All too often, I'm seeing responses that present the Western Evangelical Protestant position on a topic (usually a question of soteriology, in my experience) as the universal Christian one. It's one thing to say "This is what I and others who worship in the same manner as I do believe, but we recognize that other Christians don't necessarily agree--I think they're wrong for these reasons, but you should know that these other perspectives do exist and have their own answers to my criticisms;" it's quite another to present one's position in a way that simply pretends that other perspectives on Christians simply don't exist and instead make one's own position out to be the one definitive, universal, and indisputable "Christian" answer to the question.

How can we encourage responses that are more respectful of the fact that there are often severe differences among Christians on important, even essential, matters?

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Can you be more specific? Where have you felt minority views have been marginalized? (Specifically recently). Most of the feedback I am aware of from those holding minority views has been to suggest they feel well respected by our community guidelines. But maybe I only hear the good stories, too... –  Flimzy Jan 1 '12 at 9:43
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Consider the answers from Caleb, Cryst, and vonjd on Can an atheist go to heaven? Among those three answers, both opposing poles are represented, and yet neither of them acknowledge that theirs is not a universal Christian position (indeed, the position taken by Caleb and Cryst are very much minority Christian positions) or is not indisputable and definitive. Contrast that with the answers given by J.T. Hurley, leonbloy, myself, and DJClayworth –  Steely Dan Jan 1 '12 at 9:50
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A similar situation can be found at Is Hell eternal, or do some/all escape it? Only David Archer and myself acknowledge that the answer we provide is not the oneuniversal, definitive, and indisputable "Christian" answer but are very clear that we are either providing a multitude of perspectives to consider (or that those other perspectives exist and are legitimate) or that we are giving the position held by one specific group of Christians. –  Steely Dan Jan 1 '12 at 9:51
    
It's one thing if the contrary position is held by such a small number of self-professed Christians that the person posting the answer can be excused if he or she was not aware of it (see, for example, Caleb's answer on christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/5136/… His is excusable, I think, because I suspect I might be literally the only person who thinks the way I do and indicate in my own answer to the question). But in the examples I gave above, Byzantine Orthodoxy is hardly on the fringes of Christianity. –  Steely Dan Jan 1 '12 at 9:55
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To be clear, I'm not talking about marginalizing minority positions, necessarily. What I'm referring to is when people answer as if there are no opposing viewpoints held by any Christians and make no acknowledgment of those viewpoints' existence, especially when there are opposing viewpoints held by considerable segments of Christianity (like Byzantine Orthodoxy, for example). –  Steely Dan Jan 1 '12 at 9:58
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At the time that question was asked, the current question guidelines didn't exist. As such, that particular question should probably be edited to fit the current guidelines, or closed. –  Flimzy Jan 1 '12 at 18:06
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3 Answers 3

If you look at the Area 51 stats you might see something odd. Right now I'm #2 for most active on the site, but #8 for rep - But I'm also the only guy with a Catholicism badge. So, either:

  1. My answers uniformly suck,
  2. Catholicism isn't particularly popular here.
  3. The general questions which I attempt to answer from a Catholic perspective don't get a lot of traction.

I'd tend to think (3) is the reason for the discrepancy and is what needs to be taken care of. There's really no reason for us to vote on answers coming from different perspectives. If 'general Christianity' questions are fair game. It's not a popularity contest (since there are far more Catholics in the world than Protestants or Orthodox). It's not a who is right contest (since the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth, but it's not always understood that well by those who adhere to it or even defend it). It's a who is here contest, which makes no sense and totally subverts the point of voting on questions and therefore should make those questions unwelcome.

I really hated the draconian measures they took on programmers.SE, but here - I think we need the mods to archive all the questions that can be used as bad examples. I'd imagine that'd be quite a bit of work by now.

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That stinks. Votes ought to roughly correspond to quality, not popularity on the site. For what it's worth, there are some thoughts as to what a vote means on the Biblical Hermeneutics meta that might be of interest. –  Jon Ericson Jan 4 '12 at 22:56
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I guarantee you that #1 on your list is not the problem. Your answers are quite good. You're probably spot-on here as well. I also think it's #3. I think the site simply needs more visitors from Catholics, and others to help balance things out. –  David Stratton Jan 11 '12 at 4:24
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I think #3 makes sense, but not because Catholic questions/answers are unwelcome... but because many of us don't have the knowledge necessary to know a good Catholic answer from a bad one. I often upvote Peter's answers, and those of other Catholics, or other traditions I am not a part of. But only when I am sure that it's actually a good answer; which means there are many times when I simply cannot (in good conscience) upvote. It is a form of discrimination, but not based on the demographic of the answerer, but based on the knowledge (or ignorance) of the voter. –  Flimzy Feb 4 '12 at 6:23
    
I think part of it can also be a knowledge issue. I don't often vote up Catholic perspectives, not because I don't want to vote for a position I don't agree with that is well written, but rather because I can't personally attest to the accuracy of the position being reflected. If I know enough to be able to attest that it is a good answer for that view, I'll generally vote up. –  AJ Henderson Feb 3 at 16:14
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Addressing this is something that was tried recently, with mixed results.

Over the last few months, various members of the community have spent a great deal of time discussing and refining the rules for questions and answers on this site.

One of the proposed ideas was to try to encourage that questions be phrased to ask for a particular denominational or doctrinal view. That's partly why there are questions like "What do Catholics say about..." or "How do Baptists view..."

While that did a lot to clean up the truly awful posts on the site, it did limit the questions a bit, and the price was that it was quite de-motivating. From my perspective, the primary issue that this caused was that you needed to have a more than passing understanding of Christianity to even ask a decent question. The standard actively prevented "seekers" from asking questions, and drove people away that may have gained some benefit from the site.

I don't know if the moderators are still actively pushing this, but it seems to have settled down a bit. There seems to be a line between allowing "sloppy" questions and over-regulating the questions. Finding the line has been a battle for the moderators and the community. In my opinion, the site is now where it needs to be on that line.

While I think that your concern is valid, I'd be hesitant to address it in the form of changing standards for the site, or making an official stance on it simply because I think it would push us back to the "too rigid" side of the line, and would discourage participation.

I think a better approach would be to use the following approaches, based on the question:

  • Be sure you're phrasing your own answers as you'd like to see them phrased (which I'm sure you are)
  • Post opposing doctrinal answers, taking time again to phrase them as you'd like to see them phrased - specifying the doctrinal view from which the answer derives.
  • Gentle, polite, helpful comments on answers that are valid from a doctrinal stance, but speak as if they are speaking for everyone. There's nothing wrong with a comment like "This is a perfectly valid answer from the Armenian point of view, but not all Christians would agree... The Calvinist view states..."
    • One of the best things I see moderators do on this site is post helpful comments and include phrases like "this could be a perfectly acceptable answer if..."
  • Use the power of the down-vote.
    • Not everyone cares, but some do.
    • I personally hate voting people down without leaving a comment about why, because I see a down-vote as an opportunity to learn. Simply voting someone down doesn't teach them anything, but voting them down with a comment can.
    • That said, comments aren't required when down-voting. I'm just saying they're helpful.
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On any SE, asking people to provide not just their own answer but the entire set of other answers is foolish and doomed to fail.

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Good thing that's not what I or anyone else suggested, then. –  Steely Dan Jan 4 '12 at 1:43
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Anybody with a reasonable understanding of Christian belief ought to be able to give summaries of at least a few positions, assuming they are prepared to do a moderate amount of research. –  DJClayworth Jan 15 '12 at 3:07
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