CultureJanuary 16 2013
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 public apology is needed, it’s made.
It means that when a story challenges easy theology, it’s shared.
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