I am a Christian. You might be Christian too. But we are neither Christian nor even religious.

If you are the sort of person who reads Meta, this is insultingly obvious. It says right in the FAQ:

We welcome Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints as long as they take seriously the process of understanding the Biblical texts.

So, why do I bring this up? Well, the immediate reason is a comment I noticed from a new user:

This site is only for Protestants or no? I looked around and sometimes answers seem to be for all Christian groups but other times I saw only Protestant theology.

So our FAQ says one thing, but our content tells a different story. We look like a Christian (Protestant even) site to an outside observer. Given that many of our most active contributors and pro tempore moderators are Protestant Christians, that's not a big surprise. But it is a big concern. In fact, this has been a concern of mine since nearly the beginning of the site. Actions speak louder than words; if we continue to look like a Christian site, we may lose our non-Christian contributors or only attract Christian users thereby becoming a Christian site whatever our FAQ says.

What then shall we do?

The above are the facts and the conundrum as I see them. If there were easy answers, I'd list them here in the question. However, no consensus has been reached in over a year of meta-posts, chat and comments, so I'm looking for suggestions and insights into the problem.

There are several things that limit the range of answers:

  • It seems to me that editing out objectionable bits is not an option, even if we could agree on the dividing line between acceptable and unacceptable content. Personally, I would also advocate for soft, rather than hard, lines. The best proposals are likely to have analog, not binary,

  • On the other hand, we ought not create a situation where every answer that asserts any particular doctrine spawns a comment knife-fight or votes held in ransom. As a community, we need to give each other space to be passionate (whether right or wrong).

  • The burden to demonstrate we are not a Christian site falls heavily on Christians. Remember the words of our Lord:

    So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.—Matthew 7:12 (ESV)

This post was heavily inspired by Caleb's Brothers, we are not Christians!! –  Jon Ericson Jan 28 '13 at 23:02
@GoneQuiet: I understand the frustration with Christians reading our faith into the Jewish scripture. But why ask a question about the Tanakh here if you want a Jewish perspective and no other? Aren't many of the same questions on-topic at Mi Yodeya? (The same could be said for New Testament questions and Christianity too. But there are many reasons to ask a more diverse audience, in my opinion.) –  Jon Ericson Jan 29 '13 at 8:03

4 Answers 4

It would be great to be able to actively encourage contributions from those who so far form a minority (or who are not represented at all) on the site.

I'd suggest your 'Let's ask about' meta posts would be one useful way of doing this.

What I really don't want to see is this, mentioned in The Library being realised:

It just seems like the main solution given by you so far to promote a full range of approaches is to restrict certain approaches, which seems antithetical to exactly what we're trying to promote.

I'm very concerned that most of the proposed means of keeping the appeal of the site broad enough for some, will end up shutting the door on many others.

I'd also like to add a few notes of positivity:

  1. Traffic is growing
  2. Quality is high
  3. Users that provide content with broad appeal are rewarded
  4. New users are welcomed
  5. The Library is proving to be a useful and active chat-room
  6. Old users are returning

I've been very impressed by the way the members of this site treat each other, even when they disagree, and I'm not the only one to be impressed. I've always thought this site would grow more slowly than other parts of the SE network because the key experts don't overlap strongly with the folk on SO—the vital ingredient for us collectively and individually is patience, so please keep up the good work everyone!

"Several non-Christians and one Christian non-Protestant have told you that the impression the site gives doesn't match its goals."—have they? I'm not sure who you are referring to. –  Jack Douglas Jan 30 '13 at 16:11
@GoneQuiet I don't read any of those except yours as saying (to me?) "the impression the site gives doesn't match its goals". One in particular has agreed to feed back after a period of time and I'm very interested to see how that works out! –  Jack Douglas Jan 30 '13 at 18:02

Let us focus on what unites us.

This past weekend, my son and I went on the annual Ten Commandments hike sponsored by our Boy Scout council. Ten places of worship are chosen to give short lectures on one of the commandments. Most are churches, but the organizers try to include a synagogue if possible. This year, the Episcopalian priest invited his friend, a Reformed rabbi, because the nearest synagogue would have added a mile to the route.

The priest started off by saying that he invited his friend because if you are going to talk about the Torah, you need to go to the Jews. God gave them the law first, after all. The rabbi disagreed: many Christian scholars are well trained and he's gotten new insights from them. Even so, he went on to explain the fifth commandment while the priest listened. This is my paraphrase from memory:

The Ten Commandments were a revolutionary legal code because they were given to everyone. Other cultures had commandments that protected the elite, but God gave the Torah to protect even slaves and foreigners living in the land. "Thou shalt not kill" meant that it was wrong to kill anyone. It also was the first document to espouse gender equality: "Honor your father and your mother."

The promise, "so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you", works because our parents have won wisdom over their long lives. If we refuse to learn from them, we can't benefit from their experiences. The Jews are parents to Christianity and Islam, so we should listen to their teachings. We are all "people of the book", but God went to the Jews first.

Even so, the Torah is for everyone since we all trace our origin back to the Lord who gave it. Abraham was promised that he would be a blessing to all the nations and that has come true. We are on different paths, but we are all climbing the same mountain. The Ten Commandments help us find our way.

Now let's not quibble about theology: my point is, we have a common text. Yes we have different ways of talking about it, but the text remains constant; it's our touchstone. The solution to appearing too Christian is to invite more viewpoints. That's why I'm seeking second opinions. That's why my first challenge was to ask questions. I believe the text becomes more clear the more ways you look at it.

+1 I wholeheartedly agree! –  Jack Douglas Jan 30 '13 at 16:12
Well, I knew the Boy Scouts excluded atheists, but I'm upset to learn they're also favouring Abrahamic faiths (and specifically Christianity). Meh. More privilege blindness, I suppose (of the same sort that's also harming this site). –  TRiG Jan 30 '13 at 17:30

My thoughts on the question(s) behind this question are documented and searchable so I'll not do a lot of rehashing.

I think that it's important to clearly define on-topic vs. off-topic content. In the discussions that I've witnessed, Christians (of which I am one) tend to lean more toward allowing doctrinal and theological explication in answers. As far as I can tell, this has been and may continue to be a barrier to entry for non-Christians.

I think I agree with this answer, but I'm not sure it's helpful on the more specific issue of how Christians can answer from their own tradition without creating the impression that the site is Christian. Are you suggesting that all answers be inductive? –  Jon Ericson Jan 29 '13 at 0:31
@Jonericson Inductive feels like too much Christian-ese. I guess I am recommending that if we could get to a place where we were comfortable saying that all questions should start from the text or the process (and not the result) then there would probably be a bit more non-Christian interaction –  swasheck Jan 29 '13 at 2:13
Heh. I picked "inductive" because it seemed less Christian. ;-) To put it another way, you seem to advocate a bottom-up criteria for the site, rather than top-down. I'm not convinced that that's a silver bullet. –  Jon Ericson Jan 29 '13 at 3:00

I don't want to come across here as protesting too much. We obviously have some issue or this post would not have been raised and there wouldn't be so many opinions. The purpose is to try and provide insight into our content.

On Jack's answer, GoneQuiet noted that his metrics don't give good insight into the makeup of our content, so I want to use this answer to try and address that. Here are a number of searches I've run to try and get a sense for how we might be skewed1:

On the use of "Tanakh" vs "Old Testament":

http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/search?q=tanakh 126 results http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/search?q=%22old+testament%22 117 results

On the topic of "Judeo-Christian":

http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/search?q=judeo-christian 1 result

On the issue of "Christ" I didn't have a great way to search, since obviously many NT quotations will simply contain the title. I did a search instead for questions tagged containing "Christ":

2 results (both at -1 votes)

On the issue of BC/AD vs BCE/CE2:

http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/search?q=BC 18 results http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/search?q=BCE 11 results http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/search?q=CE 15 results

Each of you can draw your own conclusions from the data, and I certainly welcome other data points.

Personally, I think the data above shows that these issues are a red herring. Instead, the area where we see the biggest number skews is in our questions. I mentioned in chat before, but our top three Jewish users by reputation combine for more reputation than Jon Ericson (even accounting for his bounties), but have asked 17 combined questions to his 138.

If there is anything skewing the feel of our site, it would seem to me this. The first thing a user sees when they come to the site is the most recently active questions. If those questions are primarily from Christian users, they will tend to be questions about the New Testament and tend to garner answers from other Christian users.

It doesn't seem possible to ask our Christian users to ask questions from a Jewish world view; so probably the next best thing we can do is encourage questions about the Tanakh. It's been a while since we've had a challenge as Jon mentions. Obviously he has his hands pretty full right now (or will soon again), so it might be best if someone else would spearhead this, if others indeed think it would be helpful.

1 It should be obvious, but all results counts are at the time of this post.

2 A search for AD returns a number of irrelevant results (e.g. 'ad' is a Latin word that shows up surprisingly often), so it was hard to gauge the numbers for that.

Interesting data and very relevant. One item that you are missing is that people seem to assume we are Christian without even looking. When you come in with that assumption, it doesn't take much evidence to convince yourself that it's true. However, I agree that since questions direct the topics of the site, asking more "non-Christian" questions (whatever that might mean) will do more than trying to fix a few answers. –  Jon Ericson Jan 30 '13 at 17:25
@Jon while I think what you say is true, I also feel it is important to distinguish between 'real' evidence as presented here by Soldarnal and 'anecdotal' evidence (which is all we currently have about the site's perception). There are all sorts of systematic biases possible when we rely on anecdotal evidence. –  Jack Douglas Feb 2 '13 at 9:09

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