ChristianForums: Technical enforcement rears its ugly head

2006-11-09 13:16

So, the time has come to examine what I think is probably the real beginning of the end in many ways. Technical enforcement.

Up until sometime in 2003, non-Christians were not in general supposed to debate in the “Christians-only” forums, but there was no technical barrier to them doing so. A couple of friendly non-Christian members were regular participants in the “Reilly’s Pub” thread in the Catholic forum.

The new policy was simple. Members have always been asked to identify their religious persuasion in their profiles. The new rule allowed only people whose identified church was considered Christian by the site to post in the Christians-only forums.

This sounds, at first blush, like an excellent idea. In fact, it has been one of the most harmful and divisive things ever done, and has led to a number of similar policies which have done immense harm to a number of people.

One of the most subtle points in this is simply the actual text of the message one receives when trying to post in a prohibited forum. “You must be a Christian to post in this forum.” Now, you might think this makes sense, but there’s a small problem: Many people who are very devout followers of Jesus do not meet the site’s formal definition. The technical enforcement has no capacity for sympathy or understanding. It can’t look at questions like “Jill just converted, and is still unclear on some of the formalized teachings, obviously we should let her post here”.

However, even this could have been liveable. The problem is that staff lie about it. Time and time again, staff say “when we order someone to change their icon to a non-Christian icon, we are not saying they’re not Christian.” It’s a lie. The forum software message is quite clear, as is the phrase “non-Christian icon”.

The definition of Christianity at CF did some evolving. Most of this is hidden in the Great Crash. Many Christians do not actually use the Nicene Creed; they use a shorter creed called the Apostles’ Creed. For a brief period, Erwin was persuaded to use this as an alternative. Unfortunately, this allowed Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses to participate in the Christians-only forums, and many people believe that these groups are “cults”, rather than “real Christians”. (The definition of “cult” is very elastic at CF; it means “people most of staff dislike”.) So, the rule was changed back; Nicene Creed only.

Unfortunately, the Nicene Creed has a couple of problems, some of which are even acknowledged, for an ecumenical site. Most Calvinists do not actually agree with what the Nicene Creed says about baptism (“We believe in one baptism for the remission of sins”).

CF’s solution is an excellent example of sheer dishonesty:

***This can be interpreted to mean that baptism is a matter of obedience and not a requirement for salvation or a regenerating ordinance.

That is to say, you can believe that baptism is in no way “for the remission of sins”. In fact, CF has other exceptions; you are allowed to disbelieve in apostolic succession, and you are allowed to ignore “Whose Kingdom shall have no end.”. They don’t even bother to footnote the last one; it’s obvious to the casual observer that there are too many Rapture-believers to enforce the Creed’s statement of amillennialism.

In fact, to this day, many people at CF do not know about or understand the Creed. They are in theory supposed to notice it in the tiny little scrolling box containing many pages of rules that they see at registration, but many don’t. Furthermore, the division of churches into “Christian” and “non-Christian” does not reflect the Creed at all. A sizeable number of Baptists openly reject some or all of the Creed. (A poll I ran confirmed that about 10% believed that the Creed was wrong on significant issues.) However, they are all counted as “Christian”. Proposals have been floated to ask the “Do you accept the Nicene Creed” question separately; they cannot be adopted, because they would exclude hundreds of people who go to churches that are too large to risk offending.

What this did, though, is set the stage for a number of similar rules. The marital status in the profile is used to control access to the Married Couples forum, and so on and so forth. It also made the icons important enough that their number has burgeoned substantially. This has consistently been a source of division, as people pick fights based on assumptions about someone based on an icon.

It also set the stage for the first time the ability to change a given profile entry was denied to members. There was a problem of people changing their icon, posting in a given forum, then changing it back. A rule was adopted against putting in false profile information to gain access to restricted forums. When this didn’t work, technical enforcement reentered: Users cannot change their own icons. Staff can change their icons for them.

What this means is that, for sound technical reasons, staff who decide a given user isn’t really Christian just label the user something else. They don’t have to ask, and the user doesn’t get a vote. In principle, they’re supposed to ask; it doesn’t always happen.

Finally, since we’re on the topic of icon changes, let’s have a little story time. It involves a user by the name of “stray bullet”. Stray is a Catholic. Stray is also a serious thinker and questioner. At one point, back when users could change their own icons, Stray changed his to “Agnostic” for a bit. (He may have had it as Muslim for a while, for reasons unknown to me.) Then he changed it back. (He may have had it as Muslim for a while, for reasons unknown to me.) He posted in the Catholic forum.

Edited to add:

Stray dropped me a line. In his own words:

saw your log- thought I could explain the icon. It was changed for a number of reasons, but the primary one was to prevent me from going into CO areas to debate Christians- like members that ask for ‘bans’, I just wanted to give myself a break. Another part of it was in seeing if ‘agnostic’ or ‘Muslim’ icons meant different attitudes from staff members following complaints I heard from those of other faiths. It was sort of a preliminary study that led me to David Waffen, to see how one is treated when in the ‘in’ crowd.

… I’ll get to the David Waffen thing in a bit.

End of edit

He got warned for “falsifying” his profile information, by one of the mods. He was told that he was not Catholic, and should not pretend to be. Of course, he is Catholic. Once a number of people pointed this out, the mods did the obvious thing; they lied. They said it had never been about him pretending to be Catholic, but about him being “disruptive” by changing his icon too frequently. In fact, it may well be that this case is the real basis for getting the icon change power restricted to staff.

It took stray months to get his warnings reversed, despite the obvious fact that any staff who were involved ought to have known that the actual basis for the warning was fictitious.

What did he do while he was suspended for his warnings? That’ll come up next, in the Saga of David Waffen.

Peter Seebach



  1. hi

    — buzz · 2006-11-09 16:44 · #

  2. Welcome to the real world.

    — seebs_lawyer · 2006-11-09 17:08 · #

  3. Was David Waffen an attempt to prove some sort of corollary to or implication of Poe's Law?

    — seebs_lawyer · 2006-11-09 20:49 · #

  4. Ohhhh, I can already see the CF bees in the CF beehive -- buzzing all about, full of honey and stings, aren't they, honey? (With apologies to Bette Davis, from "All About Eve").

    — UberLutheran · 2006-11-10 17:57 · #

  5. Prior to formalization of "Nicene Creed" as defining Xians, I was harassed by Gabriel and WVMtnkid for posting in Xian Only areas for not being politically correct. The application of the creed as the be-all and end-all was adopted as a compromise. We were allowed to post in the XO areas if we were credal and be politically incorrect but may of the American Taliban on staff objected.

    OTOH many others were excluded.

    It confirmed Jack Spong's assertion that creeds were supposedly conceived to unite us but in reality serve only to divide us.

    — Texas Lynn · 2006-12-15 00:47 · #

  6. Does uberluthran still post in CF?

    — tubby · 2007-02-07 19:21 · #