I have always welcomed comments, and have been pleased by the noticeable recent increase in their number. Up to now, I have not been troubled by too mnay that have been hostile, but after a few (very few) in recent days, it is perhaps time to clarify my approach in handling them: to publish or not to publish, and to respond, or not to respond.
In general, I am allergic to rigid rules of all kinds, so will not attempt to spell out any here. Instead, I apply just three guiding principles, which can be collapsed into a single one: I aim to accept for publication any comment that appears (in my personal judgement) to show humanity, courtesy, and sanity.
Let me explain.
By “humanity“, I mean this in the simplest, literal sense, “human” as opposed to machine driven spam. I have a spam filter which (thankfully) removes identifies this for me, but still leaves me with the option to override the filter if I think there is a chance that there is a real person behind it. Usually, in cases of uncertainty, I will give the comment the benefit of the doubt, but there are still some where I am dubious and accept the filter’s judgement. As I can make mistakes, I suggest that to avoid being confused with a machine, just take one simple step to avoid errors on my part: please make it clear what you are commenting on. General statements like “good post”, without being more specific about what or why you thought was good, can apply to anything whatsoever, and will often be rejected as spam. I may still accept it if the email address looks like a personal one, but to be safe, make it easy for me: include at least a word or to to show that you have actually read the content.
“Courteous” should not need spelling out, and nor will I do so. In practice, at this stage I have printed some offensive remarks directed at myself (I have broad shoulders and can take it, and also disapprove strongly of censorship in principle), but I give fair warning that I will not accept rudeness directed at other commenters. Even with broad shoulders, I still do not like being called “lazy or incompetent or corrupt” by someone who knows nothing about me and has clearly not read any of my earlier postings, so has no basis for making such a judgement. (See “anon“, responding to my post on lesbian parents, and to my reply to the first comment.) There is a limit to how much of this I will accept. Nevertheless, my bias will still be to publish, but not necessarily to respond, and not necessarily to publish repeated rudeness from any one person.
“Sanity” is more complex and completely subjective, which is a test I apply not to the decision to publish, but to respond, which is a separate issue. To understand my position here, consider the nature of the site and its intended audience. This is strictly a personal blog, totally independent of any other person or organisation. It exists as a platform for me to share my thoughts , and information that I believe will be helpful to my intended audience. This audience comprises primarily lesbians, gay men and other sexual minorities grappling with the perceived hostility of so many inside and outside the churches, and others who are troubled by the many obvious instances of the abuse of power within the Church. It is intended to offer help and support to a defined group of people who could do with it. I leave it to my growing band of readers to decide whether I achieve this aim or not.
It is not my aim to act as some sort of amateur academic review, fact – checking every report out of reputable newspapers, or tracking down and evaluating the methodology of every research study I might mention. As it happens, I generally do check for additional sources and verification for anything that comes from a source I do not already know and trust, and will usually try where I can to go back to the original source, and not simply work from the first available reprint I see on the internet. Much that I come across I reject – but such materials my readers would obviously never be aware of . There is also a great deal of important and reputable material that I read but do not publish, simply because there are limits to what I can do, or want to do, on any given day. Not providing a comprehensive review of all available research on a finding widely accepted in professional circles hardly makes me “lazy incompetent or corrupt.” When this charge was levelled, I published and responded. When the same person later wrote again, alleging that my attempt to provide the justification I had been asked for amounted to “cherry-picking” and “name-dropping” , repeating the charge that I am somehow “corrupt”, I again published and replied – but only to say that I will not again respond to such obvious and unjustified hostility.
I have a similar response to those, like another contributor yesterday, who can offer nothing more helpful than yet more repetition of the old demands to follow blindly the teaching of “mother church”. There are two distinct problems with this. In the first place, and most importantly, it is simply not helpful to the people this site is intended for, those who are fully aware of the teachings of mother church and find them flawed. This site is not intended to convert, but to help. The comments are not there for preaching, but for sensible discussion. Anybody who wishes to use them as a simple soapbox to repeat parrot-fashion the tired old mantras we have heard so often before, will have them published on principle, but don;t expect me necessarily to dignify them with a full response. That is not the purpose of this site. If you really feel you must simply preach to those you judge to be “sinners”, go and do it elsewhere.
The second problem I have with this mantra, is it never clarifies which teaching of the church it is referring to. There is always an assumption that the reference is to following teaching on sexual ethics (especially between people of the same gender), but the church also has important teachings on the obligation in certain circumstances to follow conscience over teaching, and to to speak up to the clergy where we believe their teaching or conduct is wrong. There is important teaching on standing up for justice, and against making judgements on the state of another person’s conscience. There is a strong tradition also that theology must be based on the findings of science, on reason, and on prayerful reflection on lived experience, and an emphasis also over the last century on the Social Gospel, with all its implications for public policy on health, education, welfare and labour issues. Yet many of the people who insist on blind obedience seem unable to obey themselves on these other parts of teaching. For this reason, those who use these slogans without evidence of their own thought , will also find themselves publish, but probably with limited response.
None of this means that I will not accept dissenting views. On the contrary, I welcome thoughtful comment, as I have said from the start. I am no expert, and willingly acknowledge that my thinking and assumptions and conclusions may well be flawed. I will always consider helpful observations, and have found in the past that many comments, here and elsewhere, have pointed out my errors and led me to correct them, even to revise my thinking. Just last week, I responded respectfully to a dissenting and rational comment not only be publishing and replying but also by publishing a specific link to her own blog on theology.
But to qualify as the “sanity” that I require for a guaranteed response from me, please make sure that there is some evidence of thought, not slogans – and that it is helpful to my readers, not preaching at them.
To all my more supportive readers, thank you again for your very welcome comments and contributions. I do aim to respond where I can, but ocasionally find that I simply have nothing more to add. If I have not made a personal response, please do not be offended. It probably means that I am in full agreement, or possibly just tired. (I am four hours ahead of EST, and sometimes read new comments on the point of bedtime.)