I’m taking a step away from my usual poetic, story-driven and reflective posts to share something I’m been carrying around for a few months now. I hope you’ll indulge this as not an act of self-promotion, but as a blatant critique of the Christian blogging community and the direction it seems to be heading.

Ever since our own Emily was brave enough to share that she has doubts about the feminist cause last October, I’ve been reflecting on the unique space that is Deeper Story and the branches of Family and Church that grew out of it. While there were numerous comments that pointedly but respectfully disagreed with Emily, there were a few that directly challenged why Deeper Story had allowed the post to stand, where the editorial process was, and if this meant Deeper Story was venturing into some new, unforeseen direction. While our fearless editor Nish Weiseth already clarified the editorial policy of Deeper Story, I’d like to take a moment to share first hand why the policy is so important.

In Nish’s own words:

We have a very, very loose editorial philosophy at DS. Meaning, we (the editorial team) VERY carefully select the writers that contribute here, but we don’t step in to directionally edit content.

All of the writers know that they are expected to stand behind their statements individually, because the writing team as a whole does not stand on one form of doctrine or theology. The burden of thoughtful preparation and delivery falls on the writer of the post. Because the writer selection process is so exclusive, we trust them with that burden & we trust them with handling the outcome of their content.

Here’s why this matters: you’re not really going to find this sort of policy anywhere else on the Internet.

The two sides to blogging, the post and its comments, are not always as cut and dry as they seem. Many sites have an editorial board that not only approves the writers but also their content. What this can mean—and I speak from personal experience here, more than once—is that the final post may have altered content that the author has not approved, that potentially changes the meaning or tone of the piece or, worse, the theology.

Hypothetically, let’s say you were invited to write for a major Christian online journal about poverty and privilege last summer and that you produced a piece that worked through the liturgical significance of certain hymns being altered to not make reference to the rich or the poor. You submit the piece, wait a day, and find out five minutes before it posts in a hasty email that it’s going live. An hour later, your good friend is commenting on the post completely disagreeing with you, which is surprising as you share similar feelings about the topic. Then you carefully reread your own piece only to discover that whole paragraphs—paragraphs that made you sound far more liberal, far more social gospel—have been removed. But your name is still on the byline. These are still your words.

Or, let’s say you have a reference to wine in the post and that wine is theologically significant to you, which is the reason for your inclusion, but you discover that it has been changed to a stainless steel French press which makes you sound pretentious and changes the tone of your message.

Hypothetically, mind you.

This happens more than you think. The text you see bolded, the images that are used, the subheadings chosen, the tweets associated with the content—all are often out of the hands of the author and hence your view of an author is shaped entirely by the editorial board that is trying to make its space attract a specific audience with a specific tone.

Is it really your words after that?

Not really. You now represent a body of people, perhaps a responsibility you did not volunteer to have.

How is Deeper Story different?

The content is our own.

While I’ll reach out to a few friends here to review this post before it goes live, the responsibility is mine to make sure there aren’t any typos and that I’ll be able to stand by what I write, even though it may have consequences.

You may not realise how freeing this is.

It means that when a story cannot be told without profanity, it still gets told.

It means that when a public apology is needed, it’s made.

It means that when a story challenges easy theology, it’s shared.

It means that when a position goes against all the modern social norms, it’s shared.

It means when cult isn’t the word we should be using, we argue for better.

It means when the issue is hell, it isn’t taken it lightly.

It means that there are times we mess up, we put our foot in it, we trip over our own cleverness, and we have to own that this is our faith journey and here’s where we don’t always have it together.

It means we disagree. It means we argue. It means we cry. It means we laugh. It means we grow.

These are not how-to posts masquerading as stories. These are deeper and these are stories. These are the stories of us. And in this space, Nish has made room for that telling, without editorial constraint, without oversight to shape a vision, and with enough trust in God and His Spirit that He’ll sort out the Truth from the midst of all of us.

Which warrants reflection on another side of blogging: the comment section.

Just as editors shape the vision of the content that is published, the same is true of the comments. What you may not realise in other spaces is that at times comments are moderated to the point that it’s hard to have an emotional response slip through. Often, such moderation is spoken as a form of grace but results in a very specific agenda. This agenda usually reflects white, male, heterosexual, conservative, mainline protestant ideology and privilege. As someone who is all of those things, I find it troubling when a comment section starts to look exactly like me.

These spaces are where we get gritty and get honest and get combative, but they are also where we discern what is worth the fight, what needs defending, and where we need to grow.

A lovely article, If Your Website’s Full of A–holes, It’s Your Fault, should be extrapolated in this situation to consider blogs as a whole. If your website and its content reflect only one aspect of the Gospel and only one accepted norm about God, this isn’t because there are no good writers able to express dissenting views. It’s because you’ve curated a space where such views are not welcomed. They are against the tone of the site, so they are censored. They are against a version of grace, so they are warped.

But grace isn’t tidy and it should bother us when it just so happens that such “grace” usually ends up looking like Jesus with blonde hair and blue eyes, but that’s how Western Christendom shakes out some centuries.

It would be wrong and would hinder progress to point fingers here, so I am not linking to examples, but as Deeper Story enters a third year, I wanted to take a moment to explain how exceptional this space is and why I am honoured to even share here.

Here, you’re allowed to say what you believe.

You’re allowed to doubt.

You’re allowed to believe till it hurts.

You’re allowed to yell.

You’re allowed to whisper.

Oddly enough, that’s made the posts and the comment section incredible.

You all are the ones full of grace, full of wisdom, and with only a few exceptions, make our disagreements normally beautiful expressions of mercy, hard argumentation, and generous spirit.

How did that happen? Nish Weiseth.

Nish dared to dream of a space that could rely first on God’s Spirit to shape its message, content, and heart. That kind of faith doesn’t come easy, and when Internet spaces for Christians become increasingly overly-goeverened by people who want only one version of the Gospel to be normative, we need her more than ever. Otherwise, we end up with spaces that preach grace but use passive aggressive and manipulative tones to further advance a version of gospel that does not ring True.

On behalf of all the writers here, you go, Nish Weiseth, you go!

Photo credit: Hännah Schellhase

36 comments

  1. And THAT is why I love reading at this site! Thanks for being just such a place!

    “Here, you’re allowed to say what you believe.

    You’re allowed to doubt.

    You’re allowed to believe till it hurts.

    You’re allowed to yell.

    You’re allowed to whisper.”

    Beautiful!!

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  2. And that is why I love this site. It constantly challenges my beliefs, but more importantly it teaches me about grace. There are many articles that made me think about what I really do believe on a topic. They introduced me to parts of God, the Church, theology that I didn’t know existed. Those of you that write have taught me so much about trusting the faith of another. I don’t need all the answers for me and I most certainly do not need the answers for you. Thank you for all that you guys have done and are continuing to do.

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  3. I have several thoughts about this,
    first, I wish that the comments section could more often be a place to extend conversation rather than just react to it either by “gushing” or “spewing.”
    second, having had some experience with being edited, I see both sides of the coin – I need community to help me see the effect of my words (I want to shy away from the individualism that is so rampant in our culture), but, having joined a community I want to be secure enough to bring my whole self (welcome thoughts and questions and unwelcome ones) and trust that the bonds of community are strong enough to hold them.
    third, I feel that too ofetn we’ve lost the art of good questions – questions of ourselves and others. for questions make space within us and without which is essential if we are to grow and deepen. I hope that Deeper Story will continue to be a place where heartfelt honest questions are welcomed, no matter what side of any debate they fall on.

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  4. bravo, preston. i also appreciate how all the contributors work together as a sort of community modification process. it is a gift to see all the nuance in action.

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  5. Nanci

    I read a number of blogs on a regular basis. Deeper Story is my favorite. Now
    I know why. Thanks, Mr. Weiseth.

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  6. Awesome. That’s all. That’s why I love this space. Thank you.

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  7. Thoughtfully put, Preston. Thank you . . . <3

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  8. right on the money. exactly why i love this place.
    we’re all part of one body, and no part is as complete without the others.
    well done, Preston.

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  9. I’ve just discovered Deeper Story; really impressed by the quality of the content here. There’s a UK blog by a Christian collective called Threads – similar editorial process. Take a look at http://www.threadsuk.com

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  10. ” I find it troubling when a comment section starts to look exactly like me.”

    Or the content of the post.

    One of my favorite things is thoughtful dialogue and conversation in the comments section; that used to characterize my own space but after backing away from the community I was a part of years ago (time/balance constraint), it’s not really a part of my personal blog now. SO, to be a part of the Deeper Story extended family, I’m thankful to be in a place that lends itself to that.

    Preston, I’m often amazed at your wisdom and articulateness (is that a word? is now…) in expressing thought. Well done here, and for giving words to what so many of us feel.

    And, forgive me, but I’m not sure if you’re being called Nish’s husband or she’s being called a man, but Nanci’s comment just blessed my heart :). (and understandable since “Nish” isn’t a common name…)

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  11. I need this place to exist because it’s the only place I know of where I can agree or disagree and not worry about how that will impact whether I am “welcome”. There are so many places in my life where I hide who I really am, or don’t express myself fully, because I am afraid that if “they” ever find out I don’t always go along with their program 100%, I won’t be welcome anymore. And I don’t think I’m strong enough to hear the rejection, so I don’t venture to ask or to put myself out there.

    It is so nice to have a place where so many wonderful writers and thinkers can express themselves without fear of being cast out. Even though I’m only a reader, and a very occasional commenter, I feel like a part of a vibrant, diverse, welcoming community even when I may not agree with what’s been posted for that particular day.

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    • Lindsay, you’ve expressed some of the many reasons I’m drawn to this community. I love hearing it echoed by a host of others here as well.

      Preston, thank you for composing this thoughtful expression of the heart of Deeper Story/Family/Church, and to you, Nish, for having the guts to hold loosely on the reins.

      I’m still just so happy to be here.

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  12. oh, thank you preston. thank you friend.

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  13. Megan

    Long before I became a contributing part of the community here, I held this space in such high regard for all of the reasons you’ve pointed out, Preston.

    I so value a space where I can read things that make me cry with understanding or sometimes make me raise an eyebrow with skepticism. The diversity of points of view is something that works together to create such a tangible representation of the Body as a whole.

    As a writer, I appreciate the freedom to tell stories that I would never, ever feel safe enough to tell elsewhere. As a reader, I appreciate the freedom to be challenged or affirmed.

    Excellent wisdom, Preston. And yes, here’s to Nish and her tenacious vision and work in creating and maintaining a space such as this!

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  14. Sandi

    I agree. We need a place where we can express our doubts, our anger towards God, and still have people come and sit with us, holding our hand and rocking with us rather than heaping condemnation on an already bowed and broken head. This is holy ground.

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  15. Alise

    I was thrilled to be a part of this writing community for exactly the reasons you stated above. I love that I don’t agree with everything that is posted here, but that even when it’s stuff that I disagree with, it’s told so honestly and beautifully, that I can’t help but see the author’s heart. It does suck when you see something you’ve worked on retitled or framed in a way that you don’t believe because then it ceases to be yours.

    I also fully believe that the comments here are good because the conversations in the pieces themselves invite a positive response. Because they are so human, I don’t think people are as inclined to treat them anonymously, if that makes sense. I appreciate that so much here (again, well before I became a contributor).

    Thanks for this post, Preston. I’m totally with you on it.

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  16. And *this* is EXACTLY why I want to be a part of things here. Love. Truly, truly love.

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  17. Grace

    Never thought about it this way, very insightful. Makes me even more honored to be writing for ADS. Inspired too by, Nish. What a visionary.

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  18. Beautifully said, Preston. And thank you. And thank you, Nish, for designing this whole thing so thoughtfully and for inviting those of us who write in this space to dig deep. These are usually the stories I read first when they land in my inbox (or at least, the ones I keep open the longest!!) and I am always grateful. Always. I would note, however, that each writer has some degree of moderation control over comments and that is sometimes a good gift, indeed.

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  19. If for some odd reason I owned a noise-maker, I’d be ringing the hell out of it right now.

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  20. Tanya Marlow

    As everyone else has said… This is why I love Deeper Story and all who sail in her.

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  21. Preston– thanks for giving this shout-out, both to Deeper Story and to Nish.

    It was beautifully put, and perfectly true.

    The Conversation . . . is a glorious thing.

    Thanks, Nish and Writers, for creating this space . . . it is deeply good.

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  22. Now I know why this place feels so very healthy and refreshing! Thank you for providing an avenue for true thought-provoking ideas and wonderings about God.
    Susie
    http://www.recoveringchurchlady.com/

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  23. Thank you for your reflection. This site is such an overflowing well of fresh, cool, water on a hot dry day. The accounts are emotional, thought provoking, both demanding my attention and respecting it, invigorating to my imagination and God anointed.

    “The two sides to blogging, the post and its comments, are not always as cut and dry as they seem. Many sites have an editorial board that not only approves the writers but also their content. What this can mean—and I speak from personal experience here, more than once—is that the final post may have altered content that the author has not approved, that potentially changes the meaning or tone of the piece or, worse, the theology.”

    Recently, I was encouraged to relocate my inputs to a more “public” and general spot. My content was not considered compliant to the theme/flow/direction of the website. Unintentionally, they answered my silent question why the articles were so passive and full of clichés.

    I respectfully suggest a slight change to your title:
    “WHY THE INTERNET NEEDS DEEPER STORY, FAMILY, CHURCH” to
    “WHY THE ‘PEOPLE OF’ THE INTERNET NEEDS DEEPER STORY, FAMILY, CHURCH”.

    Many of us readers are fed and encouraged with the content this site’s structure, policy, and format allows. PLEASE do not change.
    God bless.

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  24. Let the words stand unedited and freely spoken. I often disagree with many of my brethren and sistren across the “Deeper” channels, but I still love them. I still like to watch their evolution. And I like how we’re prone to let the words live unaltered. Maybe we’re sorta like information anarchist, except for words…

    I like it.

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    • HA! Seth, this made me chuckle . . . the “often” and “many” bit! ;)

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  25. To be honest, I just like causing a little bit of trouble. ;)

    Thank you, Preston. Thank you.

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  26. I was just shouting about Job on another site and I felt like I might have come off too strong.
    I almost didn’t read this because the picture of “Jesus” offended and scared me. I see him so different, and that’s why I don’t like anyone’s version of “Jesus”. I would rather just picture him as having our hands and feet and faces, because that’s what he really looks like.
    Job told his friends to shut-up and then said he was going to express to God what he really felt and take his own consequences for it. I so often want to tell people to SHUT UP, when they get preachy and quotey. Just sit in the dust and listen, and pray.
    Thanks for letting me vent. May you all be blessed with friends who sit in the dust with you.

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  27. Thanks for letting us look behind the scenes of DS a little bit. A heart “Bravo!” to Nish for her editoral bravery and integrity. This is why I am a happy reader of DS, and perhaps someday even a writer… If that guest post queue ever opens up…

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  28. I am not sure that I have seen an honest and combative comment section here. For example, I was one of the people who asked about Emily’s post. I am a big fan of Emily, but I disagree with the definition of feminism she put forward in that post, and I was fairly certain that other writers on the site would disagree with her as well, so I was curious about the editorial process. I stand by my comments on that post and I was very very careful as I chose my words.

    Nish’s response did not make me feel that any dissent or questions were particularly welcome. Instead, I got the message that I should not question the exclusive club of awesome writers that are so carefully selected, and I read here much less than I used to.

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  29. Shannon

    As a writer who had to pull the plug on a post after an editor changed the content/intentions of the piece-that left a piece which was the editor’s thoughts by my words which I did not feel or was trying to express; I’m grateful for Deeper Story. It reminds me of a coffee house where different thoughts/ideas and feelings can be discussed in safety and with grace towards one another.

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  30. I appreciate this so much.

    How you described what happens on sites where there is one stance, one theology, etc…it’s so true. It’s hard not to feel like you don’t fit in those spaces and then only those that agree exactly or feel like sticking around to argue in the comments, vehemently, will visit.

    I love how we can write here, and our process shows. Our writing process and our life and faith process. We’re all in process. Bumbling along being all human, and it is so rare that we are vulnerable enough to let others in on that. On doubt and confusion and second-guessing or guessing and leaping, hoping and leaning on grace. Most of the time, we humans, so failed, try to present something polished and finished, seemingly perfect and put-together, leaving others to compare themselves and feel either they come up short (and must gush in comments) or that something presented is so concrete that it leaves those that disagree no option but to feel the need to disagree out loud (sometimes vehemently).

    We are vulnerable in the process. Look at me! So imperfect and messy! Telling the truth as it is, no matter how ugly! It’s a bit dangerous, I guess. To cause others to worry over our salvation or some such thing. But maybe this space reveals the truth that we all have mustard seed faith and we’re trying to figure it out the best we can with our broken minds and hearts. It just is.

    I am rambling and there are run-ons.

    oh well.

    thank you so much for this post.

    Heather

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  31. Deeper Story really does create a special place on the internet.

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