Owning your words

By Nicholas Knisely

When Jim Naughton, our esteemed editor-in-chief here at Episcopal Café, approached a few of us with the idea of creating this site, one of the very first things we realized we were going to have to deal with was coming up with a policy on comments left on the posts on this site. We talked amongst ourselves for months weighing the various merits and weaknesses of all the different kinds of policies and moderation strategies that you can find out there. We were concerned about issues of confidentiality, of keeping conversations from turning poisonous and ultimately, should we become successful in creating a place of conversation, dealing with the work-load.

We eventually arrived at our present policy of only allowing comments from people willing to sign them with their real name.

Over the past few months I’ve been trying to write an short essay on why we made that decision and what we hoped to gain from it. This is my third attempt. The other two ended up being rants and not essays. If you’re reading this, then it means I’ve finally managed to put something together that steps back from that edge.

The policy that we’ve set here is not typical of the blog-sphere. It’s closer to the policy of a “Letters to the Editors” page in a newspaper than anything else. That’s probably partly because a number of the people who volunteered their time working on creating this site come from print and journalism backgrounds. (I’m not one of those people. But many of us in the initial discussions have.) That may be why I was one of the folks who objected to the policy initially. I was pushing for a comment policy closer to what you can see on a site like “Digg” or “Slashdot” where anybody is allowed to post pretty much anything – but then the community votes to approve or disapprove what you have said. Posts that are generally disapproved of are buried out of most people’s sight. The net result is that while it is possible to see everything both good and bad, most readers will only see the very best comments unless they actively choose to read the lower rated comments. Eventually I came to see (they didn’t just wear me down…) that the present policy was better than what I wanted after we all came to some shared clarity about what we were trying to do here.

There are lots of blogs and websites on the internet today that represent a polemical point of view within the Episcopal/Anglican Communion. There are eloquent voices, strident voices, quiet and loud voices using various techniques to make their points and to promote their understanding of what it means to be Anglican and how the Communion as a whole should be dealing with the questions that confront us at this moment in history.

But this blog is not meant to be one of those. Sure we’ll talk about the issues, and we’ll talk about the tensions that are arising out of them. And we’ll probably be covering the various viewpoints presented regularly in the blog-sphere. But this site is meant primarily to be a way to support Episcopalians in their daily life of faith, and more importantly to present the Episcopal Church honestly to people who might not know much about it. As we have said elsewhere, there is a decidedly evangelistic intent about the work we are doing here. We mean to present the Episcopal Church as best we can, glories and warts intact, so that people who are seeking to learn more about us will have a chance to do so without having to figure out a way to filter out the internal and external criticism that, while a necessary and important part of Anglicanism, can be a bar to those not steeped in our ethos and, um, conversational methodology.

And, as a way of keeping that focus, we have decided to ask people who comment to remember that they are making public comments in a public space that is meant for outsiders at least as much as it is for insiders. Insisting that people sign their real name to their comments has so far served as useful reminder of that.

We’ve had plenty of push back from potential commentators about this policy. Many are worried that publicly admitting their faith or being open about their beliefs would endanger their careers or to them financially. (NB: This is usually where I start ranting in my earlier attempts to write this piece.) I guess I can hear their concerns and recognize them for what they are. I’m concerned however when that at a moment in history when people are being killed for their faith in many parts of the world, including our own hemisphere, that our unwillingness to be public about our personal faith means we probably have some personal soul-searching to do about how important our own faith ultimately is.

Mostly the policy we set has had the effect we desired. The people who have left comments here have done so in respectful ways honoring the idea that all of us are seeking to serve our Lord Jesus as best we can, even though we may disagree on the details that service should take. Those who are not willing to use their real name have taken their anonymous shots at us on their own blogs, where they are free to use what we have published to further their own missions and agendas. Which is not to say a-priori that said missions and agendas are bad, just that they are not in most cases the same as ours is in this particular corner of God’s cyber-world.

So how’s that? Clearer? Certainly less full of fulminations than my previous goes at it. At least you now know what we on the editorial board were thinking we set this comments policy.

The Very Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely is Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix Ariz. He serves as Chair of the Standing Commission on Episcopal Church Communication, is active in ecumenical works and was originally trained as an astronomer before he was ordained. His blog is Entangled States.

Read the Café’s Feedback Policy.

Past Posts