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Renewing our commitment to the scope, aims and tone of the forum

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#1 Archimandrite Irenei

Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 31 October 2012 - 05:10 PM

Dear members and readers of the Discussion Community;

The Monachos.net Discussion Community has existed for twelve years on the belief that internet discussions, while always fraught with the inherent risks of depersonalisation and technological disassociation, can nonetheless still be used for the good of the Church if they are held in a focused manner, consonant with the Church’s life and teaching.

We began in 2000, and we continue today, nearing the close of 2012, as an attempt to foster that type of productive, helpful discussion within the context of a specialised, focused forum community. Our very specific, exclusive aim is to promote the study of Orthodoxy in her patristic, monastic and ecclesiastical heritage; that is, to bring participants to a better, more authentic and more articulate understanding of the Orthodox Church, grounding this aim in the witness of the Fathers, Church life and practice, liturgical and conciliar testimony, etc. Our aim has always been to foster in-depth, constructive, critical discussion of these matters, always with the explicit aim of drawing out more clearly the Church’s teaching and witness.

This has meant that, from the very beginning, we have articulated a very specific scope to the Discussion Community, which in many ways sets it apart from other discussion environments. First and foremost, given the forum’s purpose, we have always explicitly and emphatically stated that the Discussion Community is not an opinion forum, and the free expression of one’s opinion (on Orthodox subjects or otherwise) is neither our purpose nor within the scope of conversations we seek to foster. Gathering together personal opinions and putting them in dialogue is not a way to draw participants towards the deeper life and testimony of the Church, but only to reinforce personal positions, stances, and the like. Instead, the Discussion Community seeks to use constructive, brotherly, critical dialogue to help bring people’s understandings out of the realm of ‘opinion’ and into concert with the mind and life of the Church.

Our specific aim also means other points of narrow, concise focus. The Discussion Community does not host conversations on ecclesiastical political matters; it does not host discussions on the political/social realm; it does not host discussions on ‘Orthodoxy vs. Protestantism’ or other faith traditions; it does not host discussions on what constitutes Orthodoxy or whether Orthodoxy is correct, true or authoritative. On this last point in particular, we operate from a clear definition of Orthodoxy as stated in the forum’s Terms of Use, and under the firm belief that this Orthodoxy is Christ’s Church and truth -- our discussions take this as a given starting point, not a matter to be argued towards or requiring to be proved. As to other topics and realms of discussion: by limiting the focus of this forum we have never suggested that those issues are not important for Orthodox Christians or should not be carefully studied, discussed and engaged in; but they are outside the scope of this forum, which exists for other purposes. There are locations across the internet where other topics can be addressed carefully and with due focus (e.g. Church and politics, Orthodoxy and other faiths, etc.), and from the first day of our operation we have always encouraged members to be active on other sites that discuss such matters. The Discussion Community does not seek to be, nor pretend to be, the forum for the scope of all good and necessary Orthodox discussion; it seeks, instead, to be an environment for the good and necessary discussion of one realm of Orthodox study.

It should be noted that our specific focus and scope has always upset some people. Given that almost every other forum on the internet was in 2000 (and remains today) driven by the free-for-all exchange of opinions, a forum that worked on a different model is precisely that: different. People have at times been surprised to find ‘my perfectly reasonable opinion’ cited as off-topic; contributors desiring to raise interfaith issues or to question definitions of Orthodoxy and the Church have sometimes been affronted to have such conversations terminated as outside the scope of the forum -- but we have maintained our clear aims, focus and content precisely so that discussion here can be something unique, safe, comfortable yet critical, and ultimately that which draws one closer to the life of Orthodox Christianity.

How this focus is kept.

The first step in maintaining this unique environment is the existence of our Terms of Use: an extensive document outlining our scope, aims and focus, and clear terms of interaction for this Discussion Community. This is a document linked to on every page of the forum, and which every member must explicitly agree to abide by, as part of the account registration process. This document is more than just a collection of rules and policies: it outlines our aims, our focus, our scope, our intentions, etc. It also outlines several of the Community’s key customs and attributes, such as the necessity for politeness, dispassion, and the openness both to hearing others when they are wrong (rather than simply attacking or condemning them), so as to be able to offer correction; as well as the need to receive correction when it is given from the scope of the Church’s heritage.

In order to keep discussions within our scope, as defined by our Terms of Use, the Discussion Community is a more stringently moderated forum than many others. While posts are never censored or edited by moderators in any way (the only exception being if a post has severe formatting problems; a moderator might offer to edit the post to make it more easily readable), we do actively put a stop to conversations that are outside the forum’s scope. When this is possible through guiding and directing discussion as it takes place, this is our favoured approach; however, when necessary, threads are removed that are clearly off-topic, and posts within threads may be deleted if they are outside the forum’s scope, or violate our rules on polite, constructive Orthodox discussion. When we have members routinely skirting the boundaries of appropriate interaction with the forum, we apply post-by-post moderation to help him or her learn the best way to interact with the Community, and we have a warning/infractions system that is similarly meant to help people see where conversations are leaning in a direction outside our scope, and bring things back to a finer order. Is this more moderation than might be found on other fora? Yes, indeed; but it is necessary to help us all overcome some of the temptations and pitfalls of internet interactions, and the forum is committed to this approach whole-heartedly.

In a sense, we have always envisaged the Discussion Community along the lines of an open conversation amongst students within an Orthodox ‘class’ on Church life, history and thought. In such conversations there is a certain flexibility to topics and approaches, as each ‘student’ (and we are all students) asks and approaches questions in a different way; but discussions which start to go beyond the focus of the ‘classroom’ are stopped. This has always been the role of our moderators: to ‘nudge’ conversations back to the work of the Community, which is to shape understandings by and to the heritage of the Church.

Some trends in recent months, and a correction.

For whatever reason, certain seasons draw out more heated discussions and tempers than others, and over recent months the Community has seen a few too many threads that transformed into topics well outside our scope, or descended into conversational styles totally outside our tradition here in the forum. There has been a tendency towards ad hominem arguments, rash judgements, harsh words, defensiveness and repetition, etc.

Rather than try to focus on the whys and hows of this, let me please explain how we shall move forward, in order to ensure that the good order, spirit and focus of this Discussion Community remains.

For the month of November, we will be dedicating ourselves to a renewed attention to the forum’s focus and purpose, including not only our topics of discussion but also our tone and type of interactions. This means that we will be doubly attentive towards removing posts/threads that are off-topic, and eliminating conversations and posts that are made outside the spirit of the forum. All of us at times speak in ways we should not, and all of us at times need correction and assistance; so please do not feel personally affronted if, in the scope of this renewed attention to our aims, you find your post removed if it was part of a tangent rather than the actual scope of discussion; or if a moderator returns your post to you for re-wording if it borders on polemic, ad hominem, passionate, etc.

I shall personally be going through some of the threads which, over the past few months, have become overly heated, tangental and inappropriate (there have only been a few), removing the inappropriate/tangental content and leaving in the threads those posts which contribute properly to the discussion.

At the same time, please be specially attentive in your postings and replies. Seek dispassion as a high aim in your words and in making your points. Seek to speak the truth in love, firmly or gently as love may demand, but always with the aim of drawing others towards the fulness of the truth. Seek to forgive the mistakes of others rather than condemn them, and then engage with error as something to be explored, identified and corrected. Remember the Scripture: ‘Thy gentleness hath made me great,’ and post accordingly. Correct firmly but gently; receive correction humbly and gratefully. Do not seek to put words in others mouths or attack arguments made of straw. And remember that comments made as quick, off-the-cuff reactions in the heat of emotion are almost always counter-productive. A correct point, made without love, is dead and lifeless. A point made in anger, despising the other, is simply demonic.

I am certain that some renewed focus on our aims, manners, focus and behaviour will quickly return us to that positive spirit and Orthodox ethos we have always strived to maintain. May the Lord bless us in this work!

INXC, Archimandrite Irenei

#2 Archimandrite Irenei

Archimandrite Irenei

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Posted 31 October 2012 - 05:11 PM

Dear members and contributors to our discussions;

As I indicated in my above posting, as part of our November focus on maintaining the Discussion Community’s scope, aims and environment, the ‘cleaning up’ of several threads - which have been more ‘volatile’ over the past months - will be taking place. This means that any and all posts within such threads that are off-topic, tangental or otherwise inappropriate, will be removed so that the thread can be returned to its proper focus and tone.

Please note that in this process of culling threads of tangential and/or inappropriate posts, it is sometimes necessary to remove posts which contain good and proper information in their own right, but which, offered as part of tangential lines of discussion, would only encourage a return to off-topic conversation if left in the thread.

This is a regrettable necessity in culling threads, which is why we try to limit this activity and only employ it when absolutely required.

Please accept my apologies to any whose good and worthwhile points have had to be removed for this reason. Please try to understand the need to reign in these discussions as a whole and bring them within the scope of the forum; and understand that not every post that is removed is deleted because it was inappropriate -- sometimes whole tangental tracks (the appropriate posts along with the inappropriate) simply need to be excised from a thread, in order to bring it back to a constructive point of conversation.

INXC, Fr Irenei

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