Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thoughts on the Bloggernacle, Panel

There has been much discussion about the much-discussed panel (and about the bloggernacle as a result -- after seeing a link to this blog post, I wanted to point out that the comma in the title was deliberate!), and I want to throw in my few cents' worth.

First of all, I listened to the recording, and thought the panelists all did a good job. Although I think Kaimi greatly overstated the fraction of the church elephant that the bloggernacle represents, I thought he came up with an interesting analogy. I loved Kristine's more personal approach; she read some powerful blog posts and interesting comments. And for all that Russell said he would be boring, he wasn't. I thought his analysis was well done and well presented. I particularly liked that he recognized the limitations of blogging, but recognized its strengths (conversation and interaction).

And then there was Lisa.

Anyone who has ever listened to her will know that she is funny, fun, and real. She's really a delight to listen to, personable and honest. (I will say that she needs to stop apologizing for who she is or what she think she is not.. She doesn't need a Ph.D. to communicate and to communicate well. :) )

Her honesty is something I appreciated in this panel. When the topic of the panel came up at DMI Dave's blog, I agreed with something said C Jones said about conservatives being somewhat excluded from the bloggernacle. I have seen this dynamic multiple times, and have repeatedly experienced it first hand in the year+ I have been blogging. I have close friends who have also felt this exclusion, to the point of essentially retreating and more or less giving up on commenting, particularly on the "big blogs." Just because some very, very small conservative blogs exist doesn't mean that the bloggernacle is fundamentally a welcoming place for conservatives. It's often not.

And yet, Lisa is possibly the first person I have heard who has so publicly and clearly admitted and recognized this. I read comments and emails from people who say that they care about community (and I believe they do) but few seem to really acknowledge the fact that there is a serious rift in this community or express a desire to do something about it. (I do remember reading a couple of good posts on BCC, one that was fairly recent, that tried to address the potential lack of community. I also have appreciated watching Deborah and Kathryn Lynard Soper recently try to build a bridge of understanding and camaraderie. I'd love to see more of this!)

I'm not saying the rift exists 100% of the time, and I do know that there are those who care deeply about this divide, but it seems there is often a sense of denial and/or defensiveness when the subject is broached. And the rift exists enough to make conservatives sometimes feel unwelcome, hesitant, even driven out. Unless this changes (getting to the question the panel set out to address), I don't see how we could think of the bloggernacle as really representative of Mormonism if it tends to exclude some of the very voices that are more typical of mainstream Mormonism.

So, back to Lisa. I actually couldn't decide whether to cheer or to cry when she quipped that (paraphrasing): "We berate conservatives/orthodox [her words] folks because we don't want to hear what we hear at church" and "we nudge some people like that out, because after all, if they want to talk churchy stuff, they can go somewhere else and do it in their own space." (For now, I'll try to ignore the fact that those in attendance laughed when she joked about berating conservative folks. Imagine if the tables were turned at church. Is berating or nudging someone out ever funny?)

Now, before you go all wonky on me (loved that word; I'm stealing it from Lisa), please don't misunderstand. I totally recognize and appreciate the fact that some people need a place where they can go to sort through their mind vomit (another one of Lisa's clever terms) and to come to grips with dissonance they might feel between the church and some of their personal perspectives. I understand that some people have had bad experiences with people in their family or in their church circle totally dismissing their questions and concerns, and/or unkindly "calling them to repentance." This should not be. Wherever we are, we need to feel loved and listened to, in spite of our questions or concerns or weaknesses. I feel saddened that people like Lisa feel excluded at church and have turned to the bloggernacle for a feeling of acceptance and support. And I am glad that some people have found reasons to stay, thanks to the bloggernacle. I tend to agree that a lot of these discussions really can't happen in a 30-minute Sunday-school lesson.

I do think, though, that we need to somehow learn to talk more freely with fellow church members in our real lives about our struggles. But, alas, I'm getting ahead of myself.

My blogging experience has given me a greater appreciation for the fact that we are all at different places in our journey of faith, and if we turn to God, however and wherever we can, He can bless us and help us move forward. I feel that I have learned better how to listen (even if people don't believe that's true), and I have gained more understanding of different points of view. This is extremely important to me, and it's a big reason why I blog.

But, to be honest, I think that "liberals" don't often take the time to really understand "conservatives'" point of view. Perhaps because conservative points of view have added to people's pain and struggle, I feel sometimes these perspectives are too easily and quickly dismissed. The "I get that at church" mindset often seems to create a barrier to listening and seeking to understand.

So if I may, I want to say this: Just because you hear similar thoughts at church doesn't mean that you really understand those like me who blog, and it doesn't mean our motives are the same as those who may have caused you pain (if their motives were truly malignant). We wouldn't be blogging if we weren't interested in discussion beyond what happens at church as well, so perhaps it's NOT all like what you get at church. :)

And please, please, don't assume that by sharing church-like thoughts, someone's intentions are to self-righteously call someone to repentance, to call someone else an apostate, or to try to shut down discussion. (These are all arguments I have seen repeatedly and usually unfairly used to shut down (nudge out) commenters like me.) Most of the time, people like me are also trying to work through our own thoughts, to understand others' points of view, and sometimes, yes, to represent the oft-underrepresented and -unspoken mainstream point of view. After all, people ARE turning to the bloggernacle more and more for understanding of Mormonism. If we don't allow for mainstream points of view, what kind of disservice might we be doing to the Church and to those who want to understand it?

I've talked about the problem of exclusion of conservatives, and addressed concerns about the public face of the bloggernacle. I have another bloggernacle concern that relates to all of this.

I think that as long as there are divisions -- "ites" if you will -- like liberal and conservative, orthodox and new order (don't know if those are actual opposites, but you get where I'm going), feminist and not-so-feminist, mainstream and closer-to-the-edge, we (either on- or off-line) won't truly be able to be a community. Of course, as Elder Holland recently explained, the blessings of church membership come with a price, and we cannot simply remove the price tag at will, even for the sake of community. But so often, we have rifts between those of us who are striving to pay the price, those for whom church membership is a precious element of life. In fact, I feel that sometimes more effort is made to reach out to those not of or formerly of our faith, rather than to those who might be different from us within the faith.

If all we do is find our corner of the internet to simply be comfortable without sometime, somehow learning to come together in spite of our differences, I think we are missing the full meaning and purpose of our membership. It's not just about personal peace. It's about being one in a community, united in Christ.

I think J. Daniel Crawford said it well in the post I linked to above:

If we were one in Christ, I believe that we would be encouraged to treat everyone as a whole person, not simply as an amalgam of desirable and undesirable characteristics [might I add points of view?].... If we have [the love of Christ] I don’t believe our goal would be to create and reinforce the divisions among us. Instead, we would be bound in one great whole.

I hope that especially those who have power and influence in the bloggernacle will give some consideration to these wise words. Actually, though, I think it is something we all need to consider. I think too often, we allow ourselves to stay stuck in mindsets and modes of interaction that reinforce and facilitate the divisions and contentions that the Lord has asked us to leave behind. I think that only through a love and a unity that binds us together in spite of insecurities, struggles, frustrations, and even misunderstandings will we hope to come close to representing what the gospel and the church are about. Because ultimately, the gospel and church are about the Savior and His saving grace and about coming unto Him, and doing it together -- not about polygamy, or the Word of Wisdom, or politics, or most of the other comment-driving, conversation-producing, controversial topics we may discuss. I think we need to do better about helping people see that side of our faith that so far, the press has largely missed.

Actually, sometimes I think we miss it, too.


M&M said...

So I see that DMI Dave linked back here. I think he sort of missed a lot of what I was saying. Yes, I think the bloggernacle could be more friendly at times to conservatives. But I also have said that we all could do better about being nice, reaching across the divide that often exists. I include conservatives in that. The "us vs. them" thinking most certainly isn't all in the brains of those who are "liberal."

Overall I think there is an interplay here that would require us all to engage in different ways in order for things to improve. FWIW.

Brian D. said...

Great post!

Nitsav said...

What's a conservative? What's a liberal? Without clear definitions of those, I don't know how to evaluate and think about the post. I tend to view myself as a conservative.

Perhaps the definition of the terms deserves it's own post...

RoAnn said...

You stated so well my feelings about the Bloggernacle, m & m. I started participating with comments on Times and Seasons and then other blogs back in 2004, but have gradually pulled back, and often withdrawn completely, because I often felt that my more "conservative" point of view was not welcome on the larger blogs. When I do come back, it is for the reasons you mentioned:

Most of the time, people like me are also trying to work through our own thoughts, to understand others' points of view, and sometimes, yes, to represent the oft-underrepresented and -unspoken mainstream point of view.

Despite the longing we probably all have for more Christ-like unity in the Church, I wonder if the very nature of blogging will tend to make it difficult to achieve in that medium.

As you have observed, a post that is uncontroversial will generally prompt a few comments of praise, and then quietly fade away. One that articulately presents an opinion that the poster knows will generate sparks, many get hundreds of comments. For that reason alone, I fear that it will be very difficult for the LDS blogging community to move beyond a concentration on the "hot-button" issues you mentioned in your final paragraph.

Would that it could.

Seth R. said...

I agree that the bloggernacle can lose something if conservative or orthodox (they aren't actually the same thing) points of view are marginalized.

I think the "progressives" can get too complacent and self-congratulatory if they aren't forced to honestly argue for their positions.

The problem is, the "conservatives" have to be a little more thick-skinned too. They need to realize that the online communities are going to attract a lot of marginalized people. That's just going to be the climate around here, and I doubt it can be changed much. When a conservative comes here, she has to be "ready to play." And she simply can't get all sniffy when it turns out that most of the surrounding voices don't agree with her.

I think it's great to have more orthodox voices who see their own role as being a doctrinal check on the sometimes uncontrolled debate on the bloggernacle. These reality checks really are needed.

But you've got to be tough if that's the role you've picked for yourself. You can't take things personally. You've got to be tenacious. And you definitely can't go crying "foul" every time you get pounced on by about 5 different fellow participants.

M&M said...

Thanks for the commments.
Nitsav, I think you ask good questions. I think generally, those who are "conservative" tend to be ones who follow the "party line" of the church and its leaders, without really challenging that much. Others may create a different definition but that is a simple way I look at it. Of course it's a continuum not a binary measure, though.

RoAnn, thanks for adding your thoughts. I agree that blogging might not ever be conducive to the kind of unity we yearn for.

Seth, you get to part of what I didn't quite get to in my comment. Part of the "us vs. them" problem on the side of conservatives is perhaps pulling away too quickly when opposition comes. I know I have done that at times. That said, the openness to dissenting viewpoints and the sometimes-double-standard that exists where conservatives are moderated more often than even anti-church viewpoints can get annoying pretty quickly.

I still think, though, that the solution ultimately shouldn't be just about thick skin. It's really not that hard to hold back on snarky unkindness, IMO. If we all cared a little more about community, I think we might be amazed at the improvement we would see. Membership in the church in my mind demands us to think about community, not just about our personal needs. So conservatives could stick around a little more, and liberals could think twice before sarcastically or unkindly berating or shutting down a mainstream commenter. (And, of course, sometimes the tables are turned where a conservative can be mean and a liberal walks away, hurt.)

Mary A said...

I appreciate your thoughts on this topic, and I agree right down the line. It's a problem to work on unity when people feel strongly about their viewpoints. I think RoAnn is right, too, about controversial topics being posted most because they bring in the most comments. I don't know what will change things except for us all to try to be kinder and gentler. You do a good job of that, Michelle!

Anonymous said...

I am a "conservative" blogger and I don't feel that my voice has been stiffled or nudged out of the bloggernacle. To be honest, I can't think of a time that I have seen a solid argument in favor of a conservative/mainstream/orthodox position unwelcomed.

The things that meet with a lot of impatience, from my observation of the 'nacle, are dogmatism and judgmentalism. However, it is a big mistake to conflate orthodoxy with dogmatism and judgmentalism. FMHLisa did that in her comments and I found it unfortunate.

To fairly evaluate the claim that conservatives are unwelcome in the bloggernacle, I would really need some examples to work with since I haven't observed it myself. I would be curious to see if it is really conservative views that are unwelcomed, or just a certain style of discourse.

M&M, I have always welcomed (in my own mind) the comments you have made at New Cool, I would be interested to know if I have come across as unwelcoming in the responses I have given there. I hope not.

Jacob J

Geoff said...

Like Nitsav, I am always confused by these conservative vs.liberal Mormon blogs/bloggers posts.

Some people seem to think I'm conservative and and others think I'm liberal. I don't see myself as either. I mostly see myself as faithful/believing yet uninhibited when it comes to exploring the gospel.

So how would you label New Cool Thang or me M&M? Is NCT liberal or conservative in your book?

Geoff J

M&M said...

Geoff and Jacob,
I think there are different cultures on different blogs. In my experience at NCT, I haven't seen as much of that divide of liberal/conservative. FWIW.

Your comment actually gets to part of the problem I have seen. Comments or commenters are sometimes unfairly judged as being judgmental or dogmatic or self-righteous or whatever when that really isn't the intent. Rather than discussing content, things sometimes get too personal and unkind. I think sometimes judgments (and this can happen both ways, I realize) are a bit hasty and sometimes downright mean.

One example that comes to mind was the way Eric N. was treated after he posted something on boj several months ago (has since been taken down because it was so misunderstood). The reaction blew us all out of the water, and we all felt it was unfair and inappropriate and way overblown. I can understand the misunderstanding perhaps, but not the way he was treated as a result. No one deserves the kind of lashing he got. That wasn't even a liberal/conservative thing, though. But it is an example of the kind of misjudgment that comes out sometimes.

A possible example of recent liberal/conservative dynamics--read through a couple of the long posts at fmh from the last couple of months, particularly those on homosexuality and gay marriage.

But I do want to point out that there have also been many situations over the past year+ in my experience where there have been civil discussions in spite of controversial topics. Again, I'm not trying to suggest it's all broken, but I think there are enough instances where people who have avoided commenting, reduced their participation, or left altogether (not simply for want of something different but because of the negatives and negativity and sometimes the mistreatment) to warrant some reflection.

I also just think it's worth we considering whether blogging helps toward unity or strengthens divides. If it's the latter, is there something that can be done to change that?

Kristine said...

M&M, as you know, this is something I've thought a lot about, and I go back and forth in my thinking about whether we ever can really all get along. Lately, though, I've been thinking that, in fact, even a continuum from orthodox/conservative to liberal/heterodox doesn't even come close to describing the dynamics of the discussion in the 'nacle. For one thing, I think some huge fraction of posters, even the ones you would call "liberal," are actively engaged members of the church. It doesn't seem right to me that I can be viewed as somehow less faithful than you (or other conservatives) because I think and speak about the church in a way that differs from some perceived orthodoxy of style. But in some ways, the conservative position really requires this judgment--this is something Adam Greenwood has helped me appreciate. Asking a conservative thinker to tolerate viewpoints s/he finds heretical is, in fact, already asking her to compromise her position, even before the substance of the discussion has been engaged. Liberals demand this all the time, and it isn't really fair--the notion of civil discourse in which different points of view are respectfully tolerated and accorded at least the possibiity of faithfulness is, itself, an offense to certain conservative sensibilities.

Just to take my favorite concrete example (one we've talked about before): Elder Oaks and Elder Hanks and others have, on several occasions, asserted that the use of "Thee", "Thou", "Thine," etc. in prayer is an honorific form of address. I am perfectly comfortable asserting that they are wrong about this as a a matter of grammatical and historical fact, and I don't feel that saying so in any way constitutes a failure to sustain them. For many conservatives, to engage in such a discussion is already offensive--they're not going to respond with arguments that might try to change my mind from a linguistic standpoint; they're going to assert that faithful membership in the church requires that I find a way to believe that Elder Oaks or Elder Hanks is not wrong. It's not so much my opinion on the matter at hand that's a problem, it's the whole way that I think about the question. (And, conversely, when I respond to the conservative who says such an assertion is de facto a failure to sustain my leaders, I'm not going to be able to address his/her disagreement with my grammatico-historical (channeling sam mb!) point, because what s/he's really arguing against is my right to say such a thing at all.)
I'm honestly not sure that is a gulf that can be bridged. I am convinced that there's more we can do to be *personally* kind to those we disagree with--there are plenty of opportunities for friendly chatter and behind-the-scenes kindness that can make a big difference in how we feel about those with whom we may continue to radically and fundamentally disagree. It may be that learning to do that is far more rewarding than any intellectual agreement we might come to anyway. I spent last Sunday afternoon playing with Matt Evans' incredibly adorable children, and it didn't matter at all that Matt and I disagree (and rather vehemently!) about virtually everything we have ever discussed in the bloggernacle. I hope for more of that, and I think (regretfully) that such personal engagement is far more possible than productive discussion between "liberals" and "conservatives." (Expect me on your doorstep next time I'm in Utah :))

danithew said...

Some of the conservatives LDS bloggers are more "evangelical" and less "LDS" in their perspectives of issues. Particularly on the issue of abortion.

I tend to think of these perspectives as more "ultra-conservative" than "conservative" and from my view there is a significant difference.

As I've experienced it, the ultra-conservatives are much more single-minded (and less open-minded) in their approach to things and they speak more loudly than the actual conservatives.

With liberals there tends to be more of a spectrum and they express a broader range of interests, ideas, etc. - which makes them a lot more interesting to read (even if I don't necessarily agree with them). Not that the liberals don't beat their own dead horses ... but maybe they have more than one equine corpse to choose from.

M&M said...

I DO hope that you will stop by if you are ever in my neck of the woods. :)

As to your comment, I think perhaps some conservatives are where you describe them to be (judging righteousness and feeling compromised somehow). But others of us want more to engage in discussion for reasons I listed in my post, and if I'm understanding you, I am not sure you see or understand that.

I think if you (the general you) assume that all conservatives are making judgments or seeking to change minds/get to a place of agreement, you will automatically be on the defensive (which is what
I sometimes run into). Adam Greenwood does not represent all conservatives. :) We can't judge all liberals as unrighteous, but we can't judge all conservatives as judgmental or closed-minded, either.

As such, I disagree that civil discourse and tolerance of different viewpoints demands me to compromise my position (unless I'm expected to never say anything). I really don't get that line of thinking, actually. Not all conservatives think that way, and that is part of what I was trying to communicate in this post. I'm not trying to put forth some image of perfection, because of course that's ridiculous. But I do think that sometimes too many assumptions are made about people like me and it's part of what I see wrong with the 'nacle (just as you feel liberals are sometiemes unfairly judged as unrighteous or apostate or whatever).

We are encouraged to be tolerant of those who see things differently than we do. Even if this is usually given in the context of those outside the church, I think it can apply to us within the church when we see things differently. Besides even "conservatives" can have different opinions on different topics. :) (Ask me how often my conservative sister and I will hash a topic out that we see differently!)

My thought is this: discussion usually won't -- even can't -- be about changing others' minds. When you talk of reaching intellectual agreement, that in and of itself suggests that you might be misunderstanding my present hope and motives. As much as I thrill to connect with someone who sees things the same way I do, I don't expect that when I'm engaged in bloggernacle discussion. Minds don't really change in this sphere and I realize that. But that doesn't mean discourse from all sides can't be civil or even have purpose. But if there is more willingness on "both sides" to listen and be open to the fact that others might think differently, at least we can understand each other better. I just don't see how we can be a community of saints if we can't learn to talk even in the face of differences, and do so respectfully. If we wait to be kind when we have more personal opportunities (where we often avoid talking with those who differ), I think we are missing important opportunities for love and growth. Besides, given what I have heard from some who feel uncomfy at church, I think one key of being able to reach out to such people is to understand them better.

So, if Lisa was in my ward, I would want to be tuned into what things might trigger frustration or concern, and even if she didn't feel comfortable saying something at church, I'd want her to know I would listen to what she has to say, even if I don't agree. Maybe she wouldn't want to talk to me but I would at least want her to know she could, that I care. I don't know how that would be received,, but being on the 'nacle has helped me understand and thus I think (I hope) could help me reach out better to those in my "real life" who share struggles or viewpoints that I have run into here. I would hope that people would respect that kind of desire and not assume that the goal is simply to get everyone to agree or to shut down discussion or to judge righteousness; as I said in my post, I realize that we are all at different places in our journeys. I don't believe we can always all be right, but I do believe it's important to listen and seek to understand and to be understood as well.

I also think it's important, as I said in my post, that conservatives have a voice in a realm that is more and more being sought out to find out more about Mormonism. Liberal discussion just doesn't give a full representation, and I think we should never forget that there is more going on than just the personal desires of the bloggers. People are watching, reading, seeking the bloggernacle out to understand us. One of the things I appreciated about the panel was the recognition of the 'nacle's limitations. I think there are things we could do to make it more of a representative place, though, insufficient as it likely always will be given its constraints and primary reasons for existence (which aren't PR focused).

danithew, Thanks for your thoughts. There might be more of a wide range of views of liberals, but I've sure seen some who are as dogmatic as closed-minded as those you label ultra-conservative. :)

Geoff said...


I think the problem I am having still is that saying "just look at any long post at FMH" does not really help us pin down what the definition of a "conservative" or "liberal" blogger really is. You seem to think you are conservative Mormon blogger, but what makes you sure? What is it exactly that qualifies you to be labeled conservative?

The problems with that post Eric put up at BoJ had more to do with the comments than the post itself. If I remember correctly, he wondered aloud if there are anti-Mormons covertly among us in the bloggernacle. Then some particularly self-righteous sounding commenters took that ball and ran with it making veiled accusations about all sorts of people in our little community. People in our little community did indeed take offense to that little stunt by the commenters. But that's not really a conservative vs. liberal thing is it? It is an issue of being an atrociously rude neighbor in our community by casting vague aspersions on all sorts of others but refusing to let anyone know who is really being badmouthed.

I think Kristine hit the nail on the head though. (And Seth did too in Dave's thread.) There are some subjects that some Mormons feel should bot be discussed at all. So on those subjects even engaging the arguments at all would be seen as unacceptable. That is where the real dividing line seems to be to me -- we have differing lines we don't feel should be crossed when it comes to discussion.

Now I'm not against such lines -- we all have them. The MA crew has been known to pull blogs from the MA feeds for posts we felt crossed our lines too. (Blogs are free to post whatever they want but we are free to yank a feed if we feel a blog is not in harmony with our mission.) But it is a little different when a commenter shows up as a guest and tells the owners of a blog what they can or can't talk about. That obviously is almost never received very well.

Geoff J

M&M said...

I think the problem I am having still is that saying "just look at any long post at FMH" does not really help us pin down what the definition of a "conservative" or "liberal" blogger really is. You seem to think you are conservative Mormon blogger, but what makes you sure? What is it exactly that qualifies you to be labeled conservative?

Geoff, something tells me you haven't read through a thread that i've mentioned. :) It seems pretty obvious to me which comments are liberal and which are conservative in a discussion like the ones I pointed you to.

I should say that I already explained my working definition in an earlier comment anyway. You might have a different one and that's ok, too. According to my definition, I'm a conservative.

There are fewer of those kinds of lines when discussing theology, btw, so maybe you don't bump into this as much. Often, they will coincide with political perspectives and will come out on those controversial topics where prophetic teachings and political views collide.

But in case you are still fuzzy, just to give a general sense from, say, the topic of gay marriage: I see a conservative as someone who thinks the prophets are inspired on that topic and support the concept of marriage and family as taught relative to the eternal plan, who believe children are entitled to be raised by a mom and a dad, and who believe the institution of heterosexual marriage is worth protecting. In short, they believe the Proclamation's teachings on marriage, sexuality and parenthood are inspired. Liberals might take a position that challenges the prophets and thinks they are wrong on these topics, and might even call the proclamation principles uninspired. Some of these people might be card-carrying members and others of them are not or no longer members. Of course, you might find people who are somewhere in between, just as to be expected with any continuum. And sometimes discussion helps us understand the issues on 'the other side' better, which is a big reason why I have sometimes engaged in such discussions.

As for topics that some feel shouldn't be discussed...then more than likely, I doubt those people would care to engage on the discussions. However, I have already acknowledged that some people will want to come in and, like Seth said, try to suggest that discussion should not be taking place in the first place. But what I think perhaps you and Kristine aren't hearing is that I've already moved past that point. I'm addressing bloggers who come with a desire to discuss, not to shut down discussion. I think to assume that people who come in with the mainstream point of view or quotes or whatever are simply trying to shut down discussion or don't want the discussion to take place is an unfair assumption. It's not always going to be an all-or-nothing kind of thing; a lot of times people really are interested in engaging in discussion with people who have different points of view, so I say, let's acknowledge and accept that fact and let it happen.

I also think it's pretty rare when someone actually comes on a blog and "tells the owners of a blog what they can or can't talk about." Of course that would be inappropriate, but I just rarely see it. Just as "liberals" don't want to be judged as unrighteous, "conservatives" don't want to be judged as self-righteous or motivated to simply shut down 'nacle operation. :)

I can think of a specific time when I asked why a discussion was taking place. My intention was not to shut down discussion; I wanted an answer to my question. Were they hoping their comments would change something? Were they looking for validation and support and/or a place to sort through their thoughts? I think this is a valid question for someone who doesn't feel the need to hash out the issues but who wants to participate in discussion to understand and have a chance to discuss in that context (because I sometimes can clarify my thoughts thoughts better when talking with someone who thinks differently, not the same).

Geoff said...

Thanks m&m,

That helps. Especially the example of gay marriage you provided.

I think you are right that the liberal/conservative labels are meaningless when the debate is over things like libertarian free will or viviparous spirit birth. (In fact political opposites JNS and Greenwood teamed up recently in a free will debate at the Thang.)

Having said that, I think that the 'nacle blogs in general are not all for gay marriage (since that is the concrete example on the table). A small handful of people seem to support the idea but I don't get the sense that bloggernacle participants are all for it in general at all. In other words, I get the sense that political conservatives far outnumber liberals on that subject in this online community so I don't really understand the claim that conservative voices are not heard in the bloggernacle based on that example.

Geoff J

Anonymous said...


I think you are right that both sides can misunderstand one another. Each group is prone to interpret the other group in terms of stereotypes. We should all do better. I agree with you on all of those points. So far so good.

Here is the question I want to raise. Is it just misunderstanding that is at the heart of the problem, or is it something deeper? Are the liberals you are frustrated with simply misunderstanding your intent? If they fully understood your intent, do you think they would continue to do the same things you are bothered by?

I was trying to suggest in my first comment here that the real problem is one of misunderstanding. That is, people are not reacting badly to conservative points of view per se, but rather to a certain style of discourse (as they perceive it). The don't get snippy about the fact that someone opposes gay marriage, but rather because they *think* that someone is preaching dogmatically or self-righteously. There is a huge difference.

I think that figuring out the answers to my questions above is crucial because it makes all the difference in how we can make progress going forward. If it is simply a matter of misunderstanding, that is something we should be able to solve. Convince them you are not trying to be dogmatic or self-righteous and problem solved.

If I am right that it is primarly a misunderstanding of each other's intents, then it would also mean that the problem is not nearly as "deep" as it sounds in some of the descriptions here. It may be that the "liberals" are actually open to dissenting points of view just as it turns out that you are not trying to shut down discussions. Kristine describes a kind of problem that would be much more fundamental, but since you have indicated that is not the kind of problem you are talking about, I am hopeful that it might be something much more simple stemming from a lack of each side understanding the intents of the other.

What do you think?

Jacob J

C Jones said...

Nice post Michelle, and great discussion. Just to be clear, in my comment on Dave's post I didn't claim that the bloggernacle needs to be nicer to conservatives, or that their voices aren't being heard.

I had 3 basic points:

1- There are a large number of Mormons who don't read or participate in blogs-- who in my experience (4 wards in 4 local communities in the last 6 years) are not represented by the kind of discussions and opinions that are common in the 'nacle. I'm just stating this, not passing judgment about it.

2- When I said that it seemed like the conservatives had been chased away lately, I was referring to a specific incident and its aftermath-- which seems to me to be much less participation lately and commenting by those who were involved. I was not referring to a conspiracy against conservatives in general.

3- and Michelle expresses my last concern better than I did when she says:
"I also think it's important, as I said in my post, that conservatives have a voice in a realm that is more and more being sought out to find out more about Mormonism. Liberal discussion just doesn't give a full representation, and I think we should never forget that there is more going on than just the personal desires of the bloggers. People are watching, reading, seeking the bloggernacle out to understand us."

I think that the conversation has taken a helpful turn away from the con vs lib thing, and more towards the real issues.

a random John said...

Imagine if the tables were turned at church.

You mean they aren't? Ha!

Mark IV said...


This is a useful conversation to have, I think. We agree on some things, but I want to outline where we differ.

First, I think you are painting with too broad a brush. The bloggernacle is not an undifferentiated mass of monolithic opinion, so I think you are stretching too far to make Lisa's pronouncement about her blog apply to the 'nacle as a whole. You might be interested in comment # 45 on this thread. Also, comment #34 is instructive, and #48 is just a restatement of what Lisa said on the panel. I would argue that FMH is atypical in that regard, not typical.

Second, I think the mainstream of Mormonism is much broader than you seem to think. The SSM example fits your argument, so I don't blame you for using it. But if we define a mainstream member as someone who accepts the official church position, we lose many of the SSM opponents when it comes to abortion (many of them want an outright ban, the church position requires that it be legal), and stem cell research, where the church has reiterated it neutral position. Again, many of the SSM opponents think the church isn't going far enough in that area. And the latest example is that many people who consider themselves mainstream have denounced PBS's The Mormons while the official church web site praised it. So, who best represents the church? I think that is a lot more difficult to pin down than you apparently do.

I think there is a good reason why members who are politically liberal thrive in a weblog format, once they get past their angst. They have spent their lives swimming upstream, and they have had to explain and justify their views repeatedly. They have, of necessity, developed their arguments and their skills in presenting them in a way that politically conservative members never have to. Conservative commenters often have sound underlying positions, but they do a bad job of explaining them. Not surprising, really, since they don't get much practice. But I think it is incorrect to conclude that conservative views are unwelcome in the 'nacle. The presence of Nate Oman is an insurmountable counter-argument, imo.

M&M said...

If berating and nudging out happen at church, do you think that's a good thing? ...You have sort of made my point for me. :)

Jacob J.
These are good questions. I guess I'm hopeful that the misunderstandings and challenges are more at the fixable level, but I suspect in some situations that may not be the case. I think so much depends on our individual motives, then pooled together. Why do we blog? If it's only for personal reasons, then perhaps we won't care about community aspects of it all. My feeling is that unless we all take a step back and consider our community in addition to our personal needs (how we relate to each other vs. how we should as part of the family of Christ) and how we represent ourselves to the 'outside' then we will tend to do each other a disservice (at least at times) and possibly do the Church a disservice. Maybe I'm too worried about this, but I do think it's at least worth talking about.

But Mark IV brings up a good point, one that I realized pretty clearly last nite, but was too tired to clarify (even though I have tried to communicate this to some degree). I realize that my negative experiences that I have described often involve a part of the bloggernacle and only a part of my experience, certainly not the whole thing. (Ha. Thus, my experiences are not representative either. What a surprise.)

BTW, C Jones, I'm sorry if you feel I misrepresented your comment. Thanks also for sharing your thoughts and clarifying what you meant.

If there weren't positives about blogging, I wouldn't do it. I like it for lots of reasons. But my nature is to also want to see improvement where it's possible. And since I do know many people who avoid commenting, who have pulled back on commenting, or who have stopped commenting altogether -- and not just on fmh - then I worry. But believe it or not, I also worry because I feel that sometimes "liberals" are misunderstood (sometimes I find myself defending them when someone rolls their eyes at things discussed here, or when people roll their eyes at the fact that I like to blog).

M&M said...

One other thought...I think one thing that triggered my 'aack" reflex was the blurb printed on the KCPW site where the interviewe\ with Lisa was posted.

"Say a reporter is working on a story about Mitt Romney and wants to know what everyday Mormons think about the would-be President. Where do they turn? Increasingly, it's the Internet where Mormons are blogging boldly and in larger numbers than ever before. KCPW's Julie Rose explores how LDS bloggers defy stereotypes and may be redefining Mormonism."

Sure, fmh may not really represent the 'nacle, but yet, it's a place where a lot of traffic and the press often goes to figure out more about us. Like I said before, it's one thing when blogging is just for the bloggers, but now the world is looking to Mormon blogging to find out what we think about things, the controversial topics that keep the world all charged up. That in my mind should make us all a bit nervous, a bit more anxious to be sure that we get some more everyday Mormonism in our blogging. :) To each try to do more to make sure that blogging also gives visitors a bigger piece of the elephant, or the pie, or whatever other analogy you want to use. :)

If we and the press recognize the limitations and parameters of the online blogging world, that's one thing. I heard Kaimi, Russell and Lisa all did a good job recognizing those limitations in the panel, and I think that's good. And Kristine helped pull out some of the things that can capture some of our shared love of Mormonism. But that KCPW blurb suggests to me that perhaps the press doesn't realize the limitations of this sphere, at least not as much as it should. And that leaves me a bit uncomfortable.

Maybe there is nothing we can do to really change the inertia/dynamics that exist on the 'nacle. But maybe there are little, for example, making sure the blogs and aggregators connect back to official Church pages (I noticed that even doesn't have anything like that, at least not what I could see. I could only find one of the bigger blogs with such a link (T&S) and even that was a little buried in the sidebar.) Little things like that, IMO, could at least make it possible for visitors to know we aren't official anything, and give them quick access to official sites, like, and the Newsroom site. I actually find it interesting that more sites don't do that. It'd be a better way to 'represent' Mormonism if we link to the sites that actually officially do. :)


C Jones said...

M&M, I don't think that you misrepresented me at all! Sorry, I struggle with writing clearly, and I often come across much more sternly that I intend. I just wanted to say that in my opinion, I don't consider the problem to be conservatives vs liberals. Or even a need for more kindness, etc...

My concern kicks in, as you say so well in your last comment, when the larger world starts to look to Mormon bloggers to define Mormonism.

Geoff J said...


Check the right sidebar again at Those links to official church sites have always been there.

M&M said...

Thanks, Geoff. I was afraid I might have missed something like that.

BTW, my thought about this is not just concerning the press. I think they likely know where to go for official information. But I think I recall Lisa suggesting that some people have come to fMh as their sort of first contact with Mormonism. I wouldn't be surprised if that is happening more often, particularly with regard to more "controversial" topics. If you google on such topics, it's not likely to get the official web sites. If we are lucky, people will get the 'nacle before they get anti sites. But it seems a simple thing to help people like this see not only the cultural and conversational, but have access to the official via our 'nacle sites.

Kristine said...

Here's an idea to try on for size: the blogosphere as a whole tends to skew liberal. Maybe it's better for liberal Mormons to be the ones representing Mormonism on blogs.

M&M said...

Kristine, I'm not sure I follow your logic. Are you advocating that the blogosphere be wholly liberal? Help me understand why you think that would be helpful. ?? How would this be accomplished? By self-selection? By 'nudging out' "conservatives"? This one has me scratching my head. I must be missing something....

SilverRain said...

I haven't yet read all the comments (my husband is impatiently waiting for me to realize it's past bedtime) but I will say that this is the sort of post I wish I could post, Michelle. I also wish I had seen it sooner, but I've been a little MIA lately.

I'll catch up on it later, but for now, thank you.

Kristine said...

m&m, I'm not actually advocating anything. I'm saying that the open nature of blogging (no appeals to authority or credentials, free-form discussion, etc.) tends to attract people who are temperamentally "liberal." I think, given this fundamental reality, that the bloggernacle is not any more likely to attract Mormon conservatives than the rest of the blogosphere has been at attracting other conservatives. That might be ok. I'm advocating letting the blogs be what they are, not trying to impose some artificially constructed balance--the medium works strongly against that, regardless of how well-intentioned the participants are.

M&M said...

Kristine, FWIW, I don't advocate an artificially imposed balance, either.

Anonymous said...

KHH, your 9:24 is very good.

Your notion that the blogosphere is generally liberal probably says more about the portion of the blogosphere you read than anything else. To the extent its true, it probably has less to do with liberals being more open-minded and thoughtful and yippee-ki-yay than that the demographics of blogging skew in the direction of people with chattering class careers and less in the way of marriage, family, and church commitments.

When it comes to not artificaly imposing a balance, may I take it that you are relatively unconcerned with the ratio of men to women in the blogosphere and are disgusted with the attempts of many blogs in the Bloggernacle to recruit women bloggers and foster women's voices?

-Adam Greenwood

Tigersue said...

I started to engage in dialogue on many of the Bloggernacle blogs. I soon discovered my opinions really did not matter, not to anyone. My comments were largely ignored, or if they were, attacks came immediately. Frankly I think many of us just avoid it because we don't need the grief.
Maybe that means we need a thick skin. I have no idea.
I have also learned through my journey that I am not a good writer, so why should I bother. I do this for fun, not the stress. I would imagine that lots of Conservative voices stop interaction because,
1. They feel ridiculed
2. They feel absolutely stupid and uneducated
3. They get worn out with the same discussions over and over again.

I know I fit in that category.

M&M said...

Tigersue, for what it's worth, I think you have lots of good things to say and I'm sorry you have felt that no one listens. I hope that if you enjoy it, you will continue to share your thoughts. I know what you mean about feeling not smart enough. I think a lot of us feel that way at times, but I think it ought not to be. (If you listened to the recording, you will see that Lisa struggles with those kinds of feelings, too.) :)

Adam, can you enlighten me? What are "chattering class careers"? :) (Tigersue, enter in an example where I feel dumb.)

M&M said...

And I think Adam raises an interesting point. If women were the ones being 'berated' (and people thought that was funny) and 'nudged out' (even if only on a couple of blogs) would we think that was harmless or tolerable?

I don't mean to harp on Lisa's words, but I think they do capture what sometimes happens, even if subtly, likely "both ways."

I don't think there should be a deliberate artificial balance of men and women (or of conservatives and liberals) in the Church or the 'nacle for the sake of numbers. But I do think that regardless of where we 'meet together oft' we ought to be treating each other and each other's thoughts with sensitivity and respect and charity. It's not really balance that I'm most concerned about. It's unity and community.

Call me crazy, but I think blogging could help us toward that goal in our real-life religious lives if we let it. I also think it could hurt those efforts if we don't realize where the '-ites' are and try to be 'one in Christ" regardless of the medium.

Yes, in case you are wondering, I am a bit of an idealist. :)

Kristine said...

Adam--any grounds for your suggestion that liberals have fewer family and church obligations than anyone else??

And, actually, I do think attempts to recruit women's voices just because they are women's voices is misguided, as you may recall from discussions at T&S.

Tigersue said...

You asked about feeling "dumb". I am not sure I can give a specific example, I have avoided most of the blogs for a very long time that they are far and few in between. I think what I notice is many of the "liberal" bloggers, are what I would term "intellectual". They use the tactics of debate and world views to a practiced precision. If someone argues the point without the same dedication, I have noticed then the use of "see you don't know what you are talking about", sort of statements. I am not sure that makes sense, but unless someone has the determination to look up supporting arguments it becomes a battle of words that never ends.

Connor said...

Great post, Michelle!