ChristianForums: Secret origin story!

(Religion)

2006-11-13 04:42
Comments [12]

It’s funny, but in a way, the origin story of CF is secret.

Here’s the deal. ChristianForums merged with another forum, called King’s Tavern, in February 2002. For a while, Erwin and Josephus were labeled “co-founders” of CF. I was there, and I remember.

Something happened, and I frankly don’t know what. They’ve both told me. Both of them have told me their recollections of the story. Josephus told me how the forums were very different in size; maybe 3,500 users on KT, and 300 or so on CF. Erwin told me they were about the same, maybe 1,000 each.

Thanks to some brilliant detective work — done by the CF user Auntie — I now have actual numbers. As of February 7th, 2002, KT had 1,280 members and CF had 620.

So, here’s my thinking. All of us know, sort of, that our memories are a little unreliable. We tend to approximate things. Round things up or down a bit. We remember the most persuasive arguments, but not always the ones we didn’t think were plausible.

I’ve just said that Josephus and Erwin both told me numbers, and that the numbers they told me were false. I say now that I do not believe that either of them was lying. I believe that, with the natural flow of human interaction, people tend to drift apart sometimes, and when they have been on each others’ nerves, the natural reliability problems of human memory become worse, rather than better.

The story of what happened is a secret, in some ways. Very few people know it, even the ones that were there; it’s quite easy to forget. There are many stories that go around about why Josephus disappeared. He’s not just no longer active at ChristianForums; his account has been banned. Not just banned, so that he can’t post, either. He’s “e-banned”, the special “emergency” ban normally reserved for trolls and spammers, and as a result, his posts are invisible to normal users — even the post where he documented the population figures of his forum.

As a result, there’s a number of rumors. Some people think Josephus was banned for trying to sell CF merchandise without Erwin’s permission (as Erwin’s the site owner), but so far as I can tell, nothing of the sort ever happened.

I don’t know whether any of this will ever get fixed. But I was there, and I remember back when “Questions about Christianity” forum (now renamed again to “Questions by Non-Christians”) was still called the “Ask Josephus!” forum. And Josephus was the co-founder of ChristianForums.

The thing that I find most frustrating about this is that Josephus and Erwin both had, at the start of this, a shared vision of a Christian site which would be inclusive rather than exclusive, a site that would accommodate all the Christians, not just some of them. I obviously feel that CF has fallen short of that goal (and much moreso recently than it did in the past), but I think both Erwin and Josephus had that vision, and I believe both of them still do.

Obviously, they’re not getting along as well as they might. I hope they work things out, though, because that kind of thing tends to build resentments. I think it is quite clear (and I doubt anyone would deny it) that, since the merger, Erwin has done an immense amount of work, and contributed a fair amount of money, to build ChristianForums up. I don’t think that calling Josephus a “co-founder” diminishes this in any way. I don’t think that denying Josephus credit for his contributions to the community is a good thing.

Furthermore, the secrecy has led to speculation, gossip, and rumor, as various theories are advanced to try to justify the inexplicable disappearance of someone that many members remember as a contributor to a growing and vibrant community.

So here’s my contribution, to start the ball rolling: Neither of you is entirely correct on the details you remember, about who did what. Don’t let the details get in the way of a vision worth pursuing. Unban Josephus. He’s not “trolling” when he claims, quite honestly, to have been a co-founder of the site. That’s what it was presented as when it happened.

Reconciliation and redemption are core themes of the Christian message. They should be core themes of a Christian messageboard.

Peter Seebach

Comments [12]

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ChristianForums: One Bread, One Body

(Religion)

2006-11-12 18:01
Comments [1]

One of the interesting things that ChristianForums had was a dedicated subforum for Catholics. Some forums exclude Catholics, claiming they are not Christians at all. CF actively included them. The subforum was called “One Bread, One Body”, and is one of the higher-traffic areas of CF, simply because there are so very many Catholics.

In the olden days, OBOB was a comparative haven. There were Catholic-bashers who would show up with whatever they were into that week; Pope Joan, or something. But, for the most part, the forum was fairly mellow. Most Catholics are pretty calm about ecumenical stuff. They’ve had a thousand years to get used to “other Christian groups”. Furthermore, they don’t have to work very hard to explain why it is that, if what they believe is the real Christian faith, no one had heard of it until 1845.

OBOB had one of the first purely social threads, a chatter thread named “Reilly’s Pub” started by one of the members. This thread later made CF history, as it became the first “open” thread in the Christians-Only forums, where members otherwise considered non-Christian were allowed to post.

There was a sort of a side thread that got started once after a particularly rough day of defending the faith. One of the members started a thread entitled “The Walk-in Freezer in Reilly’s Pub”. This thread was used for cooling off — specifically, for venting frustrations and trying to cool down. Members came to this thread to complain about problems communicating in other threads. Oddly, despite the obvious potential for trouble, this stayed very productive. I remember once coming there to gripe about a particularly frustrating discussion only to find the person I was frustrated by griping about my side of the debate. We offered each other virtual Dove bars.

Those days are gone.

OBOB has become a fairly vicious forum to try to post in. It’s not just gradually stricter treatment of the non-Catholics, though. It’s the sniping at non-Catholics, and worse, the deeply vicious infighting among Catholics.

To understand how this comes about, you have to know a bit about Catholic teaching. Many Protestant groups teach that the Bible has authority, and nothing else does; this leaves them with fierce feuding over who gets to decide what the Bible says. The Catholics have a clear answer to that; the Church decides what the Bible says. Some Catholics are inclined to believe that there’s been some drift or correction over time; others are firmly committed to the notion that everything the Church says is infallible and unchanging.

However, this creates an interesting problem. Catholic teaching is that Catholics have a moral duty to “submit” to the authority of the Church. If the Church says that it is a sin to skip Mass on Sunday to see a football game, then it is indeed a sin. More importantly, if you know this and do so anyway, you are committing a second sin — you are not in submission to the Church.

Most Catholics have at least some trouble with some Church teachings, or questions about them, or just plain don’t understand them. OBOB is currently somewhat dominated by a group of people who are very sure that they understand these teachings.

What this means is that all the normal behavioral rules of civil society, or of a Christian message board, can be subverted by the claim that anyone arguing with them is arguing with the Church teaching, therefore not in submission to the Holy See… and therefore not really Catholic. Since only Catholics are allowed to “debate” in the forum, of course, such posts are therefore rules violations.

To say that this is enforced selectively is to understate the case gravely. One announcement thread put it like this:

But those who consistently undermine the Church’s teaching for the sake of argument—especially the teachings of the Church on human sexuality, such as contraception, gay marriage, abortion, etc.—do a great diservice to OBOB and its members. If you see such posts, please report them so they can be reviewed.

This is a particularly clear-cut example of CF’s obsession with sexual morality over all other areas of teaching.

In fact, part of the disturbing irony of this situation is that Catholic submission to the authority of the Church is supposed to follow a clear hierarchy. You do not obey some guy on an internet message board; you obey your priest, who obeys his bishop, and so on. In fact, if you are not a bishop, you are generally not supposed to argue with bishops.

As a result of this, Catholic members do not necessarily want to be identified as “Catholic” at CF. One woman I know, who is currently doing a year of full-time volunteer work with some Franciscans, has changed her icon to plain old Christian because it is contrary to her moral duty to the Church to submit to the judgement of some guy on an internet BBS. In general, many of the Catholics who think about issues other than current mainstream American politics are sort of uncomfortable with this, so they often sort of keep quiet.

When she left, she wrote this:

OBOB is and, has been since I joined CF two years ago, alien territory for me. This is hard to put into words, but for me, Catholicism isn’t…I dunno…a list of rules. It’s not a checklist where if you put Xs in all the boxes you’re a “Good Catholic.” It’s a holistic philosophy and a lifestyle. The “rules” of Catholicism make sense (to me, at least :D) in context of the theological and spiritual underpinnings of the faith, but separated from those underpinnings, they begin to appear like nothing but arbitrary hoops to jump through, a pharisitical morass of obligations and, for many people, secret frustration and resentment.

What ends up happening is that a bunch of casual laymen make gloriously stupid comments about doctrine, and then demand strict authoritarian punishment for people who argue with them, even when they are the ones rejecting Church teaching. For instance, many of the members regularly assert that Muslims worship a false God.

The teaching of the Church is quite clear:

But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.

When I asked someone about this, I was told it’s not “dogma”, so he’s free to disregard it. The document it’s taken from, Lumen Gentium, says at the top of the page:

DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH LUMEN GENTIUM SOLEMNLY PROMULGATED BY HOLINESS POPE PAUL VI ON NOVEMBER 21, 1964

So, well, actually it is dogma.

But you may rest assured, no one gave him any trouble about arguing with the Church. The people who get hassled are people like the folks at St. Joan of Arc, a local and “liberal” parish.

For instance:

http://www.christianforums.com/t64220

This thread, titled “Bad News for ‘Liberal’ Catholics Awaiting Pope’s Death”, goes on and on at some length about the horrors of liberal Catholics, with snide remarks made to a particular participant. The reason the thread starts with post #2 is that the original poster was banned. The people who dogpiled after him are not banned.

http://www.christianforums.com/t2098975

This thread, titled “Catholics only :This Parish in Minneapolis is pretty much horrifying “, is a particularly disturbing one, simply because many members quickly found out that a member of that parish was present.

But here’s the thing. Remember that remark about submitting to the authority of the Church?

That parish has been complained about before. The complaints went to the bishop. The bishop did make a few changes, but anything he didn’t change is approved by a bishop. In their griping about the alleged horrors of this parish, these people are themselves completely rejecting the authority of the Church.

Oops.

It’s not about consistency, see. It’s not about the authority of the Church. When Pope John Paul II said “If you go to Iraq, you go without God”, most of these people dismissed him as a naive old man.

No, it’s about sexual morality and the importance of kicking people out of the church first, and asking questions later.

This goes on all over CF. It’s particularly noticeable in the Catholic forum, simply because the official Church teachings on many of these issues are available for study, and the people who dominate discussions are so very clear in their rejection of these teachings. A lot of them have serious anti-Protestant issues — a theme which comes up a lot in discussion of the interdenominational fighting at CF. (On the whole, the scary thing is really not how very vicious some of the anti-Protestants are, but how much their meanness is drowned out by the anti-Catholic folks.)

Peter Seebach

Comments [1]

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ChristianForums: Kicking the snot out of the Mormons

(Religion)

2006-11-12 14:09
Comments [3]

Once upon a time, very early on, one of the proto-boards which eventually merged to become ChristianForums as it’s known today used the Apostle’s Creed as its standard of “who is a Christian here”. By the time I reached the site, it was using the longer Nicene Creed. A brief experiment in 2003 allowed members to use either, but a “problem” was found: Mormons accept the Apostle’s Creed, but almost none of them can agree to the Nicene Creed.

Many traditional Christian groups say some pretty nasty things about Mormons. They are generally called a “cult”, for instance. (CF specifically prohibits calling Christian groups they aren’t kicking in the teeth “cults”.)

So, the Apostle’s Creed was yanked. There’s just one problem, which is that many, many, Christians have never even heard of the Nicene Creed. To this day, CF is full of people who don’t accept it, although they’ve mitigated this somewhat by adding footnotes allowing people to reject certain claims.

What they can’t do is just admit that the real rule is “You have to accept the Apostles’ Creed, but not be a Mormon or a Jehovah’s Witness”. In practice, that seems to be it.

There’s a great deal of struggle around the boundaries, as some other Christian groups (to avoid confusion, I’m just calling all the Jesus freaks “Christians”) accept the Apostles’ Creed, but not the Nicene Creed. They are generally told smugly that they are not qualified under the site’s definition — often by the people who needed the footnotes.

But no matter what, the Mormons are a special case. A special ghetto has been created for debates of a few points of theology, and for kicking the snot out of the Mormons. There’s a couple of interesting points to this. The first is that the forum has a rule against “promoting” non-Christian religions. The second is that no two staff members agree on what is, or isn’t, promoting.

Policy rulings on the topic have gradually made the fence higher, and the Mormon side of it spikier. The bullies are allowed to demand that the Mormons substantiate claims, and declare victory if the Mormons fail to do so, even when doing so would be treated as a rule violation and edited. They are even allowed to declare victory if the Mormons do provide evidence, because it will usually be removed.

The prize-winner was a Mormon receiving an official warning for demonstrating convincingly that a particular claim about Mormons was false. The rationale offered was that, since Mormonism is false, if a Mormon wins an argument, he must have broken some rule. (I don’t have the exact details of the case right, but the net result has been a general stance that, if a Mormon wins any point, it is a de facto violation of the rule against promoting other religions.)

There is a theme which runs through a number of movies and TV shows; I think I saw it in some movie related to the Kung Fu TV series. Two people are told to fight, and the more skilled one is told he must not attack, only defend. Eventually, he loses. The point of the story is that you cannot win a fight if you cannot attack.

In Unorthodox Theology, the Mormons cannot attack. Under some rulings that are still sometimes upheld, they can’t even defend.

What this produces is, of course, exactly what you’d expect. There are a few Mormons who come to CF, and they are very patient and Godly people, who have more patience and kindness than most of the people you will ever meet. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t stay around, saying what little they can, correcting the most egregious errors, and getting warned for it over and over.

Since there’s no way to ask them honest questions and get real answers (that would be “promoting Mormonism”), no one with any actual interest in the question participates for long.

So who does?

Think about the kind of person who hears the story of the two fighters, one who only defends, and thinks “I want to be the guy who only attacks.” They’re bullies. Not only that, but they are without exception really weak bullies; they are people who cannot win arguments if their opponents are allowed to argue.

What’s pathetic isn’t that there are people who come to the forum to take advantage of this. What’s pathetic is that they lose anyway.

The problem is that the net result of this is to present a snapshot of “mainstream Christians vs. Mormons” in which the Mormons are polite, well-spoken, and patient beyond the normal limits of human endurance, and the Christians are petty and spiteful liars, who present atrocious argumentation backed only by the smug assurance of knowing no one can really argue with them.

Peter Seebach

Comments [3]

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ChristianForums: Moderators and the rules

(Religion)

2006-11-12 04:10
Comments

One of the standing policies of CF for a long time has been that moderators are not exactly subject to the rules. In principle, moderators are expected to follow the rules. In practice, it is not always the case that they do.

The problem is that, when a user violates a rule, responses can be quick. A post can be edited or deleted, for instance.

When a staff member violates a rule, [b]even if it is agreed that a rule has been violated[/b], nothing can be done quickly. Posts can stay up for weeks.

For instance, consider the rule that one may not call other users non-Christian:

Not only is what Spurgeon preaches Biblical Christianity, by juxtaposition it exposes your beliefs as mere humanistic relativism cloaked in a particular religion.

How about the rule against derisive or hostile language? This charmer is from a politics thread; it was in response to a 2004 election query about whether Republicans felt that Bush should concede gracefully if he lost the election:

Ho ho ho ha ha ha ho ha ho ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!!

This is just too funny!! Oh my goodness!!

(Wiping away the tears), Yeah, well, it was the Dems who started the plan of hiring 10000 lawyers and declaring victory on election night no matter what the vote is, and throwing the whole thing in court right away. That’s how your side plays, honey.

Feel the love, no?

Or how about this charmer from one of the marriage icon threads:

You are right I do not consider you validly married

One of these was edited substantially quite some time later. One was carefully edited in a way that preserves the insult, but allows some small plausible deniability about it being a personal remark. Another is still there.

Even when their posts are edited, staff are not affected by them. There was at one point an official staff disciplinary system, a counterpart to the “warning and suspension protocol” covering users. So far as I can tell, it was never actually used; it was scrapped, months later, because staff couldn’t use it.

Members generally get edited first, then offered some possible chance to argue that their post was misread. Staff posts are not edited without talking to the staffer first, and going through a procedure. Why?

Staff are presumed to be acting in good faith and to be clear on the rules; it is assumed that a staff post does not violate any rules, even if it blatantly does, because to assume otherwise would be to question the credibility of staff. Why is this bad?

You certainly are very free to live as you will , and the owner of this site is free to make membership and participation rules for himself.

As a Priest do you not believe that all authority is ordained of God (Romans 13) and that we are to be subject to that authority ? Or is the Bible subject to your interpretation to be truth?

Simple! They’re ordained by God. They have divine authority, and if you question them, it’s like you’re questioning God.

CF politics are dominated by people who seek power to rule. The people who are there to serve are more numerous, but they lack the killer instinct to seek out power. So, of course, the power-seekers tend to be the most powerful. There are ways to gain power at CF without being too political, but it’s very hard, of course; the competition is fierce and cutthroat.

The problem is just that, well, what do you do about people who do not wish to serve, but rather to rule?

This is my best answer:

The Gospel According to St. Matthew, Chapter 18, Verses 15-17

   Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.


They have been told in private, and they have been told with witnesses. They continue.

Peter Seebach

Comments

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ChristianForums: Interactions with ~~Elsewhere~~

(Religion)

2006-11-11 18:41
Comments [3]

Many years ago, one of the CF regulars, who had gotten the feeling he wasn’t very welcome, started a thread over on Internet Infidels, called “CF Outcasts”. This thread grew, and more threads followed. Originally they were in the “Miscellaneous Discussions” forum, but when a forum reorganization moved that into the “no-preaching” part of the site, the threads were moved into IIDB’s catch-all “~~Elsewhere~~” forum.

There have been a lot of these. IIDB staff started merging them together, then splitting them every so often; every 1000-2000 posts, perhaps. The current chain is up to Continuation LI, and that’s roman numerals.

These threads are often the subject of a great deal of consternation at CF, as various material from CF will tend to get reposted and talked about. Many staff believe that the participants in the IIDB/CF threads are in an organized plot against ChristianForums, Christianity, or who knows what else. This belief is frankly just stupid. Various attempts abound to make a big deal about how many of the posters there have an “agenda”. The word “agenda” is used to denote what happens when someone you don’t like wants to do something; it’s distinct from “taking a stand” in that it’s not one you agree with.

One of the interesting side-effects of these threads is that, since IIDB does not have all the rules squelching discussion that CF does, sometimes people at IIDB are able to actually work things out.

Let’s have an example. One of the most infamous conservative members of CF went by the username “sweetkitty”. Under CF’s restrictive homosexuality rules, her own position (that gay sex is a sin) was problematic, moreso because she is an ex-lesbian, who believes that God delivered her from this. As you might guess, she has been in a fair amount of conflict with some of the “liberals”. CF’s very restrictive rules were problematic; for instance, under the “you must have citations and evidence” rule, she was prohibited from sharing her own testimony and experiences.

I remember for a long time believing her to be a really nasty person, because of the filters imposed by the CF rules. One day, though, I made some comment about people trying to keep other people out of Heaven, and she said that there is no one who is opposed to seeing other people go to Heaven. I pointed her at a thread I’d seen where someone argued for a position based on the belief that, if it were not true, there would be murderers in Heaven, and that would be horrible. Her response was that this was so upsetting she had to go bake some cookies.

It may sound trivial, but I think I understand. Sometimes human evil is so overwhelming that there’s simply no way to confront it head-on, and all you can do is go make something, as a sort of fundamental affirmation of creation itself.

Sweetkitty changed her username later to kdet. A number of people (myself included) originally assumed she did this to get away from her fairly impressive bad reputation, but she denied this, and I think in retrospect it was just uncharitable bitching to think so.

Anyway, one of the people kdet got along with least was UberLutheran, who is an older gay man. He’s a very committed liberal, active in politics, and deeply concerned about a lot of liberal issues. You can see how they’d end up in conflict. They fought. A lot. And, in fact, CF staff ordered them to not communicate, at all, with each other on CF. No private messages, no responses to posts, nothing. So that just festered.

Because people griped about her in the IIDB threads, kdet showed up. What followed was a conversation I will just reproduce here:

kdet: Well, we can only hope. [about the possibility of UL leaving CF]
elanor: So out of curiosity, are you content with feeling that way about a brother in Christ? I know sometimes I get fed up and think my world would be easier without someone around, but I’m always upset with myself for that attitude and have to take it to the Lord to ask for a change of heart.
kdet: Ok, you are right. I shouldn’t want him to leave or rejoice if he does leave. I’m reading The Bait of Satan by John Bevere, I haven’t gotten very far in the book yet but it has addressed not rejoicing in situations like these. I’m sorry Uber and I aplogize to the rest of you for speaking like I did. No excuses, I just screwed up. I tend to let people get under my skin and then lash out. Something I need to work on alot. Sorry

elanor:
I’m in the same boat with you, kdet. I’m still waiting for the day when I get to the end of it and don’t have to say, ‘I screwed up again, Lord.’ Thank you for apologizing. That’s a very hard thing for me to do—stubborn pride being what it is—so this is a witness to me.

Hey, I get to WA sometimes. If you ever want to say howdy and sit down for a coffee (or Diet Coke—my version of coffee ), just holler.

kdet: Thanks for your patience and thanks for making me think

UberLutheran:
kdet knows she’s prohibited from responding to any post I make on CF.
Which is why she can come over to the heathen board on IIDF and spew.

Isn’t that right, kdet? I believe The Colonel prohibited us from having any contact with each other on CF — but now you’ve come over here to witness to the Democrats and the liberals and those awful homosexuals (who certainly aren’t like you, are they, hon?) and you can say whatever you like without fear of recrimination.

Would you like to have this out once and for all, kdet? Right on this board? Because I’m not the least bit afraid of taking my verbal scapal and doing a dissection of you, right in front of everybody — if that’s what you really want.

Your choice. :)

kdet: I guess you missed my apology to you. So here it is again. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I said. I have a hard time dealing with people I don’t like, something that I am really trying to work on and sometimes I really fall flat on my face. I realize every day how ‘m not as good of a person as I want to be nor as good of a Christian as I hope to be. But I am trying, and I do hope to grow and change every day and to become a better person and Christian. So again I apologize and please try and remember I am like everyone else, not horrible and not perfect, just a work in progress.

UberLutheran:
Hon, if I had a nickel for every time I’d screwed up…

I would have enough money to take both us to Europe for four weeks, stay in four-star hotels, and eat haute cuisine every single meal.

Though I would probably recommend that we stay in separate rooms, lest you and I kill each other during the trip. :D

Actually, you posted a couple of things very recently over in Liberal Theology which I agreed with. Obviously, I can’t rep you without violating the terms of the agreement set in place by The Colonel; but I thought your comments were right on the mark.

What happened between us is called life; and the fact that both of us are Christian — staunchly Christian, even — doesn’t mean we’re necessarily going to agree or that we even need to agree. Which is OK. I really believe Christ has a big enough tent to be able to accommodate differences in belief.

kdet: Thanks for being so understanding :) I do have to disagree with you about one thing though, I really don’t believe that we would not get along in real life. There is so much about you that is fascinating.

UberLutheran:
:bugeyes: You’re kidding??!!
Not to sound vain, but what about me do you find fascinating?

I’m not “begging compliments”, but nobody has EVER said that to me before!

kdet:
You must be kidding! How about this for a few reasons?

storm chasing, classical music, cats, cooking

You are incredibly intelligent and articulate and have a delicious sense of humor.
Of course there is more, but I think that should hold you for now.

All things that I LOVE

I have two cats, use to have 30 show cats untill they contacted feline luekima that I brought home from a Siamese I had bought from a pet store.

I love to cook, it is my passion. I just found a new dinner roll recipe online that I was so excited over you’d think I’d discovered gold

I love music and I love storms.

And that’s that. Reconciliation, because they were allowed to say things, and then, having said them, go further and say other things, that might not have been what came to mind first, but which mattered.

There’s been a lot of reconciliation that has happened off in the dim and dusty corners of IIDB.

Peter Seebach

Comments [3]

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ChristianForums: Trolls and spammers

(Religion)

2006-11-11 14:48
Comments [4]

It’s not all bad. ChristianForums staff do some really good work. In particular, let’s talk about trolls and spammers.

All forums get trolls and spammers. ChristianForums allows automated signup (you don’t have to be manually approved), and is a very large target.

They get a lot of trolls and spammers.

You’d never guess this from reading the forums. With the case of the purely unambiguous abusers, CF staff do an excellent job of catching and nailing spammers. The entire forum staff is (or was last I checked) empowered to yank them.

One example that I find particularly interesting is exodus4321/timex/mead/delur. There was this guy. And he was frankly a very annoying and mean poster, but he wasn’t really a rulebreaker. Then, one day, a staffer he had a problem with did something that set him off. She deconverted. She stopped being Christian, she resigned from staff, and she participated in the forum for a while as an atheist.

He flamed her, a lot.

He got banned.

What followed was a series of troll accounts that frankly became legendary. I lost count. I think I personally banned him ten times or more. (You could argue that this information is a breach of staff confidentiality, but anyone in General Apologetics from that period could tell you as much.) Many of his accounts were just brand names. He had a very distinctive posting style, and some users would spot him on his first or second post. David Gould, in particular, could almost always spot him.

He got clever after a while, using more elaborate made-up names, pretending to be a girl, and so on… But he had one key weakness, which was that he seemed to have a constitutional limit of a week or so, at most, before he would track down some old post of Lanakila’s and write immense rants about how she was a liar.

It was sorta noticeable.

The night John Paul II died, a large number of the non-denominational and Baptist members made poor decisions. They made decisions that this was the right time to go insult the Catholics. They wrote rants. They wrote rants about how JPII was in hell. They wrote “questions” like “Why should we be sad about the death of a man who lead millions of people away from God?”

These posts disappeared at an astounding rate, and I think the staff must have been putting in insanely long hours on that for a few days. Some users got very sneaky, and registered new accounts; Iollain (a regular Catholic-basher) had a particularly nasty bit of vitriol nuked; five or ten minutes later, a brand-new Baptist showed up and posted a substantially similar rant.

For all that there’s plenty of horror stories about CF, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot of people whose stories aren’t nearly so horrifying. There’s a lot of good work getting done. One of the downsides of CF’s secrecy is that people may feel morally obliged to blow the whistle on harmful behaviors, but they don’t feel right doing so on good ones. But rest assured, there are good ones. I’d guess that perfectly reasonable or even particularly good moderator actions are the overwhelming majority of staff actions at ChristianForums.

Peter Seebach

Comments [4]

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ChristianForums: Moderation and politics

(Religion)

2006-11-11 03:52
Comments [3]

This is gonna be a partial story, because there’s a lot more to the story, but much of it is covered by various confidentiality agreements.

I have removed the name of one of the participants, replacing it with the deeply mysterious “Ms. X.”

By the way, flesh99, one of the CF staffers of old, is now also writing about CF.

So, Ms. X. Ms. X was a very active moderator. She was also, I think, the single worst moderator I have ever seen in my time on internet forums. She believed it was her job to win arguments. She moderated the politics forum, and did it with an iron trunk; she was, as it happens, a Republican. Lemme be clear that I don’t think her behavior was abusive because she was a Republican; it just happens to have been her bias.

Ms. X actively sought to reclaim the politics forum from the liberals she believed were destroying it. Her tactics were many and varied, but mostly they consisted of issuing warnings for anything and everything that might stick. Calling George W. Bush by the nick-name “Dubya” was worth an instant official warning… if you were a liberal, anyway. Calling Bill Clinton “Bubba” or “Slick Willy” was, of course, a recognized nickname.

The pinnacle of this, of course, was the Republican Safehouse, a thread in which only Republicans were allowed to post. It consisted of snide remarks, sweeping generalizations and hyperbole about Democrats, mocking and insulting pictures, and so on. She defended it as a purely social thing, insisting that they were “just joking”.

Well, no, that’s not the pinnacle. When a couple of Democrats started a very similar (though tamer) thread called the Democrat Safehouse, she gave out warnings like candy, and closed the thread.

What followed was a marvel of bad moderation. As an active participant and even flamer, she picked fights with members. She spent a number of days arguing with one particular member about this decision. Some readers will remember that, in theory, there was a rule against arguing with staff. Why, then, did she keep arguing?

So that, after a couple of days, she could assign him three warnings at once for posts in that thread, triggering the “permanent ban for three warnings in a week” rule. (This rule was used heavily by some staff as a way to get rid of users they didn’t like; they’d sit on reports and then process a bunch at once. No appeal, sorry.)

Ms. X, more than any other moderator I’ve seen at CF or any other board, blurred the line between personal beliefs and forum rules. She made remarks about the topic of threads in her official moderator postings, saying things like “This thread is getting really loud, and those of you who believe X should read the Bible, because you’re wrong”.

Ms. X was also central in another event. Sometime previously (I think it was during the Great Crash of 2003, so there’s not much for records), there was an announcement on CF: There had been a dangerous sexual predator on staff, but he was removed and banned now. As time passed, more information came out; it turns out the “dangerous predator” had been out of town (at a funeral, no less) when the story broke, and no one had gotten a chance to hear his side.

His side, as it turns out, was rather interesting. In his words:

I would like to know what stories went on about me and [Ms. X]…. I mean I have heard from some but many kept their silence. Did anyone know of the Nudes [Ms. X] sent me. I know she created a site for Christians and I posted her nudes on every thread possible. That let her and many MODS from CF that followed her show her true colors. I even posted the emails. I had nothing to hide from anyone

See, that’s the other half of the story. It turns out that Ms. X was the only actual source for concerns about his alleged behavior; the other people were too shy to come forward, but they told her.

Riiiiight.

My best guess at what actually happened is that the victim didn’t react as positively to the nudes as she hoped, so, next time he was out of town… Bang. Case resolved before he got back, let alone heard anything. He was not told about this until quite a while later.

Now, here’s the thing. Eventually, the victim was allowed back on CF. People concluded he was innocent.

Do you think this led to Ms. X losing her staff position? It did not.

And I know what did, but it’s confidential. I will say, while it is certainly something that could be seen as a problem, I would not have viewed it as being nearly as serious as setting users up for spite bans, actively persecuting people you disagree with using moderating powers, or setting someone up to take a fall for sexual harassment that, so far as anyone can tell, never happened.

Peter Seebach

Comments [3]

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ChristianForums: Gnosticism in action

(Religion)

2006-11-10 17:59
Comments [15]

ChristianForums is essentially gnostic.

Each layer of staff is protected by “confidentiality”. Like the rule about criticising mod actions, this has grown substantially over time. It used to be just sort of understood that you didn’t spill secret stuff. Over time, it’s gotten more and more dire, with threats of banning if you spill secrets, and so on. (The obvious corollary is that, if you are banned, you no longer have any reason not to spill secrets. The peril of a rule which is based on enforcement rather than morality is that there’s no reason other than enforcement to follow it.)

Now, as you might guess, there’s a certain amount of leakage.

What you might not expect is that it is absolutely endemic at all levels of the organization. Moderators reveal things to non-staff friends. Admins reveal things to moderator friends, or to non-staff friends. Selective revelation is a tool for obtaining loyalty and friendship. The more secrets you know, the more power you have.

However, it’s more gnostic than that.

There is a separate staff prayer forum. This is kept isolated from the regular users prayer and prayer request forum. Nominally, this is so staff can ask for prayers in privacy. Now, why do they need more privacy than others? We could pretend it’s because their prayers might involve confidential information, but honestly, that’s not reasonable. No one has any trouble offering, or asking for, prayers that do not reveal very much. The consensus among Christians is that God will know what you are asking about.

Every forum on a vBulletin board has both a name and a description. The staff prayer forum is called “The Upper Room”, and the description for it is “This is the private staff prayer mountain – where the elect retreat to seek the face of God.”

If you’re not familiar with the weighted terminology here, in Calvinist Christianity, “the elect” are the people God has predestined for Heaven; they are the people who are not totally unregenerate, and thus “totally depraved”. Suddenly, the separation takes on a whole new meaning. And yes, “Upper Room” is the name of the place on Mount Zion that is believed to be above the tomb of King David.

To be fair, there’s another reason for this room to be private. Prayer requests are often a way to make snide remarks look holy and innocent; imagine someone responding to a teenager on a bulletin board with a comment like “Your profile says you are 14 years old. You will be in my prayers, my young friend.” The sarcasm is pretty obvious (in fact, the original I refer to had an emoticon rolling its eyes, stressing the sarcasm a bit more). Prayer forums are often used this way, and a staff prayer forum is a place where staff can mouth pious remarks which are intended mostly to attack other staff, as well as a place for sincere prayers.

However, the key thing here is that, the more of the secrets you have access to, the more holy you are. Regular users just have to beg God. Staff, with access to the secret forums, are declared to be the “elect”, and the prayer mountain is higher — more exalted — than the regular prayer place.

There’s more.

If you get promoted above the regular level, you get access to another forum. The ARK, that one is called. So, we’re from the Upper Room to the ARK. (Probably, in context, “… of the Covenant.”)

But hey, that’s not really quite blasphemous enough. To get the full treatment, you have to make it to the even more-secret room, which is called Zion. Only, not like the one in the Matrix. No, this is the top-secret promised land. As one staff member put it, “What is said in Zion is not disclosed to anyone who does not have access to that forum not ever.” Obviously, this is no more true than the others; selective disclosure is the name of the game. The more secrets you know, the holier you are, and distributing these secrets to people binds them closer to you.

These names are “symbolic”, but they are symbolic of a systematic attempt to create the appearance of holiness. They are not humble names. They are not names which inspire people to greater care; they are names which inspire people to greater presumption.

The secrecy might not be so bad without the carefully selected cultish naming conventions, but with them, the tie-in of approval and declarations of holiness to perceived loyalty to the site is huge. Ironically, this just makes people more eager to share their secrets, as they can prove that they have access to the secret forums, and are thus more powerful, and more holy, than the people who don’t.

The Gospel According to St. Luke, Chapter 18, Verses 9-14
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
Peter Seebach

Comments [15]

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ChristianForums: Helping people break the rules

(Religion)

2006-11-10 17:41
Comments [1]

So, sometimes, staff don’t really want to take a personal hand in things, but they want to break the rules. One user at CF, who posted under the name “Sharp” (he’s currently banned, it appears), used to get a lot of complaints about his posts being flames. He called people names, and asserted that they were not true Christians when they didn’t agree with him.

Now, this could be a problem, so he helpfully turned to the staff for clarity:



Originally Posted by: Karl – Liberal Backslider

Nevertheless. If you continue to paint “Liberals” as “not true believers”, by implication or explicit statement, Sharp, I will report your posts. You are violating Rule 1 of these forums and I am sick to the back teeth with self righteous fundamentalists who know they’re so much more Christian than the rest of us.


I am disappointed you feel so bad. Perhaps liberals are not used to disagreement. I shouldn’t be surprised though. After all, who gave the world “political correctness” anyway? Some liberals like to stifle dissent. I hope you are not among them.

My personal policy is never to insult another poster, never to reply to rude posts and certainly never to make any. I always try to play by the rules and ask for helpful advice. In order not to offend I ran my post past the moderators and received the following reply:


Originally posted by: rnmomof7

Originally posted by: Sharp

Yes, I will gladly change it. I want to communicate that fact, but have no desire to offend. Here is what I will write.

“It is my most sincere and deeply held belief that liberals are probably not Christians.”

That avoids the harshness of a declaritive statement and merely states what I sincerely believe with all my heart. Do you approve? If so, then I will make the change. I will remain online so please reply ASAP.

Thanks.

Sharp


How about many liberals have never had a personal relationship with Christ .
Christians is a target word here

RN


Immediately upon receipt of the above moderator’s reply, I complied with alacrity. In fact the moderator suggested the sentence, “Many liberals have never had a personal relationship with Christ.” This seems to me to be a charitable compromise with which we can all agree. It is certainly neither disrespectful nor a violation of the rules.

Be at peace, my friend. My sincere disagreement with liberal theology is NOT disrespect for those still in it. I bear no hatred for liberals; there is nothing inside but warm, loving fuzzy feelings for liberals. In fact as another great American, Rush Limbaugh, says, “I am just a harmless little fuzz ball.”


Now, as anyone even marginally familiar with Christian practice can tell you, the “corrected” statement is just as offensive, and just as much a violation of the rule (which stated that one must not imply that others are not true Christians).

The point of rnmomof7’s advice was not to make him comply with the rule, but to make him comply with a completely legalistic interpretation which ignores the word “imply”. To state that a given person has “no personal relationship with Christ” certainly implies that the person is not a “true Christian”, but is carefully chosen so that a naive reader can pretend otherwise.

Now, that’s questionable.

What’s not questionable is what that post says now:

Rule No. 7 – No Public Posts about Specific Moderator Actions

7) You will not post questions or comments about the specific actions of a moderator in a public forum (eg. editing a post, deleting a thread, banning a member), as this remains a private matter between the member and the staff involved. However, members may PM or email a moderator at anytime. General questions about staff and feedback about moderators are allowed, just not specific questions about a particular moderator action. All decisions to edit, move or delete a post or thread are based on this set of rules listed here.

The owners of Christian Forums reserve the right to remove, edit, move or close any thread for any reason. They also reserve the right to modify the forum rules at any time. Members are expected to check the Announcement Forum or the Rules page to keep up to date with current rules.
I have read, and agree to abide by the Christian Forums rules.

Who edited the post, do you think? Why, that would be rnmomof7.

Normally, when a post is edited, the original text of the post is saved for future reference and documentation. Do you think that policy was followed in this case?

Apparently, when the future reference and documentation would be evidence of malfeasance on the part of a moderator, it becomes less important to comply with that policy.

Sharp continued using the suggested phrase for quite a long time. He was particularly fond of making statements such as “Liberals ignore the context and translation issues when reading the Bible”, or otherwise attacking liberals simply by taking complaints people sometimes make (possibly unjustly) about conservatives, and pasting the word “liberals” in.

It’s not really that much of a surprise that he’s banned; what’s surprising is how long it took, given his active and consistent hostility, and his consistent baiting.

It is not a surprise at all that rnmomof7 stayed on staff, and even rose fairly high in the CF hierarchy. She left for a while, but came back after the Great Reform of 2006. She still occasionally does things like this; in a recent thread, she claimed divine authority over other members and openly flamed a number of them.

Peter Seebach

Comments [1]

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ChristianForums: ShannonKish gets banned, and unbanned

(Religion)

2006-11-09 23:58
Comments [1]

CF’s elaborate and complicated warning system was, in late 2004, rather a mess. The idea was that, if possible, staff should merely talk to you about things. If you kept pushing it, you would get an unofficial warning; unless you had received an unofficial warning (or, possibly, an unofficial warning for violating that same rule), you were not supposed to get an official warning. Only official warnings led to bans.

ShannonKish, a regular poster, published a book, and posted about it. This was, strictly speaking, a violation of the forum rule against self-promotion. She received an unofficial warning, but on reviewing the record, the staffer assigning the warning (nyj) noticed that she was actually due for an official warning, so he gave her one. This was her third warning, so she got a suspension.

Shannon had no idea what was going on, and software errors at the time made it very hard for her to find out. Due to a design flaw, or possibly a bug:

1. Suspended users could not use the PM system.
2. Staff did not know that suspended users could not use the PM system.

You can guess what happened, of course; Shannon was told (over in the IIDB threads) to PM staff, she tried, she failed, so she made an account to PM them with. The staff member who received her PM determined that she was in violation of the rule against creating an account to get around a suspension, and thus upgraded her to a permanent ban. When she complained, she was told that she needed to PM staff…

Much drama ensued. It was resolved by nyj, whose response to her she reposted over at IIDB:

Shannon,

After giving this whole issue much thought, I have come to the conclusion that I was in error twofold.

1. Because of a procedural error on my part, I issued you an unofficial warning. Grace should have stayed my hand at that point, since the problem rested on me. Going back and reversing the decision to a higher offense was wrong.

2. While technically, your PM and post were self-promotion, I did not afford you the chance of accepting a verbal warning to “not do it again”, to use a medium more suitable for promotion of your book (ie: a CF webpage) and correct future action. Instead, I immediately went to the strongest measure available to the staff without showing any mercy and not allowing you to right any potential wrongs.

In addition, the fact that I warned you for a religious, devotional book makes my actions that much more draconian. For that, there was no excuse.

Therefore, I am reversing the warnings I gave you (striking both the unofficial and official off the books) and I reversing your suspension, which would not have resulted had I not given you the official warning.

I cannot repay you for the time you lost away from CF, but I can offer you my sincere apology for the manner in which you were treated by myself. I ask that you not lay any blame at the feet of P4I or Quaffer, who were only doing their job based on proper procedure. They would not have had to be involved if I had not taken a pharaseeical stance in the first place. I hope that this ordeal does not taint your experiences at CF.

Please accept my apology, I am truly sorry for this incident.

What we see here is one of the reasons that, despite all sorts of problems and confusion, CF has stayed functional. A single person willing to act on Christian ideals can undo an amazing amount of harm. All the harsh words, all the conflict, all the confusion, poof, gone.

This kind of behavior is a credit to ChristianForums staff, and has given many people hope for some kind of real resolution to the concerns about staff errors and abuses. The only problem is that, while a staff member certainly has the option of choosing to act this way, there’s no way to encode such things in the rules. You cannot write a system of rules which provides grace. Some staffers, having read this message and others like it, got in the habit of calling it “grace” anytime anyone failed to punish to the fullest possible extent on the first offense, and would tell users “you have received far too much grace already”. A fascinating notion, if theologically problematic.

Many of CF’s quirks come from attempts to write rules such that any warm body trying to follow the rules will produce the same kind of supportive community which encourages good behavior that nyj’s actions here did. They have always failed, and honestly, if simply writing the right rules could make a loving and supportive community, I’d be writing about “JewishForums”, not “ChristianForums”. Rules alone are never enough without spirit, and the spirit is all too rare.

The astute reader may note that nyj was also the person who apologized to Annabel Lee for the longago witch hunt. He’s like that; he’s one of the people who has gone beyond the “WOO HOO GOD IS GIVING ME PRIZES” phase of Christianity and is now buckled down and giving it a serious go. I have not always gotten along with him, but I have to seriously respect the guy.

Peter Seebach

Comments [1]

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