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Let me first say that I have no specific complaints with any of the moderators, and this is not in any way a criticism of any particular user.

However, I believe we have a problem on BH.SE, and here it is, as I see it:

  • I know of one active moderator on the site

  • To my knowledge, there is virtually no theological diversity in the moderation team

The first item means that this site (which has so much potential, but often feels like it's flailing around on the ground bleeding from a mortal wound) does not have the active, authoritative guidance that it needs. And incidentally, that means the one active mod is overloaded.

The second item means that this site, which tries to be "neutral" and "inviting" is managed by a group that could conceivably all be a part of the same church board. While it is theoretically possible that this could work, it is much more likely that content not in line with the site's policies would go un-checked if it were generally palatable to Christians.

Again, please do not take this as an attack of any kind on any user, or on the site.


NOTE: When I refer to "moderators" I am referring to "pro tempore moderators".

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    ...and in case anyone is concerned that I'm fishing for a vote, let me assure you that I have zero interest in being a moderator. – Jas 3.1 Dec 6 '13 at 4:47
  • +1 from me..... – Dan Dec 6 '13 at 4:55
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    "one active moderator on the site" followed by "is managed by a group that could conceivably all be a part of the same church board" seems pretty self-contradictory to me, isn't it? You've also mis-characterized both the mod team, and the role of a moderator (even acknowledging the difference between the role of elected and pro-tem positions). There's a seminal blog post, A Theory of Moderation, that is really worth a read if you haven't seen it already. – Jack Douglas Dec 6 '13 at 8:46
  • @GoneQuiet we are all very different and that is what matters IMO, not what religion we have. – Jack Douglas Dec 6 '13 at 13:56
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Just like you ask that your post not be taken as a personal attack, I ask that this rebuttal not be taken as a personal attack as that is not the spirit in which I am writing it. That being said, I am pretty sure that both of the major points raised in this post hit far wide of the mark.

First off, this site has more than one active pro-tem moderator. Admittedly none of us has kept pace with Jack but the numbers bear me out when I say that some of us also haven't been idle. Far from the "rarely check in more than twice a month and often do very little when here" that I am accused of, I have visited this site an average of 4 times a week over more than two years. In spite of a late appointment to the moderator post replacing an outgoing volunteer, I have handled a significant fraction of the flag volume. The main reason that is not higher is that I'm competing with a ninja. For all that I do have tit for tat as many meta posts as Jack which is about as good a metric for community involvement as you are going to get. If this is a case of short memories, its true I have been traveling internationally a lot the last couple months and largely quiet especially on the chat front. In spite of that I think you'll find I'm not in the dark.

Secondly, its not like moderator actions are being left undone! Not one flag has been left unattended. They have ALL been handled in a timely manner. If you disagree with HOW they are handled the solution is not more moderators. Each action is always handled by a single person. If at any time you think an individual case has been mishandled you should bring it up on meta. Having more moderators actually tends to exacerbate the issue of not agreeing with the judgment calls they make.

Thirdly I think it is a mistake to forward religious affiliation as a primary qualification for moderators. At a basic level everybody is being asked to trust the judgment of each and every moderator. While we do function as as team in some ways, mod actions are not done by democratic vote. Each mod goes about their job with full executive authority. Once done the appeal channels for another mod to come along and object are exactly the same as for users: talk to them individually and if they don't come 'round to see it your way, take it to meta. The qualities you want to look for in a moderator are that they are level headed, are good communicators including listening well, take into account a broad range of factors when making judgment calls, treat people respectfully, etc. All other factors being equal it might be nice to have a theologically diverse team, but first and foremost you need people who are not going to use the post as a platform to favor their beliefs. Thinking that imposing theological diversity on the mod team will get this site out of the doldrums is a mistake.

What this site needs is more active users with quality content they are actively contributing! There is barely anything to be moderated at this point because so little is actually being contributed. The most active users have become so embroiled in debate over what others posts should look like they have nearly stopped posting themselves. Even if nobody else's posts ever quite live up to your personal ideal, that should be all the more reason to post more questions and answers yourself to set the example. We seem to have a whole bunch of people who have lost sight of this. Now everybody get out there and make some posts that you think are exemplary and invite qualifying others to come by and do the same.

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    Touche. Thanks for explaining that, I think I agree with everything you've said. (+1) – Jas 3.1 Dec 8 '13 at 16:33
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    My sincere apologies. I did primarily evaluate your participation by your lack of appearance in chat - and that isn't fair. I was wrong and I edited that statement from my post and included another apology as an addendum. – Dan Dec 9 '13 at 3:40
  • @Dan Apology accepted. I'll edit out the specific accusation when I get to a computer. I have no internet at home and am battling a flu so forgive me if it takes a day it two to straighten out. – Caleb Dec 9 '13 at 8:47
  • No need to edit @Caleb - it's a valid response to what I (wrongly) said. I put the quote in the addendum to my post as a historical reference so that you don't need to edit yours. – Dan Dec 9 '13 at 9:34
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I'm in a little bit on an odd place to answer this, but having been on both sides of the process, I have some insight.

First, when this site graduates, you'll have a chance to elect your own moderators from the people who step up. That means you'll be free to use whatever criteria you please to pick moderators.

Second, it's not at all fair to say the site only has 3 moderators; it has 18! Now not all of those folks are active and not everyone with access to moderator tools uses them. Retention can be a concern. But I can tell you that of those 18, only 3 have been missing in action for the last 30 days. It might not feel like it, but most of the top users of this site still visit regularly.

Third, when the pro tempore moderators were nominated, religion didn't play much of a factor. Richard and Caleb had been pro tems on Christianity, but the reason for bringing that up was that it spoke to their experience as moderators. Those are the credentials that matter most when the community managers appoint diamond moderators.

Since diamond moderators are able (and encouraged) to make difficult decisions for the good of the site, we look for people that are able to set aside their own personal beliefs. We hold to our Theory of Moderation and pick candidates whose:

goal is to guide the community with gentle — but firm — intervention. Respect your fellow community members at all times; demonstrate fairness and impartiality in your actions.

In my opinion and in the opinion of several other community managers, the current moderator team has demonstrated considerable patience in recent months. Jack in particular has gone far beyond the call of duty in attempting to mediate between various points of view on this site. Both publicly and privately he has demonstrated respect for all community members, Christian and otherwise.

Thinking about the predominance of Christian veiwpoints on the site, I can't help but think of:

"We have met the enemy and he is us."

Not to put to fine a point on it: if the site is unwelcoming to non-Christians, its mostly the fault of people who regularly ask, answer, edit, and comment on the site. Saying that this site's problems are on the moderators shoulders is shifting blame.

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  • Useful information, but -1 from me. (A) I was of course referring to "pro tempore moderators", but I edited the question to state that explicitly. (B) I fear this site will implode if this issue continues to be ignored, so "hope for a better post-beta future" isn't a great solution. (C) We need actively engaged "p.t." mods, not just actively visiting ones. (D) Having people with 2,000 rep doesn't really mean anything other than "users have more power than they know what to do with" – Jas 3.1 Dec 6 '13 at 23:31
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    @Jas3.1: It's terribly unfair to moderators to ask more of them than you do of yourself. Remember, this is a volunteer position. I've given the same advice to Islam... twice. No matter how amazing the moderator team, a site will implode if the high-reputation users refuse to take ownership of their own site. The single biggest problem on this site is that not enough people are participating by doing things like asking questions and voting to remove low-quality content. – Jon Ericson Mod Dec 7 '13 at 0:02
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    I hear you... but I'm not arguing that we should push the moderators to do more than they want to do. What I'm really arguing is that we should let the folks who actually want to do it have the "p.t." authority to do it. – Jas 3.1 Dec 7 '13 at 1:18
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I think we need three active moderators who represent a diversity of theological perspectives -- and preferably who can work well together to make this site what everyone hopes it will be some day.

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    @GoneQuiet +1 to your comment. – Double AA Dec 9 '13 at 5:05
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I believe a moderator 'dream team' would consist of:

  • A Christian (preferably a non-Protestant or non-fundamentalist Protestant who is familiar with and not dismissive of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox perspectives).

  • A Jew (preferably Reform Jewish or an Orthodox or Conservative Jew who is familiar with and not dismissive of other Jewish perspectives).

  • An Atheist (preferably an individual who seeks to understand the Bible as a collection of valuable historical and cultural texts and who is not dismissive of organized religion and religious perspectives on the Biblical texts).

I also think that effective moderators will:

  • Be reasonably tech-savvy. Like it or not, the SE platform requires some basic technical know-how to be effective. When discussing things such as keyboard layouts, modifying or creatively using site functionality, and handling new features - this comes in handy and ensures a moderator will be able to effectively use the tools at his or her disposal as well as helping new users 'learn the ropes.'

  • Have been exposed to critical Biblical scholarship from outside their own religious and theological perspective. And ideally not entirely in an antagonistic fashion. Fundamentalist groups are notorious for only learning about how other groups are wrong. It is best to experience new ideas and perspectives on their own terms, where one can critically evaluate and assimilate or reject them - often both. Ideally they also see the dichotomy between 'liberal' and 'conservative' scholarship as unhelpful and overly simplistic.

  • Be able to cater to a postmodern worldview. From the perspective of a postmodern/pluralist worldview, there is no such thing as 'pure' objectivity / true neutrality (nor objective truth, for that matter). In effect, all assertions of truth and neutrality are biases/assumptions in and of themselves. Questions and answers are valuable contributions when they follow site guidelines and are favorably received by the community. As these are subjective standards, a good moderator must be able to place aside his or her biases to the extent that they can appreciate and encourage quality contributions, even (and especially) when they disagree with them.

  • Actively devote time to the site. It's no secret that two out of three moderators are considerably less active in some respects than Jack. Kudos to Jack for all he does here. I believe that being active on this site involves staying semi-current with discussions on meta and in chat about site guidelines, handling questionable content and flags, and mediating/resolving interpersonal conflicts between users that affect participation and community morale. Granted, SE doesn't pay most moderators and life circumstances do happen that may prevent someone from fulfilling their obligations for periods of time, but this should not be months at a time or the moderator should step down.

Addendum: I previously stated that "two out of three moderators on this site rarely check in more than twice a month and often do very little when here." Caleb has since rebutted that claim and I wish to publicly apologize for making it. I based my statement mainly on what I saw, mostly chat participation, but this is not a fair metric nor an accurate gauge of moderation.

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    I appreciate this post and all your ongoing efforts to improve the site: I know you wont take my -1 personally. Here's why I've DV'd: in my opinion it matters not a jot the religious persuasion of a moderator, and I'm certain that my religious views have never affected how I handle flags. Of course my understanding of right and wrong does, and this is related to my worldview, but it is not the same thing. The little moderation this site needs requires someone with good judgement and a degree of diplomacy: my dream team would be folk like that whatever they profess to believe. – Jack Douglas Dec 6 '13 at 8:57
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    @JackDouglas. The perception of neutrality is almost as important as neutrality itself. – TRiG Dec 6 '13 at 12:50
  • @GoneQuiet sure, I think it is a good, important question: I'd definitely have voted it up if I didn't disagree with his answer. Rather than addressing me though, why not try making your case with your own answer and let the community decide? – Jack Douglas Dec 6 '13 at 13:55
  • @GoneQuiet Dan's answer says we need religious diversity on the mod team, my comment disagrees, using my own experience as an example, that's all. – Jack Douglas Dec 6 '13 at 14:13
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    @TRiG neutrality in what domain? I don't think we'll ever have a team that is widely perceived as 'neutral', because of the subject matter. Our best hope IMO is to step back from religious definitions of neutrality: the opposite of what Dan is proposing which would enshrine them. – Jack Douglas Dec 6 '13 at 14:29
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    For example, 'respect the text' is one of our foundations. I don't interpret that religiously at all. An answer could be working from the worldview that the Bible is an amazing work of literary fiction. Neutrality here accepts that, but it does not accept the view that the Bible is "a load of useless nonsense". There is a distinction, but it is not a religious one. – Jack Douglas Dec 6 '13 at 14:31
  • @JackDouglas for the record I don't take it personally and didn't feel you were trying to derail anything. I appreciate hearing feedback when folks DV, and being able to is what makes SE awesome. – Dan Dec 6 '13 at 20:40
  • @JackDouglas and also, I'd vote for you as a mod as the Christian rep :P – Dan Dec 6 '13 at 20:40
  • Thank Dan, I appreciate that vote of confidence :) – Jack Douglas Dec 6 '13 at 21:49

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