Blogs Need More Monitoring

Kris and I and RJS monitor the comments on this blog, and RJS does only her own posts so I take the responsibility for most of it. Here’s a core value — to use the jargon of our day — of this blog: we want to have civil conversations.

I once did a series on conversations on this blog and need not rehearse that all now — it was called The Art of Conversation (so you might see if you can chase it down through the search button here).

Here’s how it works: I have to make the decisions on the basis of what I think is civil and what is not. I’m not infallible but I have to make the call.

Before I give the ruling analogy, a brief observation: comments on blogs reveal the underbelly of humans. I can’t read the comments at CNN.com or at many other sites because they are frankly too ugly, insulting, and irresponsible. In a word, they are uncivil.

When we got this blog going one of the major values was to have civil conversation and that means we can disagree but we can’t get too strong or accusatory about it. Again, yes, I have to determine when the lines are crossed. But that means this…Too often in the last few months I’ve had to write to people to tell them their comments were either over the line or getting too close. Two responses to my letter are typical: the first one gets defensive and perhaps accuses me of being a Rightist or a Leftist (yes, I get both each week), then accuses others of being uncivil and thinks that excuses that person’s incivility, and my response is that the response indicates we’ve got a problem. The second response says “Thanks” or something like that and we grow together into civility.

Here’s the way it works and I will be ramping up the monitoring here more than I could do at Beliefnet: imagine you are at an outdoor, busy cafe with a friend (like the one in Siena above). We are talking about things over a cup of coffee. What you would say to me, and the tone you would say it to me — and remember we take the posture of friends and not enemies — is the tone to use on this blog. (Excuse me, Peggy, for not describing the blog as the “One T Saloon.” By the way, my name has only one “t”.)

As no one really sits at a cafe anonymously in a serious conversation with a friend, so anonymous comments will not be permitted. No more “Your Name” or “Anonymous.” In 5.5 years of blogging I’ve seen that anonymity is often a cloak for ranting or uncharitable comments.

We have no problem with disagreements, but they are to remain civil. Frankly, RJS is far more patient with some of you than I would be and I applaud her willingness to engage an uncivil set of statements because a good question was enmeshed in the heat. So, here’s a good piece of advice when you want to disagree with someone at this site: Tell us to whom the comment is directed and then the best way to engage is to ask a genuine question. Some questions aren’t genuine; they are lead-ons or insinuative that you know better and you just want to set someone up. If you don’t have a genuine question for the one to whom you address your question, wait until the fire cools and then ask the question. It works, believe me, it works. I’ve learned this and am still learning this.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://mytoesarecold.com palletjackracer

    Thanks Scott for this great reminder. I’ve had to stop reading other sites because of this very reason.

    Blessings

  • Lived in Wien!

    Who IS RJS? Details! :)

  • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

    One thing I’ve always appreciated about this blog is that you cover news that relates to topics covered on this blog and I can read through the comments and get great perspectives from other people without listening to rants. Thanks for fostering that kind of environment Scot.

  • MattR

    Thank you Scot… we all need to hear this! I too, have a hard time reading comments on some blogs because of uncivil ranting masked as ‘dialogue.’

    Thanks for taking the time and care to make Jesus Creed a civil, yet challenging and growth-spurring space.

  • Kenny Johnson

    When you see how terrible and immature the comments are at places like cnn.com or youtube you realize how lucky we are here.

  • http://krusekroncile.com Michael W. Kruse

    Nice pic. I’m all for the cafe idea but does it have to be an Italian cafe? I was sorta thinking along the line of TexMex … maybe with chips and salsa on the table. I’m guessing the One T Saloon probably serves ‘em.

    As to RJS … holy cow! … when it comes to patience, Job has nothin’ on her.

  • http://evangelicalmonk.com Bill H

    Thank you for taking this action. I frequent a number of Christian blogs, if you will, and have posted on my blog some thoughts about the approaches taken by the responding posts from time to time that are less than civil. Sad you must go this route of ramping it up. Maybe there is a possibility we will learn the meaning of meek.

  • Jeremy

    Civility is something I try really hard to work on. This is somewhat difficult as I have a fairly frank, unsubtle personality, but I’ve learned to be quite okay with being called on it. It’s a major growth area for me.

    That said, I applaud some of the posters here for their ability to bear the brunt of some really nasty comments and respond with kindness and reason. RJS is definitely at the top of that list!

  • Percival

    What’s a “genuine question”? Some questions are meant to bring clarity just by asking them, not by wanting an answer. “Whose face is on this coin?” The question is a trap, but an honest one.

    I’m afraid humor doesn’t always come across in the flatness of print, but I still hope there is room for it here.

    I’ve always appreciated the effort to maintain a good tone on this site. Thanks.

  • Josenmiami

    thanks for the effort to encourage civil dialogue. I like the move … at first glance it appears much easier to post a comment here.

    blessings,

  • John W Frye

    Hi, ScoTTT,
    How about a picture with you sitting over a pile of Chinese food (almond chicken), hot plum tea and egg rolls. Because we will try to use chop sticks we will have a very leisurely chat.

    Good word for all of us. Thanks!

  • http://joeyspiegel.wordpress.com JoeyS

    I’ve been a regular around Jesus Creed for around three years now and am thankful for the spirit of conversation here.

    The past few months have been a little disheartening because it seems a lot of commenters have gotten away with quite a bit of incivility, particularly in posts related to science or politics, so I’m incredibly thankful for this reminder and commitment from Scot.

  • Richard

    Thanks for the helpful reminder Scot. I hope we live into that reality. I agree with JoeyS that it was pretty challenging on a couple of discussions to wade into a firestorm of comments.

    I think Percival provides a good reminder too. We value sarcasm as a culture but it doesn’t translate well on the internet and attempts at “humor” probably need highlighted by their author before misunderstandings set in.

    Good rule of thumb I struggle with but find helpful – “Withhold judgment until comprehension sets in.”

  • Terry

    Scot, I’m quite thankful for your bringing this topic to our attention every now and then; I have been lurking and posting upon occasion for almost all of the 5.5 years and have been constantly thankful for the civility that is such a significant part of our conversations. I carry on similar conversations with pastors in my denomination, in closed forums, and they really need to learn a thing or two from what happens here. Too often the defensive reply-posture you mentioned is the order of the day — following the angry assaults.

    And, I too agree that when it comes to patience RJS is at the top of the list. I was just thinking this the other day when a somewhat scathing (to me) comment was met with RJS’s measured, gracious, respectful tone. The Lord has graced us, with grace, and I am very thankful.

  • Unapologetic Catholic

    One of the pleasures of Jesus Creed is reading the post and the thoughtful comments. I think you strike a fine balance.

  • http://www.southmoon.wordpress.com Gary Cleveland

    Scot,
    I agree completely that good and productive conversations are those which accommodate differences of opinions while preserving civility and grace in its various forms.

  • http://gracerules.wordpress.com/ Liz

    I like and agree with your comment policies. I’ve had my own moments of posting a comment out of frustration or anger that crossed the line of civil conversation and was never the better for it. I wish more blogs were as careful as you.

  • pep

    Got iT.
    (and, thaT was all I was going to posT, excepT iT senT me back for not having a long enough posT)

  • http://anebooks.blogspot.com james

    Jim West has a wonderful quotation from Schopenhauer on anonymity today:
    http://zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com/2010/09/02/quote-of-the-year/

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Good stuff Scot. And I want to add, and I think you would agree, that disagreement is not the problem. People should vocalize their disagreement and this would become a lame blog if no one disagreed. The point is to disagree with respect.

    I don’t come here to see a group hug.

  • Eric R

    Thanks Scot. Like you, I don’t even read the comment threads on most web sites as there is no real benefit to it. The best blogs are those that control the tone. Jesus Creed and iMonk are two of the best for this.

  • scotmcknight

    Eric R,

    Yes, I agree: Chaplain Mike is doing a marvelous job at that site and the comments are civil.

  • Jerry

    Thanks, Scott, I defintely feel your pain regarding most news organization posts, particularly when “Christians” try to convert people through a blog.

    There’s one aspect of your sidewalk cafe you didn’t mention. In many a spy movie the secret police are “monitoring every word you say.” There a Christians, usually under the title “Concerned” or “Accountability” who are more than happy to lurk around blogs to play “gotcha.” They may not do on Jesus Creed, but they don’t mind showing up what they call heresies in other forums. I know ministers and scholars who have been greatly harmed this way.

    So . . . thanks for allowing us to be “first names only.”

  • Clay Knick

    Scot, I’d sit in a cafe and talk with you any time! When are you coming to VA? :)

    I just bought Richard Mouw’s book on civility. He’s after what you’re after too.

  • http://true2pixel.com Bryan

    It’s also important to remember that “heated” discussions aren’t always bad either. There are times when it is appropriate to turn up the intensity.

    I’m thinking of Jesus in Mark 8:33 and again in Mark 11:15.

    When battling a certain problem, people occasionally have a tendency to swing too far the other way.

    I want to emphasize that while ugly, outrageous comments are a rampant plague on the web, the appropriate response is not to ban everything that is slightly confrontational or pointed.

    Thanks for all you do here!

  • Adam

    Thanks for this refreshing call to civility, Scot. I love the analogy of sitting at a cafe. If that controls our paradigm I think we will do well.

  • Emily

    Hi, Scot,

    I just want to thank you for maintaining an environment of thoughtful and respectful discussion. The questions poste on this blog and the many comments following have really helped me grow in my faith as I have struggled through some of these issues. I can’t imagine any other place where I would read over 50 comments to a post, but I do here.

  • youngowen

    Tough to do, tougher to do well. But you’re doing it. Thanks. o

  • http://www.kendadean.com Kenda Dean

    This might be the most pastoral thing I’ve read all week! :) Hope you’re doing well, Scot!

  • Ann F-R

    Thanks for your willingness to monitor, Scot, Kris & RJS. I know how time consuming it can be! The tongue, pen, & computer keyboard are too often a fire, and we all need a dousing from Jesus occasionally (if not a dunking!). :)

  • Todd

    Scot,
    I have been reading the entries on this blog for over two years and wish to echo the thanks expressed by others for the intentional approach to civility that you have taken. The reading that I do on this site is often a very enjoyable experience, and a large part of the pleasure I receive from that reading is protected by the tone that you and other frequent contributors have chosen to maintain – particularly on difficult or controversial topics.

  • Danny

    Yeah, did I miss something, or why is RJS hiding her identity? Or will she somehow get in trouble with her biology colleagues for writing on a theologians blog? (no harm intended on this question, but it really does bother me sometimes)

    cheers, thanks for the blog Scot
    Danny

  • rjs

    Danny,

    Valid question – and it bothers me sometimes too. I am not anonymous though. I put an e-mail address on my posts. Many of the regular commenters and readers know who I am.

    I am not so much hiding identity as avoiding the totally and irrevocably public nature that search engines like google give to anything on the web.

  • Danny

    Okay, yeah, I understand that totally. I’ve been trying to get rid of my shadows on the net and haven’t been able to. Thanks!

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com Peggy

    Testing, 1 2 3 just to see if it words.

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com Peggy

    Great way to start things off on the right foot, Scot!

    Of course I don’t mind you not calling it the One T Saloon — that was a place in a parable … and I’m thinking that we might have to change to a Food Court…. ;^)

    For those of you who are new (or want a refresher), just click on the Category on the right called “Rule of JCreed”

    …and as a former Deputy at the One T Saloon, may I suggest that we recognize the Holy Spirit as the “Sheriff” that convicts our hearts and guides our fingers as we type. And realize that each of us has a Deputy badge that we can pin on and ask someone to consider how they are coming across.

    Blessings!

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com Peggy

    Okay … #35 (typo and all) was a response to an error message I got about cookies needing to being enabled, blah, blah … but I had posted before.

    I had to close out the page (after, of course, saving my comment ;^) don’t you know!) and come back in again.

    …just in case any one else encountered that glitch — you gotta be persistent! ;^)

  • Thalia Kehoe Rowden

    Thank you, Scot, Kris and RJS, for leading the way on this one. I reckon there are very few sites on this vast interweb where it is good for the soul to read the comments; JesusCreed is the major exception, not only practising civility but teaching it. Keep up the good work!

  • http://contemplativelife.wordpress.com/ Adrienne

    +1 My many thanks for the time and effort the three of you put into moderating this site. I am enriched by the opinions of others who share here.

    On a related note, I’d love to see a blog post on encouraging civility in Facebook status updates and comments. What should one do when one’s friends value “truth” over civility?

  • http://abisomeone.blogspot.com Peggy

    I’m with you, Adrienne … so many Facebook updates and comments are just rude. To speak the truth in love is a very rare thing, sadly….


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