or beliefs. And if you live as if a lie is true, you will fail.

But since we are now apparently accepting user's beliefs as true, regardless of what they are, I am FOR THE RECORD stating that I fully believe that no answer of mine is ever disrespectful. By the standard SE is setting, if SE believes that I've offended another user and should be reprimanded, they must accept my truth that I have not done so.

Sarcasm aside, this is extremely troubling on a number of levels. We are about to see a rapid escalation of conflict between SE's new non-negotiables, and those of the user community. This will potentially decimate what was a once-great platform and consign it to the internet dust-bin.

SE, I hope your new rules are worth the price you will pay for them.

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    This entire platform is based on the assumption that Objective Truth actually exists of course it is (for the context)! The platform built to facilitate civil DEBATE what was it? The platform - SO site - was built to collect Q&A about software programming, where 2+2=4 and objective truth usually does exist and where "questions too broad to have precise (thus, objectively true) answer" were banned as off-topic. Maybe it was stretching this format beyond realms where objective truth exists that was wrong in hindsight... – Arioch Oct 1 at 11:08
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    Precision is irrelevant to objectivity. Even the greatest question, "Does God exist?" is either objectively true, or objectively false. The answer may seem a bit more difficult to discover, and may not be knowable with 100% certainty, but it's still objectively true or false. – Terry Lewis Oct 1 at 13:24
  • Well, for the timely discussion it is not relevant where answer exists somewhere, relevant is where it can be fixed today. Russel's teapot may exists, but if we can not locate it now, nor prove all its orbit is clear today, the discussion becomes pointless. The SO as a platform was born exactly for questions that have objectively true answer here and now. – Arioch Oct 1 at 13:31
  • @TerryLewis though i totally agree with you, I really hope you/we are wrong – d4c0d312 Oct 1 at 15:25
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    "SE, I hope your new rules are worth the price you will pay for them." - Yep, they sure will. Just like the case with Target, Gillette and others. – Andrei Rînea Oct 1 at 23:45
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So this is what happens while I'm out? I don't know if joking is appropriate right now, but it's what I got.

Caleb, you personally are responsible for making me a more conscientious and thoughtful person. Thank you.

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I am sorry to see you go Caleb. I have not contributed much to this site, but I have read a fair amount of it over the years whenever I wanted to be informed on what Christians actually believe. I have always been impressed how this site has taken its volatile subject matter turned it in to a high-quality SE site (some other sites with volatile subjects have failed miserably at this). I've read enough meta posts here to know that this is in no small part due to your efforts. Of all the recent mod resignations, this is probably the one I regret the most.

I am an atheist and about as liberal as they come, so we probably disagree about a great many topics – including the topic of gender – but I'm fairly sure we agree to a large extent on the importance of empathy, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. I strongly feel that Stack Exchange has completely failed to act with any of these values in this matter and am deeply disappointed. I originally wrote a much longer explanation about the entire situation, but this is probably not the right place.

Godspeed!

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    gg"+yG, +1 @Martin – Caleb Oct 6 at 18:49
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You have been a wonderful addition to this site, both in your role as a moderator and as a user. I know that many of my questions have been directly improved by your hard work. And on a personal note, your answers and those of so many others have helped me grow in my own Christian faith (and as of last Easter, specifically Catholic faith).

For any negative responses you might receive in regards to your decision to stand true to your convictions and beliefs, I offer you the words of Christ:

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. –John 16:33 (NIV)

14

I am so, so sad to see all this. I'm a relative latecomer to this site and I haven't invested near as many hours nor posts into it as Caleb, but even I feel I've poured blood, sweat, and tears into its success and I can't imagine what this might be like to someone who's poured so much more into it than I. Stack Exchange is all about "making the internet a better place," and the moment I first found this site (Christianity being the first one I came across) I felt a rush of excitement that that was exactly what it offered. We've had some stellar content contributors here through the years, and the moderation has also been extraordinary - I've been a part of quite a few internet communities, and believe me when I say that Caleb was one heck of a moderator.

Caleb's moderation, along with the entire mod team including Nathaniel in the latter years, plus the community moderation of some power users here, have made an indelible mark on the signal-noise ratio of Google searches. Monica's moderation had a similar, perhaps even greater, impact on other sites across the SE network. Her summary dismissal is simply disgraceful and I can hardly believe that the CM responsible had the gall to characterize it as, "one Stack Exchange moderator ... refused to abide by our Code of Conduct (CoC) after being asked to change their behavior multiple times."

It's clear that Stack Exchange's corporate culture needs to change, and they need to take a long look at how they're treating their volunteer moderators, who frankly provide far more value to their company than a lot of their paid staff.

We've got a moderator election coming up, I presume. There are a lot of qualified candidates this time around and I'm trying to weigh whether or not to throw my hat in the ring. There are some tough considerations: on top of the usual question of work-life-SE balance, there's the question of the mysterious new Code of Conduct (which is not to be questioned!), and the question of SE's future treatment of moderators and other users.

I fear that this mess might result in losing the ability to get in touch with some people I care deeply about. This might come as a surprise, but there are people here who, even without (in some cases) having directly interacted very much, I carry deep gratitude and affection for in my everyday life. Though it's been a couple years since I was last active here, there are some good friends of mine in meatspace who call me the "Stack Exchange guy" and similar derivatives. I wear it proudly. This place means a lot to me, and the people who made it what it is certainly do too.

If any of you decide to leave SE, please get in touch with me first so that we can keep some kind of line of communication (potentially) open. And that also goes for if you're ever in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. Give me a shout.

That goes for you, Caleb, and it goes for Nathaniel, and it goes for the remaining mods, and it goes for a whole lot more people who are or were active here.

  • 1
    It's not mushy nor silly. Though I've been out a while, I'm comforted that we pick right up when I come back. Many of you are friends to me too. I don't think SE is going to collapse or anything. I know a few people elsewhere have quit. I don't think anyone should do that. As SE corporate may have moved down a dark path recently, they may just as easily return. – 3961 Oct 5 at 4:41
11

You will be sorrily missed as a moderator and good councillor of the site. It is a shame this whole scenario has taken place, but I truly understand your position.

It is certain that something is brewing in those of higher authority of the corporate leaders. It makes my stomach turn. My heart is sinking quickly as both you and Nathaniel are leaving as moderators. You both did a such a great job!

It is unfortunate that we can not put this on the main site for all to see.

Brother, we will truly miss you!

11

I just recently (this year) became more active on this site and from observing the moderator interventions and comments I began to see the core principles emerging from those concrete actions, one of which is Brothers, we are not Christians! to ensure that civil discussion among warring Christian factions can happen while guaranteeing quality research and discussions to emerge. This is by requiring citations and by self-identifying the faction / denomination / tradition you want to talk about. When I realized the secret formula I thought, wow, this is brilliant! True encounter of opposing viewpoints requires a venue where both sides can express from the heart, with both reason and emotion articulated without fear of reprisal BUT in a civil manner like in a scholarly journal where peers can challenge each other. Therefore, I have grown to respect and abide by the guidance of the moderators on this site, adjusting my own posts and comments accordingly.

I didn't realize until recently that this "secret recipe" was consciously promoted by none other than CALEB who 8 years ago marshaled support from other prolific members and moderators to make Christianity.SE possible. Without self-identifying the denomination within this site AND the freedom to responsibly describe without political correctness what the denomination truly believes, you cannot have the quality repository of Christianity related Q&A it has become today. If you take away the secret recipe, the site would be a lot less valuable for me, and I would not visit/contribute as often, and I believe a lot of people wanting to learn more of Christianity would feel the same way. This is because without a denominational label you would find a mushy jumble of contradictory opinions and discussions would degenerate into unsubstantiated subjective bickering.

So THANK YOU CALEB & NATHANIEL (plus other past and present moderators) for shepherding this site to be what it is today. I truly hope that both of you would consider staying though, and keep fighting (with the support of regular members like me) until the company sees how taking away agency from moderators who have had at least 8 year track record of implementing the "secret recipe" will constitute no less than an existential crisis for the site! I think Christianity.SE can be the litmus test, a beacon, and a model of a truly free and respectful discussion venue of a controversial topic AS LONG AS the company trusts the maturity of elected moderators like CALEB & NATHANIEL and gives them the agency that it has promised! These broadminded, fair, courteous, proven and quality moderators have the vision, but they need the company backing to perform decisive actions (when needed) to trim out the weeds so the flowers can flourish.

As for the path to go forward I recommend following the lead of the joint statement by 12 philosophy scholars to guarantee freedom of expression for everyone by casting gender discussion for what it is: a metaphysical question of what is a man, what is a woman, etc. Because the New Testament books are so central to Christianity and because the NT books explicitly advocate a particular "theory of gender", a site like Christianity.SE should allow the freedom for discussing NT theory of gender without fear of censorship. Otherwise, like Caleb said in another thread:

If holding and carefully articulating a point of view can be considered offensive just because the other party says it is then this site is doomed to never host more than dim echos of what its constituents actually believe.

10

TL;DR - Thank you for shedding some light on the somewhat "hazy" situation about which we, as general users of the Stack Exchange network, may not have been fully aware.


EDIT

In my zeal, I forgot to say that, even though you and I have never met or had any form of interaction, Caleb, your letter instills in me a profound sense of loss for the community and I'm sorry to see someone with your obvious integrity taken - willingly or otherwise - from a position that could (or, rather, should) be a useful platform for helping to prevent exactly such things from happening in the first place. I understand your decision, it simply seems unfortunate that it has come to such a conclusion.


I'm (obviously) a very "casual" participant on the Stack Exchange network in general, and even more so on this SE site in particular. At the time of this writing, I still only have my association bonus for 101 rep and an "Autobiographer" badge (wait, I just got the "Supporter" badge for upvoting your letter...) I only recently became aware of this whole situation through David Fullerton's (Stack Overflow's CTO) featured post on Meta SE, An apology to our community, and next steps.

In my response, I state:

To be clear, I:

  • do not know the moderator in question personally, professionally, or even casually through any interactions on the Stack Exchange network,
  • am not myself a moderator, Community Manager, or related to Stack Overflow in any meaningful way other than being a question asker and sometimes answerer on various sites in the Stack Exchange network,
  • am not myself a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and therefore do not personally feel directly affected by the proposed changes to the Code of Conduct.

[emphasis added]

After reading your letter describing the attitudes and behaviors of the SO upper echelons, I have come to realize that this is a much more troubling issue than I had initially considered. To be fair, I hadn't thought about it very thoroughly at the time I posted my response, so your insight into some of the "behind-the-scenes" aspects of the planned - apparently, not just "proposed" - changes is sobering. This goes far beyond "tolerance".

From a personal standpoint, I may disagree with and/or object to the use of alternative personal pronouns but, for the purposes of civil discourse, I am willing to use someone's preferred personal pronoun in my communication with them when asked if for no other reason than to avoid unnecessary conflict. I'm generally unlikely to go out of my way to look up a user's profile to determine what their preferred pronoun is when posting - which may result in some unintentional "misgendering" - but I won't intentionally continue to refer to someone in a way they have explicitly let me know they find offensive or derogatory. I'll call you "he", "she", or "they". I'll even call you "ze" or "zir" (or whatever pronoun you want) if you ask me to, simply out of respect for you as a person. Heck, I'll call you Betty and you can call me Al...

Unfortunately, this whole situation smells to me of something much darker and more insidious than simply asking people to be respectful of someone else's beliefs and/or points of view. In Mr. Fullerton's post, he repeatedly refers to making the Stack Exchange network a "welcoming and inclusive" community. The changes outlined, however, seem to act in direct opposition to those values by, as you said,

[...] enforcing a new Code of Conduct which both censors and dictates beliefs

Such an act effectively says that anyone with a dissenting opinion or belief system that conflicts with what is "approved" or "acceptable" as defined in the CoC is UNwelcome. As a Christian in the United States, we've seen this same dichotomy and paradox played out over and over again. We are told that we must be tolerant of other viewpoints, belief systems, lifestyles, etc., but our own personally held moral values are summarily dismissed or derided as being "intolerant". If I simply state my belief that a particular behavior is sinful - not saying that a person exhibiting/practicing that behavior is "going to Hell", or berating someone who disagrees with me as a "heretic" or "lost soul" (For the record, I've never used any of those terms in the context of referring to another human being) - then I'm being intolerant and my opinion no longer holds any value.

I may be willing to use alternative/preferred personal pronouns to refer to another user, but for my use of them to be dictated in some way is unacceptable. I've been reading a number of posts on Meta SE, some of which may be conflating the issue - "will users be banned for incorrectly assuming someone's gender and/or failing to use an 'appropriate' pronoun?" Not being "in the know" here, I initially assumed that such drastic and draconian enforcement would be out of the question. Based on your letter, however, I'm no longer quite so certain.

As you said, however, this is ultimately their platform. Stack Overflow does not belong to me and I certainly don't have any authoritative "say" in the company's inner workings. I am not entitled in any way to dictate the company's internal policies or procedures. What I can do is choose not to participate - not to be a source of revenue either through the advertising links or by contributing content. Honestly, SO has been a tremendous resource for me over the years, and I'm not sure I could fully commit to an all-out boycott of the service - I am a programmer, and copy/paste from SO is pretty much my bread and butter (heck, I even have an error-handling method that generates an e-mail with a hyperlink to SO search results for any error my applications encounter) - but that may be something I have to seriously consider if things continue as they are.

  • Thanks for your thoughts. It's nice to see I'm not crazy, that other people understand the issue too. – 3961 Oct 8 at 21:13
  • @fredsbend - You're certainly not crazy (at least, to the best of my knowledge). While living in the U.S. (the "buckle of the Bible Belt", for that matter) insulates me from a majority of the real persecution that Christians around the world are faced with on a daily basis, it's nonetheless apparent that being vocal about a conservative, evangelical Christian viewpoint is generally discouraged, if not outright "forbidden" in many public venues - especially in many/most online communities where "tolerance" and "inclusivity" are (ironically) held up as the highest set of governing values. – G_Hosa_Phat Oct 8 at 21:43
  • @fredsbend - In many of those cases, I'm (at least) somewhat compelled to agree with the "ban" on religious (or political) discussions in these forums as such discussions have a tendency to attract trolls and quickly devolve into ugly arguments that completely derail the original intent of the conversation. Besides, like SO, I (sadly) don't own FB, or Twitter, etc. BUT to force me to use specific speech when communicating with someone is a completely different issue that crosses a very dangerous line in the sand. – G_Hosa_Phat Oct 8 at 22:03
9

Vaya con Dios, amigo

I mean that from the heart. You've been good to me, and very good for the site. I'll miss you.

5

It's very sad to see SE fall into the "woke culture" trap. In catering to niche groups that assume the role of self-appointed arbiters of language, they're destroying the very lifeblood that built their community to begin with. No one is going to want to post to a site where he or she, despite good faith efforts, may be the next target of the Speech Police.

While they're perfectly within their legal rights, burning bridges with your best posters and moderators over the latest fashionable nonsense is a poor business decision. Such flippant behavior will rapidly erode all the good will built up with their community, exemplifying the modern maxim: "Get woke, go broke."

0

Given this problem, who here would be on board with a decentralized version of StackExchange that could run on something like IPFS and FileCoin? Rules and Community Standards could be on separate servers managed by those communites so that their free speech is not encroached upon by some higher authority (as we see happening, here). The StackExchange data could be imported for posterity since StackExchange periodically releases all of their data for public consumption.

  • I'm afraid I don't think decentralized is the way to go here. I think successful communities need centralized planning. – 3961 Oct 13 at 19:01
  • Centralized planning can still be done on a distributed system via democratic processes. Look at how Bitcoin's core team is elected, for example. If you don't go decentralized, then you are always going to subject the community to a corruptible central authority, and thus we'll keep running into this exact same problem eventually. The options really are, give the users control, or be controlled. There're no other alternatives that I know about. – Josiah Oct 13 at 22:06
  • It works for bitcoin because it's only doing one thing based on math. Social interaction is far more complex. – 3961 Oct 13 at 23:16
  • Unfortunately, democracy is not a cure-all. Example. – 3961 Oct 13 at 23:18
  • You might like to look at ZeroNet as it has already made publishing and replicating implemented. And so did few others darknets. However by their essence serverless technologies would always be less dynamic. For example if i made new post, then some time later turned off my computer, the master hosting is gone. When you put some comment to one of replicas, where will it be kept until i turn my computer back on? And if replica-hosting computer would be turned off before i turn mine one? TLDR serverless p2p nets are greate to back static info, olden golden posts, not for creating new ones though – Arioch Oct 15 at 23:15
  • @Arioch I'm pretty sure IPFS-Cluster and FileCoin provide solutions to the problem you brought up. cluster.ipfs.io filecoin.io – Josiah Oct 15 at 23:58
  • @fredsbend Neither is authoritarianism. – Josiah Oct 16 at 0:03
  • 1
    On ZeroNet there is a blog (in Russian) of a person, who dies few years ago, he dreamed to make a universal service that would make blog hosting serverless and permanent, he tried several technologies and p2p networks. IPFS was scaling pretty bad, he tried to use it for hosting like photo and video of his life, but in the end had to give up. Granted, that was few years ago, things are hopefully moving. But then the aim IPFS was moving did not help his goal. Notice, it is one thing to host some file, BitTorrent is well enough for it. It is another - to host – Arioch Oct 16 at 20:54
  • 1
    a behaving service, like forums, youtubes, blogs, mailboxes, stackexchange platform. It is onr thing to have a car just standing somewhere, and another driving it to move your family where you need and when you need. Try to find a not geek and ask her to share some photos in public or with friends. Using built-in tools like Google Drive would be easiest. Using readymade www services like ImgUr or Instagram or Flickr would be a bit harder but most people wouls manage it. However writing one's own photo hosting software running on top of FileCoin on your smartphone – Arioch Oct 16 at 20:56
  • .....and computers/ohones of all your friend would be an endeavour very few would take. And rightly so. – Arioch Oct 16 at 21:01

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